Dear readers, I have noticed in recent years increasing support for the idea that we will spend eternity, not where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-4), but on a new earth. The passage most often quoted in my experience is 2 Peter 3:13, which speaks of “new heavens and a new earth.” Taking that as a cue, some have described our forever home in very “earthy” terms, indicating that life then will be much like it is now, with much or all of the things we currently enjoy on Earth, but without its current problems.
Recently I saw a published article addressing this very topic, written by Dr. David H. Warren. With his permission, and with my thanks, I am posting that article here.
IS HEAVEN A PLACE ON EARTH? by David H. Warren
Today I hear a lot of “new things” being taught in the Lord’s church. Unfortunately, most of what sounds “new” is not true. In fact, it is really not even “new.”
But I can see the attraction of new things. With all of the eye-candy on our iPhones, iPads, and television, it takes a lot now to get our attention and hold it. We are prone to pick up the remote control and change the channel. And novelty can bring notoriety. It can draw a lot of attention and publish a lot of books. It can make someone famous.
Heaven as a Renewed Earth?
One of the “new things” I am hearing in the Lord’s church today is that our eternal home after this life is over, heaven, will actually take place here on planet earth. This teaching reminds me of a song that Belinda Carlisle made famous nearly thirty years ago, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” It reached the top of the music charts as the number one hit back in 1987. And now I hear brethren singing that same song today in the Lord’s church. They are telling us that our future home in “heaven” will not be “up there” but “down here” on a renewed earth.
Well, in one sense, I do not really care where heaven will be. I believe that I will be so excited when I finally get there, and so overwhelmed with joy, and so glad to be there together with all the saints of all the ages, that it will not matter to me where it is actually located. Just think! We all will get to see God face to face (Matthew 5:8). Tears of joy will replace the tears of sorrow, and God Himself will wipe even these tears from our eyes (Revelation 21:4) as He smiles and welcomes us into His home.
But this strange new teaching that heaven is a place on earth does concern me. I am not wishing to make it a test of fellowship. But I do see it as contradicting several clear statements in Scripture. And I fear that it places our focus on material things rather than on spiritual things. I am not ready to trade the biblical “new song” about heaven (Revelation 5:9; 14:3) for Belinda Carlisle’s version, even if it was a number one hit.
Not Really a New Teaching
This “new creation theology,” as some call it, or “holistic eschatology,” as J. Richard Middleton refers to it in his recent book A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology, is really not a new teaching. One can find a few individuals who espoused this teaching in church history, but until recent times it has always been an unpopular teaching.
In the early church, Methodius of Olympus (died as a martyr in AD 311) is the only clear, unambiguous example of someone who believed that the earth would never be destroyed but would be restored at the resurrection and become the eternal home of the righteous. It is true that some, like Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and a few others, believed in some kind of earthly millennium. But none of them seemed to equate heaven, the final abode of the saved, with a place here on earth.
During the Reformation, John Calvin (1509–1564) does mention such a belief in his commentary on the Bible, but only in his comments on Romans 8:21 and 2 Peter 3:10. And he never mentions it again, not even in his major work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In the late nineteenth century, this belief surfaced again as a doctrine among Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It even appeared in the Restoration Movement during this time. Several of the early leaders believed in a renewed earth in some sense. But they were mislead by their cherished hope that what they had started would eventually envelope the whole world. They hoped to see it mushroom into a millennium, where all denominationalism would cease. They wanted to see the Restoration Movement reach its climax by the coming of Christ, when He would reign supreme in righteousness upon the earth. But we can see now that they were mistaken. Our modern world is headed in the reverse: “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37).
Why the Reversal in Popularity Now?
But it has only been since Belinda Carlisle’s song became a hit that this strange “new” teaching about heaven as the renewed earth has become popular. I am not saying that writers like Ben Witherington III (Jesus, Paul and the End of the World), N. T. Wright (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church) and J. Richard Middleton (A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology) are consciously copying Carlisle. I am suggesting that Carlisle’s song is a manifestation of the increasing materialism of our age, and we are now seeing that materialism influence our theology and even our eschatology.
But this “new creation theology” or “holistic eschatology”—whatever you want to call it—involves the deliberate setting aside of clear biblical teaching. And in its place, the proponents have substituted a theory based on obscure passages that are difficult for many of us to understand.
