Eternal Life (“Heaven”) — What will it be Like?
What does the Bible says about eternal life in the new heavens and new earth, traditionally referred to as “heaven”? Allow me to breach the topic in an unconventional way by referencing something most of us are familiar with, even if it’s just a little bit.
One invigorating aspect of science fiction shows, films and books is the exciting notion that humankind will one day be able to explore the vast expanses of the universe. I don’t know about you, but when I look up into the night sky and see the vast starry panorama I am filled with awe and reverence! Is it possible that we will one day be able to explore and inhabit the incalculable planets and solar systems in our galaxy and beyond as these sci-fi works hypothesize?
The Incredible Size of the Universe
Most people don’t realize how incredibly vast the universe really is; it’s beyond our finite comprehension. To get an idea consider these mind-blowing comparisons: If the thickness of one sheet of paper represented the distance from the Earth to the sun—93 million miles—the distance to the nearest star would be represented by a stack of paper 71 feet high; and the diameter of our Milky Way galaxy would be represented by a stack of paper 310 miles high! To reach the edge of the known universe would take a stack 31 million miles high!
Or consider these awe-inspiring facts: The sun is so huge that if it were hollow, it could hold 1 million earths! The star Antares could contain 64 million suns! There’s a star in the constellation Hercules that could contain 100 million ‘Antares!’ And the largest known star, Epilson, could easily contain several million stars the size of the star in the constellation Hercules! (Kirkwood 374-375).
Sci-fi visionaries like Gene Roddenberry postulate that humanity will one day unite together in mutual acceptance and respect to peaceably explore and inhabit these unfathomable reaches of space. This is all well & good and certainly explains part of the appeal of space-exploring fictional works, but their grand vision is glaringly tainted…
The Shortcomings of Sci-Fi Visionaries
As hopeful and exciting as the future of humanity is depicted by sci-fi luminaries, it’s a far cry from paradise. The shortcomings are plainly observed in these shows, movies and novels all over their fictional galaxies: hostility, violence, war, disease, evil, aging and death; not to mention more trifling ailments like arrogance, envy, jealousy, prejudice and lust. These maladies are shown to be universal—literally—to the human condition in these fictional works. No matter how many light years we travel, we cannot escape that which is intrinsic to human nature, which brings to mind the saying “wherever you go, there you are.”
Yet, could you imagine a future for humanity without such maladies? Could you imagine exploring and inhabiting the vast expanses of the universe without ever experiencing hostility, war, disease, evil, aging or death? Could you imagine living forever and never running out of exciting things to do on earth or in the furthest reaches of space?
Believe it or not, this is part of the magnificent hope that is envisioned for humanity as disclosed in the biblical Scriptures. Yes, a much grander vision of humanity’s future was written thousands of years before modern science fiction works. The reason I relate the Christian notion of eternal life to sci-fi visionaries is because I think these people sense on some instinctual level humankind’s calling and blessing. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the nature of eternal life in the everlasting age-to-come, as revealed in the Scriptures.
A New Earth and Universe
The Bible teaches that God will one day create “a new heaven and new earth” where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4). “Heaven” in this context refers to the physical universe and not to what is commonly understood as ‘heaven;’ that is, the spiritual dimension where God dwells. You see, the sky and universe are often referred to as “heaven” or “the heavens” in the Bible; 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.” (See the article Berean Spirit — What is It? How Do You Cultivate It? for important exposition on hermeneutics, the science of proper Bible interpretation).
God’s heaven—which is referred to as “the third heaven” in Scripture (2 Corinthians 12:2)—is perfect and has no reason to be made new. It’s the earth and the physical universe that will be made new—”new” in the sense that the maladies of evil, death, pain, disease and decay will be forever eradicated. As declared in Romans 8:21: “the creation itself [the earth and universe and all living things] will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” You see, God’s goal is to ultimately liberate humanity, and of course the earth & the universe as well, from our miserable confinement to decay, pain, aging and death, not to mention evil itself.
Will We “Spend Eternity in Heaven”?
