When I was a child, I had a childish understanding of heaven. While I never believed in the pop culture version of everlasting life where the redeemed grow wings, float on clouds and play harps for all eternity, I did think heaven was unthinkable. I assumed it was too otherworldly for a finite mind to conceive of, but the Bible suggests otherwise.
Assuming we skip ahead to the end, bypassing the current heaven where our souls go until the second coming of Christ, Scripture foretells a day when heaven comes down to a newly created (or recreated) earth. According to Revelation, this is the grand finale of redemptive history.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
The apostle John isn’t the first to tease this inevitable future for God’s people. Isaiah prophesied it long before him.
“For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
and her people to be a gladness.” (Isaiah 65:17, 18)
Peter also spoke of the new earth to come.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11-13)
A new earth makes sense when we think about it. God created us to live on the earth. He intends to resurrect and restore our physical bodies. He explicitly says he will destroy the earth as we know it and create another where we will dwell with him and he with us forevermore.
I like Randy Alcorn’s comparisons in his wonderful book on the subject, Heaven. When we think about heaven, he says, we think:
- Unfamiliar; otherworldly
- Leaving favorite things behind
- No time and space
- Neither old (like Eden) nor new and earthly; just strange and unknown
- Nothing to do; floating on the clouds
- No learning or discovery; instant and complete knowledge
- Loss of desire
- Absence of the terrible (but presence of little we desire)
The Bible, on the other hand, presents a welcome alternative:
- New Earth
- Familiar; earthly
- Resurrected (embodied)
- Home (all the comforts of home with all the innovations of an infinitely creative God)
- Retaining the good; find the best ahead
- Time and space
- Both old and new
- A God to worship and serve; a universe to rule; purposeful work to accomplish; friends to enjoy
- An eternity of learning and discovering
- Continuous fulfillment of desire
- Presence of the wonderful (everything we desire and nothing we don’t)
Years ago, I taught a series of lessons on the new earth to a group that previously held the “non-earth, disembodied, foreign” anticipation of eternal life. Once I finished, the general consensus found the “new-earth, embodied, familiar” view of heaven delightfully refreshing. Excitement replaced all apprehension regarding the afterlife because they now understood that heaven is not an utterly inconceivable place. They no longer felt conflicted, craving a future in heaven yet fearful of the unknown. Heaven will eventually be the earth as we know it, only perfect.
As Randy Alcorn writes:
What we love about this life are the things that resonate with the life we were made for. The things we love are not merely the best this life has to offer—they are previews of the greater life to come.