A Picture of Eternity: Heaven on Earth
April 18, 1999 Isaiah 65:17-25
We learned last Sunday about the great error of mankind to attempt to defy God’s command to fill the earth when they collaborated to stay in Shinar and build a city and a tower going up to the heavens to make a name for themselves and stay together. Man has been trying to recreate paradise under his own power ever since he was thrown out of Eden. A desire for Utopia is a natural impulse of our humanity. It was what we were created for. No generation passes without some charismatic leader setting up a Shangri-la, an Atlantis, a Sunny Brook Farm, or a Walden II with the dream of recreating paradise. The Shakers tried it. Disney tried it. The Mormons tried it. But just like Babel, they grossly miscalculated God who confused their language to stop their plans and as a divine boot to scatter them over the earth in obedience to his command until such time as God himself would purge sin from us and recreate it all. God’s ultimate plan is the city. In Genesis 11 he did not want them all in one city because it would foster a proliferation of evil. But the eternal plan is one perfect city when he is done refining his creation and purging us of sin. Today, I want us to take a look at this new city, a picture of eternity.
This passage was intended to be an encouragement to urban builders on their way back to Jerusalem. God reminds them, and us, that the eternal city is also under construction. We will live there forever as believers. There will a new heaven and a new earth in a New Age. Of all the half-truths perpetrated by the New Age Movement, none is a greater falsehood that the name itself. The New Age is a time that can come only by the power and grace of God. Without him, the idea of a New Age is just another fantasy concocted in finite minds out of a theological hodge-podge of assumptions about human goodness, evolutionary theory, and Eastern reincarnation. As with all utopian dreams built out of the figments of human imagination, the New Age Movement will disappear like the Tower of Babel.
Isaiah’s vision of the true New Age, however will not die. As the culmination of God’s redemptive plan for his creation, its reality is a continuation of his promises. If one of his promises had failed, we would have reason to doubt Isaiah’s vision of the coming New Order and the true New Age. But with the assurance that not one of God’s promises has ever failed, we can foresee the reality of Isaiah’s vision through eyes of faith. Sound reason, then, backs up Isaiah’s farsighted view of the future. Following the same line of logical reasoning with which the prophet assured Israel of its deliverance, Isaiah would remind us that the same omnipotent God who created the universe has the power to recreate what he had already made. He will embark on a new creation as spectacular as his first creative days. Beginning with the physical environment of the heavens and the earth, which groan under the weight of sin, he will do the new thing with such glorious splendor that the memories of the old heavens and the old earth will fade into forgetfulness. He will resuscitate his heavens and his earth with a beauty unsurpassed. Isaiah’s idealistic vision of God’s New Age does not stand alone. Every quality of life prophesied by the prophet is repeated and reaffirmed in the book of Revelation.
Some of the key components of the city God is building are as follows:
The sins and fallenness of the past will not be remembered (17)
People will rejoice in the beauty of God’s creation (18)
People will enjoy one another (18)
There will be no more tears or weeping (19)
Life spans will be a hundred years or more (20)
Public health for children and aged (20)
There will be housing for all (21)
Private property will be owned, built upon, lived in, and farmed without taxes or servitude (21-22)
There will be food for all (22)
Labor will be productive (23)
Families will be joyful (23)
Family support systems will be in place (23)
God’s presence will ensure instant, two-way and responsive communication (24)
The symbol of peace shall prevail in the New Age (25)
There will be an absence of violence (25)
Even the “Law of the Jungle” among animals will be transformed into a covenant of reconciliation and peace (25)
The kingdom will be spiritual in nature.
The kingdom will be ethical in nature.
The kingdom will bring great social and economic changes.
The kingdom will have political effects.
The kingdom will have religious effects.
The kingdom will be physical in its effects.
