August 31, 2005
To: *John Anderson (not his real name)
From: Randy Alcorn
Re: My response to your critique of my book Heaven
Greetings, brother. As I told you, when we met several months ago, I greatly appreciate that you came to me with your concerns about the Heaven book.
I also appreciated your transparency in letting me know that you shared your criticisms of the book with your class at your church, including in the form of the handout.
I value criticism, and take it seriously. Often my immediate response is “he’s right; I’ll change that.” The three theologians who went over early manuscripts had a great deal of helpful input. Since publication, a dozen people’s input has prompted me to make a few dozen changes, mostly small but some significant, that will appear in future revisions. I always feel good about doing this. Iron sharpens iron, and I believe I’m accountable for my words and want to do the best I can to be true to Scripture. That’s why I asked people to come to me in light of Acts 17:11 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21. It’s my longing to be true to Scripture. I know you share the same desire.
So, John, when you contacted me I was looking forward to hearing your insights and anticipated making some changes in the book. I have reread your criticisms a couple of times, asking God to help me see what I need to change in my thinking. I’ve gone back to a number of passages you cited, trying to evaluate whether your interpretations were correct.
There are certainly some points you brought up that made me rethink how to better communicate my thoughts, and a couple of lesser matters that needed to be corrected or clarified. I sincerely thank your for these. However, in the central issues, regretfully I cannot concur with your positions. Our understanding of the resurrection (both Christ’s and our own), the New Earth, and the question of continuity, as well as the extent and nature of God’s redemptive plan, are significantly different.
My esteem for you has not diminished, but I do regret being unable to say “yes, as a result of your input, I will make significant changes.” I especially regret this because of how deeply I respect you, and how uncomfortable it makes me to take issue with you.
After we met, I considered responding to your critique, much of which I didn’t have opportunity to do when we were together, as I was only able to skim it before we started talking. I began to write a response, but when I realized how much time and effort, and how many words of explanation, it would take to deal with your concerns, I thought better of it.
You raised so many points in your six single spaced pages of critique, based on so many beliefs, that it seemed impossible to find the time to respond adequately to more than a few of them. Then I would be neglecting dozens and dozens more. In fact, now that I’ve actually done it, it has taken the better part of three days. While I wrote quickly, and saved a lot of time by cutting and pasting various sources (both my own and others) into my response, I suppose it could take you the better part of three days to read it!
Anyway, I decided months ago we would just have to agree to disagree, in the spirit of brothers who love God and His Word and who both look forward to the eternal state, even if we think of it in significantly different (but both glorious) ways.
However, now I feel it’s important for me to respond since your email last week indicated that besides sharing it with your class at your church, you have addressed it in private conversations and shared your written critique with others in the Bible College family. These good folks in turn will likely share their perspectives with others. (I certainly share my perspectives on things, as do most people.) I don’t mean you did anything inappropriate, nor that anyone you share with would do so. I do not consider your critique of my book to be a private document, nor do I resent anyone who chooses to pass it, or its perspectives, onto others.
Part of my reason for responding is to express myself to you. Part is to express myself to others who, in my opinion, in reading your critique, will misunderstand what I’ve written. Most of your class at your church, for instance, will probably not read my book (nor would I expect them to). But if they do read it, they will likely see not what it actually says, but what they think it says as seen through the lens of your critique. Indeed, if they respect you as much as I do (and that respect and affection remains as strong as ever), they could hardly do otherwise. Of course, most of them will never read my response, but for those who inquire of me, at least it will be available.
John, I am not at all saying you have sought to misrepresent me. Being the man you are, you would never do that. But it is apparent, both from our discussion over coffee and from what you’ve written, that my viewpoint of the Scriptural teaching is foreign to, and sometimes even repugnant, to your thinking. Therefore, it is impossible for you to represent it completely or, at times, even accurately. (By analogy, imagine some of the most severe critics of your book trying to restate to others what you’ve said. Hopefully they would try to be fair, but obviously those hearing them would not gain an accurate sense of what you were actually saying.)
While criticisms can be expressed in a single sentence, it takes paragraphs, sometimes a page, to adequately respond. When someone offers six pages of single spaced criticisms, it requires a response far larger than the critique. (I get emails like this: “I disagree with your understanding of 1 John 2:2. Please explain.” Well, that only took ten words. But to answer, I must use a few hundred.)
For example, it takes you only one sentence to commend the views of Murray Harris concerning the resurrection. But to explain why I believe he is wrong requires a great deal more.
You list many biblical passages by reference only. I could ignore those, but that’s not responding. But in order to respond, I must quote their actual text, then share my interpretation. Again, this magnifies ten-fold (almost, as it turns out) the proportion of response to the statement of criticism. That’s why this document contains both the entire six pages of your critique, and a nine-fold response to them (54 pages).
Fortunately, I’ve been able to cut and paste a number of portions of the Heaven book which respond to your objections. While that makes the document much longer, it’s far easier for me, since it saves me the time of restating my position. It also helps those who read this to realize what they wouldn’t if they only read your critique—that many of the objections you raise are addressed in the book. This way they can evaluate my words directly. I also copy and paste a number of citations from the work of others, available electronically. So, much of what follows, thankfully, I’ve not had to type from scratch. Strange as it seems, by citing large blocks of what’s already written, I’m saving time even while making my response longer.
If I had time to edit I could reduce what follows, but I don’t. I am simply composing sequentially as I come to your arguments. I will respond in more detail early on, and in less detail to later parts of your critique, when my earlier comments may suffice.
You may skim this, skipping over the excerpts from my book (which you have read but most who’ve heard your objections haven’t) and the portions from exegetical commentaries if they’re not of interest. You need not respond to anything here, but you are certainly welcome to. If you do, I will attentively listen.
Before I respond to your critique, let me explain why I wrote the book.
As a young pastor, I had a view of the eternal state similar to yours. I believed in the resurrection, yet I gave no thought at all to the New Earth or the resurrected life. I thought Heaven would be largely passive, a place where we would worship God unceasingly and do very little else.
This thought was not unappealing to me, given my love for Christ and the depths of God’s character, and the fact that he is so inexhaustibly fascinating. To be with God, in a platonic state, in adoration alone, though unfamiliar, would nonetheless be wonderful.
Yet when I would read Scripture, I couldn’t put this view of eternity together with what it says concerning the resurrection, new earth, eternal kingdom, and forever serving him and ruling with him in that realm.
I heard countless people, including a pastor friend who’s a grad of our school, make negative comments about heaven, about dreading and fearing heaven. It grieved and confused me. And it motivated me to clean the slate of my long-held assumptions (largely based on the assumptions of pastors and teachers and writers) and try to study what Scripture actually said.
I found this subject fascinating. I began reading books on Heaven, most of them out of print. Many of these books were the common variety “Heaven is otherworldly, and we can’t know anything about it, but it will no doubt be wonderful.”
However, I found that the ones which dealt more with the biblical text challenged my assumptions, and prompted me to look more closely at Scripture in its context. For instance, I remember rereading Isaiah 60 after reading Richard Mau’s book When the Kings Come Marching In. I could see things that were in the text all along, but that my assumptions blinded me to. I wasn’t reading into it what I wanted to believe, but I was reading out of it what it actually said. The passage made sense to me for the first time.
Over years of biblical study, my view of resurrection and the eternal Heaven (and to a lesser degree, the present Heaven) gradually changed. I wasn’t looking for a fresh or different view of eternity. But I believe God opened one to me, from the biblical texts. Parts of this new perspective included things I’d learned in church, Bible college or seminary, but the overall scheme, the big picture, was quite different.
In what follows, the words of your critique are italicized. Words not italicized are mine. Words cited from my book and others’ books are set off by text boxes.
Thoughts related to Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven. [by *John Anderson]
(Note: None of what is jotted down below except as shown in the bordered paragraphs, has been shared with my S.S. class in written form.)
John, I take no offense at the fact that you shared it with your Sunday School class, or that you have since shared it with the others you mentioned in your email, or whoever else you choose to. I trust that likewise you will take no offense in my sharing with others my response to your criticisms, when I believe there is need to do so.
Though I would prefer to focus on the many aspects of his book that are a pure joy to read, my intent here is to focus on areas of concern.
I understand. Speaking of joy, it has been a matter of great joy to hear from many people who have written to say the Scriptures on the eternal state have been opened up to them, and that they feel liberated and excited about Heaven for the first time in their lives.
An 85-year-old man called our office two days ago, saying he has passed out a few dozen of the Heaven book. He has been drawn closer to God through it and wishes to share his excitement with others.
Today I got a letter from a mother whose 16-year-old died in February in a car accident on a Young Life sledding trip. She’s reading through the Heaven book the second time, looking up every Scripture.
An evangelical seminary professor wrote me today to say he is making the Heaven book required reading for his Hebrews – Revelation class and will now be devoting more time to Revelation 21-22.
We continually receive emails from people who are dying, whose loved ones are dying, or have died, and they share how their eyes have been opened to Scripture, and that they are looking forward to being with Christ for eternity more than ever before.
The book is surely flawed, as I am flawed, but for the hearts God is touching through his Word, I am deeply grateful.
In a broad sense, regarding our eternal state, in thinking about what we will do, we should place prime emphasis on God’s initiative, His creativity, His inventiveness, His artistry, His craftsmanship—”…that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7)—and far less on our initiatives, our inventiveness, our future creativity, our cultural contributions—what we will dream up to do.
I agree. I cite Ephesians 2:7 three times in the book, affirming the centrality of God’s future revelation to us of Himself. He is infinite and inexhaustible, we are finite, and will have the pleasure of learning more and more of him as eternity unfolds. I see this learning more of him as perfectly in harmony with the life he has planned for us as resurrected beings in his eternal kingdom, which will be centered on the new earth.
No one I know doubts whether God will be creative and inventive and take initiate in the ages to come. The issue is whether, by his design, we will be and do these things. The question is not whether God will continue to be divine, but whether we will continue to be human, made in his image, therefore being and acting at lesser levels as he is and acts.
I believe the removal of our fallenness, the lifting of the curse will not make us fundamentally inhuman—i.e. noncreative and without inventiveness, relationships and the human culture such inventiveness and relationships produces. Rather, it will make us better humans, more richly reflective of God’s creative and initiating nature, not less so.
John, you almost seem to assume that God’s initative, creativity, inventiveness, artistry and craftsmanship must be divorced from that of his creatures. To argue for the creature’s richness of personality and experience and gifting and relationships and culture in the eternal state is not man-centered or idolatrous, but perfectly in keeping with the nature of redemption, resurrection and eternal life. This is not a matter of self-improvement. It is a God-ordained, God-pleasing and God-glorifying part of his own design and redemptive work. And I think it is something he wants us to understand and look forward to.
We are to glorify him not by ceasing to be like Him—and therefore ceasing to be creative—but by becoming more like Him, by being better reflectors of his image. Hence, the universe, including angels, will behold us, his image bearers, and worship Him. Those who are under the ruling dominion of God’s children on the New Earth, part of a culture of great depth and richness, will glorify not the kings, but the King of Kings.
I believe the imago dei is more about God than us. We are made in his image not to compete with Him, but to worship and glorify Him. The richness of our lives in the ages to come is not something that will threaten God, but that will glorify Him.
God is (perhaps inexplicably, but very really) fond of using intermediate means. He uses angels and people and animals and even plants (e.g. with Jonah) to accomplish his purposes. Is there any reason to believe in the eternal state God will cease to do this? No. Scripture makes clear He will continue to do so. He rules the universe, yet he also delegates us as rulers of the new earth forever (Revelation 22:5).
God reveals Himself in what he has created (Romans 1). This includes people, animals, the trees, the waters, earth, the stars and all natural wonders. To talk about those things properly is not to take focus off of God, but to put it on him. That God will be the source of all good and the centerpiece of all praise, is repeatedly stressed in the Heaven book.
Related to this issue, I include the following excerpt regarding Aquinas and scholasticism, and their view of God that assumed speaking of anything besides God himself was inherently unspiritual. Honestly, in our conversation, I felt your view of the afterlife, or at least your underlying belief, was in many ways similar to this school of thought:
Prior to the Middle Ages, people thought of Heaven tangibly—as a city or a paradise garden, as portrayed in Scripture. But the writings of twelfth-century theologians such as Peter Abelard and Peter Lombard and thirteenth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas led to the philosophical movement known as scholasticism, which came to dominate medieval thought and ultimately took hostage the doctrine of Heaven.
The scholastic writers viewed Heaven in a much more impersonal, cold, and scientific manner than their predecessors. They departed from the Heaven of Scripture that contains both the unfamiliar transcendent presence of God, surrounded by the cherubim, and familiar earthly objects and personages, including people wearing clothes and having conversations. They embraced a Heaven entirely intangible, immaterial, and hence—they thought—more spiritual.
They claimed that Heaven couldn’t be made of familiar elements such as earth, water, air, and fire. Instead, they argued, “the empyrean [the highest heaven or heavenly sphere] must be made of a fifth and nobler element, the quintessence, which must be something like pure light.” And they ignored almost entirely—or allegorized into oblivion—the New Earth as the eternal dwelling place of resurrected humans living with the resurrected Jesus in a physical realm of natural wonders, physical structures, and cultural distinctives.
The scholastic view gradually replaced the old, more literal understanding of Heaven as garden and city, a place of earthly beauty, dwelling places, food, and fellowship. The loss was incalculable. The church to this day has never recovered from the unearthly—and anti-earthly—theology of Heaven constructed by well-meaning but misguided scholastic theologians. These men interpreted biblical revelation not in a straightforward manner, but in light of the intellectually seductive notions of Platonism, Stoicism, and Gnosticism.
According to Aquinas, neither plants nor animals will have a place in Heaven, the world of light. He argued there would be no active life in Heaven, only contemplation. Because God is the great object of our worship, Aquinas supposed we would think of nothing and no one but God.
Aquinas was absolutely correct that God is the cosmic center. But his faulty logic reshaped our understanding of Heaven by undercutting the biblical doctrines of physical resurrection, Paradise restored on the New Earth, and the redeemed culture and community of the New Earth’s holy city and nations. His view neglected the eternal nature of Christ’s humanity and immanence, entirely eclipsing them with his deity and transcendence. Scholastic theology requires that we negate or spiritualize countless Scriptures, rejecting the plain meaning.
Though some thinkers later departed from scholasticism, its underlying christoplatonic views never lost their grip on the Western church.
To assume that the new earth (in the eternal state) will be a better place because we will bring to it the sum of all the positive contributions of human history, is, as I understand Scripture, to miss the primacy of God’s self revelation—of God’s ultimate intention—He, the supreme Giver; we, the utterly undeserving receivers. As such, we will be first and foremost the receivers and responders to God’s infinite self giving—as He “makes all things new.”
Certainly God is primary, the source of all things, and we are utterly undeserving. I say in the book,
In Heaven, the barriers between redeemed human beings and God will forever be gone. To look into God’s eyes will be to see what we’ve always longed to see: the person who made us for his own good pleasure. Seeing God will be like seeing everything else for the first time. Why? Because not only will we see God, he will be the lens through which we see everything else—people, ourselves, and the events of this life.
What is the essence of eternal life? “That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Our primary joy in Heaven will be knowing and seeing God. Every other joy will be derivative, flowing from the fountain of our relationship with God. Jonathan Edwards said, “God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. . . . The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things . . . but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.”
Asaph says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). This may seem an overstatement—there’s nothing on Earth this man desires but God? But he’s affirming that the central desires of our heart are for God. Yes, we desire many other things—but in desiring them, it is really God we desire. Augustine called God “the end of our desires.” He prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
In fact, Eph. 2:7 should be more than enough to satisfy our questions about our eternal destiny.
As I suggest in the book, based on this passage, we will be eager learners, sitting at his feet, soaking in his greatness, and experiencing the created wonders of the new heavens and new earth which will declare his glory (Psalm 19:1) and manifest his character (Romans 1:20) in ways even greater than they do now.
Ephesians 2:7 is one of hundreds of verses related to our eternal destiny, so while it is rich and important, it does not minimize the richness or importance of all the other passages God has entrusted to us. It provides us no reason not to explore those other passages, since, while the secret things belong to the Lord our God, the thing revealed belong to us and our children (Deut. 29:29). Furthermore, understanding those hundreds of other verses may help us conceive of some of the wonders of His grace that He might be revealing to us throughout eternity.
To know Him [the Father] and His Son, as Jesus said, “life eternal.” The remarkable analogy Jesus used in Luke 12:37 underlines this amazing extent of God’s eternal kindnesses, quite in contrast from what we either deserve or should expect. See Luke 17:10 in its amazing and sharp contrast with Luke 12:37!
Luke 12:37 says, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” Concerning this passage, I say this in the book:
This is an amazing passage. Jesus says that the Master will do something culturally unthinkable—become a servant to his servants. Why? Because he loves them, and also out of appreciation for their loyalty and service to him. The King becomes a servant, making his servants kings! Notice that he won’t merely command his other servants to serve them. He will do it himself.
