New Heavens, New Earth: Suddenly or Slowly?

1,315 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2002 

New Heavens, New Earth: Suddenly or Slowly?

The heavens and the earth are repeatedly referenced in the scriptures as the objects of remarkable, sweeping changes in the past and in the future.

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” (Isaiah 65:17.)

“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13.)

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” (Revelation 21:1.)

“And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth; and they shall be like unto the old save the old have passed away, and all things have become new.” (Ether 13:9.)

And the end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth.” (Ibid.)

“For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea …” (D&C 29:23, 24.)

Descriptions of these alterations are couched in emphatic terms that strongly suggest dramatic changes – differences so great that only the terms “new,” “old,” “consumed” and “pass away” seem to suffice in order to fully illustrate the radical degree of change seen in the past and foreseen for the future.

Typically, these changes are said to occur in transitional eras, relatively short periods of time, either during the Deluge at the end of the Patriarchal Age or in a time immediately prior to the Second Coming of the Savior at the ushering in of the Millennium.

Of course, we learn from modern geology and astronomy that such a dramatic change is physically impossible in the space of a few years or decades.  Change comes very slowly, we are told by scientists and scholars.  The renowned astronomer Carl Sagan, given science’s view of the tediously slow rate at which these things seem to change, was fond of saying “billions and billions of years” when referring to the periods of time needed to change the heavens above us and the face of the earth at our feet.

Nevertheless, the preponderance of the evidence from the scriptures, cited above, indicates just the opposite: A rapid and dramatic change has occurred in the past and will occur yet again in the future.

This contradiction puts Latter-day Saints on the horns of a dilemma. Do we believe science or the prophets with regard to this issue. How rapidly does change takes place on the Earth and the solar system – indeed, in our universe? And why is this of any concern to us?

The answer comes in two parts. The first part rests in a brief history lesson to examine two opposing scientific theories of how change comes about in the earth and in the heavens. The two opposing theories were passionately debated in the scientific community in the mid-19th century.

One group of scientists and scholars felt that the most profound change in the earth and in the heavens came in sudden, sweeping, dramatic and catastrophic events, such as Noah’s Flood. Hence, the term “Catastrophism” was coined to designate that theory.

A second group insisted that such change comes only very slowly and gradually, in the same consistent and uniform manner as we see it operating in the forces of nature all around us today. It’s how mountains rise ever so slowly while water and wind ever so slowly wear them away, gradually and inexorably altering the entire face of the earth. Hence, the term “Gradualism” was coined, also sometimes called the Theory of Uniformity or Uniformitarianism.

By the end of the 19th century, the debate was over. The precepts of Gradualism carried the day – to such a degree that the scientific community unwaveringly refused to seriously considered Catastrophism for nearly two centuries. Scientists and scholars derisively lumped catastrophists together with religionists as a class of people for whom rational thought and empiricism were foreign processes.

Even today, when the patently catastrophist idea of an asteroid impact catastrophically wiping out the dinosaurs – suddenly and irreversibly changing the face of the earth and its entire ecosystem in an instant – has made an unprecedented comeback, reconsidering Catastrophism still seems to be out of the question for mainstream science. Even when the whole world has been treated to a graphic demonstration of the sudden, catastrophic, planet-altering power of incoming comet fragments when Shoemaker/Levi 9 repeatedly impacted Jupiter in 1994 – a celestial visual aid presented by the Creator, if you will – science steadfastly refuses to re-evaluate its decision to opt for Gradualism as the primary mechanism of change on the earth and in the heavens.

Even more incomprehensible still is the religionists’ proclivity for turning a blind eye to these things, ignoring the implications of these discoveries for their perception of scriptural accounts.

The second part of our answer seems to lie in a short declaration made by Elder Orson Pratt, an early Apostle and confidant of the Prophet Joseph Smith. 

“Many geological speculations have been put forth to account for the great changes that have happened in the surface strata of the earth. But it is not our intention to examine the probability of improbability of those conjectures; but merely to give some few facts from divine revelation to show that the present geological conditions of our globe are not, in their general characteristics, the result of slow and gradual changes; but the effects of sudden convulsions and catastrophes under the control and superintendence of the All-powerful Being who formed all things.” (The Seer, Vol. II, No. 4, April, 1854, italics added.)

