The Theology of Heaven
- David Fairchild
- Nov 20, 2005
"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” -John 14:1-3
The Neglect of Heaven in our Theology
What shocked me most in preparing for this study is the lack of scholarly work and in-depth discussion on the topic of Heaven. I suppose that I expected to find multiple works devoted to the topic that went beyond the few pages mentioned in systematic theology textbooks. Unfortunately, to my surprise, there is little said about Heaven in comparison to other popular topics.
You could find countless books written on eschatology, and yet the goal and great conclusion of eschatology, which is the place of Heaven, is rarely dealt with at any length.
Let me give you some examples:
The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote an in-depth, two-volume set titled The Nature and Destiny of
William Shedd's three-volume dogmatic theology contains 87 pages on the eternal punishment, but only two on Heaven.
Martin Lloyd Jones wrote a 900 page theology book called Great Doctrines of the Bible, and yet he wrote less than two pages on the eternal state and the New Earth.
Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology devotes 38 pages to creation, 40 pages to baptism and communion, and 15 pages to the intermediate state. Yet it only contains two pages on Hell, and one page on the eternal state. This classic systematic theology limits the discussion of the eternal Heaven to page 737 of a 737 page book.
Does the Bible have so little to say about the eternal Heaven? Are the theological implications so unimportant that we ignore this subject? I believe the answer is no.
Through history, the doctrine of Heaven was incredibly important to Christians in the church. The idea of Heaven wasn't simply a nice escape from the troubles of this world. It was a central, vital, life sustaining conviction that gripped believers’ attention. Sadly, in our day, we must confess this is no longer true.
Because of the neglect of an appropriate theology of Heaven in our seminaries, our textbooks, teacher’s curriculum, and behind the pulpit, Christians are cutting and pasting their view of the eternal Heavens from a variety of sources. Television, movies, opinions of friends, nifty bumper stickers and “Readers Digest” articles are educating us very poorly.
Is it that Heaven is so boring and unimportant that pastors and teachers would rather devote themselves to topics which are more pressing? When was the last time you heard a sermon on the theology of Heaven preached?
We are told how to get to Heaven, and that it is a better place to go than Hell, but we are taught very little about the actual place of Heaven itself.
What we don’t say about a subject says much about our view of that subject. If we say nothing about the subject and place of Heaven, then the omission from our discussions speaks volumes about our view of that subject.
The Truth of Our Mortality
But here is an alarming truth: 10 out of 10 of you will die! That’s a 100% current death rate. Since we don’t like to discuss death, it shouldn’t shock us that the subject of what happens after you die is not all that popular. Yet, in the amount time that it took me to say what I just said, 30 people died. 180 die every minute, 11,000 die every hour. And by the end of the day, more than 250,000 people will die and go to either Heaven or Hell.
God uses our impending death to rip our grip from the cares of this world and set our minds on what is to come. People who have had someone close die, or who have received news of their incurable cancer usually become extremely interested in this subject. Most of us live unprepared for death because we haven’t investigated from a reliable source what’s on the other side.
It is safe to assume that if you are a Christian, you have some notion of Heaven. In other words; you already have a theology of your eternal destination. Whether or not it is accurate is another question, but you hold onto some idea.
Imagine that you are part of a space exploration team that has been preparing for 4 years for a mission to Mars where you will live for a year. After your 4 years of extensive training, the launch date finally arrives. As the rocket launches, one of your fellow astronauts asks you “what do you know about Mars?” Now imagine shrugging your shoulders and saying “I don’t know. We never talked about it. I guess we’ll find out when we arrive.” That would be absolutely ridiculous, wouldn’t it? To think that your training wouldn’t have included extensive study and preparation for your ultimate destination is almost unthinkable. Yet, this is what is happening in seminaries, Bible colleges and churches worldwide. There is very little teaching about our ultimate destination: the New Heavens and the New Earth.
“The man who is about to sail for Australia or New Zealand as a settler, is naturally anxious to know something about his future home, its climate, its employment, its inhabitants, its ways, its customs. All these are subjects of deep interest in him. You are leaving the land of your nativity, you are going to spend the rest of your life in a new hemisphere. It would be strange indeed, if you did not desire information about your new abode. Now, surely, if we hope to do well forever in that ‘better country, even a heavenly one,’ we ought to seek all the knowledge we can get about it. Before we go to our eternal home we should try to become acquainted with it.” -J.C. Ryle
I. OUR DESTINY
a. Are You Looking Forward to Heaven?
A simple question you must ask your self is this: Are you looking forward to Heaven? Now the “good” answer is yes. But what is the truthful answer? Do you think that Heaven is a place of endless boredom with nothing to do but sit on a cloud and strum a harp? Some people actually have a fear of Heaven and eternal life because what they’ve heard doesn’t sound interesting, exciting and worth looking forward to.