We will be in Heaven only because “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We must assent to Christ’s service for us (John 13:8). But even in Heaven, it appears, Jesus will sometimes serve us. What greater and more amazing reward could be ours in the new universe than to have Jesus choose to serve us?
If it were our idea that God would serve us, it would be blasphemy. But it’s his idea. As husbands serve their wives and parents serve their children, God desires to serve us. “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples” (Isaiah 25:6). God will be the chef—he’ll prepare us a meal. In Heaven, God will overwhelm us with his humility and his grace.
You also quoted Luke 17:10 which says, “so you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'“ I fully agree with our utter unworthiness, and say in the book:
The high stakes involved in the choice between Heaven and Hell will cause us to appreciate Heaven in deeper ways, never taking it for granted, and always praising God for his grace that delivers us from what we deserve and grants us forever what we don’t.
No one deserves forgiveness. If we deserved it, we wouldn’t need it. That’s the point of grace. On the cross, Jesus experienced the Hell we deserve, so that for eternity we can experience the Heaven we don't deserve.
Nowhere in the book do I suggest God gives us Heaven because we deserve it. It is because of His grace, and in spite of our unworthiness.
Yes, we will serve Him and we will reign with Him (Rev. 22:3, 5).
When we spoke, John, you seemed to concede this reluctantly, as you do here. I almost felt it troubled you to have to say it.
At one point you said, “You talk about ruling, Randy, but who will we rule?” Well, if we had no answer to that, it wouldn’t change the fact that Scripture repeatedly tells us we will rule. We’ll rule and be ruled by each other. We’ll rule angels (1 Cor. 6). We’ll rule animals. Here’s what I said in the book about ruling:
When I write and speak on this subject, people often respond, “But I don’t want to rule. That’s not my idea of Heaven.”
Well, it’s God’s idea of Heaven.
We are part of God’s family. Ruling the universe is the family business. To want no part of it is to want no part of our Father. It may sound spiritual to say we don’t care to rule, but because God’s the one who wants us to rule, the spiritual response is to be interested in his plans and purposes.
Whom will we rule? Other people. Angels. If God wishes, he may create new beings for us to rule. Who will rule over us? Other people.
There will be a social hierarchy of government, but there’s no indication of a relational hierarchy. In other words, the apostle Paul will be in a position of greater leadership than most of us, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be inaccessible. There will be no pride, envy, boasting, or anything sin-related. Our differences will be a manifestation of God’s creativity. As we’re different in race, nationality, gender, personality, gifting, and passions, so we’ll be different in positions of service.
All of us will have some responsibility in which we serve God. Scripture teaches that our service for him now on Earth will be evaluated to help determine how we’ll serve him on the New Earth. The humble servant will be put in charge of much, whereas the one who lords it over others in the present world will have power taken away: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). If we serve faithfully on the present Earth, God will give us permanent management positions on the New Earth. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10). The Owner has his eye on us—if we prove faithful, he’ll be pleased to entrust more to us.
We’ve been conditioned to associate governing with self-promoting arrogance, corruption, inequality, and inefficiency. But these are perversions, not inherent properties of leadership. Ruling involves responsibility—perhaps that’s why some people don’t look forward to it. Some people live in anticipation of retirement, when responsibilities will be removed. Why would they want to take on an eternal task of governing? But what they think they want now and what they’ll really want as resurrected beings—with strong bodies and minds in a society untouched by sin—may be quite different.
Imagine responsibility, service, and leadership that’s pure joy. The responsibility that God will entrust to us as a reward can only be good for us, and we’ll find delight in it. To rule on the New Earth will be to enable, equip, and guide, offering wisdom and encouragement to those under our authority. We’ve so often seen leadership twisted that we’ve lost a biblical view of what ruling, or exercising dominion, really means. God, ruler of the universe, is living proof that ruling can and should be good.
Our ruling with him is not some secondary aspect of Heaven. Indeed, the doctrine of reigning with Christ permeates the NT, and is even explicitly states in the OT, e.g. in Daniel 7 which tells us “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.”
Revelation 7:15 says “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night.” Revelation 22:5 is not alone in affirming our reigning with Christ forever. Serving him and reigning with Him are major, not minor aspects of His eternal kingdom. Since they are God’s design, not ours, we should feel no reluctance concerning them, but should embrace and look forward to them.
Yet remembering the truth of Acts 17:25,
This passage says, “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” It makes a critical point that God does not NEED our service. But hundreds of verses make clear that God commands and desires and takes pleasure in our service.
That does not seem to resonate with you, since in your next sentence you put “service” in quotation marks. Why? It’s as if you are saying “service really doesn’t mean service in the normal sense, but it’s more as a figure of speech; what it really means is not active and initiating, but passive and receiving”:
our “service” more probably will be comparable to the way— —an audience serves a composer by its joyous response to his/her symphony; —an art lover serves the artist by being captivated by his artistry; —a lover of flowers serves a gardener by delighting in her patchworks of color and fragrance. —a bride serves her groom by receiving his affection. —a person enjoying a banquet serves the chef. We first and foremost will be ecstatically joyful worshippers!
I certainly agree that we will be first and foremost joyful worshippers. This is why I say such things as the following in the book:
Those who live in the presence of Christ find great joy in worshiping God and living as righteous beings in rich fellowship in a sinless environment.
Beholding and knowing God, we will spend eternity worshiping, exploring, and serving him, seeing his magnificent beauty in everything and everyone around us.
“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1). We may imagine we want a thousand different things, but God is the one we really long for. His presence brings satisfaction; his absence brings thirst and longing. Our longing for Heaven is a longing for God—a longing that involves not only our inner beings, but our bodies as well. Being with God is the heart and soul of Heaven. Every other heavenly pleasure will derive from and be secondary to his presence. God’s greatest gift to us is, and always will be, himself.
Ancient theologians often spoke of the “beatific vision.” The term comes from three Latin words that together mean “a happy-making sight.” The sight they spoke of was God. Revelation 22:4 says of God’s servants on the New Earth, “They will see his face.” To see God’s face is the loftiest of all aspirations—though sadly, for most of us, it’s not at the top of our wish list. (If we understand what it means, it will be.)
What will it be like to behold God’s face and never be distracted by lesser things? What will it be like when every lesser thing unfailingly points us back to God?
Today, many Christians have come to depreciate or ignore the beatific vision, supposing that beholding God would be of mere passing interest, becoming monotonous over time. But those who know God know that he is anything but boring. Seeing God will be dynamic, not static. It will mean exploring new beauties, unfolding new mysteries—forever. We’ll explore God’s being, an experience delightful beyond comprehension. The sense of wide-eyed wonder we see among Heaven’s inhabitants in Revelation 4–5 suggests an ever-deepening appreciation of God’s greatness. That isn’t all there is to Heaven, but if it were, it would be more than enough.
In Heaven, we’ll be at home with the God we love and who loves us wholeheartedly. Lovers don’t bore each other. People who love God could never be bored in his presence. Remember, the members of the triune Godhead exist in eternal relationship with each other. To see God is to participate in the infinite delight of their communion.
Most people know that we’ll worship God in Heaven. But they don’t grasp how thrilling that will be. Multitudes of God’s people—of every nation, tribe, people, and language—will gather to sing praise to God for his greatness, wisdom, power, grace, and mighty work of redemption (Revelation 5:13-14). Overwhelmed by his magnificence, we will fall on our faces in unrestrained happiness and say, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:9-12).
Many commoners in history would have thought it the ultimate experience to gain an audience with their human king, to meet him face-to-face. How much greater will it be to see God in his glory? There could be no higher privilege, no greater thrill. All our explorations and adventures and projects in the eternal Heaven—and I believe there will be many—will pale in comparison to the wonder of seeing God. Yet everything else we do will help us to see God better, to know him and worship him better.
Eden’s greatest attraction was God’s presence.
We’ll never lose our fascination for God as we get to know him better. The thrill of knowing him will never subside. The desire to know him better will motivate everything we do.
In Heaven, worshiping God won’t be restricted to a time posted on a sign, telling us when to start and stop. It will permeate our lives, energize our bodies, and fuel our imaginations.
Once we see God as he really is, no one will need to beg, threaten, or shame us into praising him. We will overflow in gratitude and praise. We are created to worship God. There’s no higher pleasure. At times we’ll lose ourselves in praise, doing nothing but worshiping him. At other times we’ll worship him when we build a cabinet, paint a picture, cook a meal, talk with an old friend, take a walk, or throw a ball.
Being with him. Gazing at him. Talking with him. Worshiping him. Embracing him. Eating with him. Walking with him. Laughing with him. Imagine it!
Will we ever tire of praising him? Augustine writes, “God himself, who is the Author of virtue, shall be our reward. As there is nothing greater or better than God himself, God has promised us himself. God shall be the end of all our desires, who will be seen without end, loved without cloy, and praised without weariness.”
However, John, and this is where we may differ, I believe Scripture makes it clear that worship is something broader than we often think. God has multiple purposes for us—e.g. serving, reigning, communicating, eating and drinking, and walking in and out of the eternal city, etc.—that do not fall within the conventional definition of worship. Yet, they beautifully move us to worship.
I respectfully suggest that your definition of worship (and service) may need to expand. It may seem more spiritual to see us as fundamentally passive responders, and indeed that is sometimes what we were made to be. But clearly God designs us to sometimes, even often, to initiate and serve and give and fulfill all those active verbs God gives us as commands. This is inherent to being made in his image, isn’t it?
I see absolutely no conflict nor contradiction nor even any tension between service and worship in the eternal state. This passage from the book deals with the question of whether we’ll always be worshipping:
Will we always be engaged in worship? Yes and no. If we have a narrow view of worship, the answer is no. But if we have a broad view of worship, the answer is yes. As Cornelius Venema explains, worship in Heaven will be all-encompassing: “No legitimate activity of life—whether in marriage, family, business, play, friendship, education, politics, etc.—escapes the claims of Christ’s kingship. . . . Certainly those who live and reign with Christ forever will find the diversity and complexity of their worship of God not less, but richer, in the life to come. Every legitimate activity of new creaturely life will be included within the life of worship of God’s people.”
Will we always be on our faces at Christ’s feet, worshiping him? No, because Scripture says we’ll be doing many other things—living in dwelling places, eating and drinking, reigning with Christ, and working for him. Scripture depicts people standing, walking, traveling in and out of the city, and gathering at feasts. When doing these things, we won’t be on our faces before Christ. Nevertheless, all that we do will be an act of worship. We’ll enjoy full and unbroken fellowship with Christ. At times this will crescendo into greater heights of praise as we assemble with the multitudes who are also worshiping him.
Worship involves more than singing and prayer. I often worship God while reading a book, riding a bike, or taking a walk. I’m worshiping him now as I write. Yet too often I’m distracted and fail to acknowledge God along the way. In Heaven, God will always be first in my thinking.
Even now, we’re told, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). That God expects us to do many other things, such as work, rest, and be with our families, shows that we must be able to be joyful, pray, and give thanks while doing other things.
Have you ever spent a day or several hours when you sensed the presence of God as you hiked, worked, gardened, drove, read, or did the dishes? Those are foretastes of Heaven—not because we are doing nothing but worshiping, but because we are worshiping God as we do everything else.
John, your distinction between service and worship is so fundamental to your critique of Heaven, that I feel I need to respond to it at greater length than anything else.
A word study of latreúo reveals an integration of worship and service, so as to mean worshipful service, or service in the process of worship. The meanings of service and worship are intertwined, and presumably will be for eternity.
Paul speaks of “the God to whom I belong and whom I serve” (Acts 27:23). Serving God is a fundamental point of our identity. It’s one of the things we were made to do.
God does not with a sigh of reluctance say we will serve Him and reign with Him for eternity. On the contrary, I think he considers this to be our high calling, and one that will bring him great pleasure.
Hebrews 12:28 says we serve God with reverence and awe. We do not show reverence and awe only when we gaze upon his face in worship, but when we go forth and SERVE him. There is no fundamental separation between acts of service and the spirit of worship. Indeed, acts of service are themselves acts of worship.
In Luke 4:8 Jesus said “You shall worship the LORD Your God and serve Him only.” This is the natural association of worship and service. The two are inseparable. We need not redefine service, an active term, as something inactive and make it purely responsive. Worship is responsive, but even worship is active, in that it is something we do. And that is good, not bad.
Is God more honored by people being motionless than playing instruments and singing? Is he less honored by them obeying his command to rule the world and delight in the friendships of comrades, and care for animals and tend gardens?
John, you seem almost offended that I explore avenues of ruling and service and communicating and other things resurrected people are portrayed as doing on the New Earth. But I did not come up with these ideas. I may misunderstand some of them, but the core ideas are directly revealed in Scripture. The fact that they’ve been often ignored in our evangelical circles makes it harder for us to see and understand them, but it does not mean they aren’t there.
Will we worship God or will we serve? Will we worship God or will we eat and drink? Will we worship God or laugh? Will we worship God or tell stories? Will we worship God or admire the beauty of the stars of the new heavens? Will we worship God, or will we build a cabinet or read a book or play with an animal or grow a garden?
Well, if you must force a choice between them—as Aquinas and the early Augustine did (Augustine later changed his perspective)—then of course the answer would be “Worship.”
But Scripture demands no such thing. God did not force that choice in Eden. Rather, he told them and equipped them to do gardening and pursue human relationships and tend animals and develop culture. And in everything they did, to his glory, I believe they worshipped him.
Scripture portrays people walking in and out of the city, bringing splendors into the city, playing musical instruments, eating meals, etc. in doing these things, we will worship. Even now that can be done: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Once our eyes are open to who God is—and in eternity we will never be unaware of this—we will worship God in every act done in keeping with the way God has made us to be. He has made us to be creative, artistic, musical, athletic, literary, etc. It was not Satan who made us to be engineers and carpenters and shepherds and farmers and readers and writers and athletes and mountain climbers. It was God.
I wonder if to you the word “service” and related words such as “works,” have been tainted by the pharisaical self-congratulatory perversions of service and works that the Protestant Reformation stood against, and which can be a cancer in the lives of evangelical Christians.
Scripture recognizes another kind of service and works that even here and now can please God. The “not by works” of Ephesians 2:9 is immediately followed by “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
In eternity will we cease to be His workmanship? Will we no longer be created in Christ to do good works? Will God no longer have prepared beforehand an eternity of good works that we will walk in for his glory?
Most agree that being made in God’s image involves communicative aspects, ability to worship, to serve and create and take initiative. That as God is Creator, King, who creates ex nihilo, man is a reflection of his love of creating and capacity to create (we make not ex nihilo, but out of the materials God has created, but we are made to be makers).
Your view of the eternal state appears to suggest that the resurrected man is no longer created in God’s image. If he were, why would he not do what God called him to do, to rule and reason and devise and make and fashion and manage creation? I do not think that our being conformed to the image of Christ will make us less in God’s image, but more. So why would we do less rather than more of most of what distinguishes us and manifests our being in God’s likeness?
Your assumption about God doing all the giving and our doing all the receiving is a half truth, I think. Yes, he is the ultimate giver and we are the receivers—we love because he first loved us, BUT WE DO LOVE. We give because He first gave to us, BUT WE DO GIVE. We act in a way that is always secondary to His actions, but WE DO ACT. And He delights in our action, when our hearts are set on him and our motive is to please him.
Worship is the highest act of man, but worship is not the only act. Or, perhaps it is, but in far broader ways than we understand. When God put man and woman in the garden to have them tend it and care for animals was he giving them something second rate, something trivial and insignificant? Was he selling short his glory and their good by giving them an earthly environment and a calling that did not offer him worship at the highest level and to the fullest extent? I don’t believe so.
I think they worshipped him in their conversation, their work, their care for the animals and in everything they did. I think they learned about Him from each other. Did God create them only for his company? No, he actually said “it is not good for the man to be alone.” This is striking since Adam was with God not only in God’s omnipresence undiminished by human sin, but God even came down to walk with him in the cool of the garden. And this was not enough? This was not fully “good”? What blasphemy to suggest this…except that it is God himself who does so.
God created us to need each other, and to talk with each other and draw understanding from each other. Would that get in the way of worshipping God? No, on the contrary it would enhance their joy in God and God’s joy in them. Would their God-given work get in the way of worshipping God? No. That only happened with sin and the curse.
If “doing” or having bodies or living on earth inherently interfered with our capacity to worship God, surely He would not have designed us as he did nor put us where he did.
He could have made us all like the seraphim who apparently have one magnificent function: to call out “Holy, Holy, Holy” day and night. This is indeed a great and magnificent calling. What a privilege it would be. If God gave us invitations to become seraphim, I think *Dave Anderson would be at the front of the line. And I must say, I find the thought compelling to me as well.
But the fact is that God did not make us to be seraphim. He made seraphim to be seraphim. He made us to be us. He made us to be human, his image-bearers, to be what Tolkien called sub-creators. He made us to be active, not merely passive, to be rulers of a domain called the earth. The seraphim were not made to be image-bearers ruling the earth forever. We were.
I wish also that his book had made a much greater use of the clear, huge distinctions expressed in 1 Cor. 15:47-50 and the broader context of 35-46, 51-54. and of the awesome implications of Eph. 2:7.
