Originally published December 12, 2019
The new heavens and a new earth in 2 Peter 3:7–13: Are these two places located in different locations or is one inside another? Who would be in the new heaven? Who would be in the new earth? Is there another heaven besides the new heaven?
In Genesis 1:1, the phrase “the heavens and the earth” is not meant to distinguish between the starry heaven above our heads and the earth beneath our feet. The phrase is really equivalent to our word “universe” or “cosmos,” which denotes all that we can know of the material universe, including space and time. The phrase “the heavens and earth” of 2 Peter 3:7 also refers to the present universe. There is an intended parallel between this “heavens and earth” with the “new heavens and a new earth” of verse 13. So the new heavens seem to be related to the new earth just as the present starry heavens correspond to our present earth. The use of the phrase “new heavens and a new earth” does not indicate distinct realms, but a single composite realm.
Thus, the phrase “new heavens” does not seem to refer to “New Jerusalem,” which is the home of the risen saints. The “Father’s house” (Jn. 14:2), the “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22) and the “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2) all seem to be the same “place” in the sense that these are various names for the home of the heavenly saints after resurrection. While the phrase “new heavens and a new earth” seems to refer to the eternal home of “earthly” saints. We are not told how the new earth is populated, but a reasonable suggestion is that those alive at the end of the Millennium, who are not destroyed by the fire from heaven (Rev. 20:7–9) and are consequently truly faithful (“saved” or “born again,” if you will) are translated to the new earth. What does seem necessary from a careful consideration of 1 Corinthians 15 is that they will be “changed” (i.e., will be given glorified bodies) in the process.
In addition, we are not told exactly the relationship between the New Jerusalem and the New Earth. However, there are strong suggestions in Revelation 22 and 23 that there is some kind of relationship between them. One thing to keep in mind is that the “space and time” with which we are familiar is part of this present creation. We need to be mindful that there may be differences between what we are familiar with and the circumstances of the future creation. Remember how the Lord in his glorified body appeared to His disciples with the doors shut (Jn. 20:19).
It needs to be noticed that all of the above discussion presupposes resurrection. When we colloquially say, “Grandma went to heaven” we are really referring to “Paradise” in the sense used by the Lord in Luke 23:43. In this case, we are “present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8) consciously, but not yet with resurrection bodies (1 Th. 4:13–18).
There is certainly room here for differences of opinion as to the details. Scripture is given to us for comfort and spiritual wisdom for our path, not to definitively answer every question we might have (1 Cor. 13:12).