I was just wondering what the New Earth is I read about in Revelation and 1Peter. Most people I ask say it is just referring to heaven. But it says a New Earth and a New Heaven, so I don't think that it is referring to heaven. I know that Jehovah's Witnesses believe that we will live on a paradise earth with Jesus forever, but I have not read that in the bible either. This may not be a salvation issue but my mother in law is a Jehovah's Witness and I want to show her what is really meant by "New Earth" or what is meant by the meek shall inherit the earth. Thanks for your time.
One of the great mistakes we make is interpreting scripture as if it was intended exclusively for us in our own time. Thus many people misunderstand the book of the Revelation or many of the Old Testament prophets. They appear to be guilty of doing to other scriptures what Peter in this same chapter said many did to Paul's writings. "They that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16) To understand what Peter means in verse 13 we have to look at the whole chapter, and possibly even to the words of Paul and of Jesus.
First I want to look at three phrases Peter uses. He talks of the "last days." This is a phrase used in the prophets to indicate the Messianic Era. Peter, himself, had told the people on the first Pentecost after Jesus was crucified that the "last days" were beginning then. (Acts 2:16-17) So some of what he describes in 2 Peter 3 is occurring at the time of his writing. In verse 7 he talks about "the day of judgment." We tend to think of this as some day in the future, but to a Jew familiar with the prophets this could mean any day in which God shows his judgment on any person or group. There have been several such days, such as the day when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Similar is the phrase "the day of the Lord." It also refers to any day that God punishes his people. It was used in the prophets to refer to the Assyrian captivity of Israel, the Babylonian captivity of Judah, as well as judgments on other nations. With these phrases in mind, it could be, without other evidence, that Peter is not even speaking of the end of the world and the final judgment.
Peter's intent in this chapter is to remind his readers to live in such a way as to be ready for any judgement of God (verse 11), to be found blameless (verse 14), and not to be led astray and fall away (verse 17). Any other general lesson to be gained is beyond Peter's intent.
Look also at what is really said in verses 10-13. He does not talk about a new heaven (as you quoted it), or about heaven burning up; he talks about the burning up of "the heavens" and the earth. He says we look for "new heavens." When the plural is used, especially when joining it to the earth, the physical heavens (the sky, stars, planets, galaxies) are what is meant. He is saying, either metaphorically or literally, that this universe will be destroyed. He may be talking about the final destruction of this physical existence, which would fit with his mention of people wresting Paul's writings. But he also says this is according to God's promise. We can find nowhere in scripture any other place where God promises a new universe. He may also be talking in symbols, like John does in the Revelation, and be referring to the spiritual aspects of this universe. If so, he may be saying that what Paul calls "the old man" in each of us will be destroyed as we become God's people and that we need to live like new creatures. This would also fit with his mention of Paul's writings, particularly Romans 6 and 7.
Revelation 21 does mention a new heaven (singular) and a new earth. While many people interpret these passages as being sometime in the future, there are those who say we are living in the time described in Revelation 21-22. (For details please see my article at The New Jerusalem.) If the book is written in symbols, as it claims, then the new heaven and new earth are symbolic of the change in the spiritual order of things brought about by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the New Jerusalem is the church. There is nothing in the Revelation which would indicate that this is a literal, physical new earth. After all, it also mentions a new heaven and heaven is not physical but spiritual. Even if it were talking about a new physical earth, it says no more about it, and certainly doesn't say anything about people living as they do now on that earth. In fact, he doesn't explain it at all.
The scriptures the Jehovah's Witnesses use to say that all but 144,000 righteous people will live on the earth are all symbolic, yet they take them literally. If the Revelation, and Peter's letters, were to be understood by the people at the time they were written, they clearly do not teach about some future utopia on this earth. People who look for a future, to us, meaning to the Revelation tend to forget that John told his readers that all the things in the book were "soon to come to pass." (Rev 1:1)
As for the meek inheriting the earth, there is little to indicate exactly what Jesus meant, other than that the word "earth" there also means the land. He could either be referring to God's land promise to Abraham, but why would only the meek live in Palestine? Or he could be saying that just as Abraham was meek and was given a land promise, so the meek will also receive a promise from God. The writer of Hebrews talks about Israel not receiving the promised rest, but that we will. (Chapters 3 and 4) It may have something to do with that thought.
For more on the New Earth, including an interpretation that it may be the place of eternal punishment, go to What Does the Bible Say About..The New Earth (2)