We’ve all heard it said that those blessed of God will “spend eternity in heaven.” Whether this is true or not depends on your definition of heaven. If ‘heaven’ refers exclusively to the spiritual dimension where God’s throne is located—that is, the spiritual realm that gave birth to our physical dimension—then the answer is no, we will not spend eternity in heaven. If, on the other hand, ‘heaven’ refers to what the Bible calls “the new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13) then, yes, we will spend eternity in heaven.
However, since the phrase “spend eternity in heaven” is not found anywhere in Scripture, I think it’s important to stick to actual biblical expressions when discussing eternal life so there’s no misunderstanding. After all, it’s the truth that will set us free, not clichéd religious sayings.
This is especially important when you consider the fact that when 99.9% of people hear the term ‘heaven’ they automatically think of the blissful ethereal realm where angels dwell; and understandably so since that’s its primary definition. As such, when they hear the phrase “spend eternity in heaven” they naturally think of living on a cloud playing a harp forever. There are two problems with this: 1. It’s not true and the problem with false beliefs is that they can’t set people free; only the truth can set us free. 2. Since error is incapable of setting us free it’s incapable of giving us life. In other words, the truth will always excite and inspire the spiritual soul, whereas falsities do the precise opposite—they won’t inspire us or excite us; in fact, they’ll bore us, limit us or ruin us in one way or another. Why? Because truth equals life and freedom while error equals death and bondage. Consider, for example, the conventional imagery of eternal life—hanging out on a cloud playing a harp forever. Although this would surely be fun for a few days or weeks, we’re talking about eternity here—forever and ever. Is this all we have to look forward to? If so, no wonder so few Christians are excited about the notion of eternal life. They find it boring!
Thankfully, the plain truth of God’s Word is exhilarating and fascinating.
The New Jerusalem Will Come “Down Out of Heaven from God”
Consider this example: We’ve all heard about the gates of heaven referred to as “the pearly gates;” yet in the Bible this is actually a description of the twelve gates of the new Jerusalem, a very large city that is presently in the spiritual realm of God, i.e. heaven (Revelation 21:21). Guess what ultimately happens to this city? After God recreates a new earth and universe, the new Jerusalem will come “down out of heaven from God.” This is clearly stated three times in Scripture: Revelation 3:12 and 21:2 & 10. My point is that this awesome city will not stay in heaven; it will come down “out of heaven” to rest on the new earth. Who knows? It may even be able to hover over the planet and more, like traverse the galaxies (after all, it’s going to travel from heaven to earth intact).
This city, the new earth and the entire new universe will be the eternal home of all those who partake of God’s gift of eternal life. Note for yourself:
“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the Earth.
The righteous will inherit the land [the earth] and dwell in it forever.
We clearly see here that the “meek” and the “righteous” will inherit the earth and dwell in it forever. This would naturally include the physical universe where the earth resides as well (more on this momentarily). My point is that humanity will inherit the new earth and universe as its eternal home. Notice what the Bible plainly states in this regard:
The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.
We see here that “the highest heavens” belong to God. This refers to the highest spiritual realm where God’s throne is located, which, as previously noted, is called “the third heaven” in Scripture. Although, believers are indeed “seated… in the heavenly realms” in Christ in a positional sense (Ephesians 2:6), humankind will not inherit this highest heavens. This spiritual dimension belongs to God (which isn’t to say that we can’t visit there, etc.). What believers will inherit is the earth and the physical universe in which it resides. This is why Peter said redeemed men and women are to be “looking forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). Once again, the “new heaven” in this text is referring to a new physical universe not the spiritual dimension where God’s throne is located; although it could also be referring to a fusion of these two realms, a possibility we’ll consider shortly.
Between Physical death and Bodily Resurrection
Someone might understandably point out that Paul said “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), which is why he desired “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). They cite these passages to argue that Christians go to heaven when they die. This is absolutely true. These passages and a few others (e.g. Revelation 6:9-11 & 7:9-15) refer to what theologians call the “intermediate state” of the Christian soul, which pertains to the state of the believer after physical death and before bodily resurrection. Clearly, the believer will be with the Lord in heaven in a conscious disembodied state, “before the throne of God” and serving him “day and night in his temple” (Revelation 7:15). For elaboration on this see this article.
