Let’s go back to the beginning. No one doubts that the Genesis account of the creation of heaven and earth was a physical literal reality. But the pattern of the Bible according to the inspired Apostle Paul is, “the natural first and then the spiritual” (1 Cor. 15:46 )
This, by the way, is one of the main reasons they rejected Christ. They tried to make him king, but he absolutely rejected being to them that kind of king. He told them, “…the kingdom of God doesn’t come with observation…. The kingdom is within you.” As he said to Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.” It was the natural first (Old Jerusalem, heaven and earth) and then secondly the spiritual (New Jerusalem, new heavens and a new earth).
When we look closer to the language the Bible uses for heaven and earth in other places, many times we find God describing the covenant as heaven and earth.
For example, in Leviticus 26:14-20, the specific details of expectations were laid out, then it transitions to describe the result of not following them. In verse 19: "and I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass." In fact, in Deuteronomy 4:26, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day.” Was he speaking of the natural creation or the covenant that he had made with them?
Notice how God spoke to Israel in Isaiah 51:15-16, “But I am the Lord your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared— The Lord of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’”
When did the Lord split the sea? It was when he led Israel out of Egypt right? When did God cover someone with the shadow of his hand? That would have been their representative Moses when God hid him in the cleft of the rock and covered him with his hand as his glory passed by. When did God say, “You are My people?” It was at the giving of the Law.
Yet, this passage says that at the establishment of the Law with Israel, he called it the time that he planted the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth. Heaven and earth is the language God used to describe the Old Covenant and how he related to the government of Israel. So that is what Isaiah meant when he said in Isaiah 1:1-2, "…Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth." He was speaking to the covenant world of Israel.
There are many examples of this in both the Old and New Testaments. Let me give you one of each. In Isaiah 13:1-13, we read of what appears to be the destruction of the whole world. The language is bathed in drama and cosmic catastrophe. It describes the collapse of the sun, moon and stars and says, in verse 13, "Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place."
The truth is, this is apocalyptic language. It is the language of the prophets to create an image in the heart of their world falling apart. The sun, moon and stars represent the governing powers of the day, and their blotting out and falling down describe the fall of that government. In particular, this is a prophetic word for Babylon and its soon coming fall to the Medes around 539BC. In this way God was shaking their heaven and earth, their world. God used the Medes to bring down a wicked government. Yet, the physical world was still in existence.
This is familiar language to the ancient world. The Jewish people understood heaven and earth particularly revealed through the Jerusalem temple. It was where heaven and earth met. This was the way that the Jewish historian Josephus understood the temple in Jerusalem:
When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the seas, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men…
John Lightfoot (1602-1675), the highly respected author of the four volume series, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, observed how heaven and earth is used in the New Testament:
“the ‘passing away of heaven and earth’ is the ‘destruction of Jerusalem and the whole Jewish state…as if the whole frame of this world were to be dissolved.”
Maimonides, the Jewish Rabbi said,
The Arabs likewise [as the Hebrew prophets] say of a person who has met with a serious accident, “His heavens, together with his earth, have been covered”; and when they speak of the approach of a nations prosperity, they say, ‘The light of the sun and moon has increased.” A new heaven and a new earth has been created,” or they use similar phrases.
A New Perspective
A major change in my perspective began about six and a half years earlier when I had a dream I know was from the Lord. In it, I saw a huge pitch black cloud filled with thunder, lightning, and foreboding. Then I saw it come down to the earth and sweep across the landscape. There were people literally swept away because they were unprepared.
Suddenly I was in a public bathroom, like at a state park or rest area, and I was inside, hanging upside down on something. Then I’m standing outside of it and it is a bright shiny day.
I knew that God was going to be changing my perspective on something (upside down) but for all those years I couldn't quite put the whole thing together. I thought some bad things were coming to America, and it looked like the judgment of God.
Then one day I remembered the dream and sensed the Lord wanted me to revisit it. I remembered that dark cloud had the same characteristics of the giving of the Law and I thought of the passage in Hebrews 12. Suddenly as I read it all began to make sense. God wasn't trying to get me to see some dark judgment coming to America. Quite the opposite! He was flipping my perspective about that completely upside down!
Hebrews 12:18 For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. 20 (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” 21 And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.
What does once more mean? I think it still means only once. Or to say it another way, there will never again be another shaking of heaven and earth. There will never again be a foreboding cloud of judgment handing over our heads. It will never come from him, ever.
What was the heaven and earth about to be shaken? It was Israel’s old covenant world of Moses shaken by the coming destruction by Rome in 70 AD. It was the fulfillment of all that the Law had predicted (Luke 21:20). It was the removal of that legalistic covenant and the establishment of the new one which cannot be shaken and is a once for all event. It was the removal of things “made”, i.e. the natural, to give way to what can never be shaken, the spiritual kingdom of grace.
The new heavens and new earth, the new way that God relates to humanity has come.
It is marked by a kingdom of grace! No earthquakes, no curses, no wrath, no threats of punishment.
It is only fathering, grace, disciplining from within our spirits, and the power of internal transformation.
It is only an invitation to come to know Him and live in the truth.
It is only peace on earth and good will toward men.
It is a kingdom that displaces the curses of men with the blessings of God.
It is a kingdom in which light drives out darkness.
It is a kingdom that will continue to increase as the zeal of the Lord performs it.
It’s called the kingdom of the Son’s love.
It’s the realm where God is not at war with his creation and where righteousness, peace and joy are normal.
Through its influence one day there will be no wars as the implements of war are transformed into tools of agriculture (Micah 4:3-4)
Once this kingdom arrived then “to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed “ (Dan 7:14). And through the process of time Daniel said that during the Roman Empire “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever.” (2:44)
Notice how Isaiah describes it: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (65:17). “’For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,’ says the Lord” (66:22).
This kingdom of grace is the way God relates to us forever. He will not call to mind any way in which we related through the Law and instead the covenant of righteousness will remain before him forever. There is always an open heaven over your life! Welcome to a whole new world!