THE APPARENT CONTRADICTION IN REVELATION 21:1
We read in Rev. 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away….”. This verse tells us that the present earth and heaven that will one day be replaced by the new heaven and new earth is the first heaven and earth. But we read in Genesis one of the creation of two heavens and two earths, the present ones being the second, not the first. We know that there are no contradictions in the perfect Word of God so how are we to understand this apparent contradiction? As we seek to answer that question from the Word of God, we will learn what I believe to be a very interesting dispensational truth.
We will consider the following:
THE GREEK WORD TRANSLATED “FIRST”
THE DISPENSATIONAL SETTING OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION
THE HEAVEN OF HEAVENS
THE GREEK WORD TRANSLATED “FIRST”
The Greek word translated “first” in Rev. 21:1 is “protos”. The note in the Companion Bible suggests that the word should be translated “former”, as in verse 4. Verse 4 reads, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there by any more pain: for the former things are passed away”. To be sure “former” seems to be the best translation of the word in verse four. But this word is used by the Holy Spirit 99 times in the New Testament. It behooves the student of God’s Word to look at more than just one occurrence.
“Protos” is used in Rev. 1:11 and 17 of Jesus Christ, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last”. It is used of Adam in I Cor. 15:45 and 47, “the first man, Adam”. Surely we must understand the word as used in these verses as “first”, not “former”.
It is used of the first of something 29 times. An example of that usage is found in Matt. 26:17 which speaks of the “first day of the feast”. Another example is found in Matt. 22:38 where we read, “this is the first and great commandment“. The word is used in the often repeated phrase “The first shall be last and the last first” as found, for example, in Mark 13:30. It is translated “chief” ten times, as in Acts 28:17, “the chief of the Jews”. And it is translated two times as “former”. We will look at both those verses.
Acts 1:1 reads, “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach”. The book of Acts was written by Luke. The treatise to which he refers in Acts 1:1 is obviously, the Gospel according to Luke. Because we have no treatise written by Luke other than Acts and the Gospel, we may conclude that the Gospel was the first treatise. Therefore, here too, “first” is a better translation than “former”.
The only other translation of “proteron” as “former” is in Rev. 21:4 which reads, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there by any more pain: for the former things are passed away”. This verse speaks of things pertaining to the earth that will be replaced by the new earth. As we continue in this study, I believe it will become extremely clear that in terms of Israel, the present earth is the first, even though it was second to be created.
In Gen. 1:1 we read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. That is the first heaven created. But in Gen. 1:6-8 we read, “And God said. ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters’. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament…And God called the firmament Heaven….”. This firmament, that God called “heaven” is the second heaven God created.
The third heaven, the new heaven of Rev. 21:1, will replace the firmament of Gen. 1:6-8. That then, is the third heaven to be created.
I believe it would be helpful at this point to look at the account of the six day creation of the second earth, i.e. the present earth, in Genesis to be very clear about God’s creation. We read in Gen. 1:2 that “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters“. This water was not gathered until the third day of the six day creation as recorded in verse 9. In verses 6-7 we learn that God created a firmament that divided the waters under the firmament from the waters above it. Where was the earth in this scene? It was submersed in water until the third day when God gathered the waters under the firmament to create the seas and the dry land (Gen. 1:9).
Going from the top down then, we have the heavens of Gen. 1:1, under that we have water, under that we have the firmament that divided the waters under the firmament from the waters above that firmament, then the waters below that firmament were later gathered (on the third day of the six day creation) on the earth to become the seas. The fact of water above the firmament is substantiated by Ps. 148:4 where we read, “Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that be above the heavens“.
The first earth is the earth of Gen. 1:1, where we read that “…God created the heaven and the earth“. Verse 2 of Gen. 1 reads, “And the earth was without form and void”. The note in the Companion Bible Dr. Bullinger suggests that the word translated “was” should read “became”. So, “the earth became without form and void”. One of the reasons I agree with that suggestion is that we read in Is. 45:18, “For thus saith the Lord That created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited….”. The Hebrew word translated “vain” is the same Hebrew word translated “without form” in Gen. 1:2. Because the same word is used this tells us that God did not create the earth in vain. It must have therefore, become that way.
Another reason I agree that the earth was not created without form and void but became that way, is because that is exactly what II Peter 3:5-7 tells us. We read in II Peter 3:5-7, “……by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water; whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water perished“. I believe that Peter is saying that the first earth, i.e. the earth of Gen. 1:1 was destroyed by water. Many understand this passage in II Peter three to refer to the flood of the days of Noah. But I believe a more careful consideration will show that it refers to the earth of Gen. 1:1 that had been destroyed by water. (That destruction then led to the six day creation, of the second earth).