There is nothing at all in Ephesians 2:7 which suggests that God’s grace or glory would be somehow minimized if the New Earth were earthly. I think the assumption behind this is what I’m calling Christoplatonism. I know you say you don’t believe this, John, and I don’t think you believe it per se, that is when articulated as a philosophy. However, Christoplatonic assumptions seemed to repeatedly come into our conversation—it seemed to me that it struck you as inherently unspiritual that there could be anything physical and human and earthly in the eternal state. Such things would trivialize Heaven.
But earthly and worldly are not the same. The earth’s temporary condition is fallen. But it began good and it will be raised good. Our temporary condition is fallen. We began good and will be raised good. Hence, it is not unspiritual to think of humans being human (having friendships, ruling, creating, communicating, laughing, playing, reading, writing, building) or the earth being earthly (having geography where there are buildings and architecture and stones and water and trees and fruit and eating and travel in and out of cities…all of which are spoken of in Rev. 21-22. We cannot dismiss what the text says in the interests of not letting the new earth appear earthly. (If “New Earth” means anything then doesn’t it involve some notion of earthliness, no matter how greatly renovated and improved?)
Here’s how I approached it in the book:
Why God Created Mankind and the Earth
In The End for which God Created the World, Jonathan Edwards writes, “God has a disposition to communicate himself, to spread abroad his own fullness. His purpose was for his goodness to over-spill his own Being, as it were. He chose to create the heavens and the earth so that his glory could come pouring out from himself in abundance. He brought a physical reality into existence in order that it might experience his glory and be filled with it and reflect it—every atom, every second, every part and moment of creation. He made human beings in his own image to reflect his glory, and he placed them in a perfect environment which also reflected it.”
Earth exists for the same reason that mankind and everything else exists: to glorify God. God is glorified when we take our rightful, intended place in his creation and exercise the dominion that he bestowed on us. God appointed human beings to rule the earth: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’ “ (Genesis 1:26-28, NKJV).
God’s intention for humans was that we would occupy the whole Earth and reign over it. This dominion would produce God-exalting societies in which we would exercise the creativity, imagination, intellect, and skills befitting beings created in God’s image, thereby manifesting his attributes. To be made in God’s image involves a communicative mandate: that through our creative industry as God’s subcreators, we should together make the invisible God visible, thus glorifying him in the sight of all creation.
Culture encompasses commerce, the arts, sciences, athletics—anything and everything that God-empowered, creative human minds can conceive and strong human bodies can implement. In The King of the Earth, theologian Erich Sauer writes of the phrase in Genesis 1:26 “let them have dominion”: “These words plainly declare the vocation of the human race to rule. They also call him to progressive growth in culture. Far from being something in conflict with God, cultural achievements are an essential attribute of the nobility of man as he possessed it in Paradise. Inventions and discoveries, the sciences and the arts, refinement and ennobling, in short, the advance of the human mind, are throughout the will of God. They are the taking possession of the earth by the royal human race (Genesis 1:28), the performance of a commission, imposed by the Creator, by God’s ennobled servants, a God-appointed ruler’s service for the blessing of this earthly realm.”
This reigning, expanding, culture-enriching purpose of God for mankind on Earth was never revoked or abandoned. It has only been interrupted and twisted by the Fall. But neither Satan nor sin is able to thwart God’s purposes. Christ’s redemptive work will ultimately restore, enhance, and expand God’s original plan.
John, the same apostle who writes, “Do not love the world or anything in the world” (1 John 2:15), also writes, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). Because God hates sin, he rejects the sinful world that fallen humanity tries to create: “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does” (1 John 2:16). But God loves the world he created, and he’ll restore it as part of his grand plan for humanity’s redemption.
“Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). How do we understand passages such as this? Consider the predicament of decent German citizens under the Nazi regime. Did they love their homeland, Germany, or did they hate it? Both, simultaneously. They hated the Nazi government, the arrogance, depravity, bigotry, brutality, and persecution. Yet they knew there was a better Germany, even though it was buried beneath the prevailing tide of fascism. They were loyal to that better Germany, and they could still see signs of it in the beautiful countryside, a concerto, the eyes of a kind neighbor, Germans jailed for resisting the Nazis, and faithful citizens quietly intervening to save Jews. Paradoxically, it was their very love for Germany that fueled their opposition to Nazi Germany. Likewise, our love for God’s Earth fuels our opposition to fallen Earth.
We need to think carefully when we read Scriptures that talk about “the world.” I recommend adding the words as it is now, under the Curse, to keep the biblical distinctions clear in our minds:
Friendship with the world [as it is now, under the Curse] is hatred toward God. (James 4:4)
Do not be conformed to this world [as it is now, under the Curse]. (Romans 12:2, NKJV) The wisdom of this world [as it is now, under the Curse] is foolishness with God. (1 Corinthians 3:19, NKJV)
The world as it was, and the world as it will be, is exceedingly good. The world as it is now, inhabited by humanity as we are now, is twisted. But this is a temporary condition, with an eternal remedy: Christ’s redemptive work. Paul says that Christ “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). Not all worlds and all ages are evil, but only this world in this present age. When Jesus calls Satan “the prince of this world” (John 14:30; 16:11) and Paul calls Satan “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), it’s a relative and temporary designation. God is still God over the universe, still sovereign over Earth and over Satan. But the devil is the usurper who has tried to steal Earth’s throne from man, God’s delegated king of the earth. In his time, God will take back the throne, as the God-man Jesus Christ, at last restoring and raising Earth. Paul encourages us not to become engrossed in the world as it is because “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). God will not bring an end to the earth—rather, he will bring to an end this temporary rebellion. He will transform Earth into a realm of unsurpassed magnificence, for his glory and for our good.
I believe many of his comments regarding the new earth would have been far less earthy (“of dust”) if he had placed his emphasis on these passages.
I see the problem of our thinking about the New Earth to be exactly the opposite. We have not thought of it as earthly (or earthy) in any meaningful sense, and hence “New Earth” serves as a poor choice of words.
As for 1 Corinthians 15 and the passages you mention here is a pivotal portion: But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own.
I regard this as a clear affirmation that the resurrection body is the old body brought back to life, in a better form, but one with essential connection with the prior and original form.
Wheat dies, goes into the ground, and raises up again in a new form, but that new form is again wheat, related genetically to the wheat from which it came. There is an essential connection between seed and grain. The grain grows up and what does it become…non-grain? No. It becomes what is in its seed, which we now know involves DNA, which is a God-created aspect of everything that lives—persons, animals and plants.
That’s why I say our bodies have within them (perhaps in the DNA, I’m not sure) the blueprint of our resurrection bodies. The seed is from the wheat, and will produce wheat because God has put within the seed the information making it what it is AND what it will become. Likewise, the caterpillar has within it the programming to become a butterfly. The new being is the old transformed.
There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.
Notice that while the sun, moon and stars are different, and even stars are different from each other, they all shine (the moon is reflected light and sun and stars emanated light, but I don’t think this is the point). Will our resurrection bodies be different than our present ones? Of course. They will be far more glorious. But they will still be our bodies, though marvelously transformed.
It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
“Sown” here is a reference to burial, going into the ground at death. Lenski points out, “The identical body that is first buried is afterward raised. To think of two bodies, one that is buried and remains buried, and a second that is raised out of the grave, is unwarranted. Whence would this second body come? and how could it have entered the grave?”
The repetition of “it” in the translations captures the notion that what is sown is what is raised—not something else, something unprecedented. The new raised body is an animated and enhanced old body.
The present body is perishable and dies in dishonor. It is buried in weakness, and it is buried a natural body. Since all of these relate to death, this is not its inherent nature, but the result of the curse. Would Adam, had he never sinned, have died as perishable, in weakness and dishonor? If three of the four terms are curse related, could the fourth, “natural body” also be?
The contrast between the spiritual body and the natural body is not that the latter is physical and the former is nonphysical or less physical. At first glance it appears to be saying that the “natural” body is corrupted, dishonored, and weak. In other words, it is fallen.
This, however, is not a completely satisfying explanation, since even the perfect original body was from the dust. Is there a way of understanding “natural” which would recognize the body as originally “very good” (and therefore not corrupt or dishonored and probably not even weak), but nonetheless not as wonderful or desirable as the “spiritual body” that will be ours in resurrection? I believe 1 Cor. 15 answers that question.
It seems to me, John, that we both agree that the meaning of “spiritual body” in 1 Cor. 15 is critical. I told you what I thought “spiritual body” meant: “a body under the control of and empowered by, a righteous spirit.” You shook your head in disagreement. In what followed I understood you to be saying that the spiritual body meant something less physical than the bodies we now have.
Because this is so important to our discussion, I’ll share why I believe what I do about the “spiritual body.” It hinges on the use of the word spiritual, πνευματικós, in 1 Corinthians.
1 Cor. 2:15 says “But he who is spiritual appraises all things.” What does the adjective πνευματικós mean here? One who is controlled by the Spirit, animated by and living in accord with the Spirit.
The word appears again in 1 Cor. 3:1, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.” Pneumatikós here does not negate men, or make them non-men. “Men of flesh” are men animated by the flesh, controlled by the flesh. “Spiritual men” are men animated by the Spirit, controlled by the Spirit.
In 1 Cor. 10:3-4, only five chapters previous to 1 Cor. 15, we find πνευματικós again: “and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”
Notice there is a spiritual source for these physical objects, and a spiritual use for them. They are spiritual food and spiritual drink and a spiritual rock. Their spiritual nature is in origin and use, NOT in their being less than fully physical.
There is nothing in the word “Pneumatikós” that made the rock less hard or the manna less edible. Neither is there anything in the same word used five chapters later that makes the spiritual body less physical than the natural body.
Hence, as used by Paul earlier in this same book of 1 Corinthians, the adjective “spiritual” does not in any way negate the physical substance of whatever noun it describes. A physical thing can be and is repeatedly described as “spiritual” even when fully retaining its physicality.
This is true in many other places in Paul’s use of the word. He speaks of spiritual men and spiritual songs, but never does the adjective nullify the noun. The songs are still songs, as men are still men. To say that a spiritual song is something we do not think of when we think of a song is to make the word “song” meaningless and make the adjective do what it wasn’t intended to do. The same is true of the “spiritual body.” Likewise, a new song is still a song, a new body a body, a new earth an earth, just as a new car is still a car.
In what sense, then will our new bodies be spiritual? They will be animated by the righteous spirit, serving as instruments of that spirit, which is transformed and empowered by God’s Spirit.
The resurrection body is of spiritual origin, just as the manna and the rock. The resurrection body is also physical, like the manna and rock.
Now, Christ’s spiritual body had a power to become immaterial for purposes of transportation or sudden appearance. But its normative state is not ghostly, it is “flesh and bones.”
Given the understanding of “spiritual body” many have, the text should tell us, “we will be raised a spirit, which has the ability to manifest itself as a body.” We should be told we will have “a bodily spirit,” a spirit with some capacity to show itself physical. This would be in keeping with the nature of angels, but not humans.
Not only does “spiritual body” not mean non-physical body, but “natural body” does not mean physical body per se. Expositor’s Greek translates the verse “There is sown a psychic body, there is raised a spiritual body.” The term ψυχικóν was used in 1 Cor. 2 of the natural man, that is, the one who is fallen soul-directed, not righteous spirit-directed.
Natural means soulish or soul-directed, it does not mean physical. Indeed to say “physical body” would be redundant. Of course the body is physical—that’s built into the very meaning of the word. But the present body is under the direction of a fallen soul, while the future body will be under the direction of a righteous spirit.
Since both soul and spirit are used as adjectives of body, it is surely clear that the spiritual body is not a body made of spirit any more than the soulish body is a body made of soul. Rather, the spiritual body will be under the direction of the (redeemed and righteous) spirit, even as the soulish body is presently under the direction of the (fallen and unrighteous) soul.
John, because you seemed firm in your disagreement with this notion, I will cite some supporting sources, lest you think I am saying something unprecedented:
This is Lenski’s treatment of v. 43-44, reflecting the same understanding I have, that the “spiritual body” is essentially the resurrected body being controlled by the spirit:
When the ψυχη is withdrawn, and the lifeless body is laid into the grave, it is merely this sort of a body, ψυχικóν, “natural.”…In the resurrection this “natural body” comes forth completely changed into a “spiritual body.” This does not mean that the body is now constituted of spirit or πνεuμα just as σωμα ψυχικóν does not mean that the body is composed of soul or ψυχη. The new condition of the body is such that it is now in all respects a proper organ for the spirit and is thus called “spiritual.”
In the resurrection the πνεuμα, which is the inner seat of the reborn spiritual life, will dominate the body completely so that all of its substance is controlled by the “spirit,” and it itself is so changed and exalted as perfectly t o respond to this control. This does not refer to a substitute body, which is composed of a new substance such as the ether of which some have thought.…Just as the material part will be identical and entire, so also the immaterial part. But the latter will assume a far higher type of control than that which was possible in this life, one that is spiritually perfect in every respect.
Vincent sees it similarly:
A natural body (σωμα ψυχικóν). The word ψυχικóν natural occurs only twice outside this epistle; Jas. 3:15; Jude 19. The expression natural body signifies an organism animated by a ψυχη soul (see on Rom. 11:4); that phase of the immaterial principle in man which is more nearly allied to the σαρς flesh, and which characterizes the man as a mortal creature; while πνεuμα spirit is that phase which looks Godward, and characterizes him as related to God. “It is a brief designation for the whole compass of the non-corporeal side of the earthly man” (Wendt). “In the earthly body the ψυχη soul, not the πνεuμα spirit is that which conditions its constitution and its qualities, so that it is framed as the organ of the ψυχη. In the resurrection-body the πνεuμα spirit, for whose life-activity it is the adequate organ, conditions its nature” (Meyer)
So do Robertson and Plummer in the ICC:
ψυχικóν does not mean that the body is made of ψυχη, consists entirely of ψυχη, and πνευματικóv does not mean is made and consists entirely of πνεuμα. The adjectives mean “congenital with,” “formed to be the organ of.”…The πνεuμα is the power by which the ψυχη in our present body has communion with God; it is also the future body’s principle of life.
Marcus Dodds says,
The spiritual body, which is reserved for spiritual men, is a body in which the upholding life is spiritual…The spiritual body will be healthy or sickly in proportion to the spiritual vitality that animates it; that is to say, in proportion to the power of the individual spirit to delight in God and find its life in Him and in what He lives for.
The conflict between inner man and body that Paul lays out in Romans 7 is no longer a problem when the righteous Spirit directs the body—the two will be in complete harmony, the body being the instrument of the Spirit.
The resurrection body will be different of course than our present bodies—not subject to their weaknesses—but it need not be fundamentally and organically different to be a “spiritual body,” a body under the governance of a redeemed and empowered spirit.
God’s creation of man’s original body was not flawed or ill-advised. He need not entirely abandon the design he called “very good.” He need only adjust it, enhance it in light of the empowerment of Christ, the eternally incarnate God-man who defeated death and reversed the curse, guaranteeing first and foremost, a restoration to what was lost in the Fall. (And adding much more besides.)
Paul’s central focus here, as the rest of 1 Cor. 15 demonstrates, on how bodily resurrection overcomes and finally defeats bodily death (and what causes bodily death, which is sin). Due to sin, due to the fall, both body and spirit, the whole person, are under the curse.
We have never known the body as God intended it, we have only caught glimpses of a Spirit-controlled body. Our current body is not a spiritual body because it is not cloaked in righteousness and free from sin, death and curse. However, we do have the indwelling Spirit and empowerment from Christ as new creatures to live in victory over sin. But it is a victory that still has times of defeat, as Romans 7 and other passages affirm. (You may or may not agree with this, John, I’m simply sharing my understanding.)
Though it will bring us a superior body, going beyond a return to Adam and Eve’s originals, resurrection is first and foremost restorative. It restores AND it enhances, but all the re-words remind us that God’s first work is to regain what was lost in the fall. Our dying bodies will be refashioned into bodies never again subject to death.
In Greek thought the spirit would not be part of a body, nor even indwell it or direct it. A spirit would be delivered from it and have nothing to do with it.
The translation “natural” for ψυχικóν may inadvertently mislead, as some may interpret it as meaning physical, as an opposite of spiritual (nonphysical).
In a sense, “fallen” could be regarded as the opposite of natural, since natural could be thought of as “original state.” But because our nature was changed from our original nature, what was natural then (life, not death; blessing, not curse; freedom from suffering, not suffering) is no longer natural now. Hence, by reversing and overcoming death in the resurrection, God will transform our current fallen and twisted natures into our original God-created natures.
This is a restoration, a renewal, a redemption, a resurrection—words that do not look forward to an unprecedented and utterly unfamiliar state, but look backward to an original state that was glorious but has long been lost. But empowered by a spirit incapable of sin, unlike Adam and Eve, there will be no danger of a second fall (even though the person will be fully human, retaining free will). This is one way the resurrected person is far superior to the original.