As you can see, there’s some truth to this notion of “going to heaven” and being in the LORD’s presence, but over the centuries it’s been blown way out of proportion to the extent that the average Christian thinks eternal life is all about spending eternity in an incorporeal state in an ethereal dimension, reclining on a cloud playing a harp. The more one studies the God-breathed Scriptures, however, the more you realize this simply isn’t true. The truth is so much more than that.
There are three important facts about the believer’s intermediate state that should be emphasized:
- It’s a temporary state—only extending to the aforementioned bodily resurrection or “first resurrection,” which takes place in stages, one at the time of Christ’s return for his church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17) and the other at the Lord’s return to the earth (Revelation 20:4-6) and likely another at the end of the Millennium. This is covered here.
- It’s an incomplete state. God purposely created the human soul/spirit to dwell in a body (Genesis 2:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, etc.). If the disembodied human soul/spirit is fine as is, that would naturally make the bodily resurrection unnecessary, to say the least.
- Lastly, the intermediate state of the Christian soul/spirit in heaven is de-emphasized in Scripture. Other than the passages noted above, you won’t read many references to the intermediate state in the Bible. The bodily resurrection and eternal life are more emphasized. For instance, in Acts 17:18 you’ll notice that Paul preached “the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.” You see, the resurrection is a fundamental part of the gospel of Christ. For Paul’s “hope in the resurrection of the dead” he was put on trial (Acts 23:6). What was Paul’s hope in? Not the temporary intermediate state, as wonderful as that will be, but the resurrection of the righteous where believers receive imperishable, glorified, powerful, spiritual bodies! Read it yourself in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. More on this in a moment.
So, as wonderful as the believer’s intermediate state between physical death and bodily resurrection will be, it’s a temporary and incomplete state that’s de-emphasized in Scripture, although not ignored. Other than serving in the Lord’s presence in heaven in an incorporeal condition, we don’t know much about it. It will be a glorious period, for sure, but the impression in Scripture is that this will be a time of anticipation—anticipating our bodily resurrection, anticipating reigning with Christ on this earth for a thousand years, and, of course, anticipating our everlasting inheritance of the “new heaven and new earth, the home of the righteous” and everything that involves (2 Peter 3:13).
Quality of Life in the New Earth and Universe
What does the Bible say about this eternal age? The quality of life in the new earth and universe will be wholly magnificent, to say the least.
Firstly, 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 it! What’s more, the magnificent golden buildings will extend up into space 1400 miles—these will be skyscrapers indeed! How would you like to live on the top floor?
Revelation 21 describes the city in some detail: The city walls will be made of jasper and will be 200 feet thick. Each of the huge twelve gates will be made of a single pearl. (Where did such huge pearls come from? I don’t know. All I can say is there must be a planet out there with some really big oysters). 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!
Secondly, notice what the Bible says about our quality of life in the age-to-come:
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. (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.
We see here that we will be able to see, talk to and walk with God Almighty face to face! This is in perfect harmony with what Jesus Christ said concerning the main characteristic of eternal life:
“For you [Father God] granted him [Jesus] authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (3) Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Some suggest that Jesus was defining eternal life here, but this isn’t true because ‘eternal life’ means “eternal life.” That’s its definition. In the Greek it’s 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 age to come.” This is the “abundant” or “full” life Jesus said he came to give people in John 10:10.
Receiving this “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 living (or 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—again—occurs in stages, as shown in here. This 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 said 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.
So, when Jesus said “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you,” he wasn’t defining the life-of-the-age-to-come, he was emphasizing its most important quality, which is knowing God. Every believer can grow in this quality simply by tapping into the 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). Think about it: We can have as much of God as we want!
Getting back to Revelation 21:3-4, verse 4 plainly says that in the era of the new earth and universe 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 “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).
Thirdly, as noted above, the Bible promises new glorified and immortal bodies to those who accept God’s gift of eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:42-54) and, although we cannot fully comprehend now how wondrous life will be in these new resurrection bodies, we can get an idea simply by 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?