What would cause Jonathan Edwards to say, “it becomes us to spend this life only as the journey toward heaven…to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness?” Edwards wrote as one of his resolutions “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can.” Why would he say such a thing?
i. Our unbiblical view of Heaven
John Eldridge says this in one of his books: “Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an un-ending church service…We have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, on great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen. And our heart sinks. Forever and ever? That’s it? That’s the good news? And then we sigh and feel guilty that we are not more ‘spiritual.’ We lose heart, and we turn once more to the present to find what life we can.”
What a contrast Charles Spurgeon had on death and Heaven: “To come to Thee is to come home from exile, to come to land out of the raging storm, to come to rest after long labour, to come to the goal of my desires and the summit of my wishes.”
Our view of Heaven today is boring and without much to look forward to. It is no wonder that people are searching for significance and satisfaction in this life—they haven’t much to look forward to in the next. If Heaven is just a bunch of halo-wearing, cloud-sitting couch potatoes, bored out of their mind and wishing they brought a magazine, why should anyone care?
But why is it that you and I desire something more than that? Why is it that the thought of Heaven as a sterile room that resembles a “white” sale at Macy’s sounds so unappealing? Because you and I were not designed to have a taste for some disembodied existence in a non-physical Heaven. What God made us to desire, and what we do desire if we are honest, is exactly what He promises to those who follow Jesus Christ: a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth. Our desires correspond to God’s plans. It’s not that we want something, and so we engage in wishful thinking. It’s just the opposite—the reason we want it is because God has planned for it to exist. Resurrected people living in a resurrected universe isn’t our idea—it’s God’s.
b. Is Heaven Beyond Our Imagination?
The biblical authors speak of Heaven in many ways; as a garden, a city and a kingdom. Because gardens, cities and kingdoms are familiar to us, they provide a bridge for us to understand Heaven. The problem is that many people assume that these are nothing more than analogies with no connection to the reality of Heaven.
The Bible is clear that Jesus is preparing a place for us, and God’s Kingdom will come to Earth, and a physical resurrection awaits us. There is no reason to assume that these are simply spiritual analogies or allegories.
We’re usually taught that Heaven is a non-physical realm, which cannot have real gardens, cities, kingdoms, buildings, banquets or bodies. So we fail to take what the Bible says about Heaven seriously as a familiar, physical, tangible place.
As humans, God made us as beings that are both physical and spiritual. We are not designed to live in a non-physical realm—and we are unable to even imagine such a place (or should we say non-place). A spiritual, incorporeal state is not only totally foreign to our experience, it is also incompatible with how God made us. Adam didn’t become a living being until he was both body and spirit (Gen. 2:7). We are physical beings as much as we are spiritual beings. This is why our bodily resurrection is essential to endow us with eternal humanity, setting us free from sin, the Curse, and death.
i. Setting our hearts and minds on Heaven
We are told by Paul in Colossians 3:1 to “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” This is a direct command to set our hearts on the place of Christ’s dwelling which is Heaven. He goes on to say “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” This simply means to have your priorities in line with God’s. We are told that God’s people are “longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews ).
The problem is that we cannot desire what we cannot imagine. This is why God gives us glimpse of Heaven in the Bible. He causes our imagination to soar, and this kindles a desire for Heaven in our hearts. As long as a resurrected universe remains misunderstood, undesirable or un-imaginable, Satan succeeds in sabotaging our love for our eternal home.
Now, we can’t completely wrap our brains around this world to come. But God does provide us with enough detail to cause us to desire Heaven. If God didn’t want us to desire Heaven and use our imagination to dwell upon what it will be like, He wouldn’t have said as much about it as He has.
We shouldn’t ignore our imagination, but fuel it with Scripture, and allow it to grow based upon what God has revealed to us already. Discussions about Heaven are either over-imaginative or lacking imagination. Non-Christians usually are hyper-imaginative and Christians are often without biblically inspired imagination.
The moment you and I say that we can’t imagine what Heaven will be like, we disregard all that God has revealed to us about our eternal home. If we can’t envision it, we can’t look forward to it. If Heaven is unimaginable, why even try?
Everything pleasurable we know about life on Earth we have experienced through our senses. So, when Heaven is spoken of as beyond the reach of our senses, it doesn’t invite us; instead it alienates and even frightens us.
Our misguided attempts to make Heaven sound more spiritual, by making it sound ethereal and non-physical, merely succeed in making Heaven sound unappealing.
II. THE INTERMEDIATE HEAVEN
a. What Is the Nature of the Intermediate Heaven?
The apostle Paul thought it was vital for us to know what happens when we die. He tells us: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians ).
Paul is simply saying that he doesn’t want us to be uninformed about those who have died. He wants us to be men and women who have hope because we are informed. So what happens when someone dies? Where are they one minute after their death?
i. It is temporary
When you and I die, if we are Christians, we enter into what theologians call the intermediate state, which is a transitional period between our lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth. Usually when we refer to “Heaven” we mean the place that Christians go when they die. When we tell our kids that “Grandma’s now in Heaven,” we’re speaking about the intermediate Heaven.