Lenski’s further treatment of 1 Corinthians 15, here verses 45-46, is helpful:
In his resurrection and his glorification Christ literally and historically “became the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.”
…He still has his human body and will have it forever, which is now “the body of his glory,” Phil. 3:21.
When Paul writes that he became “a life-giving spirit” he does not mean that Christ discarded his body and that he now exists in heaven only as a spirit. We should not separate the two words πυενμα ζωοποιουν. “Life-giving spirit” designates Christ in relation to us: he is the fountain of spiritual life for us. That spiritual life flows, not from his body, although it has become a spiritual body an the body of his glory, to our body; but from the spirit that dwells in our body and thus quickens us spiritually and gives us life (ζωή).
This giving of life to us begins in regeneration, when we receive the ζωή which passes right through temporal death into a blessed eternity. This begins in us t he work of the last Adam who is a life-giving spirit.
In this life the ordinary animation of our body continues even though we are spiritually reborn, but in the resurrection the spirit takes complete control of the body which has been gloriously refashioned so as to respond fully to that control. Here our spirit rules the animated body only partially, as a refractory subject; there it shall rule the body perfectly as itself being a truly spiritual subject. Here we still distinguish between ψυχή and πυενμα, thee this distinction will have faded away. It is thus that we lay into the grave a natural body, aώμα ψυχικόν, and in the resurrection receive a spiritual body, aώμα πυενματικόν.
When Paul goes on to say “neither does corruption inherit incorruption,” surely he is not referring to the original human body, but only the fallen one. Hence, becoming incorruptible in the resurrection may be less an emphasis on humanity becoming what it’s never had a taste of, but being restored to what it once knew, incorruption (but of course, with much more besides, in the superior resurrection body). The intention is redemptive, regenerating, renewing, restoring—all of which have a reference point not only to the future, but to the past.
“The corruptible must put on incorruption and the mortal must put on immortality” is likewise restorative to original state, though it involves much more besides. The point is “Fallen humanity must become risen humanity,” not “humanity must become inhuman, or what humanity wasn’t intended to be.”
After our conversation, John, I went back to 1 Cor. 15, trying to see if perhaps I had misunderstood the passage and that it was saying we could not be fully physical beings in the eternal state, that our resurrection bodies could not be the same bodies they were, but made perfect, etc. Or anything that by implication would suggest the New Earth could not be a much improved form of the old earth, having redeemed people living on a redeemed earth, acting together in redeemed relationships and as redeemed image-bearers developing and managing redeemed culture.
To be honest, I found nothing in 1 Cor. 15 that refutes these ideas, and much that supports them.
In light of 1 Cor. 15, I am confident that we are not to anticipate that heaven (new Jerusalem coming down) will become earthy, but rather that earth becomes heavenly! This alone is compatible with 1 Cor. 15:47-50. To say “it is not inappropriate to think of Heaven in earthly terms, because Scripture itself compels us to do so” is to express an idea just the opposite of 1 Cor. 15:47f. (p. 159).
First, here is the context from which the above quotation was drawn:
Scripture portrays God as holy and transcendent. Because Heaven is his dwelling place, it seems inappropriate to think of Heaven in earthly terms. But even before Christ’s incarnation, God came to the Garden to walk with Adam and Eve. And Christ’s incarnation and resurrection took it much further—one member of the transcendent triune God became permanently immanent. Jesus is in physical form, in a human resurrection body, for all eternity. (He may choose to exercise his divine omnipresence in a way we can’t comprehend, or he may experience it within the Godhead through Father and Spirit, but there is no indication that Jesus the risen Savior will cease to be the eternal God-man.) His marriage to us is not an unequal yoke of a spiritual God to physical people—not only are we also spiritual, but Jesus, by incarnation and resurrection, is also physical.
Before the Incarnation, Heaven was transcendent. By virtue of the Incarnation, Heaven became immanent. The coming New Earth will be God’s dwelling place, as pure and holy as Heaven has ever been. Thus, it cannot be inappropriate to think of Heaven in earthly terms, because it is Scripture itself that compels us to do so. In the words of Paul Marshall, “What we need is not to be rescued from the world, not to cease being human, not to stop caring for the world, not to stop shaping human culture. What we need is the power to do these things according to the will of God. We, as well as the rest of creation, need to be redeemed.”
You cite 1 Cor. 15:47, which says “The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.”
The point here is not that Christ’s body was not “of dust” but merely that Adam’s was. Indeed, if Christ’s body wasn’t “of dust” in terms of his genetic relationship with Adam, he would not be Messiah, the Son of Man. He is a descendent of Adam who is the last Adam, not one who is physically disconnected from Adam.
Choikos is not the LXX translation of the word used for dust in Genesis 2:7 or anywhere else in Old Testament. Kittel’s says it was never used before Paul, and suggests it is a newly coined term. Hence, it’s not possible to determine much about it except in this context. And, inevitably, the beliefs we bring to this passage, whether mine or yours or any other, will influence our understanding of it here.
Kittel says choikos was picked up from this text in Gnosticism to support their philosophy of the physical being bad and the spiritual good. Gnosticism taught that “What is choïkós is linked with the lower creation in contrast to the new creation.” They used it to portray the heavenly man as unearthly and inhuman.
“Dust” in this passage can be understood to be more than origin, and at points appears to be associated with mortality and corruption. The man of dust succumbed to temptation as the man from Heaven could not and did not.
But can one be “of earth” yet not subject to sin and death? Yes. I believe Adam was. But he was subject to temptation, with the potential to succumb.
Christ as the last Adam is more than Adam, far greater than Adam, for he came from Heaven. But he became a man, and therefore of the earth.
Now, does the resurrection make him no longer genetically tied to his ancestors, no longer a Jew, no longer of Abraham’s seed, no longer human? Or does it make him a perfect and undying man in a body no longer under the curse? Isn’t he both a man (of and from earth) and God (from Heaven).
I will grant, John, that if this passage, specifically the verse about dust, were all we had, it could be understood as supporting your position. (Though other parts of 1 Cor. 15 seem to refute it.) If we didn’t have the promises of redemption, restoration, an eternal earthly reign, etc., I’d be open to this viewpoint.
We might conclude that the resurrection body of Christ did not have actual physical continuity to the old, and therefore was not of dust. We might conclude that Christ is no longer a descendent of Adam, a descendent of Abraham, son of David, etc. How the Messiah could cease to be these and still have claim to the throne is difficult to understand, but I suppose it could still be argued.
I could appreciate that position if not for the gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection. But we have the words of Jesus “It is me; touch me, handle me; a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have.” This could not be more explicit. The nail prints in his hands and feet are the strongest possible affirmation that the same earthly body that was crucified is now the same heavenly body that was raised. (You said your position is close to Murray Harris’s, which you mention later in the critique. Therefore I don’t expect you to agree with what I just said, but I’m convinced it’s true.)
“Heavenly” transcends “earthly” but does not negate it. The earthly becomes heavenly, not losing its original properties, but gaining much more. (It loses the properties that came with the curse, of course, but those were not its original properties.)
A last comment on 1 Cor. 15. The resurrection is repeatedly depicted as overcoming the curse. Our bodies in their present condition are referred to as perishable, corrupted, dishonorable, and weak in relationship to the death which results in burial. The passage culminates in v. 51ff with speaking of the last trumpet in which the perishable puts on imperishable and the mortal immortality. Then death will be swallowed up in victory. Its sting will be forever removed. Why? Because sin will be removed (“the sting of death is sin”). This is what should fill us with gratitude to God and give us hope and encouragement as we live our lives here, knowing that what we do isn’t in vain, but has eternal implications (1 Cor. 15:57-58).
Hence, this passage about resurrection does not simply focus on a new state and a new life, but on the reversal of the curse, and the conquest of the sin and death. Hence, with all its allusions to the new, it is nonetheless a passage of restoration of the old. It introduces glorious newness, but before anything else it conquers all that sin and death and curse brings to humanity and human relationships and activity (culture) and the earth itself. It restores us and the earth to what God made us to be. Hence the resurrected us is not a non-us but a new us, and the resurrected earth is not a non-earth but a new earth.
Whatever analogies John used in Revelation simply underline his virtually impossible task o describing “unsearchables.” John writes of “streets of gold,” yet they are “transparent.” John takes two “known’s,” gold and transparency, to express the presently unknowable. Certainly we should not stop with the knowns.
In the book I make a point of not stopping with the knowns. The difference is, I believe we should start with the knowns, when Scripture portrays them. You call them analogies, and you refer to them as “unsearchables.” I would refer you to the second appendix on interpretation. I won’t quote from it here. I’ll just express my agreement with Grudem who writes,
“There is no strong reason to say these expressions are merely symbolic, without any literal reference. Are symbolic banquets and symbolic wine and symbolic rivers and trees somehow superior to real banquets and real wine and real rivers and trees in God’s eternal plan? These things are just some of the excellent features of the perfection and final goodness of the physical creation that God has made.”
“Will the new earth start over as a new Eden, or will it contain the cumulative benefits of human knowledge and culture?” His answer is the 2nd. “We should expect the new earth to be like Eden, only better.” Then he quoted Is. 51:3, 55:13, 35:1, Ez. 36:35. All of which are in a millennial context. (p. 236)
Is. 51:3 “Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the Lord; Joy and gladness will be found in her, Thanksgiving and sound of a melody.”
On what textual basis would you restrict these to the millennium? Isaiah speaks a little later of the New Earth. Why not here? Other than your assumption that the New Earth cannot be earthly, why would you think this doesn’t allude to the New Earth? God’s people will die during the millennium. Did they die in Eden? Which is a better fit to Eden, millennium or New Earth?
How does Revelation 21-22 describe the New Earth? As a place where the curse will be lifted, and the tree of life will be in the center. And what does Is. 51:3 speak of? Making the earth “like Eden,” before there was a curse, and when the tree of life was on earth. Will the tree of life be there in the millennium? There’s no indication of that. It’s specifically mentioned post-curse, on the New Earth.
Now there may well be millennial implications in this passage, but since there will be sin and death during the millennium, I would not think of the millennium as Eden (which was sinless) as much as I would the New Earth, where the curse is finally lifted and the joys of Eden restored, not temporarily, but permanently.
Is 55:13 Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, And it will be a memorial to the LORD, For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”
Will the millennium come to an end? Will it be everlasting? If this includes the millennium, it cannot be restricted to it—it must include the New Earth, which is the everlasting state.
Is. 35:1-2 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.
What textual reasons do you have in Isaiah, which speaks of a coming New Earth, for believing this doesn’t refer to it? Perhaps because you assume there will be no flowers on the new earth, or no shouts of joy? Or perhaps because you assume there will be no nations on the New Earth to behold the glory of the Lord? But Scripture says otherwise.
Both Isaiah and John, using similar language, state that on the New Earth “the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into” the New Jerusalem and “the glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it” (Revelation 21:24, 26; cf. Isaiah 60:3, 5).
Though John doesn’t elaborate in Revelation, Isaiah is specific about what will be brought to the Holy City. He mentions the cultural products of once-pagan nations: the ships of Tarshish and the trees of Lebanon and the camels of Ephah and the gold and incense of Sheba, which will be brought in by its people “proclaiming the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6). Treasures that were once linked to idolatry and rebellion will be gathered into the city and put to God-glorifying use. Both Isaiah and Revelation indicate that the products of human culture will play an important role on the New Earth.
Ezekiel 36: Thus says the Lord GOD, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt. “The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by. “They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’36 “Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the LORD, have spoken and will do it.”
Once again we see the allusion to Eden. We know Ezekiel 47 applies to the New Earth, since it is specifically quoted as doing so: “the trees growing on both sides of the river” and “the leaves of the trees for healing.” Why not Ezekiel 36? Because you believe there will be no cities and no nations there? But on what is this belief based? Again, look at other passages, including Rev. 21:24-26 where it explicitly says there will be nations and kings of nations on the New Earth. Will God not rebuild ruined places and replant what was desolate from the old earth upon the New Earth?
And then to say that Is. 60 would be sufficient if that were all we had, is to misunderstand the repeated intermingling of new covenant, millennial and eternal state ideas found in Is. 60-62, 65-66. Are we really going to do what is described in 60:10; 61:4-5; 65:20-23? How would he deal with the clear parallels between these chapters in Isaiah and Zech. 14:8-21, especially verses 17-19?
Some of the texts you cite would fit beautifully into the new earth, but I agree some would not—and some would not fit into the millennium either. But those verses would be problematic only if I was claiming that Isaiah 60 was exclusively New Earth. I acknowledge the challenge of a few verses to that premise, but as a whole I stand by the idea that the primary prophecy concerns a New Earth.
To restrict this to the millennium does not do justice to how Scripture applies it to the New Earth. Here’s some of what I say:
A Vision of the New Earth
Another significant passage that describes the New Earth is Isaiah 60. Although it doesn’t contain the term New Earth (as do Isaiah 65 and 66), we can be certain that’s what Isaiah intended because his precise language is used in John’s depiction of the New Earth in Revelation 21–22. Thus, Isaiah 60 serves as the best biblical commentary on Revelation 21–22.
At the beginning of Isaiah’s remarkable prophetic message, God says to his people in Jerusalem, “The Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (vv. 2-3). God’s people will have a glorious future in which the earth’s nations and kings will participate in and benefit from a renewed and glorious Jerusalem. It won’t be only some nations, but all of them: “All assemble and come to you” (v. 4).
This will be a time of unprecedented rejoicing: “Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy” (v. 5). On the renewed Earth, the nations will bring their greatest treasures into this glorified city: “The wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come” (v. 5).
There will be animals on the New Earth, from various nations: “Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah” (v. 6). Redeemed people will travel from far places to the glorified Jerusalem: “And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord” (v. 6).
People who dwell on islands will worship God, and ships will come from “Tarshish, bringing your sons from afar, with their silver and gold, to the honor of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor” (v. 9).
Most of us are unaccustomed to thinking of nations, rulers, civilizations, and culture in Heaven—but Isaiah 60 is one of many passages that demonstrate that the New Earth will in fact be earthly.
Isaiah speaks words that John applies directly to the New Jerusalem (in Revelation 21:25-26): “Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations—their kings led in triumphal procession” (v. 11).
The magnificence of nations will be welcomed into the King’s great city: “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir and the cypress together” (v. 13). The hearts of the nations will be transformed in their attitudes toward God, his people, and his city: “The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you the City of the Lord” (v. 14). God promises the New Jerusalem, “I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations” (v. 15). This is not a temporary period of fleeting prosperity but an “everlasting” condition. It will not be limited to one time period but will be for “all generations.”
The New Jerusalem will be the beneficiary of all people groups and their rulers: “You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts” (v. 16). The fulfillment of all these promises will testify to God’s greatness: “Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (v. 16). God promises something that has never yet been true of the earthly Jerusalem: “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise” (vv. 17-18).
Isaiah then tells us what John connects directly to the New Earth (in Revelation 21:23; 22:5): “The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end” (vv. 19-20).
Of the New Jerusalem, we’re told that “nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). Isaiah tells us the same, using inclusive language that could not apply to the old Earth under the Curse: “Then will all your people be righteous” (60:21). Isaiah adds, “and they will possess the land [erets] forever.” The earth will be theirs, not for a glorious decade or century or millennium, but forever.
Though Isaiah’s reference to animal sacrifices and a temple (v. 7) raise questions, it’s clear that the passage as a whole is a prophetic depiction of the future New Earth. There is no interpretive reason to believe that the descriptions in Isaiah 60 of the New Earth will be fulfilled any less literally than those in Isaiah 52–53. Because Isaiah’s words about the Messiah’s first coming were so meticulously fulfilled, down to specific physical details, shouldn’t we assume that his prophecies in subsequent chapters concerning life on the New Earth will likewise be literally and specifically fulfilled?
Christ’s millennial reign may prefigure the fulfillment of God’s promises about Jerusalem’s future. But we will see their ultimate fulfillment only in the New Jerusalem on the New Earth, when the Curse is gone, death is no more, and God’s people will live on the earth forever.
(Note: Not only did the O. T. prophets, have great difficulty distinguishing between events related to Christ’s 1st coming and to His 2nd coming, so also there is no evidence that they appreciated the differences between Kingdom life prior to the new heavens and earth and Kingdom life after that. This is so vividly seen in Isaiah 65:17-24.
I mostly agree with this, John. I agree that there appears to be in Isaiah 65 a mixing of the New Earth and the millennium. What I don’t agree with is the interpretive policy of taking passages that refer to the New Earth (sometimes by name, more often by statement of an earthly kingdom that lasts forever), and making them millennial—including even those specifically cited in Rev. 21-22 as referring to the New Earth.
For instance, it is common for people to reduce Isaiah 65 to an entirely millennial passage even though it specifically states “New Earth.” Other than two verses that allude to death, which is inconsistent with the eternal state and is therefore probably millennial, what is in the bulk of this text, which I cite below, that could not be true of the New Earth?
“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. . . . But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. . . . They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. . . . The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (vv. 17-19, 21, 25).
