Behold Your King—Part 9

“New Heavens and a New Earth”

“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” —II Peter 3:13

THERE is a depth of meaning in Peter’s word ‘nevertheless,’ as used in the above text, and in his blessed assurance that there are to be “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Throughout the chapter preceding this text, the apostle has been both positive and graphic in his explanation that among the signs of the presence of Christ would be the dissolution of man’s selfish social order described as “the heavens and the earth, which are now.” (II Pet. 3:7) These, he declares, “shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat,” all of which occurs in “the day of the Lord [Jehovah].”—II Pet. 3:10

It is a dark picture of trouble and distress through which the nations were to pass, and little wonder that some might be inclined to doubt that such events could in any manner be evidences of the presence of a righteous king. Peter anticipates this objection and tells us that in the last days some would say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”—II Pet. 3:4

The true thought of Peter’s words in this text is lost through mistranslation. According to the Greek text, what he really said was, “Where is the evidence of his presence? For since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were.” To the fathers of Israel, through the holy prophets, God had made wonderful promises concerning the blessings which would come to the world through the king and Messiah whom he would send. It was Peter himself who, in summing up the glorious meaning of the prophetic testimony to the fathers, explained that following the return of Christ, during his second presence, there would be “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:19-21

Yes, since the world began, or “the beginning of the creation,” (II Pet. 3:4) the fathers had been given to understand that the coming of the Messiah to establish a kingdom would mean joy and health and everlasting life. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,” the Prophet Isaiah had written. (Isa. 9:6,7) Again, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” (Isa. 25:8) The Prophet Isaiah and the Prophet Micah both foretold that the nations would “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks,” and that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”—Isa. 2:4; Micah 4:1-4

From one standpoint or another, each of the prophets of old had described the life-giving blessings which would be showered upon the people when Christ, the righteous king of earth, returned to “have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” (Ps. 72:8) But Peter, who had the privilege of sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning from him, and who in addition was inspired by the Holy Spirit as a prophet and thus able to set these great truths forth in their proper sequence, recognized that before the blessings of Christ’s kingdom could flow out to the people, the kingdoms of this world must be destroyed.—Rev. 11:15

With this thought in mind, and in answering the question, “Where is the evidence of his presence?” Peter first reminds us of an illustration which he heard Jesus use when he answered the disciples’ question, “What shall be the sign of thy coming [presence], and of the end of the world?” In answering this question Jesus compared his presence at the end of the age with the days of Noah. (Matt. 24:37-39) In the days of Noah the people were not aware of the impending catastrophe of the Flood; but it came and wrought destruction upon the symbolic heavens and earth which existed at that time. Thus that world, or kosmos, was brought to an end.

Now, in a very similar manner, as explained by Peter, the present evil world comes to an end in a relatively brief period of time referred to in the Scriptures as the day of the Lord (Jehovah). Just as the days of Noah began prior to the Flood, and he was present preparing for the impending catastrophe, so the first years of Christ’s presence precede the destruction of “the heavens and earth, which are now.” (II Pet. 3:7) It is within the day of the Lord (Jehovah)—not prior thereto—that the foretold distress upon the nations, leading to their complete and final overthrow, comes upon them. They pass away with a great noise, the elements melt with fervent heat, and the works that are therein are burned up, in the day of the Lord. (II Pet. 3:10) With the selfish institutions of this present evil world out of the way, then will come the establishment of Christ’s kingdom, evidenced by the blessings which flow out from it for the enlightenment and healing of the people.

And it is in keeping with the purpose of Christ’s kingdom that God’s power be used for the destruction of this present evil world; for while Christ’s kingdom will be an instrument of blessing to mankind, his presence first results in the destruction of the enemies of God and of righteousness. The Apostle Paul wrote that the last enemy to be destroyed by Christ’s reign is death, and evidently among the first enemies destroyed in preparation for his reign are the kingdoms of this world. (I Cor. 15:25,26; Ps. 2:8,9) Because of this, his presence now causes all the tribes of the earth to mourn rather than to rejoice, as they will do later on. (Matt. 24:30) Thus Peter confirms the correct sequence of events associated with Christ’s presence in his explanation that it causes the passing away of the heavens and the earth which are now.