Once again, we see that revealed knowledge pointed to the more correct of the two theories and foreshadowed the most recent discoveries at the end of the 20th century about our world that have only recently begun to revolutionize science and replace old scientific dogma.

Elder Pratt was a recognized scientist and mathematician in his day, having worked out part of the equation to more accurately describe planetary orbits. In addition, his direct observations of the phases of the moon from a small observatory constructed on the temple grounds in Salt Lake City formed the basis for that temple’s Moon Stones, which accurately depict the phases of the moon in its walls.

That said, it becomes evident that Elder Pratt spoke with both the authority of good science and “divine revelation.” Indeed, it is apparent that he could appropriately be called a catastrophist. Moreover, he emphatically declares that the idea of slow and gradual change is not the scriptural perspective revealed to the prophets.

So, how should modern Saints see all this? What is the benefit of altering our views?

Only by seeing scriptural references such as those quoted at the beginning of this article through the eyes of Catastrophism, as espoused by Elder Pratt, can we properly conceive of the import of their message. Otherwise, seen from a gradualist perspective, they seem like largely inconsequential, lyrical rhetoric, indicative of little.

Seen in the catastrophist context, the only circumstances that would cause the ancient prophets to speak of changed heavens and earth would be dramatic changes in Earth’s orbit and position in our solar system. Though science vehemently denies that possibility, the only logical conclusion is that our planet has changed its position in the solar system with respect to the other planets, the stars and our sun and that it will do so again in the last days. Only such sweeping changes could give earthlings a “new heaven” and a “new earth.” Given Elder Pratt’s assertions and the scriptural statements of past and future changes, the conclusion is inescapable.

No wonder the prophets characterized the Earth as reeling “to and fro” during such events.




  1. …differences so great that only the terms “new,” “old,” “consumed” and “pass away” seem to suffice…

    Differences so great that the new heavens and earth are described as “like unto the old”? Color me unconvinced.

  2. These two scriptures he quoted:

    For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)

    And there shall be a new heaven and a new earth; and they shall be like unto the old save the old have passed away, and all things have become new. (Ether 13:9)

    seem to indicate the following:

    1st Heaven and Earth
    2nd Heaven and Earth
    3rd Heaven and Earth

    For people who lived during the time of the 1st Heaven and Earth, the 2nd Heaven and Earth was a New Heaven and Earth.

    For people living during the time of the 2nd Heaven and Earth, namely, us right now, the 1st Heaven and Earth are an Old Heaven and Earth and the 3rd Heaven and Earth will be a New Heaven and Earth.

    For people who will live during the time of the 3rd Heaven and Earth, the 1st Heaven and Earth will be the Old Heaven and Earth and the 2nd Heaven and Earth will be the Former Heaven and Earth. The 1st and 3rd will be like unto each other and will be so spectacular that people who will live during the time of the 3rd will not even remember the 2nd, or will eventually forget all about it. Here are the scriptures again:

    For, behold, I create new [3rd] heavens and a new earth: and the former [2nd] shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17)

    And there shall be a new [3rd] heaven and a new earth; and they shall be like unto the old [1st] save the old have passed away [having made room for the 2nd], and all things have become new. (Ether 13:9)

  3. Sounds to me that “old” and “former” are just synonyms describing the same thing. Is there any evidence to the contrary?

  4. I think there is evidence. If you plug in just a [1st] for old/former and a [2nd] for new, it doesn’t quite make sense. How can the [1st] old/former be both identical to the [2nd] new and yet no one will remember it nor will it ever enter into their minds? If I’m given a 1st blue cup and then it is taken away and I’m given an identical 2nd blue cup, every time I look at the 2nd blue cup it will remind me of the 1st blue cup. The scripture, to me, only makes sense if former and old are referring to different things, as something that is both different and better can easily make me completely forget the former thing that was boring/bland. This often happens with emotions. We go through tough times thinking we’ll never forget them, then we go through happy times and find that we can’t remember the misery or miserable circumstances we were in. Or, the reverse situation. It really depends on the degree of happiness or misery, or degree of “newness” or excitement of what we are seeing or experiencing, in its power to make us forget all about the former thing we were seeing. Children manifest this easily, as their hurts and disappointments can be easily changed in an instant into joys with an exciting distraction, that makes them forget all about the other thing (momentarily, as their memories are exceptionally good.) Something sufficiently spectacular, a heaven spanning display that was of sufficient “glory,” would ingrain itself in the human psyche to the point where humanity would forget about the former things altogether and become “obsessed” with the new, exciting things. Evidence of such behavior is found in the rock paintings of the ancients all over the world, in which they apparently saw plasma displays of such grandeur that all cultures everywhere couldn’t help but draw endless pictures of them. (See the links I posted here for additional info on these pictures.)