In answer, you might say, “well we won’t build houses or live in them or plant vineyards and eat fruit, and there won’t be any animals on the New Earth.” My response is, instead of reading into the text the assumptions we come with, why don’t we let an explicitly New Earth text (one that uses those very words) actually change our thinking about what will be on the New Earth?
It seems to me that if a passage speaks so clearly of the New Earth in the preceding verses, our job as interpreters is to regard as millennial only those verses that cannot speak of the New Earth. In my opinion, to assume that the prophet speaks only of the millennial kingdom, even when he says “New Earth” and speaks of an eternal kingdom, is to fail to handle the text properly. Why should we assume a passage is millennial when it introduces itself as New Earth? Shouldn’t the assumption work the other way?
As for Isaiah 60, as I point out, portions of it are applied directly to the New Earth. So why would we see it as predominantly millennial?
The description of the tree of life in Revelation 22 mirrors precisely what’s prophesied in the Old Testament: “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).
There are countless other New Earth passages that are routinely treated as if they were millennial. Consider Isaiah 25:6 as one example: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines.”
Nearly every premillennialist would say this is millennial. This would explain the meats, eating and drinking, the sense of normal human beings having a great celebration on earth. We don’t normally associate those things with the eternal state.
Yet what does the next verse say of what is connected to this banquet: “God will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:7-8). But God wiping away the tears from all faces is explicitly New Earth, not millennial (Revelation 21:4). God swallowing up death forever doesn’t happen until after the millennium, in the transition into the eternal state.
If we believe the millennium is a time in which God has swallowed up death, then Isaiah 65:20 cannot apply to the millennium any more than to the New Earth. Indeed, during the millennium even the righteous die, and the millennium is culminated with widespread death of the rebels. God swallowing up death forever and wiping away the tears from all faces is clearly in regard to the New Earth.
Yet, I just checked a large premillennial work on the millennium, and sure enough this entire Isaiah 25 passage is cited as referring to the millennium. But how can this be? Why would we ignore the clear indications it is the eternal state, New Earth? Because of our presuppositions, which require us to take anything that sounds “earthly” and view it as millennium, not New Earth.
We can always “prove” that earthly verses are really millennial, even when the context is clearly eternal and New Earth, by saying the prophet telescoped them together. But how do we know this? Because of course (so we assume, ignoring the biblical indications to the contrary) that the New Earth, the eternal state, can’t have anything earthly, so therefore the passage must be millennial.
So if something involves earthly life, nations, meals, etc., it is automatically not New Earth, even if every other indication says otherwise. No wonder so many of my fellow premillennialists (including myself for many years) have managed to develop no real doctrine of the New Earth.
In my opinion, John, this is not good Bible study. Far better to see the Isaiah 25 passage as a unified whole, as Keil and Delitzsch do: “Although the feast is on earth, it is on an earth which has been transformed into heaven; for the party-wall between God and the world has fallen down: death is no more, and all tears are for ever wiped away.”
In a similar way, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel apparently did not understand the distinction between the Day of the Lord as expressed in the fall of Jerusalem by Babylon (or the fall of Babylon) and the Day of the Lord as the ultimate judgment of the world. Repeatedly they assumed that the glorious kingdom was just on the far side of God’s judgment of Babylon. Though the N. T. makes his particular distinction clearer, it is conceivable that John in Rev. 20-22 may not have been fully aware of all the millennial/eternal state distinctions as well. In a similar and understandable way, the earliest Christians assumed that Christ’s great second coming was just on the far side of 70 A.D.)
Are you saying that Revelation 21-22, which follows the millennium, in texts separated by no less dramatic event than the passing away of the old earth and the creating of the New Earth, is actually going back to talk about the millennium on the old earth again? You might want to ask yourself why you would entertain this notion. Isn’t the answer that what Revelation 21-22 says about the New Earth simply doesn’t fit your view of the eternal state?
I appreciate A. A. Hodge’s conclusions, which will make sense only if we take New Earth passages to say what they actually say:
Heaven, as the eternal home of the divine Man and of all the redeemed members of the human race, must necessarily be thoroughly human in its structure, conditions, and activities. Its joys and activities must all be rational, moral, emotional, voluntary and active. There must be the exercise of all the faculties, the gratification of all tastes, the development of all talent capacities, the realization of all ideals. The reason, the intellectual curiosity, the imagination, the aesthetic instincts, the holy affections, the social affinities, the inexhaustible resources of strength and power native to the human soul must all find in heaven exercise and satisfaction. Then there must always be a goal of endeavor before us, ever future. . . . Heaven will prove the consummate flower and fruit of the whole creation and of all the history of the universe.
Since the Bible has as its primary emphasis the believer’s eternal destiny as heavenly; not earthy (unless one includes millennial references),
I believe the Bible makes clear that earth and heaven will become one (Eph. 1:10), and the heavenly state will be centered on the New Earth (Rev. 21:3). We long for Heaven, to be sure. Heaven is our home, to be sure….but the New Earth is an integral part of that eternal Heaven, and in fact is its centerpiece.
I wonder why he has chosen to focus so much on the earthy aspects of our eternal destiny. (Heaven is clearly where the Father dwells and the place to which Jesus ascended John 14; Heb. 9:24 “Christ entered into the true sanctuary…into heaven itself”’ Matt. 6:19-20 “treasures in heaven”; Col. 1:5, “Hope laid up for you in heaven” 1 Peter 1”4-5 “inheritance reserved in heaven for you.” Heb. 12:22f “You are come to Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem” Abraham’s hope was the heavenly city. (To say that the word paradise since it is used in reference to the Garden of Eden in Ez., must then mean that there must be a direct correlation between the Garden of Eden and the eternal state, also requires that this was what Jesus was referring to in his words to he thief on the cross or that Paul in the third heaven saw Eden restored. I find this hard to accept.
I agree about Heaven being where the Father dwells and all the verses you add. The point is that Scripture explicitly tells us God will move not only the New Jerusalem, but his primary dwelling place from where it is now to the New Earth. Hence, he will bring Heaven down to earth. Revelation 21:3 could not be more explicit on this point.
All the verses you cite about our hope in heaven, and our inheritance and treasures in heaven are not in the least negated by God’s promise to relocate Heaven to Earth. It will still be Heaven—hence my book is named Heaven. But that Heaven will be on the New Earth. God says so. I don’t know how to avoid it—and I could wish that no one would want to avoid it.
Rather than creating interpretive problems this merger of Heaven and Earth beautifully solves them. We are made from the earth and for the earth, and we are also made for Heaven. We long for a perfect earth and we long for Heaven. These are not contradictory.
The passages that directly teach or strongly imply an eternal kingdom on earth all have their perfect fulfillment in the eternal Heaven centered on the New Earth. Here’s a sampling of such passages I assembled for my Theology of Heaven class at Western seminary. I don’t know how to reconcile these passages with the notion of an eternity in which we live in a Heaven that is separated from the New Earth. But they fit perfectly when we realize God establishes his heavenly throne on the New Earth, making it Heaven:
An eternal earthly kingdom
“You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’ Selah” (Psalms 89:3-4).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
“Come all you who are thirsty…vs. 3, “everlasting covenant” …you will go out in joy, peace, trees clap hands…Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.…Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed” (Isaiah 55:1, 3,12-13).
“Gates always stand open…wealth of nations…vs. 15, make you the everlasting pride, The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the earth forever.” (Isaiah 60:15, 19-21)
“My servant David will be their king, and they will have one shepherd…They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob…They and their children and grandchildren will live there forever and David my servant will be their prince forever.…It will be an everlasting covenant…My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God and they will be my people…When my sanctuary is among them forever. (Ezekiel 37:24-28)
He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever. The house of Israel will never again defile my holy name—neither they nor their kings-by their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings at their high places. When they placed their threshold next to my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices. So I destroyed them in my anger. Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings, and I will live among them forever.” (Ezekiel 43:7-9).
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.…Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (Daniel 7:13-14,27).
“Judah will be inhabited forever and Jerusalem through all generations” (Joel 3:20).
“I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” says the Lord your God (Amos 9:15).
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth…his servants will worship him…the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21:1; 22:3-4)
Yes, it is wonderfully true that eventually Christ will unite “all things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph. 1:10) Yes, there will be some measure of continuity—it is still called earth. But to compare this “new” idea with 2 Cor. 5:17 as he does, is to misunderstand the focal point of regeneration. Yes, it is the same person after regeneration, but the focal point o that person’s identity has been radically transformed from flesh to spirit (John 3). It is not simply a renovating of the old. John states that this internal transformation is as radical as he described in 1 John 3:1. Sad to say, most Christians do not know who they are either.)
What I say is intended to point out the paradox that we are radically new, yet that newness does not change the fact that it is “we,” the same people, who are made radically new. We are no longer who we were in terms of sin and standing and nature, but there is nonetheless continuity. I realize you don’t agree, but I think many Bible students would concur with what I say:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Becoming a new creation sounds as if it involves a radical change, and indeed it does. But though we become new people when we come to Christ, we still remain the same people.
When I came to Christ as a high school student, I became a new person, yet I was still the same person I’d always been. My mother saw a lot of changes, but she still recognized me. She still said, “Good morning, Randy,” not “Who are you?” I was still Randy Alcorn, though a substantially transformed Randy Alcorn. This same Randy will undergo another change at death, and yet another change at the resurrection of the dead. But through all the changes I will still be who I was and who I am. There will be continuity from this life to the next. I will be able to say with Job, “In my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another” (Job 19:26-27).
Conversion does not mean eliminating the old but transforming it. Despite the radical changes that occur through salvation, death, and resurrection, we remain who we are. We have the same history, appearance, memory, interests, and skills. This is the principle of redemptive continuity. God will not scrap his original creation and start over. Instead, he will take his fallen, corrupted children and restore, refresh, and renew us to our original design.
Theologian Herman Bavinck, argued that a parallel continuity exists between the old and New Earth: “God’s honor consists precisely in the fact that he redeems and renews the same humanity, the same world, the same Heaven, and the same earth that have been corrupted and polluted by sin. Just as anyone in Christ is a new creation in whom the old has passed away and everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5:17), so this world passes away in its present form as well, in order out of its womb, at God’s word of power, to give birth and being to a new world.”
The New Earth will still be Earth, but a changed Earth. It will be converted and resurrected, but it will still be Earth and recognizable as such. Just as those reborn through salvation maintain continuity with the people they were, so too the world will be reborn in continuity with the old world (Matthew 19:28). In fact, writes Bavinck, “the rebirth of humans is completed in the rebirth of creation. The kingdom of God is fully realized only when it is visibly extended over the earth as well.”
If we don’t grasp redemptive continuity, we cannot understand the nature of our resurrection. “There must be continuity,” writes Anthony Hoekema, “for otherwise there would be little point in speaking about a resurrection at all. The calling into existence of a completely new set of people totally different from the present inhabitants of the earth would not be a resurrection.”
Continuity is evident in passages that discuss resurrection, including 1 Corinthians 15:53: “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” It is this (the perishable and mortal) which puts on that (the imperishable and immortal). Likewise, it is we, the very same people who walk this earth, who will walk the New Earth. “And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17, emphasis added).
In a similar manner, the present earth—before the fall—was still an earthy earth in contrast with the “heavenly” that is so emphasized in 1 Cor. 15:47f. It is this kind of radical new earth—a heavenly new earth—along with radical heavenly bodies, that should be appreciated instead of such statements as—
“The same body that was destroyed is reconstructed into the new…God may gather the scattered DNA and atoms and molecules of our bodies.” (p. 150) Later he states “our bodies will be resurrected at the optimal stage of development determined by our DNA” (p. 289).
Actually, I do not state this. Rather, I say “Hank Hanegraaff suggests…our bodies will be at the optimal stage of development determined by our DNA.” So not only do I not “state” this myself, even Hanegraaff merely “suggests” it. It’s not a statement of certainty, merely a possibility.
However, I do think it’s a good possibility our resurrection bodies will have resurrected DNA. Do you believe that Christ was a descendent of Adam, genetically connected to Adam, Abraham, John and Mary? I trust you would say yes. Do you believe he is (in his resurrected body) their physical descendent?
If not, can he be truly called a child of Abraham, or the Son of John, who is (not merely was) the Messiah? If so, then you must believe he has DNA or chromosomes or whatever mechanisms there are which genetically connect ancestors to their descendents. I think resurrection entails this actual physical dynamic. If it doesn’t, I’m not sure why it would be called “resurrection” rather than simply be described as a brand new creation, ex nihilo.
This seems to be contradicted by 1 Cor. 15:47. Unquestionably, DNA is “earthy.” Is there any good reason to believe that Jesus’ glorious body is based upon His DNA?
In our conversation, John, you strongly expressed your opposition to the possibility that God could utilize DNA as a means of resurrection. But I honestly do not understand the grounds of your opposition. In what sense is the DNA more earthy than what Jesus explicitly said his resurrection body was: “flesh and bones.” Flesh and bones are filled with DNA. Did Christ’s resurrection body consist of flesh and bones, or did it not? If not, why did he say it did?
If your understanding of “earthy” means that there could be no genetic connection between Christ’s dead body and his resurrected body, then…what does it mean that Christ was raised?
Paul uses the seed and wheat analogy in 1 Cor. 15. This would correspond beautifully to the DNA. Paul did not know of DNA, but God does. Human DNA molecules that are thousands of years old have been found in archaeological digs.
The body changes its molecules continually, changing entirely every three years or so. Hence, a body may have molecules that once belonged to dozens of different people, animals and trees. Some use this as an argument against the possibility of a literal resurrection. But DNA could actually be a neat solution to the problem. (God, of course, has no such problem, but people do.) God could reproduce each body from a single DNA molecule, and in his omniscience would have no difficulty locating one.
Plants and their seeds yield other plants after their kind. This has been God’s plan from the beginning. What will the “seed” of the dead body yield in the resurrection? A body after its kind—made far better, of course, but not left in the grave to be replaced by a brand new invention disconnected from the first body.
Adam’s original body was perfectly designed by God—he will infuse it with great new characteristics, but it will be “it” for Adam will be Adam. People are not just spirits but also bodies (Genesis 2:7). This is in stark contrast to Christoplatonism which sees people like hermit crabs, temporarily living in a shell that is not part of who they are.
Your objection to the DNA seems to be based in a belief that there is no actual physical connectedness of the new body to the old. Personally, I believe Scripture is clear on the fact that there is.
Based on these passages, the key to understanding our resurrection is to understand Christ’s:
The Lord Jesus Christ ... will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21
We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:49
And also expressed in his words, “the emphasis in the present heaven is on the absence of earth’s negatives, while the future heaven is the presence of earth’s positives, magnified many times…” and “Adam and Eve will be coming home” also contradicts the thrust of 1 Cor. 15:47f (p. 154)
If the New Earth is a transformed earth, and Adam was made from the earth, and Adam and Eve lived on a perfect earth, wouldn’t their coming to the New Earth be “coming home” in some meaningful sense? You seem to believe that our new bodies aren’t the in any sense bodies we had, the new earth isn’t in any sense the earth we lived on. If you are right, then yes, Adam and Eve will not in any sense be coming home when they are brought to live on and reign over the New Earth. But what do you think they’ll feel when they see the “tree of life” and eat its fruit. Do you really believe they will feel no sense of coming home to a far better version of what they once knew?
To say that our “current bodies are the blueprints for our resurrected bodies” (p. 159) again appears to contradict 1 Cor. 15. (I was surprised that in his selected bibliography, he made no reference to the excellent comprehensive classic works by Murray Harris, especially From Grave to Glory.)
I am familiar with Murray Harris and his position on the resurrection. But I disagree with him. I think he redefines resurrection and embraces a discontinuity between the original body and the risen body that Scripture itself carefully refutes.
Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have. Luke 24:39
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Luke 24:40-43
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught...Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead…When they had finished eating, Jesus said… John 21:10-15
God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen…by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Acts 10:40-41
In John’s Gospel, Jesus deals with Mary, Thomas, and Peter in very personal ways, drawing on his previous knowledge of them (John 20:10-18, 24-29; 21:15-22). His knowledge and relationships from his pre-resurrected state carried over. When Thomas said, “My Lord and my God,” he knew he was speaking to the same Jesus he’d followed. When John said, “It is the Lord,” he meant, “It’s really him—the Jesus we have known” (John 21:4-7).
John, I would ask a question of you. Is the risen Jesus the same person, with the same body now raised and glorified, as the Jesus who was conceived and born and lived and died?
A follow up question: Is the ascended Jesus the same person, with the same physical-spiritual body, as the resurrected Jesus? Will the Jesus who returns to reign over the earth have this same body? And will he have this body forever? (Or was the incarnation temporary?)
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11
This same Jesus. Note that in 1 Corinthians 15 the Jesus who appeared to Paul is considered to be the same risen Jesus who appeared to Peter and the apostles. Doesn’t this demonstrate that the risen Jesus and the ascended Jesus are the same?