To say that it is an “intermediate location” means that it is temporary. Our life in the Heaven we go to when we die, where we’ll dwell prior to our bodily resurrection, is “better by far” than living here on Earth under the Curse, away from the direct presence of God (Philippians ). Yet, the intermediate Heaven is not our final destination. It will be an incredible and amazing place, but it is still not the place we were made for. The place God promises that we will dwell and that He will refashion for us is not the intermediate Heaven. God’s children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We can’t loose sight of our true destination. If we do, we’ll end up confused and have our mental bearings off.
If you ask, Will we live in Heaven forever? The answer depends on what we mean by Heaven. Will we be with the Lord forever? Yes. Will we be with Him in exactly the same place Heaven is now? No. In the intermediate Heaven, we’ll be in Christ’s presence, and we’ll be full of joy, but we’ll be looking forward to our bodily resurrection and permanent relocation to the New Earth.
When we die, we’ll be with God in Heaven, but that Heaven will not be our eternal home. Instead, we’ll go to an intermediate Heaven. In the intermediate Heaven, we’ll await the time of Christ’s return to the earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth. If we don’t get this, our doctrine of Heaven will be incorrect.
The biblical teaching is richer than just dying and going to Heaven forever. The Bible teaches us that there will be New Heavens and a New Earth—an entirely renewed creation—and we will live with God there. There will be a new kind of unification of Heaven and Earth—they will be joined in this new creation.
ii. It will change
God alone is eternal and self-existent. Everything else is created. Heaven is not synonymous with God. God created Heaven. It’s not a place where He must dwell; it is a place where He chooses to dwell. Heaven had a beginning and is not timeless or changeless. It had a past, it has a present (the intermediate state) and it will have a future (The eternal Heaven, or New Earth). The past, intermediate, and New Heaven can all be called Heaven, but they are not all the same.
The present Heaven is a temporary waiting place until the return of Christ and our bodily resurrection. The eternal Heaven, the New Earth, is our true home, the place we will live forever with our Lord and each other. God’s great redemptive purposes will find their fulfillment on the New Earth, not in the intermediate Heaven.
God does not change but Heaven will one day change. It will eventually be relocated to the New Earth (Revelation 21:1). Hell will also be relocated. After the Great White Throne Judgment, Hell will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation -15).
iii. Present vs. future Heavens
If we ask the questions: What is Heaven like? and, What will Heaven be like? we have to realize they are two different answers. The present, intermediate Heaven is in the angelic realm, separate from Earth, though with physical properties. By contrast, the future Heaven will be in the human realm, on Earth. The dwelling place of God will be the dwelling place of humanity, in a resurrected universe: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,’” (Revelation 21:1-3).
Heaven, God’s dwelling place, will one day be on the New Earth. Notice that it says the New Jerusalem which was in Heaven, will come down out of Heaven from God. Where does it go? To the New Earth. From that time on, “the dwelling of God” will be with redeemed mankind on Earth.
So why would the New Earth be called Heaven? Because, by definition, “Heaven” is God’s special dwelling place. Since the “dwelling of God” will be with mankind on Earth, then Heaven and the New Earth are essentially the same place. We’re told that “the throne of God and of the Lamb” is in the New Jerusalem, which is brought down to the New Earth (Revelation 22:1). It seems clear that wherever God dwells with His people and sits on His throne will be called Heaven.
“The New Jerusalem doesn’t remain in a ‘heaven’ far off in space, but it comes down to the renewed earth; there the redeemed will spend eternity in resurrected bodies. So heaven and earth, now separated, will then be merged: the new earth will also be heaven, since God will dwell there with his people. Glorified believers, in other words, will continue to be in heaven while they are inhabiting the New Earth.” -Anthony Hoekema
It shouldn’t be strange that God would come down to the New Earth to live with us. This fits perfectly with His original plan. God could have taken Adam and Eve up to Heaven to visit with Him. Instead, He came down to walk with them (Genesis 3:8).
Most views of Heaven are anti-incarnational. They fail to understand that Heaven will be God dwelling with us—resurrected people—on the resurrected Earth. The Incarnation is about God inhabiting space and time as a human being—the New Heavens and the New Earth are about God making space and time His eternal home with us. As Jesus is God incarnate, so the New Earth will be Heaven incarnate.
Earth is now under sin and the Curse. Once they are removed, Heaven and Earth will be fully compatible again (Ephesians ). This is God’s plan, not our own.
iv. Unseen realm
The present Heaven is normally invisible to those living on Earth. For those who have trouble accepting the reality of an unseen realm, consider the perspective of cutting-edge researchers who embrace string theory. Scientists at Yale,
We do see in the Bible that sometimes humans are allowed to see into Heaven. When Stephen was being stoned because of his faith in Christ, he gazed into Heaven: “Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to Heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts -56). Stephen didn’t dream this, he actually saw it.
The prophet Elisha asked God to give his servant, Gehazi, a glimpse of the invisible realm. He prayed, “‘O Lord, open his eyes so 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 ).