Having explained this point, making it as definite as possible, Peter then seemingly reverts to the question, “Where is the evidence of his presence?” and gives assurance that he has not at all overlooked the ultimate purpose of the Lord’s return, that is, the restoration of the human race to life. We quote, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Peter looked for this, and we look for it, because it is one of the things which God promised to the fathers through his holy prophets. While we look for the new heavens and new earth we realize, as explained by Peter, that before they can be established, a part of the work of the returned Lord is to set aside the wicked heavens and earth which compose this present evil world.—Gal. 1:4

The symbolic heavens and earth, over which Satan is the supreme ruler, are rapidly passing away; and to the thoughtful mind this focuses interest more than ever on the hope centered in God’s promise to create new heavens and a new earth. When Peter referred to this promise of God he evidently had in mind the one which is recorded in Isaiah 65:17-25. Turning to this wonderful chapter we read:

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people; and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed. And they shall build houses and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock; and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain [kingdom], saith the Lord.”

No amount of explaining could make this wonderful promise of God concerning blessings which will come to the people under the rulership of the new heavens and new earth more complete or realistic. In keeping with the figurative language of the East, the hope of blessing to come is set forth in word pictures, but there is no escaping the glorious meaning of the symbols used. In plain phrase Isaiah is telling us that when Christ is king there will be health and everlasting life for all the obedient, that all will be given at least a hundred years of trial, and if then they die because they are incorrigible sinners, they will be but babes in comparison to the lasting life which they might have enjoyed. There is building and planting, and an economic security attached to the labor of the people that is dreamed of today, but seldom, if ever, experienced. There is peace and tranquility among all.

These are the evidences which, just beyond the present time of distress, will convince the whole world that Christ is indeed reigning; and they will acclaim him as the mighty ruler of that time. It will be then that Christ will be revealed “in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” (Isa. 25:6-9; 52:10) What a prospect!

And what are the new heavens and new earth which the Lord has thus promised to create? They are the governmental arrangements of Christ’s kingdom. In the prophecy concerning their creation another name is given, namely, Jerusalem—“Behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.” (Isa. 65:17,18) The Apostle John, on the Isle of Patmos, was given various visions of the new kingdom arrangements, and said, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” and he also “saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.”—Rev. 21:1,2

In verses nine and ten of this chapter, John identifies the new Jerusalem and the bride, the Lamb’s wife. This is the key to the understanding of the symbol. Jesus is to be the great king in that kingdom of blessing; and he is to reign with and through his church, who, in the first resurrection, becomes his bride. Jerusalem of old was the capital of Israel, where kings had their headquarters, their throne. So the Lord uses these circumstances as a picture of the kingdom of Christ and calls it the new Jerusalem. And this new Jerusalem is also, as we have seen, the new heaven and the new earth which God has promised, in other words, the kingdom of Christ and his associates, his bride.

The combined symbol of heaven and earth indicates what is otherwise plainly taught in the Scriptures; namely, that the kingdom of Christ will be of two parts, the spiritual and the human—the invisible and the visible. Jesus, the divine king, and his church together with him, will be the spiritual part of the kingdom of blessing, and the resurrected Old Testament Worthies will be their human representatives. The Scriptures also speak of a great multitude who will stand before the throne and serve him day and night in his temple. (Ps. 45:14; Rev. 7:9,13-15) This, briefly, is the organizational arrangement of the symbolic new heavens and new earth. And it is because God has promised to complete the creation of this arrangement for the blessing of all nations that we can now rejoice to realize that Satan’s empire is crumbling.