Christ died for our sins…he was buried, he was raised on the third day…and he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…1 Cor. 15:3-7
You told me when we met that you don’t agree with Norm Geisler’s view of the relationship between the old body and the new, but are closer to Murray Harris’s. Now, Geisler can be more adversarial than suits my taste, but I believe his overall view of the resurrection, especially his central point of continuity between the old body and the new, is simply the historic orthodox doctrine of the resurrection.
When we discussed the resurrection, I have to say I was surprised at some of what you said. I thought I must be misunderstanding you. To clarify I asked something like, “are you saying that the resurrected body of Jesus was a new body in the sense that it was a different creation rather than the old body brought back to life and made new?”
I believe you said to me “yes.” (If I misunderstood, please let me know.) I then said “If it was a brand new body, rather than the old one risen, then why wasn’t the old one still in the tomb?”
What I think you then said—PLEASE correct me if I am wrong—is that perhaps God didn’t want to confuse the disciples.
Well, this confuses me. How would God have confused the disciples? If the old body was there, wouldn’t it be the perfect opportunity to teach that the new body is not really the old body at all, but a new spiritual body that has no genetic or material relationship to the old physical body?
Harris wrote, “The believer’s resurrection body will come from heaven, not from the grave.” He also said that Christ’s resurrection was “non-fleshly.” I don’t understand this. Jesus called it “flesh”—in what sense is flesh non-fleshly?
In the book you recommended, From Grave to Glory (392), Harris says: “Consequently the material ‘flesh and bones’ that Jesus had during this encounter with his disciples were not integral to his ‘spiritual body’ but had been assumed temporarily, but none the less really, for evidential reasons, as accommodations to the understanding of his disciples”.
It seems to me that viewing Christ’s physical body as an “accommodation” to the limited understanding of his disciples serves to negate the true meaning of the resurrection. It is flatly contradicted by Christ’s own words: “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!” (Luke 24:39). The scars of the crucifixion scars were in his actual resurrection body. Not one “assumed temporarily…as accommodations to the understanding of his disciples.” That would be terribly misleading, wouldn’t it?
Jesus did not say “I was once the Jesus you’ve known,” but “It is I myself.” If one’s body is part of one’s self, then clearly Jesus is saying “It’s the same body—and the wounds surely prove it—but now I’m risen and have overcome death.”
If Harris is correct, wasn’t Jesus deceiving his disciples? If it wasn’t his old body, by showing him the scars wasn’t he leading them to believe otherwise?
If what is raised is not what died, then how is it resurrection? Creation ex nihilo is not resurrection. Those are two very different concepts. I believe Scripture consistently teaches the raising of what died (and with it improvement), not the creation of what did not before exist. Same with the New Earth.
I must admit I don’t think this is a point of secondary importance. The creeds speak with justification of the “self-same bodies” being raised. Because if they’re not, it isn’t what the Bible sees as resurrection.
Even if 2 Peter 3:10 is understood to mean “laid bare” instead of “burned up,” (though right before it mentions “intense heat” and 3:7 refers to fire). And in light of Heb. 1:10-11 and Rev. 20:11 “from whose presence earth and heaven fled away and no place was found for them” and Rev. 21:1 “for the first earth is passed away,” sounds much more like a totally new kind of creation.
I agree that the old earth burns, as I state in the book. The question is whether God will raise it as a New Earth, as readily as he’ll raise bodies that have burned. We too “pass away,” that is, we die. Our lives come to an end. The life of the old earth will come to an end. But the question is whether God starts over with us—or the earth—after we die. Clearly He doesn’t. We are the same people, who stand before Christ to give an account of our lives. This requires continuity of identity and responsibility. The resurrection is centered on continuity. Since our own deliverance in resurrection is stated by Paul to be the model of the whole earth that’s groaning, and since God specifically calls it not a “new realm” but a “new earth,” isn’t this compelling evidence that there is a continuity between the old earth and the new earth?
Regarding your “totally new kind of creation,” I say in the book:
As we’ve seen, the expression “Heaven and Earth” is a biblical designation for the entire universe. So when Revelation 21:1 speaks of “a new heaven and a new earth,” it indicates a transformation of the entire universe. The Greek word kainos, translated “new,” indicates that the earth God creates won’t merely be new as opposed to old, but new in quality and superior in character. According to Walter Bauer’s lexicon, kainos means new “in the sense that what is old has become obsolete, and should be replaced by what is new. In such a case the new is, as a rule, superior in kind to the old.”
It means, therefore, “not the emergence of a cosmos totally other than the present one, but the creation of a universe which, though it has been gloriously renewed, stands in continuity with the present one.”
Paul uses the same word, kainos, when he speaks of a believer becoming “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The New Earth will be the same as the old Earth, just as a new Christian is still the same person he was before. Different? Yes. But also the same.
To say “it does not have to mean that they go out of existence, but may mean that their present condition passes away” is suggest a most speculative option. (p. 146).
This “most speculative option” is not something I made up. There’s a long history of Bible scholars who believe this is the clear teaching of Scripture. Some modern theologians I quote to this effect are Wolters, Venema, Hoekema, John Piper and Wayne Grudem.
As I say in the book, “Jerome often said that Heaven and Earth would not be annihilated but would be transformed into something better. Augustine wrote similarly, as did Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and many medieval theologians.”
The theme of new creation as the reconstituting of the old creation is embraced by scholars from various traditions. Here are some of their statements from my book:
The Bible begins with original creation which is corrupted, and the rest of the Old Testament is a redemptive-historical process working toward a restoration of the fallen creation in a new creation. The New Testament then sees these hopes beginning fulfillment and prophesies a future time of fulfillment in a consummated new creation, which Revelation 21:1–22:5 portrays. Greg Beale
All of the Old Testament works toward the goal of new creation, and the New Testament begins to fulfill that primary goal.…Redemption is always subordinate to creation in that it is the means of reintroducing the conditions of the new creation. All events since the fall are to be seen as a process leading to the reintroduction of the original creation. Dumbrell is correct in understanding new creation as the dominating notion of biblical theology because new creation is the goal or purpose of God’s redemptive-historical plan; new creation is the logical main point of Scripture. Greg Beale
The life we now have as the persons we now are will continue in the universe in which we now exist. Dallas Willard
The emphasis on the present heaven is clearly rest, cessation from earth’s battles and comforts from earth’s sufferings. The future heaven is centered more on activity and expansion, serving Christ and reigning with Him. The scope is much larger, the great city with its twelve gates, people coming and going, nations to rule. In other words, the emphasis in the present heaven is on the absence of earth’s negatives, while in the future heaven it is the presence of earth’s positives, magnified many times through the power and glory of resurrected bodies on a resurrected Earth, free at last from sin and shame and all that would hinder both joy and achievement. René Pache
In light of Randy’s brief allusions to the possibilities involved in “alternate universe,” “string theory” concepts, (p. 48), I only wish that this possibility influenced his writing elsewhere.
I am surprised to discover how much he reads into the fact that the glorified saints will include people from every tribe, nation, tongue. Unless I am missing something, he seems to use this statement as the basis for most of his cultural expectations on the new earth.
All these texts say is that the eternal population will be composed of individuals from all of these segments of old earth distinctions. There is nothing I see in the texts which require or even suggests that these distinctions continue in the eternal state.
Rev. 5 and 7 are not past tense. It would be a simple matter for the Greek text to say they were formerly (but no longer) of every tribe, nation and language.
How does John know they are of every tribe and nation and language? There is no account of an angel explaining this. He sees, he observes, which means these racial and cultural distinctions continue after death, even in the pre-resurrected state. (I don’t pretend to understand this, I simply point out that Scripture portrays it this way.)
But even if this aspect is uncertain, you are incorrect in saying Rev. 5 & 7 are the sole basis for my beliefs. Revelation 21 is indisputably New Earth. And it says, “the kings of the nations of the earth will bring their splendors” into the New Jerusalem.
This is another example, John, of where I think it is easy to bring assumptions about the eternal state unfounded on Scripture, causing someone to overlook what Scripture actually says. People assume, “in the resurrection we won’t be like we were before the resurrection, and certainly in the eternal state there won’t be races or nations or kings.” So we ignore all textual indications to the contrary.
Even now, in our present state, we enjoy the marvelous truth that here on earth when we meet spiritual brothers and sisters from other cultures, it is the preciousness of things we hold in common, not our differences, that we treasure. There is no reason to conclude that the cultural, linguistic, etc. diversities of one’s present state will carry over into the eternal state simply because that person came from that context.
My conclusion is based on the end of Rev. 21, as well as the contexts in the prophets from which it is cited and applied to the New Earth.
I disagree with your statement that we do not treasure differences in people. God is magnified by differentness. When a man looks at a woman it is not the things he holds in common, but the differences that he treasures. In fact it is both. When we look at God’s glory in creating animals we do not look at their similarities, but their differences. When people go to the zoo, they don’t go to behold what is the same, but what is different. And God’s magnificent depth and multifaceted character is magnified through those differences.
God is the creator of not only Adam and Eve, but all people. Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1 show Him intricately involved in weaving our bodies together. He is said even to make those who are deaf and dumb, so he is not leaving genetics under the curse to blindly make their own way. God makes a black man black, and a Chinese child Chinese. He sets the times and places we live (Acts 17). I believe even in a world under the curse, He is involved in and glorified by and even reflected in our differences as well as our commonalities. I also believe that will continue to be true in the eternal state, and will be part of the magnificent revealing of Himself in the coming ages spoken of in Ephesians 2:7.
Remembering that the multiplicity of languages introduced at Babel was for the primary purpose of fragmenting human civilization, why should we assume that any aspect of diversity of cultures in the eternal state will be considered by God as either good or appropriate?
Because people are still made in God’s image, and God in his sovereign plan constantly works despite human sin, and values and redeems what pleases Him.
Nations came about largely as a result of the languages. Yet the prophets are full of teachings about how the nations will come to Jerusalem to praise God. You see these, apparently, restricted to the millennium, but several of these passages make very clear that they apply to the eternal state.
Perhaps God built into people the genetic capacity to become different nations and learn their differences in a perfect world, but we cannot know this. What we can and do know is that, whether the result of God’s perfect plan or of the curse, He will nonetheless have nations in heaven. While I am speculating on the question of languages, I am not speculating on whether there will be different nations (not former nations but current nations) worshipping our God on the new Earth. Scripture says so.
God values the treasures and splendors of the nations. God values tools and technology and art and music and other things he’s empowered us to make. It is Platonism, not Scripture, that considers the physical realm, including nations and cultures and human accomplishment inherently sinful and unredeemable.
Yet he suggests that though the language we speak, may be a common trade language, since there will be peoples “from every nation, tribe and tongue” [Rev. 11:9; 17:15] he concludes that these languages will be spoken in the new earth. He states it “is doubtful that we will know all languages, we certainly could learn them much faster [than we can now]. (p. 365) Of course, we will also enjoy all of their different cultures and customs. (p. 368) This may indeed to true in the millennium, but why in the eternal state?
Because Revelation 21 reveals that there will be nations, ruled by kings, and nations have distinctive cultures and languages. Here’s what I say in the book:
The Babel account offers clues as to the importance of shared language in an ideal society. “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. . . . Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.’ . . . The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them’ “ (Genesis 11:1, 4, 6).
God then confused their language and dispersed them, so their great city went unfinished. Notice that all people originally shared one language, which empowered them to cooperate together in great achievements. But because they were united in self-glorification rather than God-glorification, they embraced a false unity that would’ve empowered further rebellion and self-destruction. Because the people weren’t united around their God-designed purpose to rule the earth for his glory, God removed a source of their destructive unity and power—their shared language.
In reversing the Curse, God will reverse Babel. Instead of people’s building a city for their glory, God will build a city for them, uniting them for his glory. In Genesis 11 the people attempted to connect Earth to Heaven with their city, making Heaven one with Earth. In Revelation 21 God brings Heaven down to Earth, in his city, making Earth one with Heaven.
Once mankind is made righteous and entrusted with stewarding the New Earth, God will likely again restore a common language (perhaps the same as Eden’s, which apparently existed until Babel). Why? To make communication easy, not frustrating, and to enhance cooperation and cultural accomplishments.
This common language would make it so that “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6). When the human heart is evil, that’s bad; when the human heart is righteous, that’s good. On the New Earth, all we propose to do will be for God’s glory and our good. God will no longer need to protect us from ourselves. We will never unite to destroy and exploit, only to create and enhance. A shared language will likely be God’s gift to empower us.
Nonetheless, it seems likely that in addition to our common language, we will maintain our current languages. Although the confusion of languages at Babel was originally a curse, the gatherings in Heaven of people of every nation, tribe, and language show that God will unite forever the people divided at Babel—not by eliminating their differences, but by eliminating sin, suspicion, and hostility.
Through understanding other languages, we’ll broaden our view of God. “Is it possible that in heaven, we will have a word or words for ‘worship’ that will include all the connotations from all the languages of the world?” I think it’s likely.
The diversity of languages provides a wider range of opportunity to glorify God: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11). In Heaven we may hear people use a certain word from their language to describe one of God’s attributes, and we may suddenly respond, “Yes, that’s it! That’s what I was trying to understand!”
In Heaven will Cambodians place their hands together and bow their heads in greeting? Will Kenyans dance to their distinctive drumbeats? Will Argentineans love soccer? Will Cubans speak Spanish and Britons speak English and Brazilians speak Portuguese? Why wouldn’t they?
We won’t be omniscient, so it’s doubtful we’ll know all languages. But certainly we could learn them much faster. Those of us who aren’t naturally gifted in languages may be amazed at our abilities. Language experts, including translators, may see their skills pick up where they left off and further develop at unprecedented rates. They’ll have eternity to learn as many languages as they wish.
What purpose will different languages serve on the New Earth? Knowing a language is part of understanding who people are and what their culture is like. As we develop new friendships in Heaven, we might enjoy learning people’s first language in order to know them better. Perhaps within days or weeks we’ll be able to understand new languages. Maybe throughout the course of a dinner conversation we’ll steadily pick up the language of new friends, creating a bond and appreciation for them and their culture and our God.
The disappointing result of his heavy emphasis on aspects of human culture is that I fear that it tends to trivialize our eternal destiny.
You seem to think human culture trivializes our eternal destiny because of your assumptions, which I used to share. But the biblical text says otherwise. You seem to think of it as not a New Earth, but a non-earth, in which we won’t do what people with bodies do, won’t work the ground and have dominion over the earth and care for animals and create art and music and do what God’s image bearers are meant to do. To you, these things seem trivial. But what does this say about our Maker? I believe they are not trivial to God, but are of his making, in keeping with his character, and to His glory.
Examples of this below: He states that since cities have culture, arts, education, entertainment, athletics [and certainly commerce] if the new Jerusalem—a city—doesn’t have these things, then “it would seem misleading for Scripture to repeatedly call it a city.” (p. 240) Certainly there is no suggestion that the present “heavenly Jerusalem” possesses any of these characteristics (Heb. 12:22). Why force this city to change so radically when it descends to the new earth?
It could be argued that the resurrection of God’s people who’ve dwelt in Heaven, and the resurrection of the universe itself, could indeed have some transforming implications on the heavenly Jerusalem as it is brought down to earth. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to suppose this.
First, Scripture does not tell us the nature of the “heavenly Jerusalem.” The word heavenly means “in heaven.” It does not mean incorporeal or immaterial. Indeed, the heavenly appears archetypal of the earthly Jerusalem. As I document in the book (pages 51-63), there are many Scriptures, including a number in non-allegorical and non-metaphorical passages, that refer to physical objects and forms in the intermediate Heaven. To adopt the widely held notion that anything in Heaven is automatically immaterial is to ignore a considerable body of biblical evidence.
While Scripture doesn’t tell us the nature of the heavenly Jerusalem, it does tell us many things about its nature on the New Earth—including that it can be measured by human measurements, that it has walls and gates made with various specific stones, that it has streets and a great river, and trees bearing fruit and people of various nations walking in and out of the gates of the city, and caring objects of splendor with them.
It makes no sense to me to take certain assumptions (for which there is biblical evidence against) about the heavenly Jerusalem, and use them to invalidate direct teaching about the New Jerusalem on the New Earth.
It was to “a heavenly city” that Abraham looked. Abraham’s culture was tents and sheep!
Abraham also lived in a culture that had great cities, and the cities and their walls represented safety and companionship that would no doubt have their appeal to a man who had once known that but had followed God out into the wilderness. In any case the city to which Abraham would go at death would be in the intermediate heaven, not on earth. It is only after the resurrection, and the forming of the New Earth, that the heavenly city is brought down to the New Earth, when at last earth and heaven will be one (Ephesians 1:10).
Since books are part of culture he says, “I expect many new books, great books, will be written on the new earth. But I also believe that some books will endure from the old earth…Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, John Piper’s Desiring God, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tolkien’s, Lord of the Rings.” (p. 314)
In Heaven I demonstrate from Scripture a number of references to books presently in the intermediate heaven, then speculate that since God has his books in Heaven, and since we will be resurrected beings living on a resurrected earth, and will still be his image-bearers and therefore more creative, not less so, there is simply no reason to believe we will not read books nor write them.
