Whenever we discuss a Biblical doctrine, we must do our best to handle the word of God accurately (2 Tim. 2:15). Our desire should be, not only to give a possible interpretation, but a faithful one—one which takes the entirety of God’s word into consideration. For example, some in the religious world contend that we are saved by grace through faith alone (citing Eph. 2:8-9), whereas others assert that baptism is essential for salvation in accordance with Acts 2:38 (myself included). At first, these two scriptures seem to conflict with each other: if we are saved by grace, through faith, then we are not saved by baptism (as some would argue). Yet, our systematization of the doctrine of salvation must present a viewpoint which honors both: we are saved by grace, through faith, in the moment of baptism. Baptism is an act of faith by which we are saved by the grace of God. This position honors the entirety of God’s redemptive message without the exclusion of the other.
This is what I am attempting to do in my present series of articles: present a possible framework by which we can view the entirety of what scripture says on creation. There are text which seem to be in conflict with each other over the role the present creation will play in the final dwelling of the righteous. Some speak of the present earth passing away (2 Pet. 3:10-ff), while others speak of it being redeemed (Rom. 8:18-22)—which view is correct? Both, actually. Hopefully we are beginning to see the fuller picture of God’s purpose for creation: one where the curse of sin is broken and God dwells among men. If you haven’t read my previous articles, I would encourage you to do so before continuing with this one.
As we continue, we want to ask the question, “What was Jesus’ view of the future?” Do Jesus’ teaching fit into this framework of a redeemed creation? If not, then it certainly should be rejected. Yet, if we can show that Jesus operated from the system we have offered, then it would confirm that we are viewing this doctrine from an acceptable standpoint. What then, did our Lord teach?
The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
Within Jesus’ most extensive body of teaching—the Sermon on the Mount—we discover the beatitudes; a list of blessings upon the forgotten and forsaken in this world. In the midst of these declarations about the pure in heart, poor in spirit, and their responding rewards we read:
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”—Matthew 5:8
Growing up, this scripture occasionally made me pause. It seemed so out of place and was difficult to interpret. What exactly did Jesus mean? Through the years I heard different possibilities. One said that the meek inherit the earth in the sense that they are enabled, by their unassuming manner, to truly enjoying what this earth offers. While there certainly is an extent to which Christians enjoy the present world in a greater way than non-believers, there appears to be a fuller meaning to Jesus’ teaching.
Interestingly, this phrase wasn’t unique to our Lord. In Psalm 37:9-11 we read:
“For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”
The context of this psalm speaks of the dominance of the wicked in the present order. Evil and wicked men appear to prevail in this world; subjugating good, righteous, and meek people in their conquest. Understandably, the faithful might ask in these moments, “Why is this happening?” and “When will it end?” This psalm reminds us that, even though the wicked presently prevail—running off the meek and quiet man from the land of his inheritance—there will come a time when God will cut the wicked off, granting the meek man his rightful place in the land.
This understanding of the psalm fits well into Jesus’ body of teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: those that the world maligned and marginalized were presently blessed and would be fully rewarded in the future. The poor in spirit would possess the kingdom of heaven, the mourner will be comforted, and the meek will inherit the earth.
From an interpretive standpoint we must ask, “What in the immediate context would imply that we should take Jesus’ statement metaphorically or symbolically?” Will the poor in spirit really possess the kingdom of heaven? Will the merciful really receive mercy? Will the peacemakers be called sons of God? Will the meek really inherit the earth? If we answer “Yes” to every beatitude except the last one, why? A faithful interpretation of the immediate context seems to demand that we take Jesus’ word seriously: the meek will not simply inherit the earth “metaphorically” but, in some sense, quite literally—just as literally as the reception of comfort for the mourning heart.
What’s just as interesting is that Jesus sees no conflict in the kingdom of heaven (which the poor in spirit will inherit) and the inheritance of the earth. To accept the one doesn’t mean the rejection of the other. As we said in the previous articles, our desire isn’t to be separate from heaven, but for heaven and earth to be one in which God will once again dwell among men.
In his commentary on Matthew, J.W. McGarvey notes on Matthew 5:5:
Meekness is opposed to arrogance. The arrogant grasp after dominion and power; but the meek will inherit the earth. They will inherit it in two ways: first they will enjoy it more fully while in it; Second, they shall finally, in the membership of a triumphant church, have possession and control of it. Possibly, the Savior also alludes to the final possession by the saints of the new earth.
I agree with McGarvey in that, it isn’t only a possibility, but the fullest meaning of Jesus’ teaching. If we are going to be honest and fair in our discussion of this doctrine, should our Lord’s teaching, and the context in which it is set, at least not give us pause? The poor in spirit, and the meek in heart will both possess the heavenly kingdom and inherit the earth—now and in eternity in the new heavens and new earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).
This doesn’t imply that there is no present heavenly realm. Sadly, I have heard some contend that the NHNE position denies the reality of heaven. Far from it. From Jesus’ perspective, there is a heavenly realm where the Father dwells (Mat. 6:9) to which we should look for hope and salvation (19-20). It is pointless for us to place our hope in the present world because it is tangible, and passing away (we will discuss this more in a future article), but rather we must place our hope in the eternal, longing for the day when the will of God will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Mat. 6:10).
In Matthew 19:27 Peter asked Jesus about their reward for forsaking all and following him. Jesus responds:
“Truly, I say to you, in the new world [or regeneration, NKJV], when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (v. 28-29).
