Q&A: New Heavens and New Earth: Continuity and Discontinuity

New Heavens and New Earth: Continuity and Discontinuity

Will the current heavens and earth be destroyed in order to make way for the new heavens and earth?

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Answer

Christians across the centuries have divided over whether the new heavens and the new earth are a kind of celestial updating of what we've already got or something brand new because the present ones will be entirely destroyed. And the reason why the debate exists at all, it seems to me, is because there are biblical texts that seem to support both of those, and yet to our minds the two seem mutually contradictory. I suspect that it's partly because the revelation is so much at the very periphery of what we can see from Scripture with the eyes of faith that the final state will look like, that it can be viewed from somewhat different perspectives. If you're focusing on this world order being under the curse of sin, and it's full of death, it's declining, it's passing away, to use biblical language, then of course you speak and think in terms of its destruction. If on the other hand you're emphasizing the fact that we are going to have bodily existence, it's not going to be ethereal or nonphysical, it's going to be bodily existence, then you're not only speaking of going to heaven but a new heavens and a new earth, and that's going to look very different from what we experience now, because, after all, there's going to be no death, no sex, no decay, no aging. But at the same time, you do want to say it bodily. Jesus' post-resurrection body is somehow connected with his pre-death body because he still got the stigmata, he's got the scars. So, with this degree of continuity therefore the Bible speaks of a renewal in some respects as well, and you live with a tension because, I think, the reality is going to outstrip anything we know, but you've got to accommodate both of those themes, the destruction of all that is passing away and the renewal in recognizable terms of categories that we already enjoy in some measure here.

Answer by Dr. D.A. Carson

D.A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, and Co-founder of The Gospel Coalition