Bible prophecy Book of Revelation hermeneutics

Revelation 21: New Heaven and New Earth

The Apostle John writes that he saw “a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” (v.1). The implication is that the heavens are remade by God or, at least, the surface of the earth is refurbished, because is it is described as “new.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

2 Peter 3:10

I believe some of this is possibly symbolic language. Of course some is literal but we need to understand which. Read Do the heavens literally pass away or don’t they? The word ‘earth’ in 2 Peter 3:10 means the earthlings. The people are judged according to their works. The ‘elements’ are the ‘fundamental principles’ by which the world has been governed by man. The Greek word translated ‘elements’ is στοιχεῖον (stoicheion), which is related to ‘something orderly in arrangement.’ But all order and government is changed at Christ’s return, which is followed by the new heaven and new earth. The old heavens, both spiritual heavens and the physical environment of the earth are changed. They are restored to the state of creation before Adam’s sin.

The earth is to undergo a purification and a renewal to make it fit for the home of the saints in glory. The old state of things shall be succeeded by a new order, both physical and moral.  So what we are talking about here is a renovation of the earth physically and a renewal of the created order.

This also strengthens the argument that the resurrected saints are not again to be found physically on earth until the earth is purified and prepared for them, which is after the millennial “church age”. This is after the Day of the Lord and the final wrath of God on the planet. The saints are resurrected just before this final judgment and everyone stand before God at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20).

And “there was no more sea” (v.1). Whether this is to be understood literally, or whether it means that there shall be no barriers between the peoples, such as the sea interposes, is not certain. It seems to mean that God will renew what can be seen from the advantage point of the earth.

For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered nor come into mind.

Isaiah 65:17  

God remakes the earth as a paradise, like it was before Adam sinned and the Curse imposed. The phrase “I create new heavens” does not necessarily mean that the stars in the universe are all replaced by new stars, though some people teach that. In Psalms 148:3-6 we read,

3 Praise you Him, sun and moon: praise Him, all you stars of light. 4 Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, and you waters that be above the heavens. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD: for He commanded, and they were created. 6 He has also established them for ever and ever: He has made a decree which shall not pass.

Psalms 148:3-6

Then John writes that he saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven” (v.2). Scripture only says he saw it coming down. So it does not state that it lands on the surface of the earth but at least it is in orbit above the earth.

Reference is made to the “new Jerusalem … prepared as a bride” (v.2) meaning the people of God, the saints are that city.

The notion of God now residing with men is made (v.3) and God will rule the earth. Of old the Shekinah, the emblem of God’s presence and glory, dwelt in the tabernacle between the Cherubims (Exodus 25:22). In this glorious city of the future, God shall make his tabernacle and dwell with men. They shall recognize his presence, his protection, his fatherly and omnipotent care over them. The concept is in balance with the idea that before Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden they lived in a perfect paradise with God Himself. Their sin is what caused them to be banished from the Garden. It is what caused them to physically die. They were cast out so they could not eat of the tree of life and physically live forever. The sin (of rebellion against God’s commandment) is what resulted in God’s curse on the creation. And only after that did carnivory enter the Creation, and pain and suffering like we experience in the world today.

But God promises to undo the effects of the Curse (v.4) as there will be “no more death” meaning that that major effect of the Curse is removed, God making “all things new” (v.5). This could also mean that God reverses the effects of decay with His sustaining power over the Creation, something like He did with Moses and the burning bush, when it never burned up (Exodus 3:3).


Those who seek Him, Christ, the Alpha and Omega, shall find Him and receive eternal life with God (v.6,7). “He that overcomes” (v.7) are those who endure all the persecution for the Lamb, who suffered, and died in Christ. But the unbelievers and the worst evil doers are cast into the “lake which burns with fire”, Hell (or Gehenna in Greek from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, meaning “valley of Hinnom”, the place of eternal burning) that is the “second death” (v.8).

The unsaved are referred to as dead (Luke 9:60) and to be born again is the “first resurrection”. So the “second death” is the spiritual death in the lake of fire. If your name is found in the Lamb’s book of life you will not face the second death, only the first death when you earthly body dies, but even that scripture refers to as “asleep” because you are not really dead.

Then John is shown the vision of the Bride of Christ, the true believers (v.9). Verses 10-21 then give us a description of the new Jerusalem city descending from heaven (v.10), which must mean it is not the current city of Jerusalem. The description is far different anyway, not a city made by man. There are different theories around about the meanings and significance of the 12 foundation stones and the 12 pearly gates. I won’t speculate. There is no temple in it because the Lord God Almighty and Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, are the temple (v.22). They shine so bright that no light like the sun is needed (v.23). It does not say that there is no sun, just that it is not needed for light in the city. In it shall dwell those who are saved (v.24). Only those who are saved may enter (v.27). This is self evident. No unsaved make it through to the New Heaven and New Earth. This is Heaven on Earth.

Now to address the issue of the city itself.

In v. 2 we read ‘being prepared as a bride adorned for her husband”. But Jesus has told us that

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:2,3

So we see the illustration of the Husband preparing a house for His betrothed bride. This implies a spiritual/symbolic message in this section of the vision. But verse 10 – 21 describe the city in great detail.

A literal city on earth or in orbit above the earth?

It describes a 4 sided base of equal lengths (v.16) “twelve thousand furlongs” in dimension, equal in height as in breadth and width. The original Greek text used the word “stadia” for the unit of length, which was the length of the race tracks the Romans used in their chariot races. So that translates to 1500 miles (based on 8 furlongs to a mile) which is about 2400 km.

Some say this describes a cube, but also a four sided pyramid would fit. Could be that the Egyptian pharaohs were trying to copy God with their pyramids. Lucifer has nothing new, he can only copy God’s plan and usually it is a fleshly imitation.

Here is an illustration for size of the heavenly city on Earth. Of course the surface would not be like this now. It would be a new earth and possibly no seas. The physics of the planet would need to be changed because with a height of 1500 miles most of the city would be in the vacuum of space. Beside with the addition of the mass of the city made of transparent gold the dynamics of the planet would also change. So God must use His constraining power to stabilise the planet. But I believe that is what He does anyway to preserve the earth forever.

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By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.