Having already discussed why it should be important for us to set our minds on Heaven, I want to direct our minds to specifics concerning what Heaven will be like. This week the question I hope to help answer will be: what will Heaven, the place itself, be like? So lets get right into it.
One of the first things to think about when we consider our eternal home is John’s reference to it as a “new heaven and a new earth” in Revelation 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Rev. 21:1). What does this name infer? I would think it suggests that Heaven will be a new (and vastly improved version!) of the current Earth, hence John referring to it as a “new earth.” Peter also writes, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13) and the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, writes, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).
Furthermore, the idea with a new heaven and new earth is that they will be coming together in a beautiful collision that God has foreseen since He first had to separate His dwelling from ours at The Fall (Genesis 3:22-24). This is an event made possible by Jesus dying for us, acting as the bridge between man and God, making relationship possible. John continues to talk about his vision of this event, “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’”(Revelation 21:2-3). We can expect God to be with man again, as in the garden of Eden, and Heaven – His dwelling place— to be on Earth.
Lets take a quick detour to recognize that the New Earth I’m talking about is different from the current Heaven, often referred to as the “Intermediate Heaven.” The latter is a place that people go to right now when they die, and it’s not purgatory (which is nowhere in the Bible) but a temporary Heaven also filled with the very presence of God. It’s also filled with God’s people, resting, praising God and awaiting God’s judgment to come on the earth, and the resurrection of our physical bodies (Revelation 6:10-11).
For more on the “intermediate Heaven” read this short blog by John Piper.
Another thing I should briefly point out is that much of my interpretation in this blog is taking these verses from a literal standpoint. Now, this doesn’t mean that they don’t still have symbolic meaning, but really can have both types of meaning at the same time. An example is that the “river of life” described in Revelation 21 could be both a literal river and a metaphor for God as a healer and His gift of eternal life to us. A possible scriptural basis of support for this standpoint is when the New Jerusalem is described in Revelation 21, where John describes the angel measuring the city, “He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement” (Revelation 21:17, italics mine). That phrase in italics seems to say, “hey it’s really this big! Not just a spiritual form of measurement.” Many Christians have come to believe that taking verses like these as merely figurative is taking the spiritual high ground, so it’s important to consider and challenge our assumptions in the way we interpret scripture. I have had to challenge mine as I’ve edited this post side-by-side with a friend who challenged my interpretation of scripture.
Returning to the idea that the New Earth will be a vastly improved version of the current Earth, lets consider the idea that our default belief should be that the good things from this earth – those things that God has made and have not been twisted as a result of sin – should be on the New Earth. Many Christians today have bought into the lie that Heaven will be boring because there won’t be anything to do or see because there will be nothing but us and God sitting on clouds, strumming harps. But lets consider the fact that Heaven might include many good things that we also experience here but in a tainted way. Lets consider a few.
Firstly and most importantly, the New Earth will be filled with the presence of God. We experience that here, but we don’t yet see Him face to face, as His Word promises:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.
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.
This will surely be the most awe-striking thing about our Home, and we should yearn for it like a desert nomad longs for water.
Next, we can expect the New Earth to have physical attributes like geography, time and climate, just like ours:
And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.
The prophet Ezekiel writes by God’s direction of a coming paradise with rain, trees and fruit. John had a vision of the New Earth along the same lines:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
We can imagine there to be bodies of water and trees, even in the midst of a city, reminiscent of glorified parks.
People usually think of Heaven as a place outside of space and time, while the idea of eternity suggests not that there will be no time but that time will be endless. There are verses that this can be drawn from: first of all, in the previous verse (Rev. 22:2) months (units of time) are mentioned. And a second verse is earlier in the book, “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence” (Revelation 7:15). He talks about night and day (also units of time) and our interaction within such a structure. Given these things, we can imagine that we will write history in Heaven as well. Again, this is coming from my literal assumption of this passage. However, as Genesis describes God creating the earth, and it existing before sin ever entered and corrupted everything, “night” and “day” are mentioned multiple times.
Another thing we can expect to be on the New Earth are animals. This passage undoubtedly has a figurative interpretation, describing the idea that peace and the knowledge of God on the New Earth will be everywhere. Yet I believe that we can also take it in a literal sense, meaning there really will be animals. Read Isaiah’s vision:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
We can also imagine there to be material items in Heaven (though we can’t bring what we have here with us, of course!). Again God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze; instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness” (Isaiah 60:17). If this is the case, why wouldn’t there by technology, as we continue to do work that’s satisfying to us (Rev. 7:15)? Desiring to do satisfying work, why wouldn’t God allow us to continue in our God-given passions, doing things that He created us to do for good, like properly utilizing technology?
Finally, God’s centerpiece of the New Earth will be a city called the New Jerusalem.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
Revelation 21:10-18, 22-23
To realize the magnitude of this place, we must know that the rough area of this city would cover two-thirds of the continental united states.* It will be an extremely massive city, plenty big to hold all of God’s people if needed, from all nations, languages and cultures. And God will provide its light, while there would be no need for us to go to church because we would be surrounded by God, unable to escape His presence (as if we would ever want to!). We will be together in community, working for God, singing to God and enjoying Him and each other forever.
We can never truly imagine all of what the New Earth will contain, given our perspective from a fallen and sinful earth, but we can be sure it will blow us away. Far more than anything it will be centered around the beauty of God, and finally being in unhindered relationship with Him. However, as best as we can, lets let our imaginations be filled with ideas of what our real home will be like. I believe that doing so will free us from the dark confinements of what our lives often become here on this broken, frail, temporary earth. Our hope will become more fleshed out as we fix our minds on the good things God has planned for us when we come home to celebrate with Him and with each other forever. This is not a boring, intangible place, but a real, physical place with life and light and things to do and see. Don’t be deceived by the Devil’s lies, as he tries to paint it as a boring place you shouldn’t look forward to. God is getting ready with preparations for your Heavenly home. So now the question for you and I is, are we getting ready for it by the way we live here? Are we living lives here that reflect the joy and hope of knowing what God is preparing for us? Lets never stop striving forward for our Heavenly home filled with Heavenly rewards and filled with the very presence of God, the One whom we have risked everything for.
Author: Jeff Oleson
*Pg 242 in “Heaven”, by Randy Alcorn
For further study on Heaven, read “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. Along with the Bible, that book was my chief inspiration for this blog post, and has probably impacted my life more than any other book.