|Volume 23 Number 4 April 2021
Joe Ed Furr
David and Solomon said that our earth will remain forever. Isaiah taught that the reason the earth exists is for the purpose of human inhabitance. The implication seems to be that if the earth will remain forever, it will be inhabited forever. Jesus said, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If the earth will remain forever, then what is God’s will for it? David says, “The righteous shall possess the earth and dwell upon it forever.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses use the above argument as their proof that this earth will be the “new earth” – our eternal home. So, they say, all the saved will not go to Heaven, but instead, most will remain on this earth in its “new” form forever. This idea is not merely a footnote in their teachings, but this is one of their cardinal doctrines. If you have experienced difficulties talking about the will of God with a Jehovah’s Witness, it is because we do not share a common belief with them concerning the destiny of man and of earth. Many of their other religious doctrines are rooted in this belief about the future destiny of earth; so, we must meet this issue. In this essay we will discuss the destiny of the earth and its meaning to the righteous.
David and Solomon did say that this earth would remain forever, but they were not speaking about an absolute eternity. The word “forever” that they used meant “an indefinite period of time.” This same word was used to describe the tenure of the Law of Moses. We know that the Law of Moses was taken out of the way and replaced with the Law of Christ; the Law of Moses did not last for an absolute eternity. The same word “forever” was used to describe how long the Hebrews would inhabit the land of Canaan. Yet history proves that the Hebrews have not inhabited the land of Canaan perpetually in an absolute way. “Forever” is also used to describe how long Hebrews could keep foreign people as slaves. Yet, no Hebrew owns slaves today. These illustrations help prove that the word “forever” was not an absolute term.
However, there is a second Hebrew term meaning “forever.” This second term suggests an absolute eternity. David did use this term once in describing the tenure of the earth, and so we need to consider the context of that Scripture, too.
Read all of Psalm 37. From the general reading, one can sense that David did not describe man’s future heaven; rather, we can clearly see that he described the righteous man’s blessings in his lifetime and in his family’s future through the course of human history. The main theme of the chapter is “for evil-doers shall be eliminated, but those who persevere in the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.” No righteous man faces the threat of the extinction of his family from the earth, but evil men do face such a threat. Righteous people will always abide in the land as long as the earth shall be inhabited. When David used the seemingly absolute word “forever” in this chapter to describe the duration of the earth, he used that word in context with the first word “forever,” which means an indefinite period. The use of both terms that mean “forever” in the same context shows us that David used both terms with the same implied meaning – an indefinite period of time. This conclusion is supported by David’s later description of the earth. “Thou didst found the earth of old, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest. They all shall wear out like a garment; like a coat Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed.” When a coat is worn out, we do not try to rethread it and thereby renew it for longer wear. We discard it and get another coat. God is going to treat the earth in the future the same way we treat worn out coats.
If this earth were going to remain forever as the eternal home of the righteous, it is strange that supposed evidence of this can only be found in the Old Testament. No such evidence can be found in the New Testament. Consequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses will never quote the New Testament to prove the eternity of this earth. In the New Testament we read, “the heavens will pass away; the burning elements will be dissolved; the earth too and the works in it shall be burned up… the blazing heavens will be dissolved and the burning elements melted.” We also read, “Then I saw a great white throne and the One seated upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them.”
Millennialists who want to see this earth reused for a future existence try to explain the burning of the earth by suggesting that God’s fire will merely purge this earth of its evil works and leave it ready for a future existence. They compare this fire to the surgeon’s heat that sterilizes his instruments. However, sterilizing is not the purpose for this heat. This heat is going to melt and to dissolve the earth. Surgeons do not melt their instruments to sterilize them. The sterilizing theory suggests that the earth will remain, but John claims it will flee away from the presence of God.
Jehovah’s Witnesses suggest that the “heavens and earth” which will be destroyed refers to the kingdom of Satan, not the physical earth. They deduce this from the way the Bible describes Satan’s kingdom, but their interpretation is a hypocritical one. They insist that the “heaven and earth” of 2 Peter 3:10 is symbolic, but Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the same term in verse 2 Peter 3:13 is literal. It is more consistent to say that if “heaven and earth” in verse ten is not literal, then the same terms are not literal in verse thirteen.
Yet, didn’t the apostle Paul write about the future of the earth, suggesting it will not be destroyed? Paul seemingly suggested that the entire creation of God (the whole universe) is presently enslaved in a state of change and decay. The whole universe is presently awaiting a coming change in the state of things. A day is coming when the universe will be free of change and decay, and in that day, it will begin to find its real fulfillment. If this is true, then it is this same material universe that will be our eternal home.
Yes, Paul suggested that the present universe will play a part in the future glory of the children of God, but whatever that role will be, it will result from a process of liberation or change. Paul paralleled what will happen to creation to what will happen to Christians when we enter our eternal home. What will happen to Christians? Paul said that our present material body will be changed into a spiritual body. If there is a parallel here, then the future role of this universe will have to undergo vast modifications before it could play any role in eternity. If our universe does undergo vast changes, then it will no longer be the same universe. Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that in eternity this earth will be restored to its original state before the fall of man. However, Paul taught that this universe will not be restored to its original form. He explained that this universe will be completely changed into a state never before known in human history.
We do know that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. However, the new earth will not be this earth, and its surrounding heavens will not be the heavens we now see since this earth and its heavens will be destroyed by fire. For this reason, let us not store up our treasure of hope in this planet that is growing old. Jesus admonished, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” and yet, this is the very admonition Jehovah’s Witnesses ignore as they proclaim a gospel concerning the glorious future of this earth. If all they said about this earth were true, then mankind could lay up for himself all the treasures he wanted upon earth. Instead, Jesus said, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Why should we do this if earth is going to be our future home? You can see from this that Jesus points our hope in the opposite direction of the hope of the Jehovah’s Witnesses [and renewed earth religionists ~ Louis Rushmore, Editor of Gospel Gazette Online].
Furr, Joe Ed. “The Future of the Earth.” Firm Foundation 8 Sep 1970, 567.