Lastly, the text says that “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). Since “the dwelling of God” is heaven, this seems to suggest some kind of fusion between the spiritual realm (heaven) and the natural realm (earth and universe). As co-heirs with Christ, I’m sure we’ll have access to both realms. So perhaps “spending eternity in heaven” is true in this sense.
There will be Nations and Kings on the New Earth
This passage provides additional insights about life in the eternal age-to-come:
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (23) The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (24) The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. (25) On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there (26) The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
The passage shows that there will be nations of peoples with kings over them on the new earth. 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.
Who will be placed in these authority positions? This parable shows:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. (15) To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. (16) The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. (17) So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. (18) But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
(19) “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. (20) The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
(21) “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
(22) “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
(23) “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
(24) “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. (25) So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
(26) “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? (27) Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
(28) “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. (29) For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. (30) And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The Lord invests in every believer and expects a return on his investment when he returns. The two men in the 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.” This is figurative of the judgment seat of Christ, which is the judgment believers undergo (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
NOTE: For more details on the judgment seat of Christ, also called the bema judgment, see this article.
Notice how a similar parable puts it:
“He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
(16) “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
(17) “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
(18) “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
(19) “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ ”
The mina was a unit of currency worth three months’ wages. The first man was given ten minas and earned ten more while the second man was given five minas and earned five more.
Notice what these men are rewarded with: The first one is put in charge of ten cities and the second five cities.
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 (we’ll look at scriptural support for this in the next section).
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 mind (thoughts), your family, your job, your Christian service, your money, your talents and the people linked to you.
The Entire Universe will be Under Humanity’s Control
It goes without saying that living on the paradise of the new earth will be utterly magnificent, but—and this is an important “but”—the new Jerusalem and new earth will only be our home base; in other words, we’ll be able to explore and inhabit the unfathomable reaches of the universe!
We know this because, again, the Bible doesn’t just encourage us to look forward to the new earth as our eternal home of righteousness, but to the new heavens as well, which refers to the new universe:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
2 Peter 3:13
We are encouraged to look forward to the new universe because it’s part of our eternal inheritance, just as much as the new earth is. In fact, the verse lists the new universe first, which gives the impression that we’re to look forward to it even more than the new earth. Why? Because the new earth is merely one planet in an incomprehensibly vast 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 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 many 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 the latter 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? The visionaries of these sci-fi works are people created in God’s image who instinctively grasp the Creator’s blessing/directive because it’s part of our spiritual DNA. The significant difference in the biblical model 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.
Aging and death are the ailments that taint the optimistic visions of these sci-fi works the most. After all, what good is envisioning such a grand future for humanity and all living beings if we’re dead and not able to see it? And even if we were to live in the distant era depicted in these works, no matter how utopian it would be, we’d all still ultimately succumb to the universal curse of aging and death.
But, Praise God, the glorious gospel settles this problem; believers escape death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, reconciling with the Almighty and attaining life!
Where the Error Started
As you can see, the Bible is very explicit concerning where redeemed people will spend eternal life. Most theologians will agree with this biblical data but you’ll rarely hear these fascinating scriptural facts taught in Christian circles. More likely you’ll hear about “spending eternity in heaven,” which, again, gives the impression of sprouting wings and living in an ethereal dimension forever, playing a harp, etc. This is the religious version of the wonderful truths of God’s Word, the counterfeit version. Needless to say, the religious version isn’t invigorating; it isn’t interesting. It’s too fantastical and one-dimensional. In a word, it’s boring.
This misleading religious error can be traced to Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), one of the most influential theologians in Christian history. Unfortunately, Augustine was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy, a belief system that viewed the physical universe, including the body, as evil. Consequently, the biblical teaching that redeemed people will spend eternity in glorified bodies in a literal new Jerusalem on a literal new earth in a tangible new universe was a blasphemous concept. Augustine solved this problem by spiritualizing what the Bible plainly taught, suggesting that biblical references like “the new Jerusalem” and “new earth” are merely symbolic language for heaven. This is how the false doctrine of amillennialism developed (detailed in this section of HELL KNOW The Good and Bad of Orthodoxy and Traditionalism). His views were officially accepted by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD and are held by many professing Christians today (Reagan What Happens When You Die?). This doesn’t mean that they’re not legitimate believers, of course, just that they’re ignorant of what the Bible plainly teaches on the nature of eternal life. What a testimony to the formidable, blinding force of religious tradition and indoctrination!