To begin with let us consider verse 4 of II Peter 3, which reads, “…….for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation”. The phrase “the beginning of the creation” is followed immediately by “For this they are willingly ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old and the earth…..”. Peter’s point is that those who were questioning the coming of the Messiah were saying in effect that everything has been the same since the beginning of the creation. In my opinion, it is much more natural to conclude that the phrase “the beginning of creation” goes more readily with the Gen. 1:1 creation of the heavens and the earth than it does with the earth of Noah’s day.
Let us continue with the question of whether II Peter 3 refers to the earth of Gen. 1:1 or with the earth of Noah’s day. We read in II Peter 3:7, “But the heavens and the earth which are now ….”. The word “but” implies a contrast between the heavens and earth “which are now” of verse 7, with the “heavens of old and the earth….” of verse 5. I suggest we turn our attention to the heavens of verse 7 in our search for the truth of this passage. That is to say, Peter contrasts “the heavens which are now” with the heavens which were “of old”. If the heavens “of old” are the heavens of Gen. 1:1 so too is the earth “of old” the earth of Gen. 1:1.
To put that in other terms: if the heavens of old (vs.5) are the heavens of Gen. 1:6-8 (the firmament) then they would be the same heavens in Peter’s day as in Noah’s day and there would be no contrast in the word “but”of verse 7. If the heavens of old are the heavens of Gen. 1:1 then there would indeed be a contrast. Let us consider that contrast.
Peter tells us in verse 7 that these heavens which “are now” are being “kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment…….”. The heavens of Gen. 1:1, i.e. the heavens above the waters, are the dwelling place of God. God being a holy God would not dwell in the heavens wherein dwells sin to be judged. That means that the heavens “which are now” are not the heavens of Gen. 1:1, the dwelling place of God, they are the heavens of Gen. 1:6-8.
As mentioned above, there is a contrast between the heavens which are now and the heavens of old. This contrast is quite obvious. The heavens which are now have in them sin, and the heavens “of old” i.e. the heavens of Gen. 1:1, have no sin in them, they are the dwelling place of God,. If the heavens of old are the heavens of Gen. 1:1 so too is the earth of old the earth of Gen. 1:1, not the earth of Noah’s day.
A look at the prepositions used in II Peter 3:5 will also prove that Peter does not refer to the flood of Noah’s day, but refers to the destruction of the first earth of Gen. 1:1. We read in verse 5, of the earth that was “standing out of the water and in the water”. The Companion Bible notes on these prepositions tell us that “out of” means “out from“. The preposition translated “in” means “through”. So then, II Peter 3:5, should read, “the earth standing out from the water and through the water”. This was not true of the earth of Noah’s day, but was true of the earth of Gen. 1:1. But can it be said that the ground appeared out from the waters after the flood of Noah’s day? The Greek word translated “earth” in this passage is “ge” and a correct understanding of that word will answer that question.
“Ge” could mean earth , i.e., the planet, as opposed to heaven, and it could mean “ground”. The meaning of the Greek word must be taken from the context. If it means the planet earth then it obviously refers to the earth of Gen. 1:1 that was destroyed because the planet did not come out from the water in Noah’s day. If it means “ground” it means that after the flood of Noah’s time the dry ground stood out of the water. But I do not believe that we should understand “ge” to mean “ground” in this verse because the context is about the creation of heaven as well as earth. That is to say, I do not think the Holy Spirit means for us to understand this verse to say in effect, “by the word of God the heavens were of old and the dry land stood out of the water”. I believe He means it to be understood as, “by the word of God the heavens were of old and the earth, (i.e. the planet earth) standing out from water”. In other words, the meaning of “ge” is taken from the context and the context is about heaven and earth as a planet, not heaven and ground. That being true, we are led to conclude that the planet earth, i.e. the earth of Gen. 1:1 was the subject of II Peter 3, not the earth that was flooded in Noah’s day.
Let us consider the Greek word “katabole” as it will tell us that indeed the earth of Gen. 1:1 had been destroyed. We read in the KJV of Eph. 1:4 of God having “chosen us before the foundation (Gr. “katabole”) of the world”. I believe that “katabole” means “overthrow” rather than “foundation”. If that belief is true, that would tell us that the world had been destroyed. My belief is based on how the Greek word is used. The word is used eleven times and is always translated “foundation” except in the case of Heb. 11, which will be discussed below. One might be tempted to conclude that because it was translated “foundation” ten of the eleven times it was used, that “foundation” is the correct definition. But there is nothing in the contexts of any of those ten occurrences that support that translation or the translation of “overthrow”. And that is why, the one scripture which is not translated “foundation” takes on such importance, i.e. the context does indeed reveals the definition.
