The UK Bible Students Website
Scripture references are to the King James (Authorised) Version
Answer: According to the Bible there have already been two worlds, and the third one is coming, and this literal earth has been the scene of all these.
As, for instance, the Apostle Peter speaks of the world that was before the flood, of the present evil world, because sin is now reigning, and of the world to come wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Pet. 3: 13).
That condition of things before the Flood was under the ministration of angels; during the present time, from the Flood down to the coming of Christ, at His Second Advent, the world is left in the hands of mankind, and Satan, the prince of this world – taking advantage of men, taking advantage of their ignorance and superstitious fears – has become prince of this world without any divine authority, because he works in the hearts of the children of disobedience, and the children of disobedience are much more numerous than the children of obedience. Therefore, this is the present evil world.
The new dispensation, or new order of things that God will introduce at the second coming of Christ, is spoken of as the new heaven and the new earth, in this same symbolical way.
But it will be the same physical earth: the same rocks, the same matter will be here, the sky we now have will be here just the same as before the Flood.
The new one will be different from the others because Christ will be its prince – the prince of peace – and the government of that dispensation will be altogether righteous. ʻBehold, I make all things newʼ (Rev. 21: 5).
For instance, the ʻheavensʼ of the present time in this symbolic language of the Bible are the religious systems of the present time, while the heavens of the future age will be the church in glory. The ʻearthʼ at the present time is the present social order of things: society as at present organized on the basis of selfishness. Mountains, for example, often represent the nations of this world and the seas the masses of mankind who are unstable, restless.
The Lord pictures a change in this respect, in that all of these things are to [be] made over new – a new order of society under the dominion of Messiah. There will be no more sea in the sense that there will be no more people in a restless, dissatisfied condition. Every knee will bow to Christ and confess Him as Saviour and King [Phil. 2: 10, 11]. So this present world order will pass away and give way to the new order of things. (Adapted from What Pastor Russell Said (1911), pp. 231, 232.)