This explains, incidentally, my purpose in including this epilogue on eternal life—to set the captives FREE.
The Coming Universal Utopia
So, according to the biblical scriptures, what these sci-fi luminaries write about in their fictional works will essentially come to pass: humanity will indeed unite together to peaceably explore and inhabit the far reaches of the universe, but we’ll be free of the maladies that forever mar their stories—evil, pain, disease, aging and death.
Unfortunately, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, as detailed here. The Bible promises a great Tribulation for humanity and the earth before the establishment of the new earth and universe. The Scriptures also speak of a great judgment where all humanity will be divinely judged; those who reject reconciliation with their Creator will suffer the “second death” which is described as “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 & Revelation 20:11-15). Why? Because of the axiom: “The wages of sin is death”; thankfully, the passage goes on to say “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This is the ‘good news.
Allow me to stress that Christianity is not a legalistic drudgery, as those steeped in life-stifling religiosity give the impression. At its core Christianity is an exciting relationship with the Creator of the universe, which is why the gospel is referred to as “the message of reconciliation” in the Bible (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). The primary purpose of the ‘good news’ is to reconcile people to their Maker. Immortality in the new earth and universe is merely a byproduct of this reconciliation or, we could say, “icing on the cake.”
The most popular verse in the Bible says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God is clearly extending his love to all humanity and definitely wants everyone to accept His gracious offer of eternal life. As we have seen, this “eternal life” does not consist of sitting on a cloud playing a harp forever as religion has erroneously told us; no, it’s far more invigorating, far more purposeful and far more adventurous. In fact, the Scriptures state that, “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). The nature of our existence in the new universe will be so awe-inspiringly wonderful that it’s presently beyond our finite comprehension! The biblical descriptions we’ve witnessed in this study are but a “poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In other words, we’re seeing solid pieces of the truth, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Praise God!
Will there be Animals in the New Heavens and New Earth?
I’d like to close this article by looking at what the Scriptures say about the eternal fate of animals. Will animals be resurrected in the eternal age-to-come? This is a legitimate question because some people naturally wonder about their beloved pets and other animals. Actually, I have an ulterior motive in pursuing this question as it provides us the opportunity to address aspects of eschatology that we haven’t yet looked at, such as “the final restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).
Let’s start with the question: Will there be animals in the new heavens and new earth? Answer: Why wouldn’t there be? After all, there are animals galore in our current age and there will be animals during the Millennium, as this passage shows:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together and a little child will lead them. (7) The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. (8) The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. (9) They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
As you can see, carnivorous animals will become herbivorous during the Millennium just as they were before the fall of creation.
Furthermore, there are animals in heaven right now, as verified by passages like this one:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. (12) His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. (13) He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. (14) The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (15) Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (16) On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
King of kings and Lord of lords.
This passage details the Second Coming of Christ. The Lord is riding a white horse, as are the armies of heaven following him (Jude 14 & Matthew 25:31).
Someone might argue that these horses are symbolic due to the symbolism contained in Revelation in general and particularly because verse 15 shows a “sharp sword” coming out of the Lord’s mouth to strike down the nations, which we know isn’t literal. Bear in mind, however, that symbolism in the Bible is obvious within the immediate context, as well as the context of the entire Bible. This is how we know the “sharp sword” coming out of Jesus’ mouth isn’t a literal sword, but rather is figurative of the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Also, the usage of some symbolic language in a passage doesn’t necessarily mean that every aspect of the passage is figurative when it’s clear some elements are literal. For instance Jesus Christ and the armies of heaven that follow him are obviously literal in the above passage. As for the horses they ride, I see no indication that they’re symbolic. Other biblical passages suggest that they’re literal, like this one:
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
(16) “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
(17) And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17
Although these horses dwell in heaven—the highest spiritual realm—and are therefore different than the horses we’re familiar with, they are horses.
