This is the ninth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.
In the previous column we saw how Scripture describes heaven as the intermediate state between death and resurrection for followers of Jesus as they await future resurrection and glorification. Now, we look in more detail at heaven as well as the new heavens and new earth.
What about heaven?
The New Testament reveals many truths about this intermediate state for followers of Jesus. Here are 12:
(1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reside in heaven, yet they have immediate access to earth (Matt. 3:16-17).
(2) God’s will is done completely in heaven – and one day will be done on earth (Matt. 6:9-10).
(3) Angels surround the throne in heaven (Matt. 18:10), as do majestic heavenly creatures and redeemed people (Revelation 4-5).
(4) The heavenly throne is the heart of God’s authority and majesty (Mark 16:19).
(5) Heaven is the place from which Satan fell and has no future part (Luke 10:18; Rev. 20:10).
(6) Heaven is where believers’ names are written down, providing assurance of everlasting life (Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23).
(7) Christ is preparing a place for believers in heaven and will take us there one day (John 14:1-3), bringing us back to earth with Him when He returns (Rev. 19:11-16).
(8) Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20-21).
(9) Our inheritance is in heaven – imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4).
(10) Jesus came from heaven (John 3:31; 6:38, 42), ascended there after His finished work on the cross (Luke 24:51; Eph. 4:10; Heb. 4:14); and will descend from heaven one day to resurrect and glorify believers (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-58).
(11) God brings heaven and earth together one day and dwells with us (Rev. 21:3-4).
(12) Nothing profane enters heaven – or the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:27 – 22:5).
Better by far
As wonderful as the intermediate heaven is, our ultimate destiny is the new heavens and new earth, which Peter and John describe as a place of righteousness and restored innocence (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21-22). Christ returns, resurrects and judges all people, establishes His kingdom in fullness, creates new heavens and a new earth, and gives us roles to play in the administration of His kingdom.
The Greek word John uses for “new” in Rev. 21:1 is kainos, which means “different from the usual, impressive, better than the old, superior in value or attraction.” In other words, God does not annihilate the old order of things and start again from scratch. He purges the sinful and fallen cosmos and restores it to its pristine beauty. Jesus calls this work “the regeneration” of the earth (Matt. 19:28), and Peter explains it as a cleansing and renewing by fire (2 Peter 3:10-13).
The new heavens and new earth stand in stark contrast to Eden after the Fall. God is fully revealed and we are glorified so that our natural desire is for the intimacy Adam and Eve experienced in the garden. God sets His throne among us. We do not flee from His presence with the shame that drove Adam and Eve to hide among the trees.
There is personal contact with our sovereign Creator. We call Him Abba – dearest Daddy – and He calls us His children. There is security, warmth, serenity, joy, and unending peace. God is with us and we never again experience the consequences of separation from the One who is our life.
While the intermediate heaven is the joyous aim of all who trust in Jesus, the new heavens and new earth are better by far. Satan, sin, and death – three enemies that Christ conquered through His finished work on the cross – are banished to the lake of fire, along with all those who reject God’s provision for eternal life. God wipes the tears from our cheeks and declares that the former things – death, grief, crying, and pain – have passed away.
J.I. Packer writes, “As life in the ‘intermediate’ or ‘interim’ state between death and resurrection is better than life in this world that preceded it, so the life of resurrection will be better still. It will, in fact, be best. And this is what God has in store for all his children.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
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