Are the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21 and 22 present or future? This may seem a strange question if you have always assumed it’s all about eternity. However, there is a common preterist view that the destruction of the old heaven and old earth and the arrival of the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem is a picture of the old covenant being replaced by a new age of blessings under the new covenant. In other words, the concept is that the new heaven and new earth is not to be considered as a future physical reality, but rather as a present spiritual reality through the gospel.
Those of us who are convinced that the OT kingdom prophecies are already fulfilled spiritually in Jesus’ kingdom/church (John 18:36) cannot just discount the possibility that the same type of interpretation may be true regarding the new heaven and new earth. There surely are many wonderful new conditions since Pentecost, A.D. 30, when Jesus’ kingdom/church was established. And we must remember that the book of Revelation is filled with figurative language. Not even the “literalists” believe in a literal fulfillment for the beasts, or the harlot, or the binding of Satan. But the question before us really is not whether the final two chapters of Revelation contain some or much figurative/symbolic language. The question is if the language, whether literal or figurative, refers to the present or to the future. Let’s examine.
Take for example, 21:4: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.” Yes, there is joy in Christ, but that doesn’t eliminate sorrow and tears. “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears,” Paul said (2 Cor. 2:4). Yes, in Christ we have passed from death into life. But we still die physically; and some (many?) Christians do die spiritually. Jesus told the Christians in Sardis, “I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and are dead” (Rev. 3:1). And do we need a Bible verse to prove that Christians experience physical and emotional pain here and now? Along with peace and joy in Christ, we still have plenty of tears, sorrow, pain, and death on this earth. Verse 4 does not fit the here and now.
Then there is 21:22: “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” In the OT the temple was a physical building to get close to God, to worship Him. In the new Jerusalem, there is no physical temple, because God himself is the temple. This is not a picture of the present age. Today, God’s people are the temple of God. “Know you not that you are the temple of God?” (1 Cor. 3:16). In connection with that concept, Rev. 22:4 says: “They shall see his face.” Up until that time, nobody can see God’s face and live (Ex. 33:20). However, “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). In the here and now, Christians are the temple of God. In eternity God himself will be the temple. Here and now we cannot see God. In eternity we will see Him.
Also consider Rev. 21:27: “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination, or makes a lie:” Today, liars and other sinners do get into the church. The case of Ananias and Sapphira is enough to prove that (Acts 5). But in the New Jerusalem sin is excluded, praise His name.
The only other mention of new heaven(s) and earth in the NT is in 2 Peter 3. We have recently looked at this text in Insights 213 and 214. Suffice it here to highlight “the heavens and the earth, which are now” are “reserved unto fire against the day of judgment” (vs. 7); “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise… the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up (vs. 10); and “we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness” (vs. 13). Peter expresses all this as future to him, so it is not the gospel age, which was already well under way. Rather, Peter was explaining things concerning our hope in Christ. This harmonizes perfectly with what we have concluded in Revelation.
That’s how I see it. How about you?