Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth…
My recent articles on our life in the kingdom age combined with the prophetic nature of our study on Micah have prompted numerous questions about the promises made to Israel and the Church, and the role and destiny of three groups of “saints”; Old Testament, Tribulation and Millennial.
Let’s take Israel first.
In Jewish eschatology God promises to one day return and live among the Jews in Israel on planet Earth forever (Ezek.43:6). This will be accomplished at the outset of the Millennium following the re-dedication of the defiled temple (read ) and the topographical changes made to Earth by the earthquakes and other upheavals that characterize much of the last phase of the Great Tribulation. These “natural disasters” serve a dual purpose; to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of Earth who have rejected God, and to begin the Earth’s restoration to the condition it was in when Adam was given dominion over it. Its axis has to be righted, it’s rotation altered, and the time it takes to circumnavigate the Sun shortened. The water vapor canopy that deflects harmful ultra-violet rays and that collapsed during the Great Flood must be replaced to permit the long lives predicted for the Millennium (Isa. 65:17-25), and the mountains and sea floors that were altered to contain the floodwaters must be returned to their original form. The excess water not needed for the canopy will return to “the fountains of the deep” from whence it came.
The English translation of John’s comment that he sees a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) is somewhat misleading. In the original language the word translated “new” actually refers to condition rather than age and means something closer to refreshed or renewed, and the word heaven refers to the firmament (atmosphere), the visible arch of the sky where the clouds move. This is consistent with both the Lord’s reference to “the renewal of all things” at the beginning of the Kingdom age (Matt. 19:28) and also the Old Testament view (Isaiah 65:17).
Once this is accomplished, God will finally take up residence among His people Israel, never to leave again. The Old Testament saints, those who died in faith of a coming redeemer who would expiate their sins, will come to life and join Him there fulfilling the promise He made to them repeatedly over the generations. From other studies we’ve done (read ), we know that before the cross the dead went to Sheol, the abode of the dead, sometimes called paradise or Abraham’s bosom, to await this redeemer. When Jesus died he went there and released them, taking them with Him into God’s presence (Matt. 27:52-53). Since in the time before the cross salvation for gentiles was only available through conversion to Judaism (John 4:21-24 & Acts 15:1), these Old Testament saints include both Jews and converted Gentiles.
What About The Church?
The Church, on the other hand, has always been promised that we would go to “heaven” to live with Jesus (John 14:1-3). This is fulfilled at the rapture when we who are alive join the resurrected dead in receiving our perfected bodies and populate New Jerusalem, which I believe is a low orbit satellite hovering in the proximity of Earth but not part of it (read ). Whether Jew or Gentile anyone who comes to faith between the cross and the Rapture automatically becomes a member of the Church and receives all the unique blessings accruing there from. At the moment of belief, they become part of nothing less than a new race of human, neither Jew nor Gentile, the only ones qualified for residence in New Jerusalem.
At the Rapture the age of the Church, sometimes called the Dispensation of Grace, closes and the world returns from a time of belief by faith alone to a time of belief by evidence. As it was in the Old Testament, the world will be regularly treated to awesome and undeniable signs of God’s presence. Those who come to the Lord during this time will have correctly interpreted these signs as coming from Him, and will bow in obedience, but since their allegiance to Him will not be motivated solely by faith in things unseen, but by hard evidence of His existence, their destiny, while highly desirable, is not the same as the church’s.
These are the Tribulation Saints spoken of in Rev. 7:7-17. Read the passage carefully and you’ll see that they aren’t the Royal Bride of Christ, but servants of God who serve Him day and night in His Temple. Having refused their earlier calls to faith, but being persuaded by events of the Great Tribulation, they have “washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Many will be martyrs for their faith. Since there is no temple in New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:22), the only reference to a temple being the one in Israel, they must spend much of their time there. Being perfected through death and resurrection, however, they will have access to New Jerusalem.
At the beginning of the 1000 year Kingdom Age, the world will be populated solely by believers, some natural having survived the Great Tribulation and some perfected having been resurrected into the promise of Israel. A case can be made from the sheep and goat judgment (Matt. 25:31-46) and from the Lord’s promise that He will use the Great Tribulation to purify Israel (Jer. 30:1-11 & Zech 13) that nearly all natural survivors will be gentiles. These gentile believers will conceive and bear children re-populating the many nations that will also occupy the planet. Since Earth will have been restored to its pre-flood condition, long life spans will again characterize these new generations and many millions will be born into a world of peace and plenty. Not much else is said about their destiny, but from our knowledge of the consistency of God, and from descriptions of life in Israel given us in the last 7 chapters of Ezekiel we can infer some things.
Inhabitants of Earth, having been born of natural parents, will be sinners and Temple rituals will again be used to expose their sin nature. Ezekiel speaks in great detail about these rituals, similar in many respects to Old Testament Judaism, but conducted as memorials to remind the inhabitants of Earth what God has done for them rather than as predictions of what He would do. I see nothing in Scripture that would indicate a departure from the need for a personal relationship with the Lord as a means to forgiveness and salvation and these memorials are designed to introduce those born during the Millennium to their Lord and Savior. Through the witness of Israel, they’ll be given the same choice you and I and everyone since Adam was given: accept the pardon purchased with the Blood of Christ and receive eternal life with God or reject it and endure eternal separation and condemnation. This is the way it’s always been, and this is the way it will always be (Isa. 43:10-13).
The reward side of this equation has changed from Israel to the Church to Tribulation saints, but the penalty side has remained constant. We’re not told what the Millennial saints will gain, but the loss suffered by those who reject the offer of pardon seems clear: They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev 20:10).
No More Excuses
I’ve often been asked the purpose of the Millennium. It’s clearly not the first chapter of eternity, since time still exists and by definition eternity is the absence of time. And since there’s still sin on planet Earth as evidenced by the need for sacrifices (Ezek. 45:13-25), the hints of death (Isa 65:20) and the rebellion that brings it to a close (Rev.20:7-10), the final solution to man’s sin problem obviously hasn’t been fully implemented.
I think the Millennium is God’s final response to all man’s excuses. We can’t be good because of Satan’s influence. Fine. He’ll bind Satan for the whole 1000 years. We can’t be good because of the influence of unbelievers. Fine. He’ll remove all the unbelievers and give us a fresh start. We can’t be good because God is so far away and doesn’t intervene. Fine. He’ll come back and live among us and rule the nations with an iron hand. And even with all these excuses gone, at the end of the 1000 year period there’s still enough rebellion in the hearts of unregenerate man to mount a huge army against God at the first opportunity.
As for eternity, the Bible being the handbook for the Age of Man doesn’t address it directly. Just as precious little is offered to describe events before the first man was born, so it is with events after the last man chooses his destiny. All we know for sure is that whichever destiny we choose, and there are only 2 options, we’ll enjoy (or suffer) the consequences forever.