It is a common belief among Christians that in the end God will renew, restore, transform, repristinate, redeem or regenerate creation, which, it is claimed, is suffering from the curse imposed on it when Adam sinned. Much of the polemic in favour of this belief is based on 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 despite the fact that according to the Lord’s prayer righteousness is already done in heaven (Mt. 6:10). The problem is that this polemic appears to be in basic conflict with much else that the Bible teaches. For example, 2 Peter 3 itself vividly describes the ultimate fiery destruction of creation (see vv.7,10-12) and the book of Revelation pictures heaven and earth passing away, even fleeing before the presence of the Lord (20:11; 21:1) who will return in the glory of God (Mt. 16:27; 24:30, etc.) as a consuming fire (2 Thes. 1:7; 2:8). Of course, the corollary of the destruction of the material creation is the destruction of the flesh which stems from it, and this also is clearly taught in Scripture (2 Cor. 5:1, cf. 1 Cor. 15:50-52). For all that, most commentators misinterpret Romans 8:23 through failure to distinguish between ‘flesh’ (sarx) and ‘body’ (soma) and make it mean what it obviously does not mean. While there is other evidence to appeal to (e.g. 2 Cor. 4:18; Heb. 12:27-29) (1* See for e.g. my essay Regarding the Restoration of Creation), for the moment I wish to concentrate attention on the two verses cited at the start of this piece.
Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22
Reference Bibles usually direct the reader’s attention at these points to Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22. The conclusion we reasonably draw from this is that the NT writers are using an OT concept to make their point. The question is, however, are they saying the same thing? It must be remembered that the OT prophets lacked the revelation given by Jesus to the NT writers and to that extent they were labouring under a distinct disadvantage. The NT makes no bones about stating this. Peter himself, who had an acute awareness of the difference between the temporal and the eternal (see espec. 1 Peter 1), tells us that the OT prophets searched and enquired regarding certain matters relating to Christ and that it was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but their NT spiritual descendants (1 Pet. 1:10-12). In light of this it is not difficult to presume that their understanding of matters was less than clear. After all, it is frequently maintained that the OT prophets were somewhat earth-centred in their thinking. While it can be shown that they could entertain the idea of God inhabiting eternity (e.g. Ps. 90:2; Isa. 57:15; 66:1), they tended to think of him primarily as being present with them in the sanctuary of the Promised Land and especially in the temple in Jerusalem. And, having problems with what happened at death (see e.g. Ps. 30:9; 115:17), they felt that they themselves had to be in “the land of the living”, even the flesh (cf. Job 19:26) to worship him (Ps. 27:13; 116:9). They also had a somewhat ambivalent conception of eternity and tended to measure it by or attribute to it what might be termed earthly chronological dimensions (e.g. Ps. 89:4,29,36f.). In other words, they conveyed its everlasting or permanent nature by means of what they experienced in this world. In view of this, it is less than surprising that such descriptions as we have of the heavenly world in the OT are couched in very earthly terms. Thus, in comment on Isaiah 11:6-9, Kidner not unnaturally resorts to spiritualization in order to explicate its underlying intention. Again commenting on Isaiah 65:17 he avers that the new is portrayed wholly in terms of the old and that there is no attempt to describe any other kind of newness (NBCR, p.624). In response to this view of the matter, Oswalt (p.657), supposing that Isaiah is talking about a coming existence in a completely new world that is absolutely unlike anything we now know, suggests that the use of analogous terms is almost inevitable. It may, however, be an indication of his own questionable theology when he refers to this new world as having a composite nature like the oxymoronic “spiritual body” and the new Jerusalem descending from heaven (Rev. 21:1). He then goes on to deny the appropriateness of asking whether the new Jerusalem is brand new or transformed. Perhaps it is neither!
