A New Heaven and a New Earth: The Way It Was Meant to Be
The Bible is full of wonderful promises, but perhaps the most wonderful of all is this: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). There are many things we do not know about what heaven will be like, because it is beyond our ability to comprehend. But one thing we can be sure of is that it will fulfill our greatest longings, it will dazzle us with its beauty, it will obliterate our greatest problems with its power and splendor, it will be greater than anything we could imagine or dream, it will be a place where love and joy will reign unspoiled. God is busy preparing all of this for us.
For the last two weekends we have been busy keeping our granddaughters. Last week it was Lisa and Jeremy’s daughters while they led the youth retreat. This weekend it is our oldest daughter’s children as she and her husband are away on a combination business and getaway trip. In preparation for their coming, we stocked up on ice cream, cookies and candy. Sue bought finger paints and little plastic smocks. She went to the Salvation Army and bought dress up clothes for the girls to play in. I bought a children’s video, and Sue planned some small cooking projects for them. We made all kinds of preparations to make their time with us memorable and enjoyable. Why did we do all that? We did it because we love our grandchildren and want the best for them. The point is, if we make those kinds of preparations for our grandchildren’s visit, how much more does a God of love prepare for the time his children will come to his eternal home. The Bible says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). Jesus said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3).
Unfortunately, heaven has met with bad press by those who do not understand what God has prepared for those who love him. People see heaven as sitting on a cloud wearing a halo, while little angels play harps as they float through the heavens. Others see it as an unending church service, or singing hymns for all eternity. Some think of it as a sort of a celestial retirement city. It all seems like an apparition — so unreal. No wonder so many people see heaven as a place of numbing boredom, or secretly say to themselves, “Is that all there is?”
There is so much that could be said about heaven, but first let me say that: Heaven will be real. Heaven will not be some ethereal existence where we float about as spirits without bodies. Why would God take the trouble to create a new earth if there was not going to be anyone to live on it? Why would we be given new bodies if we were not going to live in a material world? It is my understanding of Scripture that we were originally created to live as earth dwellers in a material world. Adam and Eve were not placed on a cloud, but on the earth. Heaven will be Eden restored. We have been living east of Eden since Adam and Eve sinned, but the day will come when the original paradise God intended us to be a part of will be restored. The new Jerusalem is not floating in space, but comes down to earth.
The Bible contains this promise concerning the earth: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).
Heaven will be a real place with real, meaningful and rewarding work for us to do. Heaven will be the fulfillment of what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Bible says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. . . . But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10,13). The old earth will pass away and God will create a new earth which will be the home of righteousness. Dallas Willard assures us that “The life we now have as the persons we now are will continue in the universe in which we now exist.” It will not be a strange apparition, but the real world we have known, only new and better. T. S. Elliot wrote:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
If this fallen world in all of its brokenness can be so wonderful, what must heaven be like?
So here is the second truth about heaven: Heaven will be right. It will be a place of righteousness, or right-ness. All the wrongs of the world will be made right. It will be a place where everything evil is absent, and everything good is present; everything sad will be gone, and only joy will exist; everything disappointing will disappear, and everything exciting will appear; everything depressing will be gone, and everything hopeful will come; everything violent and hateful will be gone, and everything born of love will be prevail; every unfaithfulness will be in the past, and steadfast loyalty will be present; everything detestable will be gone, and everything desirable will abide with us; every sickness will be gone, and complete wholeness will take over our lives; every struggle, frustration and failure will be over, and only success will be possible. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Every wrong done to you in this world will be made right. Every injustice will meet with justice. Every sorrow will be reversed, and joy will wash over you like a waterfall. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). He goes on to say, “They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox” (Isaiah 65:23-25).
The corrupted, fallen part of the world will be gone, and God will restore the world to the way it was meant to be in the beginning — unspoiled by human sin. Everything false will disappear, and everything good and true will prevail. The Bible says, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
The third truth it is important to understand about heaven is: Heaven will be relational. In 1991 Eric Clapton lost his five-year-old son, Conner, after he fell from the window of their forty-ninth floor Manhattan apartment. Clapton poured out his grief in song and wrote “Tears in Heaven.” In the song he asks the question:
Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
It is the question to which a lot of people would like an answer. The truth is, you will meet again those you have lost who have known Christ and lived for him — if you belong to Christ. Our relationships will not be lost, they will be regained and renewed. We will experience these relationships at a level we have never known before. Deep, rewarding and fulfilling relationships will be the hallmark of heaven. On earth we let each other down and disappoint each other. Many times, without knowing it, we hurt each other and fail each other. But there, “we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The apostle John writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Our fallen, imperfect nature will be healed and we will be capable of intimacy in relationships that we cannot even imagine here and now.