The Teaching of Jesus
This theory about planet earth becoming the eventual home of God and of all the saved for all eternity contradicts clear statements made by Jesus Christ. In Matthew 24:35 (= Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33), Jesus promises that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (see also Matthew 5:18; Luke 16:17). By the first statement, Jesus does not mean that only the unwanted part of the earth will pass away. The proponents of this “new” teaching are claiming that when Jesus comes again, the earth will only be purified by fire. Like a refiner’s fire, this eschatological fire will only burn away the impurities and unwanted dross of sin. But the earth itself will not be destroyed.
Yet Jesus Himself here clearly states that the earth itself will pass away. He is not saying that it will be transformed and renewed. He is not saying that it will pass into another form, a purified form that will then be eternal in nature. The Greek word here translated “pass away” means “to come to an end,” “to perish” (Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. 2, pp. 681–82). Jesus clearly teaches that one day planet earth will come to an end. It will perish (Psalm 102:25–27; Hebrews 1:10–12). As for the words of Jesus, they are eternal.
In John 14:2–3, Jesus gave this promise to His disciples: “2In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me so that where I am, there you may be also.” Here Jesus states clearly that He is leaving this earth to return to His Father in heaven in order to prepare a place there for His disciples (John 14:2; also 16:5, 28). The place that He will prepare is in His Father’s house up there, not down here. And when it is prepared, He promises to return and get them and then take them back to His Father’s house in heaven (see John 13:33, 36; 16:16).
The divine plan is not for the Father and the Son to come and join us here on earth. There is a sense in which they already dwell with us even now in this life (John 14:19–20, 23). But when this life is over, Jesus promises to return to take us to His Father’s home in heaven.
The Teaching of the Apostle Peter
No other passage more clearly predicts the fate of this earth when Jesus returns than 2 Peter 3:10–13. In verse 10, the Apostle Peter tells us that on the day the Lord returns, “the heavens will pass away with a rushing noise.” This is the same verb that Jesus used above in His statement that the earth would come to an end. The term “heavens” here refers not just to the atmosphere around our planet earth (the sky where the birds fly, Matthew 6:26) but also to the universe itself (where the stars are, Hebrews 11:12), in contrast to the “third heaven” as the eternal abode of God (2 Corinthians 12:2).
Peter also employs another verb, “destroy” (luō) in verses 10 and 11 (again see Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the NT, vol. 4, p. 336, and vol. 7, p. 686). The language here is not that of a refiner’s fire, as we are being told by the proponents of the renewed earth theory. This cosmic fire is not just destroying the impurities of the earth. It is destroying “all these things” (vs. 11), including the heavens and the earth itself.
The Teaching of the Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul teaches that, when Jesus comes again, He will appear “in flaming fire” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Paul alludes here to the fiery destruction that Peter described in 2 Peter 3:10–13. He also teaches that, when Jesus returns, He will take away His disciples from the earth (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17). This will take place just before the destruction of this earth, and it accords with Jesus’s own teaching in John 14:2–3.
In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul distinguishes between “earthly bodies” and “heavenly bodies” (vs. 40), and he explains that at the resurrection we will all receive a “spiritual body” (vs. 44). He then contrasts Jesus with Adam by saying that Adam was “from the earth,” but Jesus was “from heaven.” And in the resurrection, we too will bear a “heavenly” body like Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:40–49). But none of this makes any sense, if heaven is really just a place on earth.
An Unhealthy Focus on Material Things
The Lord Jesus taught us to lay up our treasures in heaven, not on the earth (Matthew 6:19). But this teaching makes no sense, if heaven is really to be a place on earth. The Apostle Paul taught us to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” and to set our minds “on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1–2). But this new teaching about a renewed earth misplaces my focus because it blends together “the things that are above” with “the things on the earth.”
Paul tells us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). But the “new creation” theologians would have us believe that what we now see is also eternal. Hebrews 12:26–29 tells us that one day God will shake this earth and the heavens, and that all that He shakes will be removed. And the Apostle John warns us: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And he assures us that this world will one day “pass away” (1 John 2:16–17). But the devotees of this new doctrine would contradict it all!
Brethren, let us not waste our time listening to new theories spun by theologians seeking to please those who only wish “to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). Heaven will not be a place here on earth. Such a teaching contradicts clear statements made by Jesus and His apostles in the Bible, and it misplaces our focus on material things rather than on what is spiritual. Let us have nothing to do with it.