We read in Heb. 11:11, “Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age….”. The Greek word translated “conceive” is “katabole”, the definition of which is defined in this verse. I am indebted to an article on the inter-net from which I will quote one paragraph.
“So, what exactly does the Greek term katabole (the English scientific use=catabolic) mean? In simple terms, it refers to a process of breaking something down and making something new as result. In order for a woman to conceive, her body must be able to breakdown the male’s sperm in order to incorporate his DNA information (in the sperm’s nucleolus) with her DNA (in the egg’s cytoplasm) in order to conceive a child which has the DNA characteristics of both the father and mother. This is accomplished through a biochemical process called catabolism. If the female’s body no longer produces the necessary hormonal chemistry to initiate this catabolic process, she cannot conceive. That is why Sarah, who was way past child bearing years, was able to conceive because God strengthened her body to do it. That is why the English Bible uses the word “conceive” as a translation of the Greek word katabole, because the English word perfectly describes the end result of a foundational biological process, even though the exact dynamics of that biological process was unknown to man at the time Hebrews 11:11 was penned. This is yet another Biblical example of “Progressive Revelation” of the Scriptures; it was an established scientific truth documented in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit many hundreds of years before mankind would be able to comprehend the full meaning of what had been written”.
In other words, because “katabole” is defined as “catabolic” we may conclude that the word has the sense of “overthrow” rather than “foundation”. Further, because this is the only occurrence where the context helps to define the word, I believe the correct translation of the other ten occurrences is “overthrow”
Yet another reason I believe “katabole” means “overthrow” is perhaps not the strongest reason, and I would not suggest it if not for the weight of the reasons suggested above. But because of those reasons I feel fairly confident offering the following.
Let us consider the fact that of the eleven times the word is used it is used three times in the phrase, “before the katabole of the world, i.e. Jn. 17:24 (“He loved Me before the katabole of the world”),Eph. 1:4 (“chosen us in Him before the katabole of the world”) and I Peter 1:20 (“foreordained before the katabole of the world”).
Let us go back to Gen. 1:1 where we read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. The question I would like to pose is: in the beginning of what did God create the heaven and the earth? I believe the answer to that question is that it is the beginning of time that God created. That is to say, God is eternal and existed before time began, but time did begin when He created the heaven and earth. And here is my point. I do not believe that it was co-incidental that time began at creation. I believe that in order for something to happen it must happen in time. I am not a scientist and will not attempt to prove that statement from science,but if we are to draw our conclusions from the Word of God, I believe we are led to the conclusion that the beginning of time coincided with creation because nothing can happen outside of time. If that is true, and I believe it is, then the three events that took place before the katabole of the earth, must have happened after the creation of the earth because the creation of the earth was the first hing to happen. Therefore, if they happened after the creation they must have happened before the overthrow of the earth. In other words, the order of events was: 1) the creation of the heaven and the earth at the beginning of time, 2) the three events described in Jn. 17, Eph. 2 and I Peter 1 occurred before the overthrow and 3) the overthrow of the earth.
Logic therefore, suggests that because three things took place before the katabole of the earth, they must have taken place after time began. That is to say, first, time began with the creation of the heaven and earth. Then the events of Jn.17:24, Eph. 1:4 and I Peter 1:20 occurred (“before the katabole of the earth”). Then the earth became katabole, i.e. ”overthrown”.
So then, we have three earths being created by God. The first earth was the earth of Gen. 1:1 which was destroyed by water, the second earth was the earth of the six day creation (the present earth) and the third earth will be the new earth of Rev. 21:1.
Why then does John speak of the present earth which was created second, as “the first” earth? We are now ready to answer that question.
THE DISPENSATIONAL SETTING OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION
In order to understand anything in the Word of God, and especially the book of Revelation, we must understand its dispensational setting. That Revelation was written during the Acts period is clear from the fact that it is the most Israel centered book of the New Testament. That is to say, it doesn’t make sense that the most Israel centered book in the New Testament was written after Israel was put aside around 68 AD. Dr. Bullinger writes of the “Hebrew character” in Ap. 197 of the Companion Bible, which I will quote in part. “The language of the book is Greek: its thoughts and idioms are Hebrew. This links it with the OT, and shows that its great purpose is to declare God’s final dealing with the Jew and the Gentile as such.… . In Matthew, (the Hebrew Gospel) are some 92 quotations from and references to the OT. In Hebrews there are 102. In Revelation are found no fewer that 285. This emphatically stamps its close connection with OT Israel….”