Since there are currently animals on earth and in heaven, and there will be animals during the Millennium, why wouldn’t there be animals in the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth? After all, God originally created all types of animals to fill the earth before the fall of creation, why would this change when creation is fully restored? It wouldn’t.
God’s Cares about Animals too!
Whether people are aware of it or not, there are several passages in the Bible that show God’s concern for animals, like this one:
“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
The LORD proposed this question to Jonah, who objected to God’s mercy for the people of Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, Israel’s worst enemy, and the prophet wanted the LORD to destroy the city and its people, not mercifully forgive them when they repented (Jonah 4:1-2).
As you can see, the passage shows that God wasn’t just concerned about the fate of the 120,000 Ninevites, who were spiritually ignorant and couldn’t “tell their right hand from their left,” he was also concerned about the numerous animals in the city.
Here are several other passages that reveal the Creator’s concern for animals:
- Job 12:10: Job points out that the “life” of every creature is in God’s hands. The word ‘life’ is nephesh (neh-FESH) in the Hebrew, which is often translated as “soul” in English Bibles. The King James Version translates the passage like so: “In whose hand [is] the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” Enough said.
- Psalm 24:1 says that every living thing on the earth is the LORD’s, which includes the animals.
- Psalm 50:10-11 reveals that every animal in creation is God’s and He knows every bird in the mountains.
- Psalm 104:21-30 goes into detail about how the LORD created all animals with wisdom and how the whole earth is filled with God’s creatures; it also shows how the Almighty provides them with food at the proper time and takes away their breath when they die.
- Proverbs 12:10 stresses that righteous people care about the needs of their animals.
- Matthew 6:26 shows how our heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air.
- Matthew 10:29 & Luke 12:6 reveal that when even sparrows die not one of them is forgotten by God!
- Revelation 4:11 shows the Mighty One being worshipped for creating all things for his good purpose and pleasure.
Someone might argue: If God cares about the animals so much why did he sanction the killing of them for food? This wasn’t part of the LORD’s original plan, notice:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (30) And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
(31) God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
All living beings on the earth were herbivores before the fall of creation, including people, meaning their diet was strictly vegetarian.
Verse 31 shows the Creator viewing all he had made and “it was very good.” There were no carnivores at this time because, as Michelle Shannon points out, a carnivorous diet necessitates suffering and death of other living creatures and this wouldn’t be good. Unfortunately, Adam & Eve’s sin brought a curse on the physical universe and the sins of their descendants perpetuate it:
The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.
(6) Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
As such, no part of creation functions entirely as originally designed. The ground is cursed, as shown in Genesis 3:17-19, which is a reference to the plant kingdom; and the animals are also negatively affected:
Because of [sin] the land dries up, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea are swept away.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope (21) that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
The “bondage to decay” is entropy and includes death. As such, every living thing in creation must die, including plant life. It wasn’t until after the fall and the ensuing curse that animals began to fear people (Genesis 9:2).
“The Final Restoration of All Things”
The awesome news is that creation will be redeemed and, in fact, yearns for it:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
What does creation wait in eager expectation for? The children of God to be revealed, which is part of the “restoration of all things”:
For he [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.
This restoration of all things takes place in stages. One key stage is when Jesus returns for his church where believers’ bodies are finally redeemed:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (23) Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Christ’s return for the church is called the Rapture and is detailed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (covered in this article).
The restoration continues after the 7-year Tribulation when Jesus returns to earth and establishes his millennial kingdom. Tribulation martyrs and Old Testament saints will be resurrected at this time and the lifespans of mortal humans will return to the lengthy lifespans of people before the flood.
In a previous section we looked at Isaiah 11:6-9, which shows what life will be like during the Millennium: Carnivorous animals will become herbivorous and therefore wolves will live with lambs and leopards will lie together with goats; calves and lions will hang out and be led by little children. Cows and bears will feed together and formerly carnivorous beasts like the lion will eat straw like an ox. Furthermore, children will play by the cobra’s den and the viper’s nest without fear because poisonous creatures will no longer be poisonous.
