“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass away“ (Matt. 24:35). These words were spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ. Would it surprise you to learn that some very dedicated people who profess to be followers of Christ take issue with that statement? The Jehovah’s Witness organization contends that the earth will never pass away; it will simply go through a process of cleansing and renovation. According to them, the earth will be changed but not pass away. This will allegedly occur after the final judgment. J.F. Rutherford, one of the founders and principal representatives of the Jehovah’s Witness organization wrote as follows: “When mankind reaches perfection at the close of the Millennial age, as already shown, they will be admitted into membership in the Kingdom of God and given the entire control of earth as at first designed — each man a sovereign, a king.” The Plan of the Ages, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, NY, Page 296.
Those who follow the sentiments of Rutherford consider this earth as a permanent planet with a bright and glorious future. They hope to inhabit it and rule it as kings. But the Bible presents quite a different picture. Peter wrote:
“But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:7-10).
The word for “burned up” is the Greek term katakaio and means, “to burn down (to the ground), i.e. consume wholly: -burn up, burn utterly.” (Strong’s). W.E. Vine adds that the word is used in such passages as Acts 19:19 where former idolaters “burned” their books of sorcery and magic. The idea is that of reducing something to ashes by fire. The official Jehovah’s Witness version of the New Testament differs from all reputable translations. For “burned up” it gives “be discovered.” Accordingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the earth will not be reduced to ashes but simply discovered. Their hope is limited to this earth rather than heaven. Yet the Bible teaches there is only one hope (Eph. 4:4).
Here is another instance where Jehovah’s Witness theologians differ with inspired writers. While the Bible has one hope their leaders have preached other hopes for those whom God favors. Rutherford wrote: “While the special hope of the Gospel age is so surpassingly glorious, and the way to it is correspondingly difficult — narrow, hedged in by hardships and dangers at every step — so that few find it, and obtain the great prize at its end, the new order of things in the age to come is to be entirely different. As a different hope is held out, so also a different way leads to it.” (Ibid., page 215).
Christ died to provide a new and living way (Heb. 10:22). It is fantasy to even think of more than one way for God’s people. Jesus likened the entire scheme of redemption to two ways, only one of which leads to God (Matt. 7:13-14). This is just one more point where Jehovah’s Witness doctrine is refuted by plain Bible teaching.
Peter says that the heavens and the earth will be burned up — not discovered. The burning of the heavens and earth will be far worse than any atomic holocaust. It is described as burning with “fervent heat.” It is with such language that the Bible writers describe the destruction of the natural elements of the universe. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny this.
By inspiration, Peter said that the heavens and earth will be “burned up” with “fervent heat” and the heavens will melt. This describes the disintegration of the elements which compose the heavens. The atomic structure of all matter will be dissolved. “Heaven” refers to the ethereal atmosphere and space which surrounds the planet earth.
Heavens include the same area where birds, balloons, and aircraft fly. It is translated “air” in Luke 13:19 and “heaven” in Psalm 104:12. Only those whose theory prohibits them from accepting truth would render it anything else. All of mankind’s natural habitat will be utterly destroyed by fire and reduced to ashes. This is hardly the hope that is laid up for the Christian — but it seems to satisfy the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since this earth is destined to destruction, let us ask, “Will the earth ever rise again?”
Our answer comes directly from God. “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again” (Isa. 24:20).
This does not fit the imagined future of the earth as pictured by Jehovah’s Witnesses. They believe this same planet will rise out of the ashes and be a place of perfect peace and happiness. To them, this planet is all there is for a certain segment of society. They teach that not everyone who is saved and in favor with God will ever leave the earth. They believe that only 144,000 special people will ever live in heaven. The rest, whom they call “the other sheep,” remain for eternity on earth.
Rutherford wrote, “He (Jehovah) ordained also that a certain specific number should be chosen from amongst men to be his joint heirs in the Kingdom — participants with him of the New Creation. We have every reason to believe that the definite, fixed number of the elect is that several times stated in Revelation (7:4; 14:1); namely 144,000 ’redeemed from amongst men’.” The New Creation, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, page 179. The remainder of those who are not destined for annihilation will remain forever on this renovated planet. If this were not such a serious issue it would almost be comical to think of such a foolish plan. May I remind you again — the Bible tells us of only one way into the favor and blessings of God; the Jehovah’s Witnesses have two.
Do Bible believers hope for a better life here on planet earth, or is their’s a hope of heaven after the earth is utterly burned up? Heaven and earth are never identical in God’s word. The wise man said:
“Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). Heaven is God’s habitation.
Thus saith the Lord, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” (Isa. 66:1).
Now the question of our hope is whether it is here on earth or in heaven. Paul wrote, “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5).
Throughout the New Testament letters stress is laid on a hope, not here on earth, but above and beyond this earth. The Hebrew writer said, “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Heb. 10:34-36).
The “enduring substance” is in heaven — not here on earth. It is a hope based on the promise of Almighty God that all His people will have a much better life than anything earth can afford.
Peter mentioned a “new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, because of the use of the words “heaven and earth,” see no further than this planet. Elsewhere in the New Testament the word earth is used to refer to a world to come. Hebrews 2:5: “For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak.” The expression in 2 Pet. 3:13 is a figure of speech. The new heavens and new earth are not the rejuvenated old heavens and earth. Peter had just affirmed that the old would be utterly burned up and gone. Obviously the new heaven and new earth are not mere renovations of the old.
The expression “new heavens and new earth” is found in the prophecy of Isaiah, in Revelation 21, and in 2 Peter 3:13. When God created the “heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) it was a brand new heaven and earth. It was the place God created for man to live. Sin brought about the need for a better habitation for man. The prophet Isaiah looked to the time when Jesus would come.
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isa. 65:17).
Jesus promised His chosen apostles, “Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).
Regeneration means a re-creation. It refers to the spiritual re-creation accomplished through the offering of Christ, the lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. That is the “new creation.”
Paul wrote: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
This new creation came into existence when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God and there was a renewing of the Holy Spirit by the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). The Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and they taught men and women to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
The New Testament church is the “new heaven and new earth” of which Isaiah prophesied.
The “new heavens and new earth” as used by Peter refers to the next habitation God has planned for His people — heaven. It is the house that is not made by hands “eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). It is the crown of righteousness laid up in heaven (not here on earth) of which Paul wrote (2 Tim. 4:8). It is the heavenly kingdom mentioned in verse 18 of that same chapter. There are glimpses of heaven found in the book of Revelation, which is characterized by highly symbolic language.
The 144,000 of Revelation 14 is a symbolic number representing all of the elect of God, the first fruits of the gospel. It refers figuratively to the innumerable company of the redeemed who come “out of all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues.” These are those pictured as standing before the Lamb, clothed in pure white robes. All of this is a beautiful picture of something far more lovely and grand than a renovated earth. It is sad that Jehovah’s Witnesses delude people in to believe their erroneous concept of the future.
Do not be misled by those who come to you and base their religious claims on the highly figurative language of the Bible. Stick with what is plain and clear and written in language you can understand.