When I was a relatively new believer I was taught that the present world will be annihilated. Not just the animals and vegetation, not just the land and the waters—but the subatomic particles themselves would one day be dissolved into nothingness . . . utterly destroyed . . . obliterated. In its place God would then create a completely new heavens and earth—ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” This new heavens and earth would not merely be qualitatively different (“improved”), but quantitatively different (“absolutely new”).
But is this true? Will God utterly annihilate this present universe . . . or will He renew it? Will the original creation of Genesis 1 be rejected as beyond repair . . . or redeemed from its fallen, cursed condition?
“Heaven and Earth Will Pass Away”
Both the Old and New Testaments clearly describe a time when heaven and earth will “pass away” or “perish.” Psalm 102:25–26 says, “Of old You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment.” This same Psalm is quoted in Hebrews 1:10–12. Similarly, Jesus famously said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). With vivid images, Isaiah 24:20 pictures the fall of the world: “The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard and it totters like a shack, for its transgression is heavy upon it, and it will fall, never to rise again.”
Perhaps the most definitive statements about the ultimate destruction of the universe are found in 2 Peter 3:10 and Revelation 20:11 and 21:1. Peter writes, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” And John records his vision of the new creation in startling terms: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them” (Revelation 20:11). And then: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea” (21:1).
Read quite literally, these Old and New Testament texts seem to carry a degree of finality—utter destruction of the present heavens and earth and a replacement with a completely new physical universe.
But there’s a problem, because Scripture also says . . .
“Heaven and Earth Will Not Pass Away”
In Psalm 148:3–6, all creation is called to praise God. We read: “Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all stars of light! Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for He commanded and they were created. He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away.” Clearly the sun, moon, stars, heavens, and waters have all been established “forever and ever.” In fact, God’s decree “will not pass away.”
In Psalm 89:36–37 the promise of the eternal covenant with David and His descendents is linked to the eternality of the heavens and earth: “His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful.” We know that this Davidic covenant is fulfilled eternally through Jesus Christ, the final Davidic King. So, just as the Davidic King will endure forever, the sun and moon, likened to the Davidic promise, must also endure forever.
Similarly, God solidifies His promise of everlasting faithfulness to His covenant with Israel by appealing to the continuation of the heavens and earth: “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.’” If the heavens and earth were intended for absolute destruction in the future, then this promise of God to Israel could be broken!
These passages describe a creation that is not expected to pass away or be destroyed. In fact, the sun, moon, stars, and heavens could not cease to exist without disastrous implications for the faithfulness of God and the reliability of His promises.
So, which is it? Will heaven and earth pass away, as the Bible says? Or will heaven and earth be preserved forever, as the Bible says? Does the Bible contradict itself? Or is there a way to harmonize these two apparently contradictory truths?
(Continued in Part II…)