There is a dimension that really does exist which God normally has hidden from us in this present age.
b. Is the Intermediate Heaven a
We often picture Heaven as completely immaterial. Why? I believe that it is centered in an unbiblical belief that the spirit realm is good and the material world is bad. It is a view called Gnosticism, and for Christians it is called Christoplatonism. Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed that material things, including the human body and the earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and heaven are good. This is called Platonism. The Christian church was highly influenced by Platonism through the teachings of Philo and Origen, who came to embrace the “spiritual” view that human spirits are better off without bodies and that Heaven is a disembodied state forever. They rejected the notion of Heaven as a physical realm and spiritualized or neglected the biblical teachings of resurrected people who inhabit a resurrected Earth.
This has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven.
c. What Is Life Like in the Intermediate Heaven?
We can learn quite a bit about the intermediate Heaven from three verses in Revelation 6:9-11.
i. Revelation 6:9-11
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” (Revelation 6:9-11).
1. 21 observations of activity for the Martyrs
1. When these people died on Earth, they relocated to Heaven (v. 9).
2. These people in Heaven were the same ones killed for Christ while on Earth (v. 9). This demonstrates direct continuity between our identity on Earth and our identity in Heaven. The martyrs’ personal history extends directly back to their lives on Earth. Those in the intermediate Heaven are not different people; they are the same people relocated—“righteous men made perfect” (Hebrews ).
3. People in Heaven will be remembered for their lives on Earth. These were known and identified as ones slain “because of . . . the testimony they had maintained” (v. 9).
4. “They called out” (v. 10) means they are able to express themselves audibly. This could suggest they exist in physical form, with vocal cords or other tangible means to express themselves.
5. People in the intermediate Heaven can raise their voices (v. 10). This indicates that they are rational, communicative, and emotional—even passionate—beings, like people now living on Earth.
6. They called out in “a loud voice,” not “loud voices.” Individuals speaking with one voice indicate that Heaven is a place of unity and shared perspective.
7. The martyrs are fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other, God, and the situation on Earth.
8. They ask God to intervene on Earth and to act on their behalf: “How long . . . until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (v. 10).
9. Those in Heaven are free to ask God questions, which means they have an audience with God. It also means they need to learn. In Heaven, people desire understanding and pursue it.
10. People in the intermediate Heaven know at least some of what’s happening on Earth (v. 10). The martyrs know enough to realize that those who killed them have not yet been judged.
11. Heaven dwellers have a deep concern for justice and retribution (v. 10). When we go to Heaven, we won’t adopt a passive disinterest in what happens on the earth. Our concerns will be more passionate and our thirst for justice greater. Neither God nor we will be satisfied until his enemies are judged, our bodies raised, sin and Satan defeated, Earth restored, and Christ exalted over all.
12. The martyrs clearly remember their lives on Earth, including some of “the bad parts” (v. 10). They even remember that they were murdered.
13. Martyrs in Heaven pray for judgment on their persecutors who are still at work hurting others. They are acting in solidarity with, and in effect interceding for, the suffering saints on Earth. This suggests that saints in Heaven are both seeing and praying for saints on Earth.
14. Those in Heaven see God’s attributes (“Sovereign . . . holy and true”) in a way that makes his judgment of sin more understandable and desirable.
15. Those in Heaven are distinct individuals: “Then each of them was given a white robe” (v. 11). There isn’t one merged identity that obliterates uniqueness, but a distinct “each of them.”
16. The martyrs’ wearing white robes suggests the possibility of actual physical forms (disembodied spirits don’t wear robes). The robes may well have symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t mean they couldn’t also be physical. The martyrs appear to have physical forms that John could actually see.
17. God answers their question (v. 11), indicating communication and process in Heaven. This demonstrates that we won’t know everything in Heaven—if we did, we would have no questions. The martyrs knew more after God answered their question than before they asked it. There is learning in the present Heaven.
18. God will fulfill the martyrs’ requests, but says they will have to “wait a little longer” (v. 11). Those in the intermediate Heaven live in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Unlike the eternal Heaven—where there will be no more sin, Curse, or suffering (Revelation 21:4)—the present Heaven coexists with and watches over an Earth under sin, the Curse, and suffering.
19. There is time in the intermediate Heaven (vv. 10-11). The white-robed martyrs ask God a time-dependent question: “How long, Sovereign Lord . . . until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (v. 10)…
They are aware of time’s passing and are eager for the coming day of the Lord’s judgment. God answers that they must “wait a little longer” until certain events transpire on Earth. Waiting requires the passing of time.
20. The people of God in Heaven have a strong familial connection with those on Earth, who are called their “fellow servants and brothers” (v. 11). We share the same Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians , ESV)…
…There is not a wall of separation within the bride of Christ. We are one family with those who’ve gone to Heaven ahead of us. After we go to Heaven, we’ll still be one family with those yet on Earth. These verses demonstrate a vital connection between the events and people in Heaven and the events and people on Earth.