Commenting on Revelation 21:1, Beasley-Murray helpfully fills in some of its OT background (cf. Harris, RI, pp.168-170). In tune with Kidner he tells us that Isaiah describes the new earth almost wholly in terms of the present order of things. He says the prophet has in view not a different world but an earth freed from the sorrows of sin and renewed for the joy of the people of God (cf. G.E.Ladd, p.57. Ladd, a classical premillennialist, redemptionist and transformationist seemed to be obsessed with the earth and OT physicality, Theology, pp.631f. A more recent writer like Randy Alcorn regards earthly problems as solely the consequence of the sin of Adam and its resultant curse and the coming ‘heaven’ as a revised form of earth, see “Heaven”, pp.158,254, etc.) Beasley-Murray then claims that Jewish writers elaborated Isaiah’s teaching in two different directions. The first group focused attention on sin and its cleansing and for them the new world or new creation meant transformation. The second group, however, regarded the new heavens and new earth as literal. This meant that for them the old order underwent destruction and that the new creation was a completely new universe. The question that then confronts us is how John as the author of Revelation 21:1 viewed the matter. Beasley-Murray, having directed attention to other NT teaching such as Matthew 5:18, Mark 13:31, 1 Corinthians 7:31, 1 John 2:17 and noted that the sea was no more, concludes that “John’s language, therefore, seems to demand the recognition that he viewed the new heavens and the new earth as newly created, in the strictest sense of the term, and that they replace a creation that has ceased to exist” (p.307). It has to be said, however, that in the light of other NT teaching, this scenario is pregnant with problems though they frequently go unrecognized. (2* See further my Biblical Dualism and Harris who denies the dualism between spirit and matter, p.170, also G to G, pp.250f.). As we shall see, there is perhaps a third alternative.
Towards A Third Alternative
For a start it should be noted that while Beasley-Murray refers to Matthew 5:18 and the end of the world, he fails to allude to Matthew 24:35 which France (Matthew, p.115) recognises as significantly different. In other words, there is strong contrast here, as there is throughout the Bible, between the eternal God and the “good” or useful or purposeful (cf. Ps. 119:91; Eccl. 3:11 NRSV) but temporal and provisional creation and law (see e.g. Gen. 1:1; Ps. 90:2; Isa. 40:6-8; 51:6; 54:10; Hab. 3:17-19; Rom. 7:12; 2 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 1:10-12).
Next, we need to bear in mind the fact that when God finished creation he entered his rest (Gen. 2:1-3), and it is into this rest that we are called (Heb. 4:1,3,6,9-11). (Note also the evidence for our heavenly calling in Phil. 3:14; Heb. 3:1; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Pet. 5:10, etc.) The inference that must be drawn from this is that the rest already exists and has existed eternally. If we have any doubts about this, we have only to consider Jesus who himself entered his rest once his work on earth was finished. (We do well to remind ourselves here that there are frequent references to beginnings and endings in the Bible, e.g. Luke 13:32f.; John 4:34; 17:4; 2 Cor. 8:6,10f.; Phil. 1:6, etc. They suggest teleology or development to maturity, completion or perfection.) He returned to heaven as conqueror and sat at God’s right hand (1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 3:21) reclaiming as man the glory that he shared with the Father before the world began (John 17:5,24). Now, having gained the immortality and incorruptibility that characterise God (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16) originally promised to the first Adam (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:17; Ps. 8:3-6; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 2:9), he was in a position to do this and serve as our trailblazer (Heb. 2:10; 6:20; 12:2).
There is another point of crucial importance. Unless the “world” (cf. Heb. 1:6; 2:5) or rest to which Jesus returned is eternal, it must be temporal like the original creation. A brand new creation will inevitably have a beginning; and this means it will inevitably have an end (cf. Heb. 7:3). And this spells disaster. The eternal life we have been promised (e.g. John 3:16; 1 John 2:25) turns out on examination to be an illusion! In fact, however, the NT refers repeatedly to the existence of the eternal world which by definition has always existed and will never cease to exist. This being so, God’s kingdom is eternal (2 Pet. 1:11; Heb. 12:28, cf. Col. 1:13) and by the blood of an eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20) it guarantees us an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12, cf. 5:9) and an eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15) through the eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14).
This evidence compels us to draw the conclusion that since the new creation is eternal and already exists, it is new only in the sense that it is new to us as viewed from our earth-bound vantage point. In other words, Isaiah’s somewhat earthly Old Testament conception of heaven is spiritualised (though certainly not allegorized) in the New Testament in light of the revelation given by Jesus.