Following are some of the pictures we will look at in God’s eternal photo album:
I. The Promise of His Coming
II. The Millennium and the Pre-Flood World
III. Earthly Changes During the Tribulation
IV. Restoration of Eden-like Conditions in the New Earth
V. The Hell of Fire
Adapted from Biblical Eschatology and Modern Science, Part IV, by Henry M. Morris (BSac—V125 #500—Oct 68—291)
I. The Promise of His Coming
As the first world order was destroyed by water (2 Pet 3:6), so the present world order will be destroyed by fire (2 Pet 3:10). The world order includes both the earth and the heavens (atmosphere) - all considered as an ordered system. Those materials were not destroyed at the Flood, and neither will they be destroyed in the future fiery destruction, but the ordered system of the earth and its inhabitants will be destroyed. “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). God has not forgotten this “promise of his coming” as suggested by the latter-day scoffers (2 Pet 3:3); His seeming delay in its fulfillment is only because of His “long-suffering toward us” (2 Pet 3:9).
This promise of new heaven and a new earth is first mentioned explicitly by Isaiah. In Isaiah 65:17, God says He will “create new heavens and a new earth,” and in Isaiah 66:22, He speaks of the “new heavens and new earth which I will make.” Just as God “created and made” the heavens and the earth of the first world (Gen 2:3), so He will “create and make” the final world, “which shall remain.” Aspects of both His creative power and His organizing and ordering wisdom will again to be employed in that day.
The actual emplacement of the New World is, of course, gloriously described in Revelation 21:1, where John sees it as having displaced “the first heaven and the first earth.” This seems at first a slight contradiction of Peter, who had said the first world perished in the Flood. Perhaps, as we shall see, this “first atmosphere and land system” will have been substantially restored prior to its final purging at this time.
In any case, the “passing away” of that world (Matt 24:35; Rev 20:11) is to be, according to Revelation 20:2-11, preceded by the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ over the earth. But the millennium will be preceded by the great tribulation (Matt 24:21,29-30; Rev 19:16), which is to be climaxed by the glorious return of the Lord Jesus to establish His kingdom. And the great tribulation is to be preceded by the Lord’s promised coming for His own (John 14:3; 1 Thess 4:13 - 5:10; Rev 3:10), to “catch them up” to meet Him in the air. And our anticipated rapture will be preceded by nothing. It will happen suddenly. Despite the scoffers who make fun of His promise, we most surely are “looking forward to such things” (2 Pet 3:14). All of this must be included in the “day of the Lord,” which shortly will arrive as a thief in the night” (2 Pet 3:10).
II. The Millennium and the Pre-Flood World
There are many wonderful descriptions in the Bible of conditions in the millennial earth, and these often are hard to distinguish from conditions promised for the new earth (note, especially, the prophetic intermingling of the two in Isaiah 65:17-25). This is a well-known characteristic of prophecy, which often unites the near and far fulfillment in one grand vision, with the first a type of the second. The millennium, glorious though it will be, is yet only a type, a prior yet partial fulfillment, of the grand and eternal reality in the distance.
God will not fail to accomplish His purpose in creation, though the promise seems long delayed. The world was created to last forever (Ps 148:1-6; 104:5, etc), and thus even the global destruction by the historic Flood and the future fire must be merely agents of preparation, renovation, and purging, rather than instruments of annihilation. The Fall of man and God’s resulting curse on his dominion in the long view merely enable God to be revealed as Redeemer as well as Creator. And He, “by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began,” has been promising the “times of restoration of all things” (Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21). The “creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of decay” (Rom 8:21).
Since “all things” are to be “restored” and “made new” (Rev 21:5), the perfect conditions which God originally provided for life on the earth must be restored, at least. These were only gradually and partially eroded, following the curse, throughout the pre-flood period, with then a very sharp and catastrophic further decline during the Flood. It is remarkable to note the many similarities of the world order in the pre-flood period to those anticipated in the millennium. It seems likely, at least as a preliminary approach to the study of the future world, to suggest that God will restore Eden-like conditions to the earth. This will occur partially during the thousand years (which therefore will have many of the physical characteristics of the world before the Flood), and then fully in the new (or renewed) earth.