The point is that the entire book of Revelation is Israel centered. I am suggesting that John refers to the present heaven and earth as the “first” because in terms of Israel it is the first. That is to say, the heaven of Gen. 1:1 is the calling of the church and is never mentioned in the Old Testament other than in Gen. 1:1. The reason it is never mentioned other than in Gen. 1:1 is that Israel has nothing to do with that heaven, and that is why John does not include that heaven in his counting of the present heaven as the first. And the calling of Israel is to the land on the second earth, i.e. the earth of the six day creation. Therefore, the first earth, the earth of Gen. 1:1 also has nothing to do with Israel.
In other words, John does not include the heaven and earth of Gen. 1:1 in his count of the present heaven and earth as the first because they have nothing to do with Israel. I ask the reader to consider the following Scriptural evidence for that statement before reaching any conclusions about it.
THE HEAVEN OF HEAVENS
As stated above, the reason John did not count the heavens of Gen. 1:1, i.e. the heavens above the waters, is because Israel has nothing to do with that heaven, it is the calling of the church which is His body. That comment will be substantiated as we consider the phrase “heavens of heavens”.
Let us consider Ps. 148:4 which reads, “Praise Him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that be above the heavens”. Here we read of the heavens of heavens and of the waters that are above them. Which heavens did the Pslamist have in mind? Because there is no mention of waters above the heavens of Gen. 1:1 and there is mention of the waters above the heavens of Gen. 1:6-8, we must conclude that the “heavens of heavens” of Ps. 148 refers to the heavens of Gen. 1:6-8 above which are waters.
The term “heavens of heavens” is used first in Deut. 10:14, “Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is”. It should be noted that the Hebrew word translated “heaven(s) is “shamayim” and that the suffix “im” makes it plural. That is to say, there is no word in the Hebrew Bible for heaven, singular. Therefore this phrase reads the same as the phrase in Ps. 148:4, i.e. heavens of heavens”. This verse comes in the context of Moses speaking to Israel after he chiseled out the two tablets that replaced the first tablets that he had thrown down and crushed when he saw the golden calf. This was, of course, an extremely important event in the history of Israel. Moses was making the point with his allusion to the heaven of heavens of just how mighty God is.
The second occurrence of the term will show the same thing. It is in the context of the dedication of Solomon’s temple, another extremely important event in Israel’s history. We read in I Kings 8:27, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee: how much less this house that I have built”. Here again the phrase “heaven of heavens” is used to enhance the greatness of the God Who created the heavens.
The third occurrence of the phrase “heavens of heavens” is in II Chron. 2:6 which comes in the context of the preparation of Solomon’s building of the temple. The fourth occurrence is found in II Chron. 6:18 which is in the context of the dedication of the temple. The note above on I Kings 8:27 is, of course equally applicable to these two occurrences of the phrase as it had to do with the same subject, i.e. it is a crucial event in Israel’s history.
The fifth occurrence is found in Ps. 148:4 which is discussed above.
The last occurrence of the phrase is found in the context of Israel returning to Jerusalem after their 70 year captivity, another important event in the history of Israel. We read Neh. 9:6, “Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all, and the host of heaven worshippeth Thee”.
What can we learn as we compare all these passages? I believe that, in the interest of consistency, we must conclude that the phrase refers to the heaven of Gen. 1:6-8. And we also learn that because the phrase is used in the most important events of the history of Israel, i.e. it is associated with Israel.
Hebrews was written to Acts period Israel. (For the Scriptural evidence that Hebrews is an Acts period epistle please see Heb. 10:37, 4:1, and 8:13.). We read in Heb. 9:9 that the tabernacle was the shadow of the true heavens. But as we shall see, the tabernacle as a shadow of the real, does not include the type of the heavens above the waters, i.e. the heaven of Gen. 1:1. Again, the reason is because that heaven has nothing to do with Israel, it is not part of Israel’s history or of Her calling.
The tabernacle had three areas. The third area was the “Holiest of all” (Heb. 9:3) There is no reason to assume that the Holiest of all typifies the heaven above the waters, and every reason to assume that it refers to the heaven below the waters. . Let me explain that statement.
We have already seen in the section above that “the heavens of heavens” does not refer to the heaven above the waters. Furthermore, the Old Testament prophets never mention the heaven above the waters apart from Gen. 1:1. The reason the prophets did not mention the heaven above the waters was because Israel has nothing to do with that heaven . In my opinion, it is only logical to conclude that the epistle to the Hebrews, which was written to Acts period Israel, would speak of the tabernacle in terms of it as a shadow of the heavens that concern Israel. And again, Israel has no part in the heaven above the waters, the heaven of Gen. 1:1. That being the case, I believe that neither does the “Holiest of all” typify the heaven above the waters. I believe that logic dictates that the Holiest of all typifies the heaven of heavens, i.e. the highest heaven below the waters, i.e. the heaven intimately associated with Israel.