As wonderful as the thousand-year reign of Christ will be, it’s just another stage in the “restoration of all things.” The final stage takes place when God wholly renovates the earth & universe and the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, comes “down out of heaven from my God” to rest on the new earth, as detailed earlier.
The Greek word for ‘restoration’ in the phrase “the final restoration of all things” is apokatastasis (ap-ok-at-AS-tas-is), which appears only once in the Bible, Acts 3:21. 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 earth and universe to its original condition before the fall, which is the way God originally intended it to be.
The Messiah spoke of this restoration in this passage:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
The Greek word for ‘renewal’ here is paliggenesia (pal-ing-ghen-es-EE-ah), which means “new birth, regeneration or renewal.” It’s only used twice in Scripture. The second time is in Titus 3:5 where it refers to the regeneration of the human spirit when a believer accepts the gospel (John 3:3,6). This shows that the “renewal of all things” is actually being jump-started in this current age through the spiritual rebirth of believers. This culminates with Christ’s return for his church, detailed above. The next stage of the “renewal” takes place when Christ returns to the earth to establish his millennial reign, which is what Jesus was specifically referring to in the above passage, Matthew 19:28. This renewal climaxes with the re-creation of the new heavens and new earth, the eternal age to come.
I want to stress that the animal kingdom and even the plant kingdom are partakers in this redemption of the physical universe. Why else would all creation “wait in eager expectation” for this great restoration if they were not included in it (Romans 8:19)? No, animals and trees aren’t literally yearning for this renewal, but they yearn for it in a figurative sense because they’re included in it.
David Reagan shared an interesting insight on his TV program, Christ in Prophecy: When the high priest sprinkled animal blood on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant once a year to atone for the sins of the Israelites, this blood covered God’s law, which was represented in the Ark via the tablets of the ten commandments. This ritual resulted in God’s mercy year to year, covering the Israelites’ sins. But the blood of animals could only temporarily cover sin, not cleanse it away forever (Hebrews 10:1-4). The good news is that Jesus Christ, who is the believer’s High Priest, offered his own blood when he went to the Most Holy Place in heaven, not merely the blood of animals (Hebrews 9:23-28). David Reagan pointed out that Leviticus 16:15 shows the high priest sprinkling blood on the ground in front of the Ark after sprinkling it on the cover. At the time the Ark was housed in the tent tabernacle and so the blood was literally poured on the ground. Why’s this significant? Because the entire ceremony pointed to Christ’s blood atonement in heaven and the priest didn’t just sprinkle blood on the lid of the Ark for the redemption of humanity, but also on the ground for the redemption of all physical creation (Will Our Pets Be in Heaven?).
Were there animals before the fall? Yes. Therefore there will be animals after the fall. The question is, will the LORD create new animals or will he simply resurrect animals that have already lived and died? Or both?
Will God Resurrect Animals from Sheol?
In Chapter Three of Sheol Know we saw that animals go to Sheol, as shown in this passage:
Such is the fate of the foolhardy, the end of those who are pleased with their lot. (14) Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home. (15) But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.
Psalm 49:13-15 (NRSV)
I encourage you to brush up on the two sections in Chapter Three of SHEOL KNOW that cover this passage in detail: Sheol: A Place where Sheep Go? and Do Animals Have Souls? Do They Go to Sheol When They Die? These sections show that 1. animals have souls, and 2. they go to Sheol when they die. I’m not going to repeat the material here except to say that verse 14 states point blank that sheep go to Sheol. This makes perfect sense when you have a biblical understanding of the nature of Sheol rather than a religious understanding. Sheol is the graveyard of dead souls where the immaterial DNA of lifeless souls is stored. As such, God can resurrect these life-forms when and if he deems fit. This includes the souls of animals.
Animal souls are, of course, stored in a separate compartment of Sheol than humans, just as pet cemeteries on earth are separate from human graveyards.