We can imagine from the biblical record that the most pleasant environmental conditions existed during the pre-flood era, due largely to the vapor canopy, the vast expanse of waters above the earth.” These served to prevent radiation and other damage to living tissue and thus contributed to longevity and physical vigor. The “greenhouse effect” maintained a generally uniform mild temperature everywhere. The much more nearly uniform distribution of land and water areas, with only low mountains and shallow seas, combined with only small seasonal and latitudinal temperature differentials, was sufficient to produce rich vegetation and abundant life forms all over the world, with no storms or other physical disturbances anywhere.
Now these same effects are described in the millennium. Longevity is to be restored (Isa 65:20) and evidently many who enter the millennial period will survive through the full thousand years. The topography will be evened out (Isa 40:4; Zech 14:10) and even the wilderness will again support abundant plant life (Isa 35:1,6-7; 51:3). Somehow even man’s divinely appointed relationship to the animal kingdom will be restored in measure (Isa 11:6-9).
Whether this will be brought about largely by natural processes or by miraculous power, we are not able to determine fully from Scripture. There do seem to be indications that, to some degree, natural forces operating in unusual ways (types of miracles, perhaps) contribute to the re-establishment of pre-flood conditions. It is interesting that Psalm 148:4-6 speaks of the “waters above the heavens” as “established for ever and ever.” There are none such now, and if they are to last forever, then somehow they must be reinstated, as they were before the Flood. Their presence would contribute significantly to the millennial conditions as we have seen them described.
III. Earthly Changes During the Tribulation
Now it is remarkable that phenomena described during the tribulation period could lead to just such an effect. There are to be 3½ years of drought over the entire world (Rev 11:3,6), and the winds are to be restrained (Rev 7:1). At the same time, solar radiation is to be drastically increased (Isa 30:26; Mal 4:1; Rev 16:8,12). Thus, vast quantities of water will be evaporated into the air; many rivers will dry up. With no winds, the vapor will simply continue rising, and no rain will restore it to the earth. Still more water will boil away into the atmosphere as great meteors or comets plunge into the ocean (Rev 8:8-11).
A peripheral effect of these phenomena will be an accelerated melting of the great ice caps of the Polar Regions; these also must be cleared for cultivation during the millenium. Perhaps the somewhat mysterious reference in Job 38:22-23 and Amos 9:5-6 refer to God’s sudden military use of the stored up “treasuries of the snow,” when they “shall melt” and it “shall rise up wholly like a flood.” It is calculated that melting of the ice caps would raise the sea level perhaps one hundred feet, and this would mean that most of the world’s great cities, situated near the sea as they are, would be quickly destroyed.
As the canopy is being restored, the earth’s topography will also be undergoing renovation. Great earthquakes will increase in frequency and intensity (Matt 24:7; Ezek 38:19-20; Rev 6:12, 16:18; Hag 2:6, etc.). These, together with meteor impacts and shifts in the integrity of the earth’s surface due to melting ice and evaporating oceans, will eventually so disturb the earth’s equilibrium that the entire crust will begin to slip and deform. To people on the earth, it will seem that the sky is moving - ”departing like a scroll” (Isa 24:18-20; 34:4; Amos 8:9; Rev 6:14; 16:20). The mountains will all be moved, and immense landslides will move sediments into the oceans.
By the end of the seven years of tribulation judgments on the earth, the topographic and atmospheric conditions could well have been restored substantially to their pre-flood conditions, preparing a suitable physical environment for earth’s great kingdom age. But what a contrast in pre-flood and millennial spiritual conditions! Before the Flood, “the earth was filled with violence” (Gen 6:13), but in the age to come, it shall be “filled with the knowledge of the LORD” (Isa 11:9) and all the initial evil and violence will be absolutely restrained (Rev 2:26-27). Man will finally be able in large measure to exercise the dominion over the earth for which God made him. His science and technology will be fully harnessed in ways that will glorify God and benefit mankind, and an almost perfect social order will be established, a true theocracy, centered in Jerusalem and the great millennial temple. Man’s resources will no more be devoted to war and armaments, to alcohol and drugs, and to the pursuit of ungodliness in countless ways, but to true art, science, medicine, music, education, agriculture, construction, research, and other beneficial ends.