21. Our sovereign God knows down to the last detail all that is happening and will happen on Earth (v. 11), including every drop of blood shed and every bit of suffering undergone by his children….
III. REDEMPTION’S REACH
a. Is This World Our Home or Not?
“Our destiny in an earthly one: a new earth, an earth redeemed and transfigured. An earth reunited with heaven, but an earth, nevertheless.” -Paul
i. Our longing for
We are homesick for
Our ancestors came from
We long for a return to
What is the place that Jesus said he was going to prepare for us to take us there to live with Him forever? Revelation 21 makes it clear—it’s the New Earth. That’s where the New Jerusalem will reside when in comes down out of Heaven. Only then will we be truly home.
ii. Heaven is an actual place
When Jesus said that he will “come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3), He uses ordinary, earthly, spatial terms to describe Heaven. Jesus speaks of a house with many rooms in which he would prepare a place for us. This is spatial language, not ethereal and spiritual. Also, if he is going to “come back and take you” doesn’t this indicate a movement of a physical destination? If Heaven isn’t a place, would Jesus have said it was?
iii. More than just “passing through”
Earth has been damaged by our sin. The Earth that is as it is now, which is under the Curse, is not our home. The world as it was, and as it will be, is our home. We have never known a world without sin, suffering and death. Yet we yearn for such a life and such a world.
We are pilgrims in this life, not because our home will never be on Earth, but because our eternal home is not currently on Earth. It was and it will be, but it’s not now.
If we want to know what the New Earth will be like, the best place to start is by looking around us. We shouldn’t close our eyes to try and imagine the unimaginable, but rather open our eyes because it is a valid reference point. God created the Earth and its creatures, and it was “very good.” He was pleased with His creation until sin came to this world through Adam. Imagine this world again with the curse removed and sin no longer present—natural beauty untainted by destruction. That’s how He has created us: as physical beings to enjoy a physical Earth as we see and sense the spiritual power and presence of God whose glory illuminates all of it. This is what we should imagine, not just pass through while we’re here.
iv. Three phases of Earth’s history
In order to have a biblical worldview, we should have a sense of our past, present and future, and how they relate to each other. Without understanding God’s original plan for mankind and the Earth, we cannot understand His future plan.
In Genesis 3, the Earth’s first radical transition (mankind’s fall and first judgment) can be seen as one bookend of human history. In Revelation 20, we see the second bookend in the Earth’s last radical transition (Christ’s return and last judgment), creating a picture of great symmetry.
In Genesis, God plants the Garden on Earth; in Revelation, He brings down the New Jerusalem, with a garden at its center, to the New Earth. In
These parallels are incredible: to live in the in-between time, hearing echoes of
“This world is our home: we are made to live here. It has been devastated by sin, but God plants to put it right. Hence, we look forward with joy to newly restored bodies and to living in a newly restored heaven and earth. We can love this world because it is God’s, and it will be healed, becoming at last what God intended from the beginning.” -Paul
1. Past (Genesis 1-2)
2. Present (Genesis 3-Revelation 20)
3. Future (Revelation 21-22)
The Earth matters, our bodies matter, animals and trees matter, matter matters, because God created them and intends them to manifest His glory.
b. Why Is Earth’s Redemption Essential to God’s Plan?
The entire physical universe was created for God’s glory. But humanity rebelled, and the universe fell under the weight of our sin. Yet the serpent’s seduction of Adam and Eve did not catch God by surprise. He had a plan in place that would redeem His creation from sin, corruption and death.
"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)
“‘For just as the new heavens and the new earth Which I make will endure before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘So your offspring and your name will endure.’” (Isaiah 66:22)
“But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away” (Revelation 21:1)
There are many other passages that speak of the New Heavens and the New Earth without using those terms. When the consummation of all things occurs, only then will we see the full effect of what Christ did upon the cross. Only then will there be no more death, crying or pain (Revelation 21:1-4).
Upon creation of the Heavens and the Earth, God called them “very good.” Never once has He renounced His claim on what He made. He isn’t going to abandon His creation. He’s going to restore it. We won’t go to Heaven and leave Earth behind. Rather, God will bring Heaven and Earth together into the same dimension, with no wall of separation, no armed angels to guard Heaven’s perfection from sinful mankind. God’s perfect plan is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians ).
Christ died not merely to make the best of a bad situation. He died so that mankind, Earth, and the universe itself would be renewed to forever proclaim His glory.
i. God’s earthly renewal plan
God has never given up on His original creation. Yet we have somehow managed to overlook an entire biblical vocabulary that makes this point clear. Reconcile. Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Regenerate. Resurrect. Each of these biblical words begins with the “re” prefix, suggesting a return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. For example, redemption means to buy back what was formerly owned. Reconciliation means the restoration or reestablishment of a prior friendship or unity. Renewal means to make new again, restoring to an original state. Resurrection means becoming physically alive again, after death. These words emphasize that God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design.
