How “New Heavens and a New Earth” Begin
1. (a) In the Bible, what is often referred to as “heavens”? (b) In some passages, what is the meaning of “earth”?
MENTION of the heavens makes many persons think of outer space, the moon and the stars. The Bible also associates “heaven” with rulership. (Acts 7:49) At times it uses the expression “the heavens” to refer to God himself as Universal Sovereign. (Daniel 4:26; Matthew 4:17) Even governments of men are referred to as “heavens,” because these hold a position above their subjects. (2 Peter 3:7) Similarly, “earth” often means the globe, but it can also refer to human society. (Genesis 11:1; Psalm 96:1) An awareness of this can help you to appreciate the significance of the fascinating promises regarding “new heavens and a new earth.” Some of these promises had an initial fulfillment in the days of ancient Israel.
‘BE JOYFUL IN WHAT I AM CREATING’
2. Why did Jehovah allow Israel to be taken into exile, but what did he foretell?
2 The nation of Israel was in a covenant with God, having solemnly agreed to obey him. But they became disloyal. Because of this, Jehovah made it known that he would withdraw his protection, allow Jerusalem to be destroyed and the people to be taken into exile in Babylon. (Isaiah 1:2-4; 39:5-7) But he also mercifully foretold the restoration of a repentant remnant.—Isaiah 43:14, 15; 48:20.
3. What did the promise at Isaiah 65:17 mean?
3 Because of the certainty of this, Jehovah spoke of that future restoration as if it were already taking place, saying: “Here I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart. But exult, you people, and be joyful forever in what I am creating. For here I am creating Jerusalem a cause for joyfulness and her people a cause for exultation.” (Isaiah 65:17, 18) This would mean deliverance for those repentant Israelites.
4. (a) When did the foretold deliverance come? (b) What were the “new heavens” and the “new earth” back then?
4 Impossible though such a thing had seemed from a human standpoint, powerful Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians in 539 B.C.E. The Jews came under a new government, “new heavens.” Cyrus the Great filled a prominent role in that “new heavens.” Though Cyrus did not become a Jewish proselyte, he acknowledged that Jehovah permitted him to have the authority he exercised and that Jehovah had commissioned him to get the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt. (2 Chronicles 36:23; see Isaiah 44:28.) Back in Jerusalem in 537 B.C.E., Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Jeshua also served prominently in that governmental “new heavens,” and the restored Jewish remnant made up “a new earth,” a cleansed society that reestablished pure worship in the land.—Ezra 5:1, 2.
5, 6. (a) What would give evidence that they truly were a changed people? (b) When Jehovah reproved them, how was their response different from that before the exile?
5 As evidence that in both mind and heart they were a changed people, they needed to put the interests of pure worship first in their lives, truly respect Jehovah’s sovereignty and listen to his prophets. Consistent with this, among the first things they did when they reached Judah was to “build the altar of the God of Israel” and to offer sacrifices.—Ezra 3:1-6.
6 When materialistic tendencies and fear of man hindered the completion of the temple building, Jehovah reproved the people by means of his prophets, and they took heed. (Haggai 1:2, 7, 8, 12; 2:4, 5) Later, when serious failure to conform to the Law requirements regarding marriage was pointed out, the people corrected their ways. (Ezra 10:10-12) Instead of having eyes that, figuratively, did not see and ears that were deaf to God’s word, they experienced spiritual healing and used their faculties in harmony with Jehovah’s will. (Compare Isaiah 6:9, 10 with Isa 35:5, 6.) As a result, God prospered them in harmony with the promises found at Isaiah 65:20-25.
7. How do we know there was to be a further fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy?
7 But was that all there was to the fulfillment of the prophecy regarding “new heavens and a new earth”? Certainly not. The Christian apostle Peter stated that first-century Christians were eagerly anticipating a further fulfillment. (2 Peter 3:13) What they were awaiting is now unfolding before our eyes. In what way? In connection with events that involve the enthronement of the Greater Cyrus, the glorified Jesus Christ.
