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New Heavens and New Earth. The biblical doctrine of the created universe includes the certainty of its final redemption from the domination of sin. The finally redeemed universe is called “the new heavens and new earth.”
In the OT the kingdom of God is usually described in terms of a redeemed earth; this is especially clear in the book of Isaiah, where the final state of the universe is already called new heavens and a new earth (65:17; 66:22). The nature of this renewal was perceived only very dimly by the OT authors, but they did express the belief that a human’s ultimate destiny is an earthly one. This vision is clarified in the NT. Jesus speaks of the “renewal” of the world (Matt. 19:28), Peter of the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). Paul writes that the universe will be redeemed by God from its current state of bondage (Rom. 8:18–21). This is confirmed by Peter, who describes the new heavens and the new earth as characterized by righteousness and as the Christian’s hope (2 Pet. 3:13). Finally, the book of Revelation includes a glorious vision of the end of the present universe and of the creation of a new universe, full of righteousness and of the presence of God. The vision is confirmed by God in the awesome declaration: “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:1–8).
The new heavens and the new earth will be the renewed creation that will fulfill the purpose for which God created the universe. It will be characterized by the complete rule of God and by the full realization of the final goal of redemption: “Now the dwelling of God is with men” (Rev. 21:3).
The fact that the universe will be created anew shows that God’s goal for humans is not an ethereal and disembodied existence, but a bodily existence on a perfected earth. The scene of the beatific vision is the new earth. The spiritual does not exclude the created order and will be fully realized only within a perfected creation.
It has been usual to discuss whether the new heavens and new earth will involve a renewal of the present universe or a complete destruction followed by re-creation ex nihilo. Both views have ardent proponents, the Reformed tradition favoring renewal and the Lutheran tradition favoring re-creation. Both views seem to have adequate biblical support (e.g., for renewal, Matt. 19:28; Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:18–21; for re-creation, 2 Pet. 3:7–13). The best view seems to be that there is both continuity and discontinuity; the universe will be renewed, but this transformation will be so complete as to introduce a radically new order of existence.
By F. Q. Gouvea
Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 828–829.