In the previous section we saw that the Bible speaks of “the final restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21), which refers to the LORD restoring everything in creation to its original condition. The Greek word for ‘all things’ is pas (pass), which means “all, the whole, every kind of.” So God is going to restore all creation to its original condition, as he originally intended it to be. Revelation 21:5 adds an interesting insight in that God will be “making everything new” and not making new things. Chew on that.
Of course, the LORD won’t restore those condemned to the lake of fire, which includes damned human beings, the devil and his filthy angels and anything else cast into the lake of fire, such as death and Hades:
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (15) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
I bring this up because those who adhere to the doctrine of universal restoration—i.e. universalists—believe that everything thrown into the lake of fire will be purged of evil and restored. If this is so, why did Jesus use the example of weeds thrown into fire in reference to damned people who will suffer the second death (Matthew 13:40)? Are weeds restored when they’re cast into fire or do they burn up? What about Jesus’ example of a king’s enemies brought before him and executed in front of him from Luke 19:27? Does this example leave any room for his executed enemies being restored?
Revelation 20:14 shows that death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire. Does this mean that they’ll be eliminated forever in the coming eternal age or that they’ll be restored? If the latter is true, will death—the grim reaper—be restored and become a friendly reaper? Will Hades morph from a dungeon-like pit where dead souls are housed into a beautiful park where people frolic in paradise?
The answers are obvious: Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire to be exterminated from existence forever, just as crying and pain will be eliminated (Revelation 21:4).
One of the reasons we’re exploring this topic is because people naturally wonder about their beloved pets and animals. Will they ever see them again? Will they be reunited with them in the new heavens and new earth? While the Scriptures don’t directly address the question, the answer is obvious based on the passages we’ve looked at and others. For instance, how could it be the “restoration of all things” if one’s beloved pets are omitted? If Jesus said we are to ask and receive so our joy might be complete on this imperfect earth (John 16:24), how much more so on the new earth, which will be perfect? Doesn’t the Bible say that those who delight themselves in the LORD will receive the desires of their hearts (Psalm 37:4)? If this is so in this wicked age, how much more so in the righteous age to come? Really, it’s just common sense.
Will the LORD resurrect all animal souls in Sheol or just some? Again, the question isn’t addressed in the Bible, but we can use common sense in deducing a plausible answer: Why would God create new animals when he can just resurrect ones already created over the course of earth’s history? Of course, the resurrected animals will be perfected when they’re resurrected—restored to their original design—like straw-eating lions and snakes that are no longer poisonous. This would, again, be part of the “restoration of all things.” How would it truly be a universal restoration of creation if innocent animals are omitted? And how is it that “creation waits in eager expectation” if large quantities of creation—living creatures—aren’t included?
Someone might understandably argue that there wouldn’t be enough space on earth to resurrect every animal that has died since the fall of creation. However, since astronomers estimate there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the universe (!) and therefore incalculable planets with earth-like environments this won’t be a problem whatsoever. Another thing to consider is that there will likely be much more land area on the new earth in light of Revelation 21:1 (currently 71% of the earth’s surface is water).
If God doesn’t resurrect all the animals then obviously the dead souls of the ones that aren’t resurrected will still be in Sheol (Hades) when it’s cast into the lake of fire. In short, the soulish remains of these animals will be wiped out of existence at this time.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything about “pets going to heaven” in these last few sections. That’s because such a statement isn’t biblically accurate. For one thing, the Bible doesn’t describe the eternal age to come as “heaven” but rather as the “new heavens and new earth,” which is “the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). ‘Heaven’ technically refers to the spiritual realm where God’s throne is located. As pointed out earlier in this article, many Christians refer to the eternal age to come as “heaven,” but this is erroneous terminology that can be traced back to Augustine’s false doctrine of amillennialism.
But do the souls of animals go to heaven when they die like the souls of spiritually-regenerated believers in the New Testament era? We don’t see any evidence of this in the Bible, but we do see evidence of animal souls going to Sheol, as cited above. As such, your dead pets aren’t likely hanging out in heaven awaiting your coming, but they will be resurrected in the coming age of the new heavens and new earth, if that’s your desire. And why wouldn’t it be?
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