8. (a) When did Jehovah bring this “new heavens” into existence, and how does this compare with the prophecy’s first fulfillment? (b) How has the membership of the “new heavens” been progressively enlarged?
8 As we have already seen, it was in 1914 that Jehovah God conferred upon his Son authority to begin ruling in the midst of his enemies. The long-awaited “new heavens” then came into existence. What occurred was far more magnificent than the events associated with the deliverance of ancient Israel. (Psalm 110:2; Daniel 7:13, 14) The government brought to birth in 1914 actually rules from heaven itself, and God has given it authority over all the earth. The enlarging of this government occurred later with the resurrection of Christ’s spirit-anointed followers (who had already died) to be kings and priests in heaven with their Lord. As other members of that Kingdom class have finished their earthly life, they too have been added to the growing membership of the “new heavens.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; Revelation 14:13) By far the great majority of Christ’s joint heirs are now active in that heavenly Kingdom. The spirit-born Christians thus joined with Christ make up the New Jerusalem, concerning which Jehovah said: “Here I am creating Jerusalem a cause for joyfulness and her people a cause for exultation.”—Isaiah 65:18.
9. What “cause for exultation” did Jehovah produce right here on earth in 1919?
9 It is not only in the heavens but also on the earth that Jehovah has produced “a cause for exultation.” A remnant of the Kingdom heirs are still on the earthly scene. During World War I the clergy of Christendom seized upon wartime hysteria to lay false charges against these Bible Students and to cause members of their Governing Body to be sentenced to long prison terms. But in 1919 they were liberated, actually being released from captivity instigated by Babylon the Great. With Jehovah’s spirit backing them up, they reorganized as a people devoted exclusively to pure worship and the interests of God’s Kingdom.
10. (a) How were the expectations of these spiritual Israelites different from those of the repatriated Jews in 537 B.C.E.? (b) What work did Jehovah give them to do? (c) How has he richly blessed them while they are still on earth, and how do the cited scriptures describe the conditions they enjoy?
10 Their hopes and expectations, however, were different from those of the Jews who returned to their homeland in 537 B.C.E. The members of spiritual Israel were looking forward to an inheritance “reserved in the heavens” for them. (1 Peter 1:3-5) But before they actually received that reward, Jehovah had a work for them to do. Concerning this, he prophetically said: “I shall put my words in your mouth, and with the shadow of my hand I shall certainly cover you, in order to plant the heavens and lay the foundation of the earth and say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’” (Isaiah 51:16) He put his “words,” his message, into the mouth of his servants for them to proclaim earth wide. With confidence they began to make known that God has planted the “new heavens” so firmly that neither men nor demons can uproot them. The way in which Jehovah has dealt with the representatives of heavenly Zion has clearly identified them as his people. In contrast with the spiritually and morally desolate condition of the world, the “land” occupied by spiritual Israel, their field of activity, has become a place where spiritual values and activities thrive. It is a spiritual paradise! (Isaiah 32:1-4; 35:1-7; 65:13, 14; Psalm 85:1, 8-13) But what about the “new earth” foretold at Isaiah 65:17?
PREPARATION FOR THE “NEW EARTH”
11. (a) Especially since when has Jehovah been preparing prospective members of the “new earth”? (b) By what people that left ancient Babylon were they foreshadowed?
11 Beginning especially in 1935, Jehovah caused the members of spiritual Israel to see that the time had come for the gathering of a great crowd of persons with expectation of eternal life on a Paradise earth. Compared with the “little flock” of Kingdom heirs, they have indeed become a great crowd. (Revelation 7:9, 10) These, too, have been brought into the spiritual paradise. They were foreshadowed by the non-Israelites who left Babylon with the Jews in 537 B.C.E. as well as those who did so later. (Ezra 2:58, 64, 65; 8:17, 20) All this great crowd of modern-day witnesses of Jehovah with earthly hopes are prospective members of the “new earth.”
