The Bible does not oppose itself or conflict with itself. Heaven and Earth in PROPHECY do not mean the literal physical heaven and earth. Instead, heaven refers to the heavenly or spiritual things like the law, sacrifices, ceremonies, etc. Earth refers to the earthly, material or political things like the land or the nation of Israel, city of Jerusalem, the physical temple, etc.
Let us look at Isa. 51:15-16, “…And I put My words in thy mouth, And with the shadow of My hand have covered thee, To plant the heavens, and to found earth, And to say to Zion, ‘My people [art] thou.’” (Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) – A very valuable Bible to add to your study resources. If you are using the NIV, or another version that is not a word by word translation, then you will lose much of the clear and powerful language in this passage, as well as in other places.)
Obviously, this was not referring to the physical heavens and earth, as no people existed at the time when God created them, and clearly here God is speaking through Isaiah to His people Israel standing in Isaiah’s presence about a time when He put His words in their mouth, which He describes as “planting the heavens and laying the foundations of the earth.”
- Some scholars and theologians believe this is referring to the establishing of the “old heaven and earth” when God gave Israel the OC law on Mt. Sinai, and the continued relationship through animal sacrifice and the subsequent prophets and oracles revealing God’s words to them (in other words: the way in which God had established to deal in relationship with mankind. In the OC, to come to God, you had to come to him thru the OC relationship laws and practices He gave to Israel).
- Other scholars and theologians, including Puritans like John Owen, see this “establishing” talk, as the putting in place of a new order, as Israel at that coming time being spoken of, the time of the new birth/pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (put my words in your mouth – new heart/born again), and the establishing of the “new heaven and earth” in that 1st century time in the gospel churches of the world, of which we continue today. Never again to go back under the old heaven and earth God/man relationship, by which the only way for man to come to God was through the animal sacrificial system, nor in its epitome given through the OC with physical Israel.
- Whichever of these two ways you interpret the “laying/establishing” of the heavens and earth in Isaiah 51:16 (either meaning God first putting His words in the mouth of His OC people (Mt. Sinai, laws, prophets), or God putting His words in the mouth of His NC people (Heb. 8:10 rebirth, Apostles, gospel, church)), the fact remains, that neither is talking about the literal physical heavens and earth. The Bible must interpret the Bible, and the Bible must provide the definition for its meaning of words, and not our dictionaries, or our modern 21st century western thought.
- God is clearly telling us in Isaiah 51:16 that His meaning of “heaven and earth” is symbolic and spiritual, as His way He intersects with man in a relationship (either the OC way of through physical fleshly means in the OC sacrificial laws and ceremonies and earthly temple, where God was separated from man behind a veil, or in the NC way where the man is reborn, given a new heart, is called the temple where God now dwells (2 Cor. 6:16), and that through the gospel and the church God now has established His “new heavens and earth” cosmological administration order means of the God/man relationship based on the redemptive work of Christ – spiritual and eternal).
The HEAVENS and EARTH of prophecy refer in part to God’s Word, the Scriptures; along with the identity of His people. They do not refer to the literal universe and the planet earth. The HEAVENS & EARTH are not just code words or symbolic language for Judaism, the temple, or the land of Israel. The HEAVENS also refers to the entire UNSEEN spiritual realm where God, the angels, and demons have their activity. The EARTH refers to the SEEN realm where we humans live.
There is a covenantal arrangement or relationship between the SEEN and the UNSEEN realms. The HEAVENS are the UNSEEN world above, and the EARTH is the SEEN world below. The Kingdom of God exists in both realms. The New Covenant also exists in both realms. It is the new arrangement between God and His covenant people. It defines who is a part of the Kingdom. His Kingdom is a new arrangement of the universe, both in the unseen realm of heaven and in the seen realm on earth. The invisible realities of His Kingdom emanates in the unseen realm from heaven, and manifests itself on earth through the visible Church. The New Heavens and Earth is a new government (Kingdom) and new world order of things both in the SEEN and UNSEEN realms, based on the redemptive work of Christ.
Only the EARTH in the SEEN realm is visible to us humans, unless God opens a window into the UNSEEN realm and allows someone to see into it. He did this for most of the prophets (SEERS). They were called SEERS because they were allowed to see into the normally UNSEEN realm. This cosmological concept is the way things are arranged in the UNSEEN realm.
When Jesus and the apostles talk about the OLD HEAVENS and EARTH being burned with fire, they are talking about more than just the temple burning. They are also talking about the consuming fire of God in the UNSEEN realm, which destroyed the empire of Satan and his demons in the Lake of Fire.
The old “spiritual” HEAVENS of the Old Covenant Jewish religious system, with its laws, sacrifices, ceremonies feasts, days, and including every jot and tittle of the Law, would pass away. This would occur when the Law was fulfilled by Christ; including when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD 70 (Old Heavens & Earth). (Matt.5:18; Luke 21:33; Isaiah 34:4).
This was during Christ’s second coming Parousia in AD 66-70. This included the DAY OF JUDGMENT, when the old spiritual (Jewish) “HEAVENS” along with the old organization in the UNSEEN realm all passed away. At that same time the old EARTH (Jewish nation) was also totally destroyed and scattered by the Roman armies in AD 70.
Peter wrote the below prophecy in c.AD 64. The Day of Judgment, plus the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, had begun shortly after and all was completed in AD 70.
“But the HEAVENS and the earth which are NOW (in the first century) preserved by the same word, are reserved FOR FIRE until the DAY OF JUDGMENT and perdition of ungodly men (in AD 70)” (2 Pet 3:7).
The HEAVENS and EARTH were reorganized so that Satan and his demons were no longer over people (Psa.8:4-5). They were cast down and are now confined to the Lake of Fire in the UNSEEN underworld. All angels are under Christ. His New Covenant believers after AD 70 are all spiritually in the body of Christ. Thus, in Christ, they are over the angelic world. (1 Cor.6:3; Heb.2:5). Also the physical realm is now governed by the spiritual principles of the New Testament (aka: Kingdom law) rather than the O.T. Law (Matt. Chpt 5; Matt. 6:33; Matt. Chpt 13; Matt. 18:3; etc.).
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 7 Lesson 3b Matt. 16:27-28 (sub study on “Heaven and Earth”)”]
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 9 Rev. Chapter 21”]