Eternal Life (“Heaven”): Questions & Answers
What is Heaven?
Heaven is the spiritual abode of God where angels dwell and other celestial creatures (Psalm 115:3 & Psalm 103:19). This is the primary definition of heaven and it’s what English-speaking people automatically think of when they hear the term.
A secondary definition is the sky or starry panorama, usually rendered “the heavens”; this includes the physical universe and everything in it. For example, Psalm 19:1 states: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” This is an example of Hebrew poetry known as synonymous parallelism where the second part of the verse simply repeats the first part in different words. In this case, “the heavens” in the first part is confirmed as “the skies” in the second. The context of the passage will determine the proper definition, which is the hermeneutical rule “context is king.”
Do Redeemed People Go to Heaven Forever?
If by ‘heaven’ you mean the spiritual abode of God then the answer is no.
However, it is true that the souls of spiritually regenerated people—believers—go to heaven when they die to await their bodily resurrection, as shown in such clear passages as Philippians 1:23, 2 Corinthians 5:8, Revelation 6:9-11 & 7:9-15. This refers to the intermediate state of believers between physical death and bodily resurrection.
If the Redeemed Don’t Go to Heaven Forever Where Do They Go?
The Bible says believers are to be “looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This is where we will spend eternity. The apostle John elaborated on this in his vision:
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. (2) I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (3) And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (4) ‘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.”
(5) He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
What exactly are the “New Heaven and New Earth”?
“New heaven” does not refer to the spiritual abode where God’s throne is located—that is, heaven—because heaven is already perfect and therefore doesn’t need restored. After all, how can you restore perfection? “New heaven” refers to a divinely renovated physical universe. Likewise, “new earth” refers to a renovated earth. This passage elaborates on this restoration:
The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
(11) Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives (12) as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
2 Peter 3:10-12
This refers to the final stage of what the Bible calls the “final restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). The Greek word for ‘restoration’ in this verse is apokatastasis (ap-ok-at-AS-tas-is), and only appears on this occasion in the Bible. The root word is apokathistémi (ap-ok-ath-IS-tay-mee), which means “to set up again” and “restore to its original position or condition.” That’s what the “restoration of all things” is about—restoring the defiled earth and universe to their original condition before the fall, which is the way God originally intended it to be.
As you can see above, the Almighty will use fire to renovate the earth and the “elements,” which literally refers to heavenly bodies, like planets and stars. The earth and universe will finally be free of the “bondage to decay,” with is the law of entropy. All negative things, like sin, death, pain and curses will be forever removed.
What is the “New Jerusalem” and where is it?
This is the “holy city,” noted in Revelation 21:2 (quoted above). This magnificent city is currently in heaven, but it won’t stay there. After the Millennium and Satan’s final rebellion, the LORD will wholly renovate the earth and universe and then the new Jerusalem will “come down out of heaven, from God” to rest upon the new earth. This is the home city of all genuine believers, i.e. the “bride of Christ,” which explains why the city itself is called the “bride” of Christ in Revelation 21:2 because the redeemed will be in it.
I want to stress that the new Jerusalem will not stay in heaven where it currently is. The Bible states very clearly three times that this city will “come down out of heaven, from” God to rest upon the new earth (Revelation 3:12 and 21:2 & 10).
What about the “Pearly Gates”?
We’ve all heard references to “the pearly gates of heaven,” but in the Bible the “pearly gates” actually refer to the gates of the twelve gates of the new Jerusalem, not to heaven itself. The walls of the city are said to be made of jasper and 200 feet thick while each of the huge twelve gates are made of a single pearl (Revelation 21:17-18,21). Where did such huge pearls come from? I don’t know. All I can say is that there must be a planet somewhere out there in the universe with some really big oysters.
What’s the Bible say about the New Jerusalem?
The new Jerusalem will be unimaginably huge and glorious: The city will be 1400 miles long and wide (Revelation 21:16). That’s approximately the distance from New York to Wichita, Kansas. Can you imagine a city that big? It would take a trip of about 6000 miles just to travel around the city! What’s more, the magnificent golden buildings will extend up into space 1400 miles—those will be some serious skyscrapers! How would you like to live on the top floor?
Revelation 21 describes this city in some detail. We’ve already addressed the humongous walls and the twelve pearly gates, but there’s more: The main streets of the city will be of pure gold; in fact, the whole city itself will apparently be made of pure gold—so pure it’s transparent!
What will be the Most Significant aspect of life in the New Heavens and New Earth?
The fact that believers will intimately know God Almighty face to face (Revelation 21:3-4 & 1 Corinthians 13:12). Jesus said knowing God is the most significant aspect of eternal life (John 17:2-3).