If God had wanted to consign us all to Hell and start over, He could have. He could have made a new Adam and Eve and sent the old ones to Hell. But He didn’t. Instead, He chose to redeem what He started with—the Heavens, Earth, and mankind—to bring them back to His original purpose. God is the ultimate hero.
God doesn’t need to destroy the entire universe and start over. He intended from the beginning to restore it and recover a sinless creation. Grace restores nature, making it whole once more.
ii. The New Earth is the Old Earth restored
“…and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”(Acts 3:20-21)
We’re told that a time is coming when God will restore everything. It is God restoring mankind to what we once were, what He designed us to be—fully embodied, righteous beings, And restoring the physical universe to what it once was.
The Messiah will come from Heaven to Earth, not to take us away from Earth to Heaven (at least not ultimately), but to restore Earth to what He intended so He can live with us and we can live with Him forever.
The old Earth will pass away and be replaced by a New Earth.
iii. Redemption = Return
Redemption buys back God’s original design. If, due to the fall, God would have given up on His original purpose for mankind to fill the Earth and rule it (Genesis ), he surely wouldn’t have repeated the same command to Noah after the Flood: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1).
Our present purpose is inseparable from God’s stated eternal purpose for us to rule the Earth forever as His children and heirs. We are to glorify God and find joy in Him as we do what He has made us to do: serve Him as resurrected beings and carry out His plan for developing a Christ-centered, resurrected culture in a resurrected universe.
Christ’s mission is both to redeem what was lost in the Fall and to destroy all competitors to God’s dominion, authority and power. When everything is put under His feet, when God rules all mankind, who rules the Earth under God, at last all we be as He intends.
iv. God’s glory on God’s Earth
The universe will display God’s glory even more fully one day. It will involve redeemed men and women and redeemed nations on a redeemed Earth. It is on Earth, God promises, that “the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it” (Isaiah 40:5). That God will be glorified on Earth is central to innumerable passages.
“So the nations will fear the name of the LORD And all the kings of the earth Your glory.” (Psalms 102:15)
God’s Kingdom and dominion are not about what happens in some remote, unearthly place; instead, they are about what happens on Earth, which God created for His glory.
God has His hands on the earth. He will not let go—even when it requires that His hands be pierced by nails. Both His incarnation and those nails secured Him to Earth and its eternal future.
v. A vision of the New Earth
vi. Redemption of nations and culture
c. What Will It Mean for the Curse to Be Lifted?
When Adam and Eve fell into sin, Satan appeared to have ruined God’s plan for a righteous and undying humanity to rule the Earth to God’s glory. Yet immediately after the Fall, God promised a redeemer, the seed of the woman, who would one day come and crush the serpent.
While the wound of sin was still fresh, before the scar had formed, God unveiled His plan to send a fully human redeemer who would be far more powerful than Satan. In a courageous act of intervention to deliver mankind, this redeemer would deliver a mortal wound to the devil, and in the process would be wounded Himself.
God didn’t sit back idly or shrug His shoulders at sin, death and the Curse. He did not relinquish His claim on mankind on Earth. No sooner did ruin descend on humanity and Earth than God revealed His plan to defeat Satan and retake them for His glory.
i. Taking our inheritance
Our interest in the end times usually extends to the period immediately preceding and following the return of Christ. But God’s plan culminates after the final judgment, when King Jesus says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34J). Where is this Kingdom? Exactly where it has been from the beginning—on Earth.
What is the inheritance Jesus speaks of? Just as the children of kings inherit kingdoms, and kingdoms consist of land and property, so Earth is humanity’s God-given property.
God hasn’t changed His mind; He hasn’t fallen back to plan B or abandoned what He originally intended for us at the creation of the world. When Christ says “take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world,” it’s as if He’s saying, “This is what I wanted for you all along. This is what I went to the cross and defeated death to give you. Take it, rule it, exercise dominion, enjoy it; and in doing so, share my happiness.”
God doesn’t throw away his handiwork and start from scratch—instead, He uses the same canvas to repair and make more beautiful the painting marred by the vandal. The vandal doesn’t get the satisfaction of destroying his rival’s masterpiece. On the contrary, God makes an even greater masterpiece out of what His enemy sought to destroy.
Satan seeks to destroy the Earth. God seeks to restore and renew the Earth, rule it, and hand it back over to his children. God will win the battle for us and for the Earth.
ii. Uniting Heaven and Earth
God’s plan of the ages is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians ). “All things” is broad and inclusive—nothing will be left out. This verse corresponds to the culmination of history that we see enacted in Revelation 21, the merging together of once separate realms of Heaven and Earth, fully under Christ’s Lordship.
Just as God and mankind are reconciled in Christ, so too the dwellings of God and mankind—Heaven and Earth—will be reconciled in Christ. As God and man will be forever united in Jesus, so Heaven and Earth will forever be united in the new physical universe where we will live as resurrected beings.
Heaven is God’s home. Earth is our home. Jesus Christ, as the God-man, forever links God and mankind, and thereby forever links Heaven and Earth. Just as the wall that separates God and mankind is torn down by Jesus, so too the wall that separates Heaven and Earth will be forever demolished. There will be one universe, with all things in Heaven and on Earth together under one head, Jesus Christ. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them” (Revelation 21:3).
