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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






30 May 2005

What Is the New Heaven and Why Do We Need One?


Q: The Bible teaches about a New Heaven and a New Earth. I can see why we need a new earth, but why do we need a new heaven? What's wrong with the old heaven? When the faithful die and go to heaven, they will not even know if it’s the new or the old heaven. Even the book of Revelation, where we have a glimpse of heaven, does not tell us if it is new or old. So why the new heaven?

A: First of all, we need to agree what “heaven” means in the context of your question. Like most Christians, we first of all think of heaven as a specific place, i.e., the place where the Lord God dwells. However, we need to remember that heaven (or “heavens”) also refers to sky, including the entire universe outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Already through Isaiah, the Lord promises: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (65:17)” And in the next chapter, He says, “‘For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me,’ says the Lord, ‘so shall your offspring and your name remain.’ (66:22)” The sin-corrupted, falling-apart nature in which we live faces certain destruction. However, those who trust in the Lord and are heirs of the promise through belief in the Savior “remain.” Yet even in this, we know that we don’t remain with our old natures nor even our old bodies.

Peter develops this End Times/New Creation theology in greater detail: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)”

Peter not only issues warnings and promises for God’s people. He also reminds us that the new life of the resurrection is physical as well as spiritual.

Revelation 21 “merges” the two meanings of heaven. There is a “new heaven and a new earth. (v. 1)” However, this new, physical creation isn’t separate from the dwelling place of the Lord, for verse 3 says, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” How all of this takes place is a mystery known only to God.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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