While this is awesome, we can know Him in a more limited sense in this current evil age simply by learning to tap into the eternal life that’s in our spirits. If this doesn’t make sense to you, consider these two facts: (1.) The actual definition of “eternal life.” In the Greek is aionios zoe (aay-OH-nee-us ZOH-aay), which literally means “age-lasting life” (aion is where we get the English ‘eon,’ meaning “age”). Since the age-to-come is an eternal age scholars usually render aionios as “eternal,” hence, “eternal life.” Aionios zoe could also be translated as “the life of the ag-to-come.” This is the “abundant” or “full” life that Jesus said he came to give people in John 10:10. And (2.) the fact that receiving eternal life—the “life of the age-to-come”—is a two-phase process:
- Believers receive eternal life in their spirits at the point of spiritual regeneration, which is why John the Baptist said: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life [present tense], but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36. See also 1 John 5:11-12). The fact that believers presently have the abundant life-of-the-age-to-come in their regenerated spirits reveals why it’s so important that we learn to put off the “old self”—the flesh—and put on the “new self”—the spirit (Ephesians 4:22-24), meaning walking in the spirit, not in the flesh. When we do this, we tap into that full life of God and are able to manifest it in this dark, dying, lost world.
- Attaining eternal life is completed at the resurrection of the righteous, which is when we’ll receive new imperishable, glorified, powerful and spiritual bodies. The fact that the believer’s eternal life is completed at the resurrection is confirmed by Jesus when he plainly stated that believers will receive eternal life “in the age to come” (Mark 10:29-30). This is verified by other passages like Titus 1:2, 3:7 and Jude 21.
Every believer can grow in knowing God simply by tapping into that eternal life that’s in our spirits, but we have to put off the flesh to do this; it’s also necessary to “throw off” every weight or distraction that hinders (Hebrews 12:1). The Bible says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). This is how we “grow in God’s grace (i.e. favor)” (2 Peter 3:18). Think about it: We can have as much of God as we want!
What will these “Glorified Bodies” be Like?
We can get an idea by simply observing what the Bible says about Jesus after his resurrection. After all, we’re going to receive the same type of glorified body he did; that is, if you’re a believer. In light of this, we’ll evidently be able to walk through solid objects (John 20:26), instantly appear out of nowhere and disappear (Luke 24:31,36-37); in other words, we’ll be able to teleport at will. With this understanding, we’ll no doubt be able to take “quantum leaps” to anywhere on the new earth, moon, Mars or universe—distances and space will no longer limit us.
For those who argue that Christ is deity and therefore our glorified bodies may not have the same capacity as his, the Bible blatantly says that we are “co-heirs with Christ,” which means ‘joint heirs’ or ‘joint participants’ (Romans 8:17). Besides, why would the LORD reveal to us the incredible abilities of the glorified body through Jesus’ actions after his resurrection if He didn’t intend for us to have the same incredible capacity when we’re bodily resurrected?
What’s Another Significant aspect of Life in the New Heavens and New Earth?
Revelation 21:3-4 plainly states that in the eternal age there will be no more pain, crying, aging or death—all such maladies will have been eliminated! This makes perfect sense. After all, what good is paradise if one has to suffer pain, aging and death? The passage even says that God Himself will personally console us regarding the many pains, heartaches and injustices we’ve experienced in our lives in “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).
Why Does the Bible Speak of Nations and Kings on the New Earth?
Simply because there will be nations and kings on the new earth (Revelation 21:24). The Greek word for “nations” is ethnos (ETH-nos), meaning “a race, a people or a nation that shares a common and distinctive culture.” In short, peoples on the new earth won’t be look-alike drones under the supervision of the Most High. Variety is the spice of life, Praise God! Plus there will be kings over these nations; that is, national authorities. And if there are national authorities there will be subordinate authorities, like governors of territories and mayors of cities and so on. Of course, there will also be authority structures in the vast new Jerusalem.
Jesus showed who will be placed in authority positions in two parables—Matthew 25:14-30 & Luke 19:15-19. The Lord invests in every believer and expects a return on his investment when he returns. The two men in the first story who doubled what was invested in them are praised by the master and told, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” In the second parable, the first person the King invested in is put in charge of ten cities and the second five cities. This is figurative of the judgment seat of Christ, which is the judgment believers undergo (2 Corinthians 5:10-11 & Romans 14:10).
Both stories are figurative of the literal truth that believers will be rewarded according to what they do or don’t do with the talents the Lord has invested in them. Those who are “faithful with a few things” will be “put you in charge of many things.” The phrase “put in charge” indicates a position of authority; and the second parable specifies being put in charge of cities.
When and where will faithful believers be put in charge of “many things,” including “cities”? On the new earth for sure, but other planets in the new universe as well.