  5. Peter makes it pretty clear:
    “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, …” (3:3) They are scoffers in that they refuse to believe that the ancients told of a very different world.
    “And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” (3:4) That is a summery of scholarly and scientific thinking today. Change is slow and inexorable. Our world has appeared much as it does today for tens of thousands of years.
    “For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: …” (3:5) Old heavens, as Anarchist indicated, implies different heavens than those we see now. I really like the phrase “willingly ignorant.” It shows a determined indifference to the truth.
    Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: ” (3:6) This is clearly a reference to Noah’s deluge. That, in my mind, was the watershed (pardon the pun) event that divided the “old heavens” from the new or present heavens.
    “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” (3:7) This puts a lock on it. He says that the heavens we have now will be dramatically changed yet again in “a day of judgment.” So, it is as Anarchist surmised. We call the ancient heavens “old” because we have different heavens. But, the day will come when the heavens we know now will be called “old” because they have been replaced with “new heavens.”
    Peter goes on in that chapter to talk about the “day of judgment.” “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (3:10) This, in my mind, is no metaphor. It is an accurate assessment of what happens in a planetary catastrophe. No other incident in nature has the capacity to profoundly change both the earth and the heavens. So sweeping and destructive an event is the dividing line between earth’s various ages, eras or epochs, recognized by vertually every ancient culture. It was the one thing they were painfully aware of and repeatedly recorded in their monuments, temples, tombs and texts.
    Peter sums up with yet another unmistakable reference. This is clearly a man who sees these three different epochs of earth’s career. If you won’t believe me, believe him. “Nevertheless, we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (3:13)
    I rest my case.

  6. Even if this 3-2-1 “new heavens and earths” idea is legit, it does not invalidate the old view of “new heavens and new earth” which is the world in its terrestrial glory (now and your proposed previous old earth and future new earth) vs. the world in its celestial glory (after transfiguration by fire into the celestial kingdom attending the final and eternal judgment).

    In your perusal of II Peter 3, you seem “ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Perhaps you do not yet have a point to make with this verse like you do with other verses in the chapter (I don’t necessarily disagree with those points you’ve made above, even if I am skeptical).

    Only 1 month ’til perihelion w/ comet 6P/d’Arrest (at 0.32 AU).

  7. The reference to the equivalency of a day to a thousand years is symbolism, not meant to be taken literally. Joseph Smith noted in his papyri explanations that a certain Egyptian symbol represented the number 1,000. That is, this was a common rhetorical device in Peter’s day. It’s hyperbole! In essence, Peter was saying to the saints of his day that God had all the time in the world to carry out his judgments. It’s we who always want to rush things. Apparently, in Peter’s day people were anxious to see the second coming, just as they are today. He was merely cautioning them to not get in a rush and misconstrue the prophecies. It’s the same message you should internalize.
    The subsequent verse supports this interpretation. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) He’s merely saying, “Don’t get your nickers in a knot. God will fulfill all his promises in his own, good time. Don’t try to force fit him into your own timetable.”
    Now, let me show you a bit of your ignorance, as you are accustomed to doing for me.
    You, and many others like you, consistently take to be literal that which was meant to be symbolic. The “1 day=1,000 years” formula has been repeated so often by virtually every person who ever attempted to explain prophecy that it has become nearly universally accepted. But, repetition doesn’t make it true.
    William Miller, co-founder of the modern Adventest movement in the19th century, was the first in our era to make that equivalency. Ironically, Joseph Smith knew all about Miller, and he debunked Miller’s equivalency. “I showed them the fallacy of Mr. Miller’s data [the very numbers you put so much stock in] concerning the coming of Christ and the end of the world … and preached them quite a sermon … that Miller was in want of correct information upon the subject ….” (History of the Church, Vol 5, p.272. See Millier’s well known and publicized mathmatical calculations to know what Joseph meant here.)
    So, in my view, your reliance on that equivalency is a gross error, as Joseph Smith clearly inferred.
    Now, let me quote Peter again to show you where your error occurs. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed … Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man ….” (2 Peter 1:20, 21.) You’ve accepted the same “private interpretation” of this scripture as every other ignorant exeget out there to come up with the 1=1,000 equivalency, savaging the real meaning of Peter’s words and forcing your own reading on his text. You must use contextual analysis rather than isolating this one verse, taking it out of context and then assigning your own interpretation to it.
    Before we can interpret prophecy, we must first obtain the same worldview as the prophet. That’s what Peter said in the two verses quoted above. We must see the world and his times through his eyes, not the myopic perspective modern misguided interpretation – ‘spin,’ in other words – puts on it. Believe me, moderns have no clue as to the common perspective in antiquity. But, gaining the prophets’ perspective entails a years and years of study and effort – something most people are too lazy to do. It’s easier to go with the flow and make a lot of unwarrented and ill-concieved assumptions.
    What say you to this?

