In the Bible, the words translated as “heaven” or “heavens” can mean either:
- The earth’s atmosphere
- The realm of the stars
- The dwelling place of God and the angels
The term the “heaven and earth” is mentioned in 26 verses of the NIV Bible. Most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 115:15, Isa. 37:16). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
The term the “heavens and earth” is mentioned in 15 verses of the NIV Bible. Likewise most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 1:1; Jer. 32:17; Acts 14:15). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.
New heavens and new earth
The term “new heavens and new earth” is mentioned in two verses (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). Isaiah lived until at least 680 BC, which is about 75 years before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem when Daniel was captured and deported to Babylon (in 605 BC) and about 94 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 BC) and took more captives. The book of Isaiah is about God’s judgment and deliverance of the Jews. Isaiah predicted that the judgment was imminent (Ch. 1-39), but they would be eventually restored (Ch. 40-66). It ends with restored people living on a restored earth under the rule of the Messiah.
In this portion of the book, Isaiah is looking ahead to when the Jews would be in exile in Babylon. Isaiah 63:15 – 64:12 is a prayer of those in exile seeking deliverance from their captivity. The prayer is answered in Chapters 65-66, which mentions the new heavens and the new earth.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17NIV).
“‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’” (Isa. 66:22).
This new creation is characterised by (Is. 65:17-25; 66:19-24):
- Longevity and no infant mortality (65:20)
- There will be death and therefore sin will be present (65:20), but Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:2-3).
- Children will be born (65:23)
- No war or calamity (65:23)
- Wild animals will be tame and not dangerous (65:25)
- Jews return to Jerusalem (66:20)
- Jewish worship and priesthood will be re-established, which implies that the temple will be rebuilt (66:21)
- All humanity will worship the Lord (66:23)
- Resurrected Christians will rule the world with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:6)
So the Jews are promised a time of great blessing which has not yet occurred. When he spoke to Jews who rejected Christ, Peter called this the “times of refreshing” when God will “restore everything”, which was predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Acts 3:17-24). As it is referred to as a 1,000 year period in Revelation 20:1-7, this is often referred to as the Millennium.
Heaven and the Millennium
But those who trusted God before the death of Christ also go to heaven (God’s dwelling place). Although most of the promises they were given were physical (like the Millennium), they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” and “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). Therefore, the verses in Isaiah probably include the eternal state of heaven. The main difference between the two is that there is sin in the Millennium, but not in heaven. Their temporal relationship is shown in the timeline. The Bible indicates that the sinful world vanishes after the Millennium and before the eternal state (Isa. 51:4-6; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).
A new heaven and a new earth
The term “a new heaven and a new earth” is also mentioned two verses (2 Pt. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 2 Peter 3 comments on those who doubt God’s final judgment of the physical world. They are called scoffers (v.3). As the earth was devastated by a global flood in Noah’s time, in future the universe will be devastated by a fire (v.6-7, 10-12). At this time the sinful world is replaced by a sinless one (Mt. 24:35; 2 Pt. 3:10; Rev. 21:1). This judgement occurs before the “day of God”, which is the eternal state. It’s God’s final triumph over sin and evil. Christians are told to look forward to the “day of God” and “a new heaven and a new earth” – these terms are equivalent. They are told, “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). They look forward to God’s new creation where there will be no sin (Rom. 8:21). In this sense, it will be like God’s original creation. The physical universe will be transformed and renewed in a similar manner to the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:20-23). So it seems as though the eternal state has a physical component.
Most of the book of Revelation describes future events. These include the second advent of Christ as a warrior who defeats all His enemies (19:11-20), and then as a king who reigns over the earth for 1,000 years (20:4-6). The final event is the new heaven and new earth, which is the eternal state (21:1-22:5). John says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1).
This new creation is characterised by:
- God is present – it’s His home (22:3)
- No sadness, suffering or death and therefore no sin (21:4). It will be a place of harmony, peace and joy (Col. 3:20).
- Only Christians will be there – non-Christians are excluded (21:27). It’s their eternal home where they have a close relationship with the Lord (21:3, 7; 22:4).
- Christian will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
- Christians will be worshipping and praising the Lord, serving Him and reigning with Him (22:3, 5)
It is also described in: “Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?”
Lessons for us
We can see that those who trust God are promised a future time of blessing. It’s what they longed for (Heb. 11:16a; 2 Pt. 3:12-13). They look ahead and forward, not behind and backwards. Are we anticipating a time without sin and being in the presence of our Savior?
In view of this we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Pt. 3:14). It should change our behavior. Are we pure? Are we blameless? Are we holy? Are we at peace or is there strife?
Written, July 2013
Using the resource that God gives us
There are two natures present within believers – the sinful and the divine. The sinful nature is inherited by everyone and powered by Satan (Rom. 5:12; Jas. 3:15). In some Bible translations it is also referred to as “earthly,” “the flesh,” “the world” or the “old man.” Sin is evident every day of our lives, causing many of the struggles in the Christian life.