With this understanding, your faithfulness now with the few small things the Lord has put you in charge of has eternal ramifications! What has God put you in charge of? Several things: Your body, your family, your job, your Christian service, your money, your talents and the people linked to you.
What Do You Mean by Believers being in Charge of things on other Planets in the New Universe?
While it’s true that “the meek will inherit the earth,” meaning the new earth (Matthew 5:5 & Psalm 37:29), we are also blatantly promised the “new heaven” as part of our eternal inheritance, meaning the entire new universe (2 Peter 3:13). In other words, the new Jerusalem and new earth will only be our home base; we’ll be able to explore and inhabit the unfathomable reaches of the universe!
Don’t think for a second that God, our Almighty Creator, formed the incomprehensibly vast universe—the billions of galaxies and incalculable stars & planets for nothing. Be assured that the whole universe will be under humanity’s subjection to explore, inhabit, rule, enjoy and who knows what else? As it is written:
For You (God) have put everything in subjection under his (humanity’s) feet. Now in putting everything in subjection to man, He left nothing outside [of man’s] control. But at present we do not yet see all things subjected to him [man].
Hebrews 2:8 (The Amplified Bible)
“Everything” in the physical universe will be put in subjection to redeemed humanity; “everything” will be put in our control. It’s interesting to note that ‘everything’ can also be translated as “the universe,” which is how the Weymouth New Testament translates it. In other words, nothing in the entire universe will be outside of our control. As stated above, we will be able to explore, inhabit and rule the unfathomable reaches of the physical universe!
Remember, God originally blessed humankind to “be fruitful and multiply,” to “subdue” and “have dominion” over all the earth:
And God BLESSED them, and said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Genesis 1:28 (KJV)
This blessing/directive is inherent in the psycho-spiritual DNA of humankind. There’s no escaping it; it’s our Divine mission; it’s part of who we are. Unfortunately, the sin nature inevitably twists this blessing and it becomes a curse, resulting in abuse, slavery, wars, environmental raping, etc. Yet, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the intrinsic blessing is wholly good and was intended to empower humanity to fulfill its Divine mandate—to be fruitful, multiply, replenish, subdue and take dominion. In other words, the LORD didn’t create humankind to be servants of the earth, but to be lords over it, which is befitting since Father God is “Lord of heaven and earth,” as Jesus Christ Himself acknowledged (Matthew 11:25). Keep in mind that humanity is created in God’s image and believers are called to be “imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1).
Before I go any further, I want to stress that the LORD doesn’t want us to “subdue” and take “dominion” in a negative sense. I have to emphasize this since most people equate “dominion” with carnal control because the devil naturally tries to pervert whatever God creates, commands or blesses. God’s mandate was to subdue and hold dominion IN LOVE, because “God is love” (1 John 4:7-8,16). This helps make sense of this proverb:
Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.
A “king” refers to an authority figure. In our day and age it would apply to anyone who has authority in any given environment: a father or mother, a teacher or professor, an employer or supervisor, a president or governor, a pastor or apostle, a police officer or security guard, etc. This proverb reveals the godly way of keeping one’s position of authority—one’s “throne”—safe and secure: Through love and faithfulness. So, when the Bible talks about “subduing” and taking “dominion” it’s talking about doing so in love and faithfulness, not being an abusive tyrant. Are you with me?
Now, here’s something interesting: The Garden of Eden was only about the size of California according to the specifications shown in Genesis. It was already a paradise, which is the way God created it, but the rest of the earth wasn’t. The rest of the planet had potential, but it was untamed and uncultivated, which is why the LORD empowered humankind to subdue it and take dominion. In other words, God blessed humanity to make the rest of the planet the same paradise as that of the Garden of Eden, which is why Genesis 1:28 above twice stresses replenishing and subduing “the earth” and not the Garden of Eden since it was already replenished and subdued.
The paradise of the Garden of Eden was God’s blueprint for humankind to expand on until the entire planet was a paradise. Once ‘Project Earth’ was complete they could go on to subdue and replenish every planet in the solar system, the galaxy, and ultimately the furthest reaches of the universe! Why do you think all those innumerable barren planets are there for? They’re there for us to reach and subdue, in love and faithfulness. This is supported by Hebrews 2:8 above: God has placed “everything” in the natural universe in subjection to humanity—“nothing” is outside of redeemed humanity’s control! Chew on that.
Doesn’t this remind you of various science-fiction shows, films and books—humanity uniting together and going out to the furthest reaches of space to peaceably explore and inhabit? These sci-fi visionaries instinctively grasp God’s blessing/directive because it’s part of our spiritual DNA. The significant difference is that there will be no pain, hostility, war, disease, aging or death, not to mention the presence of the Almighty. All humanity will truly be united together in love, mutual respect and acceptance under the perfectly just govern-ship of the Creator of All.
For more information on this fascinating topic, see this article.
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