When we see this, it is not difficult to find other references which underline the eternal nature of the “new” creation. For example, Jesus tells us that in his Father’s house there are many mansions (3* Jesus uses the word ‘mone’ which according to Morris, p.638 n.6, and Vine, is cognate with ‘menein’ meaning to remain which is important in Hebrews. See further below.), and that he is returning there (cf. John 13:1,3; 16:28, etc.) to prepare a place for those who believe in him to be with him there (John 14:2f., cf. 14:19; 17:24). (The implication seems to be that the “house” or city, Heb. 11:10; 13:14, already exists but it needs inhabitants. Cf. the present world which was created to be inhabited, Gen. 1; Isa. 45:12,18.) In Luke 16:9 he urges his followers to take steps to ensure that they may be received into the eternal dwellings (ESV) where their treasure in the heavens does not fail (Luke 12:33). Like his Lord before him (Mt. 6:19-21; 19:21) Peter also refers to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading kept in heaven for us (1 Pet. 1:3f., cf. vv.7,18) and like Isaiah (40:6-8) distinguishes between the perishable earthly and the imperishable heavenly (vv.23-25, cf. 1 Cor. 9:25; 15:50-57). Regarding the latter, Paul contrasts what is obviously eternal spiritual treasure with the clay jars in which it is housed in this world (2 Cor. 4:7). Then in 5:1 he follows this up with a reference to our earthly tent which will be destroyed and replaced with “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”. And in 1 Corinthians 15 he refers to our future spiritual (replacement) bodies (cf. 1 Pet. 4:6; 2 Pet. 1:4,14) of glory like that of Jesus (Phil. 3:21).
The New Birth
Another point of critical importance is the sadly misunderstood teaching of Jesus regarding the new birth in John 3. Traditionally, under the influence of Augustine, we have been taught that the prime purpose of regeneration is to counteract original sin. The problem here is that sin is not even mentioned in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. The point at issue is the flesh or our earthly nature. The implication is as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:50 that it cannot inherit the eternal kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). A second physical birth imagined by Nicodemus is no use here, for it, like the present body of flesh, would be temporal by nature and would still keep us away from the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6,8). Thus Jesus says it is necessary (as opposed to imperative) to experience a spiritual birth, or a birth from above, to fit us for the above (cf. Col. 3:1-5; Gal. 4:26; Phil. 3:20). To express the issue somewhat differently, we need to be regenerate in order to enter the regeneration (Mt. 19:28) which is clearly a different order of existence (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31, etc.).
The ‘New Jerusalem’ and the ‘Remaining’
When reading Isaiah it is easy to miss his references to ‘Jerusalem’ (65:18f., cf. Rev. 21:1f.) and to ‘remaining’ (66:22). (Note also the references to the glory of God in 66:18f., cf. 33:17; John 17:24, and to Jerusalem in 66:20). Both themes are taken up by the author of Hebrews and form part of the essence of his letter as the following references make plain: 1:10-12; 7:24; 10:34; 12:27; 13:14 (Gk menein: to remain) and 11:10,16; 13:14 (city), Jerusalem specifically in 12:22. More to the point they clearly refer to the eternal (abiding, unshakable) heavenly (cf. Paul in 2 Cor. 3:11 and Gal. 4:26). In light of this we are again led to infer that Isaiah’s new heavens and new earth serve to depict heaven, the eternal throne of God, in the NT. If this is so, we are compelled to draw the conclusion that those whose views are conditioned by a literal understanding of the OT, an inadequate covenant theology and an Augustinian worldview dominated exclusively by sin are mistaken. The plain fact is that the notion of a new or fresh material creation reflects a deep misunderstanding of the biblical data. (As I have intimated in my essays on The End of the World and The Destruction of the Material Creation, for example, I believe that a correct appreciation of Romans 8:18-25, not to mention other references like Hebrews 1:10-12, also rules out of order any idea of the material world’s participation in heavenly transcendence. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that the Paul who wrote that the perishable (corruption) cannot inherit the imperishable (incorruption) could hold such a view, 1 Cor. 15:50. For him it would have been anathema!)
The Permanent and the Impermanent
There is doubtless a good deal more evidence to appeal to but my point has been made. On the assumption that it indicates that there is a basic difference between the perishable earth and the imperishable heaven (cf. Heb. 9:11,24) which is God’s throne, it must be insisted, first, that those who take the OT literally and refuse to recognize that it is frequently re-interpreted and spiritualised in the NT are swimming against the tide, or, to put it more dramatically, are going “back to Egypt” (Num. 14:4; Acts 7:39). (On this see further my essays No Going Back and Regarding the Restoration of Creation.) Second, it points to the fact that a truly biblical covenant theology though reflecting elements of continuity makes a basic distinction between the two covenants. This is made plain especially by the author of Hebrews and by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, for example. The law which was itself provisional regulated the temporal creation, the world of the OT which overlaps the NT but is in direct contrast with heaven where the Christian’s citizenship is located (Phil. 3:20, cf. Col. 3:1-5). As Matthew 5:18 implies, both the law and the creation, though “good”, that is, useful and purposeful (Gen. 1; Ps. 119:91; Rom. 7:12), eventually reach their point of culmination (cf. France, p.114). Then, since both are provisional and cannot give (eternal) life (Heb. 1:10-12; 7:18; 8:13; Gal. 3:21) they are dispensed with (Heb. 8:13) and replaced with a better hope (Heb. 7:19) which according to Paul was intended from the beginning (Rom. 8:20,24f.; 2 Cor. 5:5, cf. Gen. 1:28; 2:17).