When God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden, Earth was Heaven’s backyard. The New Earth will be even more than that—it will be Heaven itself. And those who know Jesus will have the privilege of living there.
iii. Who will reign over the Earth?
The Bible’s central storyline revolves around a question: Who will reign over the Earth? Because it is the realm where God’s glory has been most challenged and resisted, it is therefore also the stage on which His glory will be most graphically demonstrated. By reclaiming, restoring, renewing and resurrecting Earth—and empowering a regenerated mankind to reign over it—God will accomplish His purpose of bringing glory to Himself.
In Scripture, those said to have thrones include God the Father, Christ the Son, God’s human children and Satan. God’s claim to His throne is absolute. The claim of human beings to their thrones is valid, but only if they remain in submission to God, who delegated dominion to them as His heirs and sub-rulers. Satan’s claim to the throne is false.
Ultimately, Satan will be eternally dethroned. People who reject God will be eternally dethroned. God will be permanently enthroned. Righteous human beings, first enthroned by God to reign over the earth from
Christ will become the unchallenged, absolute ruler of the universe and then will turn over to His Father the Kingdom He has won. Redeemed humans will be God’s unchallenged, delegated rulers of the New Earth. God and humanity will live together in eternal happiness, forever deepening their relationships, as the glory of God permeates every aspect of the new creation.
iv. The second Adam defeats Satan
Christ already defeated Satan, but the full scope of His victory has not yet been manifested on Earth. At Christ’s ascension, God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in this present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything” (Ephesians -22).
These words are all-inclusive, and they are in the past tense, not future. Christ rules the universe. And yet it is only upon Christ’s physical return to the Earth that Satan will be bound.
This is the “already and not yet” paradox that characterizes life on the present Earth. Heaven’s king is even now “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5). “On his robe and on this thigh this name is written: King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).
Through Christ’s redemptive work, he “disarmed the powers and authorities,” and made “a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15). His death stripped Satan of ultimate power. Redeemed mankind will reign with Christ over the earth. The gates of Satan’s false kingdom will not prevail against Christ’s church (Matthew 16:18).
The outcome of this great war is not in question; it is certain. Christ will reign victoriously forever. The only question we must answer is this: Will we fight on His side or against Him?
v. Removing the Curse
“No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3). If the Bible said nothing else about life in the eternal Heaven, the New Earth, these words would tell us a vast amount.
No more Curse!
What would our lives be like if the Curse were lifted? One day we will know firsthand—but even now there’s much to anticipate.
After Adam sinned, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). When the Curse is reversed, we will no longer engage in “painful toil” (V. 17) but will enjoy satisfying caretaking. No longer will the earth yield “thorns and thistles” (v. 18), defying our dominion and repaying us for corrupting it. No longer will we “return to the ground” from which we were taken (v. 19), swallowed up in death as unrighteous stewards who ruined ourselves and the Earth.
As a result of the Curse, the first Adam could no longer eat from the tree of life, which presumably would have made him live forever in his sinful state (Genesis 3:22). Death, though a curse, was the only way out from under the Curse—and then only because God had come up with a way to defeat death and restore mankind’s relationship with Him.
In our resurrection bodies, we will again dwell on Earth—a New Earth—completely free of the Curse. Unencumbered by sin, human activity will lead naturally to a magnificent culture.
Under the Curse, human culture has not been eliminated, but it has been severely hampered by sin, death and decay. Before the Fall, food was readily available with minimal labor. Time was available to pursue thoughtful aesthetic ideas, to work for the sheer pleasure of it, to please and glorify God by developing skills and abilities. Since the Fall, generations have lived and died after spending most of their productive years eking out an existence in pursuit of food, shelter and protection against theft and war. Our cultural development has likewise been stunted and twisted, and sometimes misdirected.
Even though our depravity means we have no virtue that makes us worthy of our standing before God, we are nevertheless “made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). Consequently, some things we do, even in our fallenness, such as painting, building, performing beautiful music, finding cures for diseases and other cultural, scientific, commercial and aesthetic pursuits, are good.
The removal of the Curse means that people, culture, the Earth and the universe will again be as God intended. It will be as thorough and sweeping as the redemptive work of Christ. In bringing us salvation, Christ has already undone some of the damage in our hearts. But in the end, He will finally and completely restore His entire creation to what God originally intended: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” (Romans 8:19-22).
Christ will turn back the Curse and restore to humanity all that we lost in
vi. Far as the Curse is found
God will lift the Curse, not only morally (in terms of sin) and psychologically (in terms of sorrows), but also physically (in terms of thorns and thistles in the ground). How far does Christ’s redemptive work extend? As far as the curse is found. If redemption failed to reach the farthest boundaries of the Curse, it would be incomplete. The God who rules the world with truth and grace won’t be satisfied until every sin, every sorrow and every thorn is reckoned with.