I believe that the dwelling place of God is in the heaven above the waters, i.e. the heaven of Gen. 1:1. I believe that, in part, because it is obviously the highest heaven and the highest would be best suited to the God of creation. Another reason I believe that God dwells in the heaven above the waters is because the heaven below the waters, is the present heaven which is being held for judgment and will be burned up and destroyed. (II Peter 3:7). God would not dwell in a sphere that was so corrupted by sin that it needed to be destroyed. Therefore, in my opinion, the heaven of heavens which is below the waters is not the dwelling place of God.
If God does not dwell in the heaven below the waters, i.e. the heaven that pertains to Israel, (and I believe that He does not) how then are we to understand Heb. 9:24 which reads, “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, to appear in the presence of God for us”. The answer to that question is found in Exodus 25:21-22 where we read, “Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the Testimony which I will give you. There above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all My commands for the Israelites”. And in Deut. 12:11 we read, “Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for His Name …there you are to bring everything I command you”. It is clear that God told Israel that He would dwell and meet with them from wherever the ark of the Testimony was. In II Chron. 5:2-10 we read of the ark being brought to the temple Solomon built, and in II Chron. 6:1-2 we read, “Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that He would dwell in a dark cloud; I have built a magnificent temple for You, a place for You to dwell forever“.
My point is that once again, the “heaven” of Heb. 9:24 must be understood in its dispensational setting. That is to say, in terms of Israel God dwells with them in the heaven that is so intimately connected to Israel, the heaven below the waters.
There is a very subtle hint in Hebrews as compared to Ephesians that Hebrews, like the Old Testament, did not take into account the heaven above the waters. We read in Heb. 4:14 that Christ “passed into the heavens”. The note in the Companion Bible reads, “passed into = passed through. Same word as in I Cor. 10:1 and 16:5. Cp. 7:26 and Eph. 4:10″. Let us look at these scriptures. I Cor. 10:1, “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea”. I Cor. 16:5, “Now I shall come unto you when I shall pass through Macedonia…”.
In order to be consistent in our understanding of to which heaven Heb. 9:24 refers, we must understand that the writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ passed through the heavens below the water.
We read in Eph. 4:10 that Christ ascended “far above all heavens”. The “all heavens” in this verse must refer to the heavens below the waters because we know that He did ascended into heaven above the water. He must therefore, have ascended far above the heavens below the waters into the heaven above the waters.
The subtle hint I referred to above which points to the heavens above the waters, i.e. the heaven to which the church is called, not being taking into account in Hebrews is found in a comparison of Heb. 4:14 and Eph. 4:10. In Hebrews we are told that Christ passed through the heavens, (He passed through the heavens below the waters) but we are not told to where He ascended. In Ephesians, an epistle written to the church, we are told to where He ascended, i.e. He ascended to far above all heavens. Even though the heaven above the waters is not mentioned in Ephesians, we are told to where He ascended. In Hebrews, though, the writer tells only that He passed through the heavens, i.e. the heavens below the waters. There is a subtle difference, but there is a difference. It tells us, in my opinion, that in the Acts period, as in the Old Testament, the heaven above the water, i.e. the heaven to which the church is called, is not taken into account in terms of Israel.
The point is that the heaven above the waters is not taken into account in connection to Israel because it is the calling of the church, and has nothing to do with Israel. So too, the heaven above the waters is not referred to in the New Testament epistles written to Israel. And so too, is the heaven above the waters, the first to be created, not counted by John when he wrote in Rev. 21:1 that the present heaven and earth are the “first”. And so too is the earth of Gen. 1:1 not taken into account in terms of Israel, because it is the second earth, i.e. the earth of the six day creation, that is the hope of Israel.
There is an apparent contradiction in Rev. 21:1 because we read that the present heaven and earth are the “first”. But according to Scripture, the present heaven and earth are the second in creation. I am suggesting that John refers to the present heaven and earth as the first because it is this heaven and earth that pertains to Israel, and therefore the first in creation is not reckoned.
Just as the phrase “heaven of heavens” does not include the heaven above the waters, i.e. the heaven of Gen 1:1, so too the first heaven and earth to be created is not included in John’s count, and it is why he can say that the present heaven and earth is the “first”.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond to this study you may write to me at: email@example.com