  8. I am just attempting to provoke critical conversation, and you continue to be easily offended. I see a pattern here.

    It is fine to disregard 1 day to 1,000 years for God mumbo jumbo. I don’t put much stock in it myself, even if interesting ideas can come of it.

    But you didn’t really address the subject of my comment, which was a 3-2-1 Contact interpretation of II Peter 3 vs. the old earth of mortal probation and the new earth of the celestial kingdom. I suppose you agree that there is this double meaning.

    I don’t really see what it matters trying to guess what will happen to the earth in the near future, even if I have my own personal speculations, what with new heavens and the Torah being written in our minds and the marks of Fathers & Beasts, or cataclysmic events to precede or accompany these times, etc.

    Obviously some really crazy stuff is about to go down, so let’s just sit back at watch it. The less we attempt to predict, the less we will be wrong in the end.

  9. By bringing up the “1=1,000 equivalency”, I really meant to air surprise that you seemed to have a treatment for every verse in the opening of that chapter but that one.

    Now I know your treatment of that verse, so… Good to know your perspective, says I.

  10. Your comments are not as innocuous as you portray them. The language you use is offensive in many cases. You attack as you comment. You mistake criticism for scholarship.
    Easily offended? No. I just don’t like abrasive people. I’m the nicest guy you know. You just haven’t figured that out yet. (grin)
    I suggest you use less inflamatory rhetoric, and we will have a much more civil discourse.

  11. It must be my exaggerated sense of polemics. After all, polemikos (πολεμικως) means “warlike” or “hostile”.

    Consider it a matter of genetics, I descend from the “warlike” race of the O’Mores, Clan Cionga, Clanna-Rory, the House of Ir. I am also a Real McCoy(tm), and researchers seem to think they’ve found rage runs in the family:


  12. I sort of envision the nature of these changes as the same way I experienced my Mom’s Passing..

    For a few days, I experience my entire life with Her,
    in my memories coming to LIFE again in my soul.

    I felt all the WONDERFUL changes that her influence had on my life.

    That experience over a short period of time, TRANSENDED time and allowed me to LIVE a dose of Eternal Reality.

    I think our transition through these remarkable waymarks in time will be sort of like that.

  13. Anthony, you mentioned the transition Noah went through during th Flood. And that science tells us, changes, even under those conditions, takes a long time.

    Maybe…The Seven Days that Noah jumped on board and closed the door to the Ark, actually spaned a time of Seven YEARS. And maybe the Flood itself transpired over 40 Years as opposed to 40 Days.

    On second thought…Seven Years, let alone 40, would have caused the ship to sink from built up waste. So that theory of mine doesn’t float very well.

    I think it is like having a Vision. There is a short period of “TIME” this involves, as far as still being the same age after experiencing it. But it OBVIOUSLY seperates the Veil in some way and generates a BIG DIFFERENCE in the way REALITY is experienced.

    I only see the World we live in, as a Partial Reality. And when we traverse those periods of major Transition in this World, THAT Reality, takes on a RAPID response…Like having a Vision.