All the promises of God which reflect his goodwill toward the dying race will be fulfilled as a result of his creation of the new heaven and new earth. His promises of a heavenly inheritance for the faithful followers of the Master will have their fruition in the exaltation of the church to glory, and honor, and immortality, to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4,6) And how much better is this true conception of God’s purpose in the church than the idea so long entertained by many that God is taking Christians to heaven when they die merely that they might be saved! Now we see that he calls all true Christians for a purpose, the blessed purpose of being associated with Jesus in his kingdom, through which the people of earth are to be given life, health, and enduring peace and happiness.

God’s promises to the Ancients will also then be fulfilled. Abraham and his natural descendants will have their portion in the Land of Promise. The Worthies of those past ages will be associated with the kingdom as its human representatives. They did not expect more than this. They understood nothing concerning the divine plan for a spiritual phase of the messianic kingdom. Even the prophets did not foresee this. Jesus said of the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, that although among those born of women there had not risen a greater than John, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven (that is, in the spiritual phase of the kingdom) would be greater than he. John will be one of the princes in the human phase of the kingdom, but he will not have a heavenly reward, and he will not reign with Jesus as a king.

In the new heavens and new earth God’s promises to Abraham will have their fulfillment—those promises that all the families of the earth were to be blessed. Jesus and his church constitute the faith seed of Abraham, which will be the channel of blessing to mankind in the kingdom, and how rich and far-reaching those blessings will be! They are beautifully illustrated in Revelation 22:1,2, under the symbol of a “river of water of life” which emanates from “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” On either side of this symbolic river are the trees of life with their abundant supply of life-giving fruit, “and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” How glad we should be that the people of all nations—starving, oppressed, bleeding, and dying—are to be healed. Verily this will be the blessing of all the families of the earth!

The promise of God through Jacob that out of Judah would come one called Shiloh—peacemaker—and that unto him would the gathering of the people be, will find its glorious fulfillment in the messianic kingdom; for King Jesus will be that Shiloh, and unto him, and under his banner of love and peace, the people will be gathered and blessed. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his day shall the righteous flourish.” “They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.” “Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” All of these heart-cheering promises will be fulfilled in the new heaven and new earth.—Ps. 72:6,7,9,11

Then, too, will be the time when every man will dwell under his vine and fig tree and when swords shall be made into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks. It will be then that the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then also will come the awakening of all the dead by the same infinite power of the Creator who gave life in the first place. No one, either of the living or of the dead, will be left out of the worldwide circle of people who will then have an opportunity of being blessed with everlasting life in keeping with the promises God gave through the prophets, made clear through Christ and the apostles, and ratified by the blood of the Redeemer.

But it will be necessary to obey divine law in order to live forever. The Apostle Peter emphasizes this. After telling us that with the return of Christ there will be “times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began,” he adds, “And it shall come to pass that every soul which will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.”—Acts 3:19-23

But there are assurances that the majority of people of all nations will probably be glad to accept the provisions of divine love, as they will then be proffered, and obey the laws of earth’s new king. Jesus indicated that the nation of Israel, although they rejected him at his first advent, will yet say, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The Prophet Micah wrote that “many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain [kingdom] of the Lord, … and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”—Micah 4:2

What could be more appropriate for any of us, even now, than to hail our king, the king of the new age—King Jesus? If we are endeavoring to walk in his footsteps of sacrifice, inspired by the hope of reigning with him, let us give the greater diligence to make our calling and election sure. If we are being drawn by divine love and are impelled to give ourselves to the Lord in full devotion to do his will, we should not tarry. There is still time to run for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!

In any event, if the beauties of the divine plan and the fact that the kingdom of Christ is near have inspired us to love the Lord more than we have in the past, let us show our love by an earnest endeavor to do his will, to walk humbly before him, and to sound forth his praises. Knowing, as we should, that we are living in the time of his presence, let us be among the first to welcome the new king and be ready to yield ourselves in full obedience to his kingdom laws of justice and righteousness.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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