In our conversation, John, you expressed with apparent certainty that there will be no books on the new earth. No reading. No writing.
Not only your words, but the expression on your face suggested that the thought was ludicrous to you. I took no offense, and take none now. But I do think you should give more careful thought to this. I say this with care and respect. It is very hard for me to say this to one of the favorite teachers I’ve ever had, and one of the people I respect most highly.
Let me ask you some questions, if I may. Do you believe we will have conversations with other people on the New Earth? Will we have interest in their thoughts? Will we have opinions or perspectives or insights to share? Will we listen to others? Ask for clarification? Offer it? (Or will we be omniscient and infinite, having no need for conversation or clarification?)
Another way to put it is, will we continue or will we cease to be people, made in God’s image to think, reason, communicate, dialogue and share and learn both from God and each other? Eastern mystics would say we will be absorbed into the cosmic consciousness, no longer thinking, discerning individuals, and certainly having no form or living in a physical context.
But I think you would answer yes to these questions, wouldn’t you? I certainly would. Yes, we will have conversations and share our thoughts and listen to others. Now, if that is the case then here’s my question for you: What’s the difference between talking and writing? What’s the difference between listening and reading? The means alone. If writing and reading are unthinkable for you on the New Earth, why not speaking and listening? If we can communicate with words, why would it somehow be more spiritual or acceptable or biblical in the resurrected state to just use our mouths to speak than it would be to write our thoughts down so others can read them?
In the book I cite Scripture which talks of things we do in this world that are of lasting value, which will exist for eternity. While it may be only the reward itself that is eternal, God is fully capable of resurrecting or recreating inanimate objects such as books, or of having books rewritten under the insight of his presence. Would it be so unlike our God to raise or recreate the original Guttenberg Bible? Or Tyndale’s or Luther’s? Will the eternal state be so disconnected from our lives here that such objects would be irrelevant and unappreciated and would not prompt us to worship God for His grace at work on the old earth?
Would it be so bizarre to think that God might allow his resurrected people to use their hands and eyes and brains to worshipfully read the words of Pilgrim’s Progress? Will we really turn our backs on all the faithful works of God’s people over the ages? Or will we see a continuity between our past and futures, in which we worship our God for a human history of his faithfulness, celebrating what he did among his people, including the things they did and said and lives they touched and books they wrote?
While to you this may seem bizarre, I think it is a door that the biblical doctrine of the resurrection, new earth, and imago dei all open and is therefore legitimate to speculate upon.
Part of the scourge of what I’m calling Christoplatonism is separating the “secular” and the “spiritual.” Hence we think of literature, drama, art, gardening, athletics and business as secular. Then we think of the things we do in private prayer and devotions, or together in the church building, as being spiritual.
But then, without saying it, we persuade our people to think that their jobs are secular, that 98% of their lives are doomed to be secular, not spiritual. In fact, to borrow your term, we “trivialize” their lives.
This is part of the reason we have so many nominal Christians in our midst, who sneak off to golf and play tennis and sew blankets and redecorate their homes and go swimming, and once in a while pray and read the Bible to make up for it, so they can occasionally be spiritual, but who see nothing spiritual about their “real lives,” about ordinary human activity.
Sadly, worship for them becomes an occasional experience at “spiritual” moments rather than a continuous experience woven into the nitty gritty of their daily lives, in which as God’s image bearers and ambassadors they are called to glorify him in working the ground and dealing with people and raising children and repairing the fence as they exercise dominion. They leave the sacred life to those of us “in ministry.” If culture and work and play and learning and writing and reading and other normal human activity would be trivial in the kingdom, doesn’t that mean it is trivial now?
Added learning we will have in the new earth, he says “How about…talking theology with Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin or Luther? Then when differences arise, why not invite Jesus in to clear things up.” (p. 310). (I fear such a comment might be understood as trivializing the transcendence of both Christ and our eternal destiny. And why “differences” anyway since we “will know even as we are known”?
Won’t we have conversations with people on the New Earth? Won’t Christ be eternally immanent? Won’t we have access to invite him to come talk with us? I don’t pretend to understand the balance of immanence and transcendence any more than I understand how God used to come down in the cool of the day to dwell with Adam. But I know he did. Immanuel is “God with us” forever. Do you imagine that Christ will be inaccessible to us? The martyrs now in heaven ask questions of God (Rev. 6). Will we be unable to ask questions? Will God’s people not have discussions with each other? Will we not sit at tables at banquets and do what people do…tell stories and ask questions and seek answers?
I deal with the question of “know even as we are known” in the book:
Will We Know Everything?
God alone is omniscient. When we die, we’ll see things far more clearly, and we’ll know much more than we do now, but we’ll never know everything.
The apostle Paul wrote: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, emphasis added). The italicized words are based on two different Greek words: ginosko and epiginosko. The prefix epi intensifies the word to mean “to really know” or “to know extensively.” However, when the word is used of humans, it never means absolute knowledge.
In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem says, “1 Cor. 13:12 does not say that we will be omniscient or know everything (Paul could have said we will know all things, ta panta, if he had wished to do so), but, rightly translated, simply says that we will know in a fuller or more intensive way, ‘even as we have been known,’ that is, without any error or misconceptions in our knowledge.”
The New Living Translation reads, “Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror.” Mirrors in Paul’s time had serious flaws. Corinth was famous for its bronze mirrors, but the color was off and shapes were distorted. The mirror’s image lacked the quality of seeing someone face-to-face. Knowing and seeing were nearly synonyms in Greek thought. The more you saw, the more you knew.
One day we’ll see God’s face and therefore truly know him (Revelation 22:4). Under the Curse we see myopically. When we’re resurrected, our vision will be corrected. We’ll at last be able to see eternal realities once invisible to us (2 Corinthians 4:18).
God sees clearly and comprehensively. In Heaven we’ll see far more clearly, but we’ll never see comprehensively. The point of comparing our knowing to God’s knowing is that we’ll know “fully” in the sense of accurately but not exhaustively.
In Heaven we’ll be flawless, but not knowing everything isn’t a flaw. It’s part of being finite. Righteous angels don’t know everything, and they long to know more (1 Peter 1:12). They’re flawless but finite. We should expect to long for greater knowledge, as angels do. And we’ll spend eternity gaining the greater knowledge we’ll seek.
Quoting Anthony Hoekema, “Will scientists continue to advance in technological achievement, will geologists continue to dig out treasures of the earth, and will architects continue to build imposing and attractive structures? Alcorn says Yes! (p. 400). People will express creativity in designing clothes…we will build houses and live in them in the new earth and we will decorate them beautifully” (pp. 400-401).
Just to clarify, what I wrote was, “I agree with Anthony Hoekema when he says, “The possibilities that now rise before us boggle the mind…” He then goes on to list a number of things, including the possibility of architects designing structures. So “Alcorn says Yes!” is overstating the case a bit, as I would not presume to know this. What I’m saying is, I agree with the mind-boggling possibilities that include such things, and wouldn’t be surprised to see them.
Also, what I say about building houses is this: “Isaiah 65:21 suggests that we’ll build houses and live in them on the New Earth. If so, we’ll no doubt decorate them beautifully.”
I say Scripture suggests it, not “we will.” I say “if so,” not “we will decorate.” While I think this is likely the case, I am not saying these things with the certainty you imply in your critique when you fail to include my actual words such as “possibilities” and “imagine” and “suggest” and “If so.”
I think it’s only fair that those reading your critique know that I am not saying these things with smug certainty. They, of course, are not hearing the biblical arguments I present, only your statement of my conclusion, and they are also not realizing that many of these are tentative or qualified conclusions. I would not presume to say with certainty what Scripture does not.
A seminary professor’s review of the Heaven book states, “When speculating, Alcorn clearly states that he is doing so. Being biblically correct is his utmost priority.”
I cite this, John, because I think people might suppose differently based on your critique.
Perhaps because Hoekema is an amillennialist, he is more comfortable in equating Is. 65:21 with the eternal state, although this is not so with many amillennialists. What does he do with verse 20?
While I disagree, as I say in the book, with amillennialism, some amillennialists have a much more vibrant view of the eternal state. This is partly because they do not neatly cram into the millennium all the prophetic passages about the restoration of Eden-like conditions, including those said to last forever, and which are specifically applied to the New Earth in Revelation 21-22.
You can see what Hoekema does with Isaiah 65:20 by consulting his book, The Bible and the Future. I won’t do it here since we’re both running out of time! While I am not satisfied with his explanation, it is one of the few weaknesses in a mostly outstanding book that unfortunately many premillennialists dismiss, throwing out the baby (90% of the book) with the bathwater (10%).
Indeed, we premillennialists have our own bathwater, and some of it is painfully apparent in our failure to come to terms with the New Earth. While Hoekema and other amillennial exegetes have much to learn from dispensationalists, the reverse is certainly true.
There will be trade and business, technology and machinery. “We will have the technology and skills to control our environment, so if we can make ourselves more comfortable, we will” (p. 429). Referring to our enjoyment of astronomy he says “Imagine the quality of telescopes that redeemed minds will design and build.” (p. 265)
You do not cite Scripture to refute this notion. Perhaps you think it is self-evident that people will no longer be what people are now—image bearers who honor God by exercising dominion over creation. But that is not at all self-evident when you read the Scriptures that speak of the New Earth, and the prophets who speak of a perfected earthly realm that lasts forever, and not of a mere 1000 years.
In the beginning of the book, I carefully develop from Scripture what underlies the speculations (which I repeatedly identify as such) that I introduce at the end of the book.
John, given your viewpoint it is difficult to understand why Scripture is full of the re- words. Why does He use such terms as renewal, regeneration, redemption, restoration and resurrection, if the life to come is so fundamentally separated from the present life? Here’s a portion of the book in which I deal with this:
God’s Earthly Renewal Plan
God has never given up on his original creation. Yet somehow we’ve 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. (Many are translations of Greek words with an ana prefix, which has the same meaning as the English re-.) For example, redemption means to buy back what was formerly owned. Similarly, 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. Likewise, he sees the earth in terms of what he intended it to be, and he seeks to restore it to its original design.
Religion professor Albert Wolters, in Creation Regained, writes, “[God] hangs on to his fallen original creation and salvages it. He refuses to abandon the work of his hands—in fact, he sacrifices his own Son to save his original project. Humankind, which has botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ; we are reinstated as God’s managers on earth. The original good creation is to be restored.” If God had wanted to consign us 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 salvage artist. He loves to restore things to their original condition—and make them even better. God’s purpose in our salvation is reflected in a phrase from the hymn “Hallelujah, What a Savior!”: “ruined sinners to reclaim.” Reclaim is another re- word. It recognizes that God had a prior claim on humanity that was temporarily lost but is fully restored and taken to a new level in Christ. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). God has never surrendered his title deed to the earth. He owns it—and he will not relinquish it to his enemies. It’s impossible to understand the ministry of Christ without the larger view of redemption’s sweeping salvage plan. “[It] is particularly striking,” writes Albert Wolters, “that all of Jesus’ miracles (with the one exception of the cursing of the fig tree) are miracles of restoration—restoration to health, restoration to life, restoration to freedom from demonic possession. Jesus’ miracles provide us with a sample of the meaning of redemption: a freeing of creation from the shackles of sin and evil and a reinstatement of creaturely living as intended by God.” God placed mankind on Earth to fill it, rule it, and develop it to God’s glory. But that plan has never been fulfilled. Should we therefore conclude that God’s plan was ill-conceived, thwarted, or abandoned? No. These conclusions do not fit the character of an all-knowing, all-wise, sovereign God. God determined from the beginning that he will redeem mankind and restore the earth. Why? So his original plan will be fulfilled. Scripture shows us God’s purpose with remarkable clarity; yet for many years as a Bible student and later as a pastor, I did not think in terms of renewal and restoration. Instead, I believed God was going to destroy the earth, abandon his original design and plan, and start over by implementing a new plan in an unearthly Heaven. Only in the past fifteen years have my eyes been opened to what Scripture has said all along. What lies behind our notion that God is going to destroy the earth and be done with it? I believe it’s a weak theology of God. Though we’d never say it this way, we see him as a thwarted inventor whose creation failed. Having realized his mistake, he’ll end up trashing most of what he made. His consolation for a failed Earth is that he rescues a few of us from the fire. But this idea is emphatically refuted by Scripture. God has a magnificent plan, and he will not surrender Earth to the trash heap. As Wolters says, “Redemption is not a matter of an addition of a spiritual or supernatural dimension to creaturely life that was lacking before; rather, it is a matter of bringing new life and vitality to what was there all along. . . . The only thing redemption adds that is not included in the creation is the remedy for sin, and that remedy is brought in solely for the purpose of recovering a sinless creation. . . . Grace restores nature, making it whole once more.”
The New Earth Is the Old Earth Restored
Peter preached that Christ “must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). We’re told that a time is coming when God will restore everything. This is an inclusive promise. It encompasses far more than God merely restoring disembodied people to fellowship in a spirit realm. (Because living in a spirit realm is not what humans were made for and once enjoyed, it would not qualify as “restoring.”) It is God restoring mankind to what we once were, what he designed us to be—fully embodied, righteous beings. And restoring the entire physical universe to what it once was. Where will the restoration that Peter preached about be realized? The answer, he tells us, is found in the promises given “long ago through [God’s] holy prophets.” Read the prophets and the answer becomes clear—God will restore everything on Earth. The prophets are never concerned about some far-off realm of disembodied spirits. They are concerned about the land, the inheritance, the city of Jerusalem, and the earth they walked on. Messiah will come from Heaven to Earth, not to take us away from Earth to Heaven, but to restore Earth to what he intended so he can live with us here forever. Will the earth we know come to an end? Yes. To a final end? No. Revelation 21:1 says the old Earth will pass away. But when people pass away, they do not cease to exist. As we will be raised to be new people, so the earth will be raised to be a New Earth. Did Peter invent the notion of all things being restored? No—he not only learned it from the prophets, he heard it directly from Christ. When Peter, hoping for commendation or reward, pointed out to Jesus that the disciples had left everything to follow him, the Lord didn’t rebuke him. Instead, he said, “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” (Matthew 19:27-28). Note Christ’s word choice. He did not say “after the destruction of all things” or “after the abandonment of all things” but “at the renewal of all things.” This is not a small semantic point—it draws a line in the sand between two fundamentally different theologies. Mankind was designed to live on the earth to God’s glory. That’s exactly what Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection secured—a renewed humanity upon a renewed Earth. Jesus explicitly said “all things” would be renewed. The word paligenesia, translated “renewal” in Matthew 19:28, comes from two words which together mean “new genesis” or “coming back from death to life.” When Jesus said that “all things” would be renewed, the disciples would have understood him to mean “all things” that were part of the only lives they knew—those on Earth. Apart from those aspects of our present earthly lives that are inherently sinful or are fulfilled by a greater reality (more on this later), “all things” appears to be comprehensive.
Sports? Of course. Yet someone will win and someone will lose. Right, but losing won’t bother us. (p. 411) “Someone told me nobody will enjoy playing golf in Heaven because it would get boring always hitting holes in one. But why assume everyone’s skills will be equal and incapable of further development…our resurrection bodies can develop greater skills.” (p. 395)
Again, you cite no Scripture to refute this notion. It seems self-evident to you that resurrected humans would not do what humans do now. It strikes you as silly. However, other ideas that would be inconceivable to you—eating and drinking and walking and talking and serving and ruling—are right there in Scripture.
Do you think we will become infinite in the resurrection? Will we cease to be finite creatures who learn and grow and create and develop in our insight and skills? On what Scriptures do you base such an idea?
Of course, we are told certain things we won’t do, such as marry. But the assumption that we will cease to have dominion over the New Earth, cease to do what humans and nations do in terms of culture, is biblically unwarranted, and refuted by many texts. Being unfamiliar with thinking in the terms of human culture in the eternal state does not change what the prophets and Rev. 21-22 say.
John, I well remember something you said to me when we met for coffee: “You think we might ride bikes on the New Earth? Why would we want to ride bikes when we can see God’s face and worship him?”
Without meaning to, in saying this I think you not only divorce worship from human activity, but you trivialize—to use that word again—our nature and existence as human beings who are made by God to be earth-dwellers, and will dwell on the New Earth, in a physical resurrected existence forever.
Who made us physical beings who would find pleasure in riding a bike and enjoying the wonders of God’s creation? Who made us with endorphins and adrenaline that heighten our sense of celebration and worship in the things we do? Not Satan, not ourselves, but GOD.
Certainly I have no proof that we will ride bicycles. But there is clear biblical indication that we will live on a New Earth, have actual physical bodies, that there will be nations and kings of nations and material splendors and food and drink and other aspects of culture. So on what biblical basis would you argue against resurrected people doing other normal human things we do on this earth, things that are not linked to sin? (With a few exceptions, such as sex, which is linked to human marriage, which we’re told we won’t have.)
God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. To put it as you did, why would they want to do gardening and care for animals and talk with each other when they could see God’s face and worship Him?
Because God did not create us to ONLY need him. Before you dismiss this as heresy consider that it was God who said “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Now, the view of Aquinas was that we relate in eternity to God, and human relationships are absent. But that is not the teaching of Scripture.