So, without going into more detail I propose that in 2 Peter 3:13, Peter is simply using a limited OT description of the age or world to come to describe heaven or the kingdom of God, the place where righteousness already dwells (cf. Mt. 6:10,33). If this is the case with Peter, surely the same must be true of John whose book of Revelation is replete with OT references. In the latter, the spiritualization process is plain for all to see. Symbolism, which necessarily exploits material images and metaphor, points unerringly to the fact that earth and heaven are as radically different as flesh and spirit or an earthly and a heavenly temple even if there are points of continuity. How otherwise can the invisible be made “visible” to readers whose present earthly nature unavoidably hinders perception (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12, cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). We live by faith not be sight (2 Cor. 5:7).
The fact is that old covenant metaphor based on the present material creation becomes new covenant spiritual reality. If this is so, the verses in question support the belief that creation was subjected by divine fiat to corruption and futility with the hope of heaven or the divine presence in view from the start (Gen. 1, 2; Rom. 8:18-25; 2 Cor. 5:5). And this clearly precludes any suggestion of redemption, regeneration, renewal, transformation, restoration or recreation. (See further my The Corruptibility of Creation, Concerning Futility, etc.)
Of course, this view of the matter has serious implications for some of the highly questionable theology that presently pervades the churches. For example, not only will creation not be redeemed, since that was never intended in the first place, but it will never again be the home of Christ least of all during a literal thousand years earthly millennium. After all he has already conquered the world (John 16:33; 17:4; Rev. 3:21, etc.) and entered heaven as Adam was intended to do at the start. Having definitively dealt with sin, he will return only to rescue as brands plucked from the burning those who are waiting for him (Heb. 9:28). And at their ascension they will be changed (1 Cor. 15:51) as Jesus himself was (cf. John 20:17). (It is not a little interesting to note that Elijah and Elishah were separated by a chariot and horses of fire when the former ascended to heaven in a whirlwind, 2 K. 2:11, and the latter was left to continue his work.) Furthermore, when he comes again, he will be in his glory and that of the Father (Luke 9:26; Tit. 2:13, etc.), which means, as even Solomon recognized, that the earth is not able to “house” him (1 K. 8:27, cf. Acts 7:49). Again Paul tells us that he will not return to corruption (Acts 13:34), and since the only corruption that he ever knew was during the period of his incarnation when like all his brethren he grew daily older, this can only mean that he will come as God to save his people and sweep away the temporal intrinsically corruptible creation forever (Mt. 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:7,10-12). For as both Eliphaz and Bildad realised long ago, dust (cf. Ps. 103:14) is no cleaner in his sight (Job 15:15; 25:4ff.) than it is in ours. (Pace “Rabbi” Duncan who according to A. Ross in an article on the ascension said: “The dust of the earth is on the throne of the majesty on high”, EDT, p.87.)
Some, however, will object and claim that there is not only obvious continuity of world but also of flesh. With regard to the latter they will point to 1 Corinthians 15 and insist on OT-style restoration (cf. e.g. 1 K. 13:6; 2 Chr. 24:13) and that the present body will be continuous with the spiritual body since it is its “seed”. They will argue that just as the seed is different from the mature plant so the seed of the present body will be different from its “spiritual” counterpart. In reply I have to say that this view seems to involve a serious misinterpretation of Paul’s argument. In 1 Corinthians 15:39-41 the apostle is simply maintaining by way of illustration that there is plenty of evidence for a wide variety of bodies but definitely not that our present bodies of flesh are the “seed” of the future heavenly body which he is at pains to indicate is different. Peter makes the picture plain when he says that we have been born anew not of perishable (corruptible) seed but of imperishable (1 Pet. 1:23-25, cf. 1 Cor. 15:42). And John tells us that our regeneration arises from our being the product of God’s seed (1 John 3:9, cf. John 1:13). Otherwise expressed, a physical seed begets a physical body while a spiritual seed begets a spiritual body. In brief, like begets like (cf. John 3:6). So the notion touted by some that any random surviving molecule of our present flesh will suffice clone-like to provide the means by which our bodies are redeemed or resurrected is hugely mistaken (cf. Grudem, p.835). Our resurrection as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15:37 and 42-44 is not physical (or natural) but spiritual. The redeemed future body referred to by Paul in Romans 8:23 is manifestly discontinuous with earthly flesh. The biblical position is that the first is abolished so that the second may be established (Heb. 10:9) as the apostle clearly indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:45-50 (cf. the temple, John 2:19-21, Jerusalem, Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22, the city, Heb. 11:10,16; 13:14, etc.). (It is important to note here that the butterfly image used by some, e.g. Bob George in “Classic Christianity”, p.78, to illustrate transformation is in fact highly misleading. Despite clear evidence of dramatic metamorphosis the butterfly belongs to the material earth from beginning to end. On the body, see my essays With What Kind of a Body Do They Come?, The Flesh, Our Fleshly Bodies, etc.)