    It’s like our WORLD going through that transformative VISION process, only it becomes permanent and not something that is Ducked INTO & OUT of, like a personal Vision.

    And when it reaches the FINAL transformation in becoming Celestialised, it happens in the Blink of an Eye, like people becoming Translated or Resurected.

    But it happens on a LITTLE SLOWER scale than people. What seems to be a Blink of the eye to the Big Old World, is a SECOND’S time from our perspective. Like comparing the Heart Beats of an Elephant to a Humming Bird.

    So I think the entire World Change from our Current Telestial Conditions, to becoming Terrestrial, will take 7 years of our time….. The Final seven years preceeding the Second Coming.

    It seems to be the space of time described in the scriptures of being that time of World Flux.

    And is also is reminesent of the 7 Days required to Build the Earth…Even though that was accomplished under a different time scale.

    And HAVING A BABY, as the Lord describes this change…Happens VERY QUICKLY near the moments of Birth.

    The Restoration of ALL THINGS is to transpire over a few years time…about 3 1/2 years. That’s a LOT to be happening in such a short period of time. But we are told ANGELS ( Terrestrial Beings ) will be Leading & Guiding this Great & Marvelous Work.

    And if THAT’S the case….Then are they to not bring a DOSE of that change THEY went through, with them ?

    And as quickly as THEY underwent that change in the Blink of an Eye…Then SURELY their presence among us, will EXPEDITE World Change.

  14. Anthony, don’t be mess’n with Dereck. He sounds like a Wild Man ! I KNOW this sort of erratic behaviour….My cousin is a mass cerial killer and acts the SAME WAY !

    DON’T set him off !

  15. This is a good, thought provoking thing, you explain.

    I think the REAL changes of transition take place as quickly as you come to REALIZE who you really ARE…By recognizing the DUAL NATURE of our Telestial Bodies and scrapping the Negative Side of that equation…..By placing our ETERNAL SPIRIT over our Corrupt Matter ( Body ).

    The old saying…Mind over Matter is a Real Key to this. Only replaced the word Mind with your Eternal Spirit of God and seperate that from Impure thoughts that the BODY will generate in the Mind.

    It’s an INTERNAL change that occures in the “BLINK” of an eye…. Personal Righteousness is the Key, by seperating that, from that which isn’t, from WITHIN oursellves.

    And as far as the Earth passing through that same process and being a Living Intity….Maybe this is why the EARTH begins to display Upheaval “WITHIN” itself, as it EXPELLS that SAME POISON, as it is moving toward a TERRESTRIAL STATE of matter.

    IT will be doing, what WE are taught to do, by those who have already REACHED that level.

    So rather than speculating on how LONG this transition will take, maybe it would be more beneficial to work on HOW it’s to take place.

    Because what RELATES to World Changes…Relates to PERSONAL changes , as well, & vise versa.

  16. When the Earth begins to Shak’n & Quak’n and spweing Lava & splitting Open and doing all that WEIRD STUFF…. It ISN’T attempting to rid itself of the Poison on it’s BACK , it’s trying to BARF UP, it’s “NATURAL TELESTIAL MATTER” and trade it for TERRESTRIAL MATTER.

    It’s a change that comes from WITHIN but AFFECTS everything on it’s surface.

    This old notion that the Earth will be trying to shake itself of EXTERNAL wickedness in the form of it’s inhabitants, is not TRUE. That would be like trying to get rid of the Chicken Pox by SCRAPING off the sores.

    It’s the INTERNAL VIRUS… that is giving way to HEALING ITSELF. Just like Telestial beings becoming TERRESTRIAL beings. It’s an INTERNAL PROCESS that we ALL have the capacity for generating WITHIN ourselves.

    Resurection is something that ONLY comes through the Power of Christ, but “Translation” comes by way of PERFECT RIGHTEOUS LIVING.

    And THAT is something ANYONE can do. And it is NOT a matter of spending EONS working your way TO that, One Little Step At A Time. It’s a matter of SELF REALIZATION of being a Child of God and coming to Raising our Eternal Spirit ABOVE the desires of our Earthly Bodies. And there is a Quick Way to making that Happen. But not something that is to be published, but rather DISCOVERED for Yourself.

    All it rquires is TRUE INTRASPECTION. And the REST just HAPPENS.

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