If, as the Hebrew Scriptures indicate, this world had a beginning, will it have an end? If so, when? And then what?
In Numbers 24:14 (JPS, 1985), we read about the “days to come.” (Christians sometimes refer to this period as the “end times.”) Jewish tradition puts the coming of the Messiah at the end of time. In the Talmud, some rabbis imply that the Messiah will come before the Hebrew year 6,000 (that’s not very far away!), though they were working by a different calendar than the one we have today.
The Bible not only speaks of an end to this world, but also of a new beginning—a new heaven and a new earth. While the Hebrew Scriptures allude to this new world, the New Testament describes it in great detail.
The first three chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Genesis describe our planet in the beginning. The last three chapters of the New Testament in the book of Revelation describe the new earth. When you read Genesis 1–3 in conjunction with Revelation 20–22, the parallels and contrasts are remarkable. In Genesis, we see the disobedience that led to the break in our relationship with God; in Revelation, we see a world in which all is made new, referred to as the New Jerusalem.
If, as many Jews and Christians agree, the words of Scripture are inspired by God, and their God is the same God, it should not surprise us to see this symmetry. Nor should it shock us to see congruence between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament as a whole. As author Avi Brickner puts it, “In page after page of the New Testament, there is one primary literary treasure that is invested with supreme authority: the Hebrew Scriptures.”
The Hebrew Scriptures speak of a new heaven and a new earth:
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)
The New Testament Book of Revelation does as well: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).
In the Beginning…
The opening verse of the Bible tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Genesis then recounts six days of creation, culminating on the sixth day with the first human beings: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). We are told that “God saw everything he made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Adam and Eve lived in a literal paradise, Gan Eden, the garden of Eden, which they took care of. God told them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Tempted by Satan in the form of a snake, they ate from that tree, choosing to live independently of God. The Bible calls that sin.
God’s judgments for their willfulness are described in Genesis 3:16–24—pain in childbearing; cursed ground (“thorns and thistles”); hard labor (“the sweat of your face”); and death (“to dust you shall return”). Their previous intimacy with God was broken, and He drove them from the garden. As descendants of the original parents, we still bear these consequences. We are left with, as Joni Mitchell sang in “Woodstock,” the desire “to get back to the garden.”
In the new heaven and earth, all the effects of sin have been abolished: “(God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Everything that was good in the original heaven and earth will be restored or replaced with something better in the New Jerusalem.
Most importantly, all in the New Jerusalem will have a restored relationship with God. As God once walked in the garden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8), in the new heaven and earth, He will dwell with His people forever (Revelation 21:3) and they shall see His face (Revelation 22:4).
Remember that one of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was death: “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Had they not sinned, they would have lived forever! But this death was not just physical; it was also spiritual. As soon as they ate of the forbidden fruit, their relationship with God was broken, as evidenced by the fact that they hid themselves (Genesis 3:8).
This necessitated the sacrificial system that God instituted through Moses, with the blood of animals making atonement for the people: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11). But since 70 A.D., when the Romans destroyed the Temple, we have had no place for the prescribed sacrifices.
According to the New Testament, the death of Yeshua (Jesus) around 33 A.D.—and the shedding of his blood—was the once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. The prophet Isaiah, writing about 700 years earlier, predicted that the Messiah would die for our sins:
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:6–7)
The book of Revelation ends with the Messiah Yeshua saying, “Surely I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20) If he is returning, and this world isn’t all you had hoped for, why not consider Yeshua and get ready for the next?
1. Avi Brickner, “The Jewishness of the New Testament,” http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/v01-n02/newtestament