1. "From the blood of righteous Abel"
Because we understand the “heavens and the earth” covenantally; and we understand the first, or old heavens and earth to refer to the old covenant, and the new heavens and new earth to refer to the new covenant, it is important that we understand when the first, or old covenant began. A common error, even among those who espouse covenant eschatology, is to equate the first, or old covenant with Sinai. Here we will show why this is in error, and why this particular error carries with it some significant soteriological implications.
To suggest that the “first heaven and first earth” to which Revelation 21:1 refers began not at the creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis (the beginning of redemptive history), but rather at Sinai, is to suggest that there was no covenant for salvation prior to the Mosaic covenant. And since the Mosaic covenant was for Israel alone, this would leave Gentiles without covenant promises. Furthermore, if the "old covenant" were exclusive to the Mosaic economy, it would also leave believers who lived before Moses outside of redemption. But Paul is clear that sin was in the world, and death came as a result of sin.... and the Mosaic Law was added because of already existing transgression. The Mosaic Law, or the Sinai covenant, simply magnified what was already standing in the way of presence with God. It wasn't the beginning of God's covenant relationship with His people; it was a recapitulation of what was established in the beginning (i.e., the creation of the heavens and the earth.)
Let’s look at a couple of passages. Notice we are going to see a contrast between the old and new covenants, or the first heavens and first earth which was in the process of passing away in the first century and the new heavens and new earth which is the new creation in Christ:
Hebrews 12:18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.") [a clear reference to Sinai, under the Old Covenant] 22 But you have come to Mount Zion [the new covenant, or new heavens and new earth], and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant...
[now, watch this]
...and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. [in this contrast between the old and new covenants, he goes back to Abel!]
In this second passage, we see Jesus referring to the coming judgment on Jerusalem, which we understand to be the visible demonstration and confirmation of the passing away of the old covenant, or the first heaven and first earth. If we are going to say that which is being done away in AD 70 began at Sinai, we have a problem because Jesus, in telling the Pharisees of the judgment that was coming upon them, and what they were being held accountable for, said this:
Matthew 23:34 Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.
Notice: "All the righteous blood shed upon the earth". What earth? The context here is covenantal. First century Jews were not being judged for all the righteous blood shed on the planet. They were being judged for all the righteous blood shed since the very beginning of "the earth." Since God established his covenant with Adam, a covenant which included the promise of salvation in Christ. It isn’t possible to read “earth” here other than covenantally. (And in fact, "righteous blood" could only be used in a covenant context, as outside of covenant relationship with God, righteousness, which is only by faith, does not exist.) And this covenantal earth was already in existence when Abel's blood was shed. Long before the Sinai covenant was added.
 Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
 Cf. Romans 5:12-13; Galatians 3:19
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When Did the Old Covenant Begin?
This page hosts a series of studies/short articles answering the question, "When did the Old Covenant begin?"
1. "From the blood of righteous Abel"