Jesus came not only to rescue people from ultimate destruction, He came also to rescue the entire universe from ultimate destruction. He will transform our dying Earth into a vial New Earth, fresh and uncontaminated, no longer subject to death and destruction.
The Curse is real, but it is temporary. Jesus is the cure for the Curse. We have never seen Earth as God made it. Our planet as we know it is a shadow in a halftone image of the original.
Without Christ, both Earth and mankind would be doomed. But Christ came, died and rose from the grave. He brought deliverance, not destruction. Because of Christ, we are not doomed, and neither is the Earth.
Our trust in Jesus secures our eternal hope and our eternal home. We no longer need to be gripped by the fear of death and the unknown since Christ has gone before us and is preparing a place for you and me. Our confidence in the Gospel and its effects make a tremendous difference in the way we live in response on a daily basis.
The outline and much of the study follows the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn which is one the most thorough books I have read on the subject. This book includes many quotes and sources throughout church history on the subject.
The Message of Heaven and Hell by Bruce Milne is another excellent work
Death and the Afterlife by Robert Morey was another great help
One Minute After You Die by Edward Lutzer is an excellent work on what happens immediately after death
Three Eras of Earth and Mankind
Gen. 3-Rev. 20
Some believe & are transformed
|Fallen Earth, with glimmers of original
|New Earth; resurrected on mankind’s coat-tails
|God delegates reign to innocent mankind
|Disputed reign with God, Satan, and fallen mankind
|God delegates reign to righteous mankind
|Mankind given dominion, with intended stewardship of Earth
|Mankind’s dominion thwarted, frustrated, & twisted
|Mankind’s dominion fulfilled; redeemed stewardship of Earth
|God in Heaven, visiting Earth
|God in Heaven, separate yet active
(indwells believers by his Spirit)
|God living forever with mankind on the New Earth
(universal perfection & blessing)
|Sin & the Curse
(withdrawal of blessing, or blessing selectively given, plus common grace)
|No more Curse (greater blessing, deeper perfection, grace unending)
|No Shame or potential for shame
|Tree of life in
(mankind can eat)
|Tree of life in
(mankind cut off from)
|Tree of life in New Jerusalem
(mankind can eat again forever)
|River of life
|Rivers & nature, with glimmers of past & future
|River of life flows from God’s throne
|Unfolding drama of redemption
|Sin corrupts; its power & penalty assaulted, defeated by Christ
|Sin forever removed
|Death permeates all
|Death forever removed
|Mankind created from the earth
|Mankind dies, returns to the earth; new life to some
|Mankind resurrected from the earth to live on the New Earth
|First Adam reigns
|First Adam falls; mankind reigns corruptly, with glimpses of good; Second Adam comes
|Second Adam reigns as
God-man, with mankind as
co-heirs & delegated kings
|Serpent, Satan, on Earth
|Serpent, Satan, judged but still present on Earth
|Serpent, Satan, removed from the Earth, thrown into eternal fire
|God walking with humans in the Garden
|Humans cut off from God
|God dwells face-to-face with humans
|God’s glory evident to all, in all
|God’s glory obscured, seen in glimpses
|God’s glory forever manifested in all
|Unhindered individual worship
|Worship hampered by sin
|Unhindered corporate worship
|God’s goodness known
|God’s goodness known by some, doubted by others
|God’s goodness forever celebrated
|Creation & mankind perfect
|Creation & mankind tainted by sin
|Creation & mankind restored to perfection
|Mankind names, tends, rules the animals
|Animals & mankind hurt each other
|Animals & mankind live in complete harmony
|Ground fertile, vegetation lush
|Ground cursed, vegetation diseased
|Ground fertile, vegetation thrives
|Abundant food & water
|Hunger & thirst, toil for food & water
|Restfulness, satisfaction in labor
|Restlessness, toil in labor
|Enhanced restfulness, joy in labor
|Innocence, closeness to God
(alienation from God); declared righteous in Christ
|Righteousness (intimacy with God); complete righteousness in Christ
|Mankind in ideal place
|Mankind banished, struggles & wanders in fallen place(s)
|Man restored to ideal place
|Mankind able either to sin or not to sin
|Mankind enslaved to sin, empowered not to sin
|Mankind unable to sin, permanently empowered
|Naked in innocence
|Clothed due to unrighteousness
|Clothed with righteousness
|One marriage (Adam & Eve)
|One marriage (Christ & church)
|Marriage flawed by sin, blame, manipulation
|Marriage perfect, unhindered
|Beginning of human culture
|Contamination & advancement of culture
|Purification & eternal expansion of culture
|Mankind learns, creates in purity
|Mankind learns, creates in impurity
|Mankind learns, creates in wisdom & purity
|Mankind rules & expands
|Mankind banished from Paradise & longs for a return to
|Mankind has unlimited, free access to
|God’s plan for mankind & Earth revealed
|God’s plan delayed & enriched
|God’s plan for mankind & Earth realized