Here we again witness the “almost, but not yet” motif of Jesus’ teaching. Previously we noted how the meek presently enjoy the blessings of the earth but look forward to the fullest expression of that in the new heavens and new earth. We witness the same here. In one sense, the apostles would reign with Jesus, over the church, whenever he ascended and was enthroned at the right hand of God (Heb. 1:1-2); this began the “regeneration” or the “new world” in which Jesus is now reigning as we dwell in the “gospel age.” In this present time, Jesus is reigning as all enemies are subdued under his feet through the work of the church (1 Cor. 15:25). Yet, this doesn’t mean that the life and time of the apostles was the ultimate meaning of this promise.
For example, when Peter is preaching in Acts 3 he speaks of a regeneration/restoration as well:
“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (v. 20-21).
Notice, heaven must receive Jesus, “until the time for restoring all things.” That is, the time of regeneration and the restoration of “all things” will come in the future when Jesus returns. This then is the absolute and ultimate meaning of Jesus’ expression “in the new world.” A time is coming when all things will be restored and made right, the ungodly will be judged (2 Pet. 3:8), and the meek followers of Jesus will inherit the new heavens and new earth. It is important to note that when Peter uses the phrase “all things” he appears to use it in the same manner that Paul does in Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.”
On Matthew 19:28, McGarvey notes:
The period designated by the term regeneration is further limited by the words ‘when the son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory.’ He sat down on that throne when he ascended up to heaven, and he will be seated on it in the day of judgment. ‘The regeneration’ then is contemporaneous with this period, and therefore it must be that process of regenerating men which commenced on the Pentecost after the ascension, and will continue until the saints are raised with regenerated bodies, and the heaven and earth shall themselves be regenerated as the home of the redeemed.
The Father’s House
While I believe—at the present moment—that what we are discussing is the best way to systematize all the relevant data from scripture, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t passages that resist a natural fit into our framework (at least, in the traditional way we interpret them). Yet we must consider how such passages might plausibly be viewed in an overall narrative of scripture in order to present a coherent whole. One of these passages is John 14:1-3.
In the context of John 14 Jesus is discussing his departure (i.e. his death, John 13:1). In order to comfort his followers, he tells them:
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”—John 14:1-3
In this promise, Jesus informs us that he has gone “to prepare” a place for us in the Father’s house. This language, familiar to the Jews of that day, would have been of immeasurable comfort to them. What a beautiful picture it still paints for us today: God is a loving Father, preparing a place of comfort and rest for his family. Does this negate the view that earth will play any part in our final dwelling? Not necessarily.
Notice there are three major focuses in this text: Jesus going, Jesus coming, and Jesus gathering (or taking us to himself). All of these actions focus on his desire to be with us. In many ways, this passage is more focused on presence than place (and that should be our major focus as well). Peter speaks of something similar when he says that our hope is laid up in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4) but will one day be revealed (1:5). While these passages affirm that our hope is in the heavenly realm (as we attested early), they don’t implicitly deny the part creation will play. In fact, it fits very well into John’s depiction of the final events:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:1-2).”
Notice that, in this picture, the new Jerusalem is descending into the new heavens and new earth—heaven is descending to dwell with man. When we compare this image with Jesus’ teaching, we see how this fits together: Jesus has gone to secure us a place in the New Jerusalem—the city of God—and will one day return to gather us into the kingdom of his Father within the newly redeemed realm. John 14 doesn’t negate our present view, but simply offers a different perspective. The Father’s house will be the kingdom intended from the beginning for his people (Matt. 25:34).
Jesus uses this same imagery in the parable of the tares (Mat. 13:24-30; 36-43). In this story Jesus tells of a man who sowed good seed in his field, only to have it contaminated by an enemy who planted weeds among his good crop. He instructs his workers to patiently wait for the harvest before they tear out the weeds, “Lest you root up the wheat with them” (v. 29). Interestingly, when Jesus is explaining this parable, he says that the weeds represent the sons of the wicked one, the wheat are the sons of the kingdom, and the field is the world.
Don’t skip over this point too quickly: Jesus didn’t want the angels to rip up the weeds, for fear that it would uproot the wheat from the field. Instead, the angels will gather all the weeds from the kingdom/field (v. 41) and the “righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 43). In this story—one where Jesus intentionally defines certain key points in the parable—the wheat isn’t taken out of the world, the unrighteous are, and the “Meek inherit the earth.” This is also clarifying because, in the parable itself, Jesus describes this as “gathering the wheat into my barn” (v. 30). So, the “Great Ingathering” of God’s people—the coming again of Jesus and taking his people into the Father’s house—isn’t about taking us out of the world, but bringing us into the new world that will come about at the return of Jesus and the restoration of all things.
In many ways, the redemption of the creation—of all things—rests on the person and work of Jesus. In him, and what the Father accomplished through him in his death and resurrection, is the bedrock of our entire discussion. Because of Jesus, and the conquering, reconciling power of his cross, Satan and sin have been and will be defeated (Col. 2:15; 1 Cor. 15:26). As God himself says, “Behold I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
With that in mind, let us close with a quote from our brother Alexander Campbell:
“The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth, but the Christian revelation ends with the regenerations or new creation of the heavens and the earth. This [is] the ancient promise of God confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian earth was purified by water; but the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogeneous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God re-creates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and, therefore, the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description we can give of this regeneration is in the words of one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as it is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven.” –Christian System, p. 257
 J.W. McGarvey, A Commentary on Matthew and Mark, Delight, Ar: Gospel Light Publishing, p. 49.
 McGarvey, Matthew and Mark, 170.