Q&A: The New Heavens and New Earth

The New Heavens and New Earth

How is the new heavens and new earth compared to the temple in the Old Testament?

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Answer

First of all, I want to talk a little about the significance of the temple, the sanctuary of God's people. I think the most significant thing to consider when looking at the temple and the part it played in the life of God's people is the idea that the Lord was truly present there with his people. When he built the tabernacle we can see that the kavod Yahweh, the glory of Yahweh, dwelt there. And the significance for the people is played out in the book of Exodus after the incident of the golden calf where Yahweh threatened not to go in the midst of his people, because they were so stiff-necked, he said, and stubborn, his wrath would break out against them and wipe them out. And Moses then at that time said, "Well, if you're not going to go with us, I'm not going to go, because how will other people know that you've actually chosen us?" So, one of the distinctive things that Israel said about itself and its identity as God's people was that the Lord had chosen them as a people, to be with them and dwell with them. And so, the tabernacle, or later, the temple, was the place where the Israelites could go to be assured of God's forgiveness and his mercy, and be assured that he was for them. One of the unique things about their worship life there, then, was especially, for example, the fellowship offerings where they would eat and drink in the presence of Yahweh. And that was a little foretaste of the feast to come, as we would say it, of the eschaton, the last days, that will mark their existence in the new heavens and the new earth, so that in the sanctuary and in the worship life of God's people, whenever they went up to the sanctuary, there was the idea that they were going up there to meet Yahweh, to receive his forgiveness, assurance of his grace and salvation. So, in a sense, that too was an in-breaking of the future eschaton into the presence of God's people. It's also interesting, and you can kind of look at this when you look at the architecture of the tabernacle and then the temple, that there was a creation theme, or a "back to Eden" theme built into the architecture and into the various art and artifacts in the tabernacle and temple, so that when they went into the temple to worship, not only did they go back in time to the restoration, to the making of things as they were before the Fall, but it was also then a reminder of how, in the future in the new heavens and the new earth, things would be like Yahweh created them to be when he said in Genesis, after he'd created this, it was all very good. And so, it's no coincidence that when we go to the book of Revelation, Revelation 21, the new heavens and the new earth are talked about in terms of the temple — God dwelling with his people, his people in his presence, delighting in him, worshiping him. And so, the temple is a significant experience for God's people in which they were assured of his presence and already received a foretaste of what God had in store for them for all eternity in the new age.