The persecutions and catastrophes of the tribulation period may leave relatively few believing Jews and Gentiles, still in natural human flesh, to enter the millennial age (Matt 25:34). But conditions then will favor a high birth rate and low death rate, so that the population will rapidly expand to the “four quarters of the earth” (Rev 20:8). And this population will in some way all be instructed and ruled by the “saints”. They are those of the previous ages who trusted God in Christ under far more adverse circumstances and are now prepared for such ministries through their resurrection and perfection in Christ, (Dan 7:27; Luke 19:17; 1 Cor 6:2; Rev 20:6).
IV. Restoration of Eden-like Conditions in the New Earth
During the millennial age, pleasant though it may be, the earth will still be under the effects of the curse. Though decay processes may be decelerated, because of improved environmental conditions and advances in technology, the principle of decay will still be in effect and there will still be sorrow, pain, and death in the world. And that which brought on the curse in the first place – sin - will still be resident in the natural human heart. The great multitudes born during the millennium will all have ample opportunity to hear the gospel, and under the most favorable circumstances, but salvation still requires personal faith in Christ. Though open rebellion and sin will be prohibited, there will be great numbers who will remain unconverted and rebellious in heart. Therefore, “the devil must be loosed a little season” (Rev 20:3) to “deceive the nations” yet once more. Then it is, finally, that the earth will undergo its last great catastrophe, the fiery holocaust of which Peter speaks (2 Pet 3:10; cf. Heb 12:26-29; Rev 3:9-11). As believers were preserved through the Flood in the ark, it would seem that earthly believers at this time shall be preserved through the fire, perhaps by translation to the holy city, New Jerusalem, which shall then come down from the outer heavens to the new earth (Rev 21:1).
Note that though this is the new earth, it is the earth, this very planet on which we now reside. The basic materials of the earth’s structure will not be annihilated, but will undergo tremendous processes of disintegration, probably even atomic disintegration, as Peter’s language implies. All the age-long evidences of decay evident in the earth’s crust—especially the fossils and other monuments of the reign of death—will completely disappear. The earth’s remaining waters will either disintegrate or instantaneously boil away toward the partial vapor canopy already restored above the firmament just before the millennium.
Then, as the atoms of the former earth begin to fall together again after the holocaust, God will once more exercise His primeval creative power, and will “create” and “make” the new heavens and the new earth (Isa 65:17; 66:22). And it will be new again (Rev 21:5) much like the world He had made in the beginning. “There shall be no more curse” (Rev 22:3). The second law of thermodynamics - that there is equilibrium in disorder - will have been repealed in a reordering of elements, and perhaps even the first law also - that energy can be neither created nor destroyed - as God’s creative power will undoubtedly be freely apparent wherever needed from then on. There will be no more tears, or sorrow, or crying, or pain, and no more death (Rev 21:4). The sea will be no more (Rev 21:1), although there will be a great river (Rev 22:1,17) proceeding eternally from God’s throne and perhaps dividing into many streams coursing through the entire world. It will provide water and fruit from the tree of life along the banks for the “healing of the nations” everywhere (Rev 22:2).
Thus the water cycle of the present world will no longer be necessary, even in the more efficient form in which it functioned before the Flood. The entire earth will be habitable, without vast regions devoted to deserts and ice caps and oceans as at present. Whether or not the earth’s sun will be included in the destruction of the heavens is not stated explicitly. However, in the new earth there will be no need of the sun. “The Lamb is its lamp” (Rev 21:23). As the sun provides the energy for the maintenance of the present world processes (though, ultimately, this energy also comes from Christ - Heb 1:3), so the processes of the New World will be sustained directly by the Lord Jesus. Even the original earth was maintained by some such source of light (Gen 1:3) prior to the making of two great light-bearers on the fourth day of the creation period (Gen 1:14-19). “There shall be no night there” (Rev 21:25; Rev 22:5) and no need for rest and sleep because of the continual outpouring of power of God to meet all needs.