12. How are people being prepared now so that they can be a suitable foundation of the “new earth”?
12 Those who survive the great tribulation and have before them the prospect of perfect human life will actually constitute the foundation of that “new earth,” being the first members of it. It is important that the foundation be sound. So, right now they are being instructed thoroughly in Jehovah’s ways. They are being helped to gain heartfelt appreciation of the issue of universal sovereignty. They are learning how vital it is to ‘trust in Jehovah with all their heart and not to lean on their own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3:5, 6) They have opportunity to prove themselves zealous and loyal supporters of God’s Kingdom by sharing to the full in preaching “this good news of the kingdom” now. (Matthew 24:14) They are experiencing what it means to be part of a global society in which people out of all nations and languages and races work together in loving brotherhood. (John 13:35; Acts 10:34, 35) Are you personally applying yourself so as to benefit fully from this program of education? For all who do so, marvelous prospects lie ahead.
THE “NEW EARTH” BECOMES A REALITY
13. How will the coming “new earth” be a far grander fulfillment of Jehovah’s promise than what took place in 537 B.C.E.?
13 The final, complete fulfillment of Jehovah’s promise to bring into existence “a new earth” will be far grander than what took place back in 537 B.C.E. Not only will those who make up the “new earth” be people who were liberated from Babylon the Great, but that entire world empire of false religion will have been destroyed forever. (Revelation 18:21) This righteous human society—the “new earth”—will not be surrounded by nations that reproach Jehovah and persecute his servants, as was true in the first fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. All human governments, because of their refusal to submit to Jehovah’s sovereignty, will have been crushed out of existence, and the present wicked human society will have been completely cut off from the earth. (Daniel 2:44; Proverbs 2:21, 22) As God’s righteous New Order begins, the only people who will inhabit planet Earth will be those who honor Jehovah, finding exquisite delight in his ways.—Psalm 37:4, 9.
14. (a) When will 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1 be fulfilled? (b) What will be different about the circumstances in which the “new heaven” then functions? (c) Who will be included in the “new earth”?
14 It is to that glorious time that the apostle Peter directed attention in his second inspired letter. (2 Peter 3:13) Pointing to the same exciting prospect, the apostle John reported details of the revelation given to him, saying: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea is no more.” (Revelation 21:1) When the great tribulation has passed and Satan and his demons have been abyssed, a new epoch will begin. The vile influence of Satan and his demons will be gone. His entire system of things will have been destroyed. The “new heaven” will then carry out Jehovah’s loving purpose for his creatures without any interference from governments that ignore Jehovah’s sovereignty. Under that “new heaven” will be a truly “new earth,” made up of the “great crowd” to whom God extends the precious prospect of endless life in a global Paradise of beauty, plenty, happiness and peace. When God’s appointed time comes for the human dead to be raised, these too will have the opportunity to become part of that “new earth” in which righteousness will dwell.—Revelation 20:12, 13.
15. Why is the promise at Revelation 21:3, 4 important to you?
15 Concerning what God has in store for mankind then, the apostle John heard this announcement from heaven: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3, 4) How exhilarating life will be!
16. What expectations as to the future are stirred in our hearts by the promises at (a) Isaiah 11:6-9? (b) Isaiah 35:1-7? (c) Isaiah 65:20-25? (d) Who makes these delightful prospects possible for us?
16 Conditions that existed in Eden and the miracles performed by Jesus provide delightful previews of what life will be like in that “new earth.” Additionally, features of the prophecies at Isaiah 11:6-9 and Isa 35:1-7 and Isa 65:20-25 will find physical fulfillment then, to the great blessing of obedient mankind. How refreshing it will be when the vitally necessary conditions of spiritual health and prosperity can be enjoyed along with physical and mental perfection in an earth that in every way has become Paradise! With such a marvelous prospect before us, how can we do otherwise than raise our voices in gratitude to Jehovah, the Grand Creator of it all!