Friday, May 30, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven? *

Dan Story Photograph
Part Sixteen:   Will the Prophesied “New Heaven and Earth” 
Be on This Earth?

The Bible refers to the future, eternal abode of redeemed and resurrected humans as “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1-4). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology describes it this way:
       The biblical doctrine of the created universe includes the certainty of its final redemption from the dominion of sin. The finally redeemed universe is called “the new heavens and new earth. . . .
       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 compete rule of God and by the full realization of the final goal of redemption: “Behold the dwelling of God is with men” (Rev. 21:3—pg. 763)

This bare-bones description gives us the theological fact of the new heaven and earth—but not what it’s like. It does, however, reveal the two most important features of this future “redeemed universe” and “renewed creation:” Sin will be permanently vanquished, and God will dwell with His people forever. But this doctrinal statement omits any description of the physical environment of the “new” earth and its non-human inhabitants. There are passages in the Bible that reveals this information, however, and we’ll look at many of them as we move through the next few blog articles.

The Old Earth Will Pass Away

Before we start, it needs to established that the Bible plainly teaches that our present earth and “heavens” (the atmosphere and outer space) will be replaced by a redeemed and restored “new heavens and earth.” Passages in both the Old and New Testament testify to this.

Psalm 102:25-26:  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.

Isaiah 51:6:  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment. . . . 

Matthew 24:35:  [Jesus said,] “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Hebrews 1:10-12: “In the beginning, O’ Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. “ 

2 Peter 3:10:  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

There Will Be a New Earth

Just as there are passages that reveal the present earth will “pass away,” there are also Old and New Testament passages that predict a new earth.

Isaiah 65:17:  “Behold, I [God] will create new heavens and a new earth.” 

Isaiah 66:22:   ”As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure. . . . 

Acts 3:21:   He [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
Revelation 21:1:  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . .

The Present Earth Will Be Redeemed and Purified—Not Obliterated

During a radio interview shortly after my book Should Christians Be Environmentalists?  was released, the host put forward a common argument many Christians use to justify abusive and unnecessary environmental  exploitation: “Why should  we care what happens to the environment if God is going to destroy the earth at the end of this age?” This argument is based on 2 Peter 3:10-13, which reads in part:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. . . . But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness ((2 Pet. 3: 10, 13).

This passage appears to say that there will be a fiery cataclysmic end to the earth on “the day of the Lord” (v. 10), when Jesus returns to crush Satan and his minions and then recreate the “new” heaven and earth (see Rev. 20 – 22).

I don’t agree with this interpretation for several reasons.  For one, it’s the only passage in the Bible, which I’m aware of, that seems to imply that the earth will be totally “destroyed” by fire at the end of this age. None of the passages quoted above require an interpretation that earth will be annihilated. On the other hand, there are passages that clearly state the earth will remain forever (e.g. Ps. 78:69; 104:5; Eccl. 1:4). The angel proclaims in Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world [the earth] has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” He doesn’t say the kingdom of the world will be destroyed. Jesus didn’t come to destroy the world and its inhabitants but to save it (John 3:16) and to redeem the earth (Rom. 8:19-23). Revelation 5:9-10 teaches that people “purchased” by Jesus’ blood would include “every tribe and language and people and nation . . . . and they will reign on the earth.

In the Bible fire is often associated with judgment. So rather than a fire literally destroying this earth and God creating a brand new earth from scratch, Peter is likely speaking about this earth being purified  and renewed. In this view, “destroyed” in verse 10 means the same as Peter used it in verse 6, when he said the earth was “destroyed” by the worldwide flood. We know the earth wasn’t literally destroyed, but was cleansed and purified of sin. Revelation 21:1 and Isaiah 65:17 both speak of this new heaven and earth, but not in context of the old earth being destroyed by fire. Additionally, both Isaiah and Ezekiel further point out that  this present earth will return to Garden of Eden like conditions (Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35). So it appears Peter is speaking figuratively about purifying and renewing fallen creation. He is saying in 2 Peter 3:10-13 that the earth will be cleansed of evil and purified from sin—not annihilated. 

God’s eschatological purpose is to redeem and decontaminate the earth of sin and to restore it to Garden of Eden-like conditions. The Apostle Paul says as much in Romans:

 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.  Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.  For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us (Romans 8:19-23, NLT).
Paul says nothing in this passage about the destruction of the present earth. He is writing about the removal of the curse and the redemption of all creation (including animals) when Jesus returns to establish His everlasting Kingdom. The first creation will not be destroyed and then replaced by an entirely new creation. It will be restored and renewed; sin will be obliterated and the curse will be removed. This is all part of God’s redemptive plan for redeemed humanity and restored creation.  The next few blog articles will show why this concept is important to understand in terms of animals inhabiting the new heaven and earth.  

Note: I could not get this blog formatted correctly. Hopefully by next week I will have figured out what was wrong. Dan

*  The blog articles in this series are adapted from copyrighted material and may not  be reproduced in book or article form, either electronically or in print, without my written permission. But feel free to send links to these articles, with a brief introduction, to your personal email list, Facebook friends and groups, or other people who may enjoy them. Or post a link on your own website. If you would like to be added to my personal blog email list (people who receive an email notice whenever I post a new blog article), contact me through my website:

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