Our relationship with God will be healed as well. No more will our love for God be compromised by a selfish love for ourselves and an enchantment with the things of the world. Our love for God and our relationship with him will be unspoiled. There will be nothing between us — no separation. Our sinful nature will be taken away, and we will no longer struggle with sin and temptation. Our relationship with God will be so intimate that the book of Revelation describes it as a bride coming to her husband — full of love and passion, with arms open wide.
The fourth thing that it is important for us to understand about heaven is: Heaven will be rewarding. John does the best he can at describing heaven, but he is limited by language and experience. He has never seen anything like this before, and he finds it impossible to fully depict what he witnesses in this vision. He talks about walls made out of translucent gold built on foundations made with precious jewels; gates made of a single pearl and streets of gold. The richness of heaven is so great that they use gold as paving material! Jewels are used for foundation stones! What a place this must be! It is so rich and real that the things of greatest value on earth are commonplace. It is so beautiful that he describes it with the best comparisons he can make.
Let’s say that you have worked very hard on earth. You have been faithful to God. You have done your best. You have kept your life free from any major sin. Yet nothing has gone right for you. Your health is bad, your finances are worse, your children have made nothing but bad choices and your relationships are unfulfilling. You want to say with the Psalmist: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (Psalm 73:13). It all seems so unfair. Where is the justice? Justice is not far away, but it is going to happen in another place.
Justice does not always happen in this world. This is not heaven, and we should not expect it to be. The accounts are settled and our rewards are given in another place and another time. That is what heaven is all about. It is delayed gratification, but gratification nonetheless. C. S. Lewis in his great book The Problem of Pain, struggles with the problems caused by the pains of life. In writing, he says, “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” I think he is right. Home is on its way, but it is not here yet. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it is. And when it gets here he will make “everything new.” Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12). Every sacrifice you have made will be remembered. Every sorrow you have experienced will be dispelled with countless joys. Every rejection will be overcome by an explosion of love. Every work will be rewarded. Far from every mistake being brought out, every good thing you have done will be honored and recompensed.
But finally, Heaven will be the residence of God. The greatest reward of heaven will be God himself. Nothing we see or experience will be greater than the fact that we are with God and see him face to face. Paul wrote: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). How wonderful it will be to be in the presence of God where we will perfectly know him and know that we are perfectly known and loved. John writes in the book of Revelation: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (Revelation 21:3). We will have no greater reward or relationship than being with our wonderful God and seeing him face to face.
At last we say, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for [us], who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
In C. S. Lewis’ wonderful books The Chronicles of Narnia, the characters who have lived in Narnia have completed their time and work there. In a closing chapter entitled “Further Up and Further In,” Aslan, the lion who represents Christ, has come for them in order to take them home. They are headed away from Narnia and are about to enter Aslan’s land. But they are met with familiar scenes. One of the characters cries out: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.”
I believe that when we enter the real heaven, we will say, “This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old earth so much is that it sometimes looked a little like this.” It will be a new earth — restored and redeemed — the place we were meant to live. At that time we will say with the Psalmist: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6).
“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
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QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What reservations have you had concerning what heaven might be like?
2. When you think about heaven being on a real new earth, is that different from what you have always thought? Is it better or worse in your mind?
3. How does this affect your thinking about the meaning of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
4. Read Revelation 21:4. Of all the things that will be made right in heaven, which one are you looking forward to most?
5. Read Revelation 21:27. How is this good news? How might this be bad news?
6. Read Revelation 21:2. How does the imagery of the church being a bride speak to the kind of relationship we will experience between ourselves and God?
7. Read Revelation 22:12. How will God reward us, or what will our rewards be?
8. Read 1 Corinthians 13:12. What will this be like for you?
9. Calvin Miller wrote: “The world is poor because her fortune is buried in the sky and all her treasure maps are of the earth.” What did he mean by that?