And there is the “city that is laid out like a square,” (Rev. 21:16) - 1362 miles in each dimension, “whose builder and maker is God.” The size of the city is such that the structure of the present earth could hardly support it. On the other hand, the new earth is by no means limited to its present size, or even its present shape. It need no longer rotate on its axis, nor orbit about the sun. Transportation vertically through the streets of the city will be no more difficult than horizontally, since the same power which could once instantly rapture the quick and the dead into the air to meet the Lord is the source of energy for all needs in the new Jerusalem, and further, our “lowly bodies” will have been transformed like unto “his glorious body” (Phil 3:21). We will be able to translocate.
V. The Hell of Fire
Outside the city, and undoubtedly far outside the new earth itself, but somewhere in the universe, will be the lake of fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41), but serving also as the eternal prison of all who must be judged according to their works (Rev 20:12-15). There are, of course, stars without number and of almost infinite variety in the universe, any one of which might fittingly be described as a vast “lake of fire.” Angels are occasionally called stars in Scripture (Job 38:7; Judges 5:20; Rev 9:1; 12:4); even Satan himself is the “day star,” Lucifer (Isa 14:12). The ancients worshipped the stars, because they constituted the “host of heaven.” The most plausible explanation for this apparent identification of the angelic hosts with the stars is that the stars constitute the residences of the angels. But a great number have “not kept their positions of authority” and have “abandoned their own homes” (Jude 6), and are now clustered about the planet earth as the “powers of the air.” For these rebellious angels, God has reserved a special lake of fire which has, “long been prepared” (Isa 30:33). The resurrected bodies, even of the unsaved, are to be like “the angels of God” (Matt 22:30) in that they will not be consumed by fire (Mark 9:43-48) and will exist forever after once being imprisoned there (Matt 25:41, 46; Rev 14:10; 20:14-15; 21:8; 22:15).
The flames of the fiery lake will burn without light, as hell is to be a place of utter darkness (Jude 13; 2 Pet 2:17). The awful environment will sear the soul as well as the body (Matt 20:28), in the midst of unending corruption and sin (Jas 3:6; Rev 22:11). Every least token of the love and grace and power of God will be forever removed as its inhabitants are to be “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thess 1:9). All who have preferred to be independent of God, walking in their own ways and neglecting His great salvation, will thus eternally be granted that freedom from God which they desire. They must be removed from the earth, since it will from then on be where God will dwell (Rev 21:3), and transported to some far-distant body of flaming darkness, forever. But all of this, together with the age-long reign of sin and death in the present world which produced it, will soon be forgotten by those in the new heaven and the new earth (Isa 65:17). In the New World, bright with the glory and beauty of the Lamb, throughout all the “ages to come” (Eph 2:7), our God of all grace will be showing “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
If you think that this world is sick, remember that it is sick. It fell along with all of us into imperfection because of sin. But just as our bodies will one day by faith be resurrected and glorified like Jesus now is, so also the world will need to die and be resurrected and glorified. It is fitting that God’s new human creation, finally free from sin, will inhabit a New World free of imperfections. He is preparing a place for us, and it is glorious. How can you be sure you will enter? It is only by confessing your sins to God and placing your faith in Jesus for forgiveness. It is the righteous blood of his sacrifice on the cross that paid for your sins. By faith, his righteousness can be yours. And only the righteous can enter God’s perfect kingdom. We saw the Passion Play in Zion last Sunday afternoon. It was marvelous to feel like you were in the midst of the ministry of Jesus and feel his passion for us who were bound for Hell. It was and is his passion to save us from Hell. It is also our passion in ministry here. Won’t you come to Jesus for eternal life? The choice is yours. But the alternative to his perfect kingdom is to remain in the sick one. He has also prepared that place for those who have chosen it. It is this Hell we have talked about. It would be like being deathly sick but never dying and never getting well. Amazingly, some people, many people, seem to want that. And they will get it. Come to Jesus and be eternally satisfied. He is the Savior of your soul – and body.
The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for,
The fair, sweet morn awakes.
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.