Conclusion: The Third Alternative
I conclude then that the kingdom of this world will in the time set by the Father finally give way to the kingdom of God or heaven (cf. Rev. 11:15, cf. 12:10; Dan. 2:44; 7:14,27). If this is so, then the redemption of creation is a heresy of the first order. Its potential is to foster the materialism that plagues the history of man. (The sensuous paradise inhabited by voluptuous virgins, the hope of Muslims, is an illusion.) In true Augustinian fashion it obscures and undermines the goal of our salvation which is that we should be not only holy, righteous and perfect like our heavenly Father but also generically like him as children normally are (Gen. 5:1-3; Rom. 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-3, cf. Phil. 3:21; 1 Pet. 4:6).
A Brief Note on Acts 3:21
Some may argue that the conclusions I have reached above are overturned by the notion of the restoration of all things referred to in Acts 3:21 (cf. 1:6). Both Bruce (p.91 n.36) and Stott (pp.93f.), for example, link it with the regeneration in Matthew 19:28 and with Romans 8:19-23. (John 3 ought to have slain forever the idea that regeneration is physical. Even Nicodemus was apparently astonished at the prospect and not so dull-witted as many commentators suggest he was! I contend that the regeneration of Mt. 19:28 is as spiritual as the regeneration referred to by Jesus in John 3 and by Paul in Tit. 3:5.) However, as one who believes that (a) Romans 8:18-25 has been abjectly misunderstood; (b) physical restoration relates to this world, that is, the world of the old covenant (1 K. 13:6, etc.), and (c) that physical regeneration of any kind is implicitly excluded by the teaching of Jesus in John 3:1-8 (cf. Luke 20:34-36), I am unimpressed. Perusal of articles like that of Oepke (TDNT, 1, pp.389ff.), Link (NIDNTT, 3, pp.146ff.) and Bietenhard on Elijah (NIDNTT, 1, pp.543ff.) makes aspects of this difficult verse less opaque than they otherwise might be. These authors suggest that the prophets’ prime interest was human political and national relations, not cosmology. Discussing John the Baptist as Elijah, Bietenhard says that Jesus did not take the restitution in a political or national sense but in a religious one. And this, it is reasonable to say, is true of Acts 3:21. Marshall (p.94), for example, talks in terms of fulfillment which, he claims, appears to fit the context admirably. He maintains that we should take the phrase to signify God’s perfect realization of the things that he had promised through the prophets, the chief one of which was the setting up of his rule or kingdom (cf. Luke 18:31; 24:44; Rev. 10:7 and note Link, p.148, who stresses the universal significance of the Christ event.).
So far as cosmology is concerned, it would appear that we owe obsession with it primarily to Origen whose hermeneutical prowess and literal interpretation of Matthew 19:12 led him to castrate himself! According to Link (p.148), he claimed that the aim of God’s salvation was the removal of all the disorder in creation which was the consequence of sin. Had Origen paid more careful attention to Hebrews 12:27 (cf. 2 Pet. 1:14) he might have realized that creation itself was subject to removal so that the kingdom of this world might become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (Rev. 11:15, cf. Heb. 10:9)!
Without going into further detail it seems to me that other references like 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, Colossians 1:20, Philippians 2:10 and Ephesians 1:10 sometimes used to support the redemption of creation point in the same direction. If the last enemy to be destroyed is death, then the physical creation whose basic (natural) characteristics are temporality, futility, death and corruption must also be destroyed. Here at least the Bible and modern science, if not the Augustinian worldview, are in accord.
(See further my articles at on this website including The Essence of the Case Against the Redemption of Creation.)
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