The divine nature is a consequence of the Holy Spirit indwelling believers, giving them a new attitude and godly behavior (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23-24). This becomes evident when one is controlled by the Holy Spirit and obedient to God (Rom. 6:16; 8:6-9). The divine nature is sometimes referred to as “godly,” “heavenly,” “spiritual” or the “new man.” The divine nature is beneficial now and for the future (1 Tim. 4:8).
Purpose Of The Divine Nature
Second Peter 1:3-11 tells why Christians should express the divine nature in their daily lives. Its development is essential for a useful life and it is God’s provision to counteract the sinful nature. He has given us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3 NIV), so we have the resources to live a life that pleases Him.
Through God’s power and promises we should “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pet. 1:4). His promises include His living among His people, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and treating us with parental care, as His children (2 Cor. 6:16-18). So, the power to express the divine nature is divine, not human (Jn. 15:5). The Greek word translated “participate” is “koinonos”, which means “partakers,” “sharers” or “having something in common,” and is described elsewhere as partners and companions. This implies that God shares His nature with us, and our active involvement (“make every effort” in 2 Pet. 1:5) is conveyed in the New International Version by expressing this as the verb “participate.”
An important reason for participating in the divine nature is that it helps us combat the sinful nature (2 Pet. 1:4). If we follow the Spirit’s guidance, we “will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16). Also, replacing activities of the sinful nature with those of the divine nature helps stop giving Satan a foothold in our lives and reduces our double-mindedness (Eph. 4:22-27; Jas. 4:8). The more we participate in the divine nature the less time we’ll have for the sinful nature.
Therefore, we are exhorted “to make every effort to add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-control … perseverance … godliness … brotherly kindness and … love” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). The Greek word for how to do this is “spoude,” meaning “eager, earnest, zealous, diligent.” We should “make every effort” to express these characteristics of the divine nature.
This is followed by a promise of effective and productive lives if these qualities are increasingly present (2 Pet. 1:8), as in our growth towards Christlikeness (Eph. 4:13-15). Failure to develop these virtues leaves us spiritually blind and forgetful (2 Pet. 1:9).
Also, there is this promise: “If you do these things you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom” (2 Pet. 1:10). The Greek word for fall is “ptaio,” meaning “to stumble.” It is used metaphorically in this verse meaning to stumble into sin. Similarly, Christ has been described as “Him who is able to keep you from falling” (Jude 24). But of course, James said, “we all stumble in many ways,” so this means that the more we are occupied with the divine nature, the less likely we are to fall into sinful behavior (Jas. 3:2).
Images Of The Divine Nature
Fortunately for a generation that thinks visually, the Bible teems with illustrations. Scriptural examples of the divine nature in believers can increase our understanding of this gift from God.
The fruit of the Spirit is well known: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Paul urges believers to clothe themselves with: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. “And over all these virtues put on love” (Col. 3:12-14). Furthermore, we are exhorted to flee sinful behavior and pursue: righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness, and peace (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Finally, the wisdom that comes from heaven is: pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (Jas. 3:17). This results in a “harvest of righteousness” (v. 18).
The symbols used in these examples provide a further impression of the divine nature. It increases, grows, sustains, protects, is a worthwhile goal, and is true wisdom. What attractive and desirable images!
Attributes Of The Divine Nature
The main features of the divine nature, summarized from the Bible, are listed at the end of this article. These are the characteristics of God and Christianity. They are seen in creation (Rom. 1:20), in Christ (Jn. 14:9-11) and should be evident in believers before a watching world. Christ told His followers to love one another so that others would know who were His disciples (Jn. 13:34-45). Fruitful lives are also evident in His disciples (Jn. 15:8). Similarly, the divine nature should distinguish believers today, as God communicates through them (2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Jn. 3:7-10).
Enough Evidence To Convict Us Of Being Christian?
Christianity changes people, transforming their attitudes, desires and values. For example, the dramatic changes to Peter and John were explained by the fact that they “had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). By participating in the divine nature, believers are changed by the Holy Spirit to become more like Christ: “transformed into His likeness” (2 Cor. 3:17-18). Then there is our final transformation: “When He appears, we shall be like Him” (Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2).
After advising Christians to be occupied with things that are: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, Paul urges them to put into practice what they have learned (Phil. 4:8-9). Who controls our lives is largely up to us. We can make choices on how we live our lives more often than we think. This is why we should “make every effort” to let the Spirit replace our sinful values, attitudes and desires with godly ones.
So, let’s get involved in the divine nature, making the most of every opportunity to be God’s fellow-workers, recognizing the divine nature in others and encouraging other Christians in it as well (2 Cor. 6:1; Eph. 5:16).
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