Why assume that no one will be seeing God as they serve and reign and rest and play? As we do these things we will be seeing God, and growing closer to Him. One can worship God petting a dog and washing a dish and tending a garden. And not merely in spite of the dog and dish and garden, but because of them (i.e. because God uses them as an instrument by giving us a creature to love and a meaningful task to do).
This is not trivia, this is the God-designed life of those created in His image.
I wonder if you are seeing this life on earth and in bodies—including working and performing drama and writing and reading and riding a bike—as things God never meant us to do. Are you seeing them as the product of sin and rebellion and curse that would not have occurred in a sinless world?
If so, then no wonder you are adamant they we would not do them on the New Earth. But I believe God designed us, made us in His image to do such things and many more.
Soon-to-be missionary-in-China Eric Liddell said, “God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.” In doing so, I believe he was worshipping God. When he ran people would see in him a wonder and a love and a devotion that was palpably spiritual.
Yet you dismiss sports in your critique as if such things are beneath our human dignity, or Christ’s. As if they are too earthly, too trivial, too secular or frivolous. Or you import the negative sinful attitudes people sometimes have as they play sports now.
But sports cannot bring out bad character in Heaven, because there will be no bad character. Will the universe never be able to behold what perfectly righteous people, God’s glorified image-bearers, behave like in work and art and music and craftsmanship and sports?
Anything wrong and idolatrous and self-promoting about sports now simply would not be true of sports on the New Earth.
You have a wonderful imagination, John. But I think you are letting it fall short of envisioning how Christ-centered, how worshipful it will be to sit down and eat and laugh and tell stories and read books and travel and explore, all in the worship of our God, all to the eternal praise of His glory.
Was Eric Liddell wrong? I don’t think so. Is it hard for you to imagine God finding pleasure in a man running? It is not hard for me at all. And I find it no more difficult to think God could find pleasure in a man running, eating, drinking, or talking in a resurrected body than a nonresurrected body, and on a New Earth rather than the old. In fact, arguably it is far easier to think of him being pleased since the man running could not possibly be guilty of pride or pettiness or depreciation of others. We take delight in the racing of an antelope. Does God? Will we not take such delight on the New Earth, or was the enjoyment of God’s creation inseparably tied to a sin-cursed world? I don’t believe it. Based on Romans 8, I’m convinced the suffering creation will be redeemed.
What passage of Scripture would you use to cite that people could not walk, run or play (including sports) in their resurrected bodies on the New Earth? I know of no such passage. If you know of any, I would very much like to see it.
To argue that since Rev. 14:13 says “for their deeds follow with them,” this “must include the products of human culture” is simply unwarranted. (p. 146) Far more probable is that the evidence of their righteousness will follow them. Why add anything more to this marvelous truth?
Once again, I did not say this, but presented someone’s informed opinion for the reader’s consideration:
“Those purified works on the earth,” writes Albert Wolters, “must surely include the products of human culture. There is no reason to doubt that they will be transfigured and transformed by their liberation from the curse, but they will be in essential continuity with our experience now—just as our resurrected bodies, though glorified, will still be bodies.”
On page 58 he suggests that the robes of Rev. 6:9-11 “could also be real clothes with symbolic meaning,” seems to contradict Scripture which states that the clothes are the righteousnesses of the saints.”
Later on he anticipates people wearing “jeans, shorts, T-shirts and flip flops.” (p. 289) Also, since many ethnic groups wear colorful clothing, we should expect this on the new earth.” (Wolters, p. 288).
No one knows for sure whether we’ll wear clothes, and if so, what kind. As I repeatedly mention in the book, where there is no direct proof in Scripture, I’m drawing deductions to the best of my ability, and some of those are certainly wrong. Perhaps this is one of them. But here’s what I say:
Will We Wear Clothes?
Because Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed, some argue that in Heaven we won’t need to wear clothes. But even in the intermediate Heaven, before the final Resurrection, people are depicted as wearing clothes, white robes that depict our righteousness in Christ (Revelation 3:4; 6:11). It appears we’ll wear clothes—not because there will be shame or temptation, but perhaps because they will enhance our appearance and comfort.
Wearing robes might strike us as foreign or formal. But to first-century readers, anything but robes would have seemed strange. Why? Because robes were what they normally wore. Rather than conclude that we’ll all wear robes, a better deduction is that we’ll all dress normally, as we did on the old earth. Am I saying some people will wear jeans, shorts, T-shirts, polo shirts, or flip-flops? Well, wouldn’t those be just as normal for some twenty-first-century people as robes and sandals were for first-century people?
Robes weren’t reserved for formal events; they were part of everyday garb. Of course, we might sometimes wear more and less formal clothes, for certain kinds of events. There’s no indication that we’ll have only one set of clothes to choose from.
Will we all wear white clothing? The white clothes may depict our righteousness (Revelation 7:9), as they did Christ’s in his transfiguration. The emphasis on white may relate to cleanliness, which was extremely hard to maintain in that culture. Remarkably, the only person depicted in Heaven as wearing a robe that isn’t white is Jesus Christ: “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood” (Revelation 19:13).
Will white be the only clothing color? No. There are golden sashes (Revelation 15:6). Because resurrected people retain their individuality and nationality (we’ll look more closely at this later) and because many ethnic groups wear colorful clothing, we should expect this on the New Earth.
The book of Revelation tells us we’ll be priests and kings in Heaven. When you consider God’s special adornment for the priests in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:4-43), it’s likely God’s royal and priestly people will wear beautiful clothes in Heaven.
Elsewhere Randy suggests that we will make our own clothes.
What the book says is, “I imagine that people will express creativity in designing clothes.” My point is that we are made in God’s image, as creative people with God-given skills to make beautiful works of craftsmanship. I do not expect less of this as resurrected people on the New Earth.
Why, if it is God who clothes me with righteousness? It seems far more reasonable to assume that we’ll be clothed with the beauty and radiance of holiness. In several places the Bible also describes God’s clothing as clearly representative of divine qualities.
Are we not now clothed in Christ’s righteousness? Yet we wear clothes, don’t we? We are told to clothe ourselves with Jesus (Rom. 13) and elsewhere told to clothe ourselves with humility, clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness. The figurative references to God clothing us, both now and in the eternal state, certainly do not prove that our resurrection bodies will be literally naked.
My point is that something can have a symbolic meaning and still be physical, such as the temple, the ark of the covenant, the high priest’s clothing, etc.
However, John, I think you make a good point that I should not use something that may be completely figurative as an argument for the literal. I’ve made a note not to cite the Rev. 7:9 passage for this purpose.
Will there be weather changes—snow? “people will play in it, throw snowballs, sled down hillsides. Of course. Just as resurrected people will still have eyes, ears and feet, a resurrected earth will have rain, snow and wind.” (p. 268) (Elsewhere, lightning storm, huge earthquakes—though no one will ever get hurt.) There is simply no basis for assuming that since we will have eyes, etc., that earth will have snow, etc.
Again, you oversimplify, missing the contextual logic that a new earth is REALLY an earth. I cite in the book biblical passages in which God’s attributes are manifested in earth’s weather.
Does earth have weather? Is weather the result of the curse? Will the lifting of the curse mean that the New Earth will not be an earth? Is weather somehow incompatible with a resurrected earth inhabited by resurrected people?
I fear that all of these examples above of our activities in the eternal state will become a stock answer form any Christians to the question “What will we do in heaven [or on the new earth]?” Do we really need any better answer that God gives us when he says “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His kindness toward us”?
I can’t conceive of any better answer, nor am I trying to improve upon this verse in any way.
This verse is one of hundreds that deal with the age to come. We need the cumulative benefit that comes from dealing with them all, not citing one as if it somehow trumps or negates the others. I cite Ephesians 2:7 because I love it. But there are other passages also. In any realm of theology would we pick one verse and then say citing other passages shows a denial of or a desire to improve upon that verse?
Of course God will show us the exceeding riches of His kindness toward us. The question is whether he will do this in the context of our living as resurrected people, still his image bearers, on a resurrected earth, doing many of the things image bearers are made to do, including serving and reigning. I think the clear biblical answer is yes.
The focus should be far more upon what God will do and our joyous, worshipful response to Him, than on what we will do as to our other occupations.
Reading as many books about heaven as I have, I see some trends, and one of them is that we have neglected a large body of Scripture that demonstrates what kind of people we will be, and what kind of things we will do (e.g. serve and reign), and what kind of world we will live in.
On the one hand, of course these things are not as important as what God will do, but we are to teach the whole counsel of God, some of which is less important, less the central focus, than others. But on the other hand, these things about the new us and the New Earth are among the central things that God will do to glorify Himself.
We, after all, did not create ourselves in God’s image. We did not delegate to ourselves the rule of the earth. We did not promise to ourselves that we will live as resurrected beings, that we will eat at feasts and serve God and reign with him. We did not say that earth is longing for the redemption that will come to it with our resurrection. We did not say God would create a New Heavens? and New Earth. We did not invent the notion, stated three times in Revelation 21:3 alone, that He will come down from Heaven and dwell with his people on the New Earth, relocating his central dwelling place, so that the ultimate Heaven is not us going up to live with Him, but Him coming down to live with us.
I certainly wouldn’t have ever thought of such fantastic things. But He did. And not to speak of this, I believe, is to neglect that which He has revealed and that which will serve to His eternal glory.
Here are some thoughts on the difference between God as the source of joy and the derivative joys He graciously shares with us:
All secondary joys are derivative in nature. They cannot be separated from God. Flowers are beautiful for one reason—God is beautiful. Rainbows are stunning because God is stunning. Puppies are delightful because God is delightful. Sports are fun because God is fun. Study is rewarding because God is rewarding. Work is fulfilling because God is fulfilling.
Ironically, some people who are the most determined to avoid the sacrilege of putting things before God miss a thousand daily opportunities to thank him, praise him, and draw near to him, because they imagine they shouldn’t enjoy the very things he made to help us know him and love him.
God is a lavish giver. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). The God who gave us his Son delights to graciously give us “all things.” These “all things” are in addition to Christ, but they are never instead of him—they come, Scripture tells us, “along with him.” If we didn’t have Christ, we would have nothing. But because we have Christ, we have everything. Hence, we can enjoy the people and things God has made, and in the process enjoy the God who designed and provided them for his pleasure and ours.
God welcomes prayers of thanksgiving for meals, warm fires, games, books, relationships, and every other good thing. When we fail to acknowledge God as the source of all good things, we fail to give him the recognition and glory he deserves. We separate joy from God, which is like trying to separate heat from fire or wetness from rain.
Suppose you’re sick. Your friend brings a meal. What meets your needs—the meal or the friend? Both. Of course, without your friend, there would be no meal; but even without a meal, you would still treasure your friendship. Hence, your friend is both your higher pleasure and the source of your secondary pleasure (the meal). Likewise, God is the source of all lesser goods, so that when they satisfy us, it’s God himself who satisfies us. (In fact, it’s God who satisfies you by giving you the friend who gives you the meal.)
When I speak elsewhere in the book of the multifaceted joys of the resurrected life in the new universe, some readers may think, But our eyes should be on the giver, not the gift; we must focus on God, not on Heaven. This approach sounds spiritual, but it erroneously divorces our experience of God from life, relationships, and the world—all of which God graciously gives us. It sees the material realm and other people as God’s competitors rather than as instruments that communicate his love and character. It fails to recognize that because God is the ultimate source of joy, and all secondary joys emanate from him, to love secondary joys on Earth can be—and in Heaven always will be—to love God, their source.
(The following five paragraphs are from material I used in my S. S. class)
Whatever else one believe about one’s eternal destiny, two factors will guide everything else: (1) the nature of one’s resurrection body (1 Cor. 15; Phil. 3:21, etc.)
I notice here that you do not cite the gospels, which show us what the first and prototype resurrection body is—the actual physical flesh and bone body of Jesus, risen from the grave.
and (2) one’s prime occupation with the glory, love and joy of God in eternal fellowship with the saints. (John 17:24; Ps. 16:11; Isaiah 65:17-18; Rom. 8:16-20; 2 Cor. 4:17; Eph. 2:7; 1 Thess. 4:17; Jude 24-25; Rev. 5:11-14; 7:15-17; 19:6-9).
I am gratified you include the saints here, since purists say Heaven is only about God. They consider heaven to be the beatific vision, without any thought or interaction with another except God.
The passages you cite wonderfully portray our ongoing relationship with God. I deal with all of them in my book except Jude 24-25. I would add such passages as Isaiah 60 and Ezekiel 48 and Daniel 7 and Revelation 21-22, which demonstrate how we will worship and serve our God in an earthly relational culture as we serve God and rule the Earth as his image bearers and children.
Perhaps the simplest answer to people’s question, “Won’t heaven get boring?” will be that we will no more be bored than God or the angels are!
Here is my answer from the book:
Our belief that Heaven will be boring betrays a heresy—that God is boring. There’s no greater nonsense. Our desire for pleasure and the experience of joy come directly from God’s hand. He made our taste buds, adrenaline, sex drives, and the nerve endings that convey pleasure to our brains. Likewise, our imaginations and our capacity for joy and exhilaration were made by the very God we accuse of being boring. Are we so arrogant as to imagine that human beings came up with the idea of having fun?
“Won’t it be boring to be good all the time?” someone asked. Note the assumption: sin is exciting and righteousness is boring. We’ve fallen for the devil’s lie. His most basic strategy, the same one he employed with Adam and Eve, is to make us believe that sin brings fulfillment. However, in reality, sin robs us of fulfillment. Sin doesn’t make life interesting; it makes life empty. Sin doesn’t create adventure; it blunts it. Sin doesn’t expand life; it shrinks it. Sin’s emptiness inevitably leads to boredom. When there’s fulfillment, when there’s beauty, when we see God as he truly is—an endless reservoir of fascination—boredom becomes impossible.
Those who believe that excitement can’t exist without sin are thinking with sin-poisoned minds. Drug addicts are convinced that without their drugs they can’t live happy lives. In fact—as everyone else can see—drugs make them miserable. Freedom from sin will mean freedom to be what God intended, freedom to find far greater joy in everything. In Heaven we’ll be filled—as Psalm 16:11 describes it—with joy and eternal pleasures.
Why Would Anyone Think We’d Be Bored?
An elderly gentleman I led to Christ asked a question of a Christian employee in his care center: “Will we have fun in Heaven?” ”Oh, no,” the woman replied, appearing dismayed that he’d even asked. When he told me this story, I shook my head, because I’ve heard it so often. Why did this Christian woman respond as she did? Because, in accordance with the faulty assumptions of Christoplatonism, she instinctively linked fun with sin and boredom with holiness. But she couldn’t be more wrong. God promises that we’ll laugh, rejoice, and experience endless pleasures in Heaven. Someone told me nobody will enjoy playing golf in Heaven because it would get boring always hitting holes in one. But why assume everyone’s skills will be equal and incapable of further development? Just as our minds will grow in knowledge, our resurrection bodies can develop greater skills. Another reason people assume Heaven is boring is that their Christian lives are boring. That’s not God’s fault; it’s their own. God calls us to follow him in an adventure that should put us on life’s edge. He’s infinite in creativity, goodness, beauty, and power. If we’re experiencing the invigorating stirrings of God’s Spirit, trusting him to fill our lives with divine appointments, experiencing the childlike delights of his gracious daily kindnesses, then we’ll know that God is exciting and Heaven is exhilarating. People who love God crave his companionship. To be in his presence will be the very opposite of boredom. We think of ourselves as fun-loving, and of God as a humorless killjoy. But we’ve got it backward. It’s not God who’s boring; it’s us. Did we invent wit, humor, and laughter? No. God did. We’ll never begin to exhaust God’s sense of humor and his love for adventure. The real question is this: How could God not be bored with us? Most of us can envision ourselves being happy for a few days or a week, if that. But a year of complete and sustained happiness? Impossible, we think, because we’ve never experienced it. We think of life under the Curse as normal because that’s all we’ve ever known. A hundred or a million years of happiness is inconceivable to us. Just as creatures who live in a flat land can’t conceive of three-dimensional space, we can’t conceive of unending happiness. Because that level of happiness is not possible here on the fallen Earth, we assume it won’t be possible on the New Earth. But we’re wrong. To properly envision Heaven, we must remove from our eyes the distorted lenses of death and the Curse.
Will we still experience time—”duration marked by succession of moments?” Yes! Heaven is a place of actions—movement. Of course there will be “sequence.” For example, our praises will not be just one note sounded endlessly. As Randy rightly points out, in the hymn, When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, the words, “when time shall be no more,” are an incorrect rendering of Rev. 10:6. Contrast the KJV with NASB or NIV.)
Well, we do agree about something, John! Thanks for including this. (Though of course I know that we agree about much more.)
But how time conscious will we be? Well, what causes us to be conscious of the passage of time now? Probably you can add to the following list: Deadlines, something coming to an end, interruptions, mental/physical/emotional fatigue, boredom, schedules, appointments—something happening which causes us to become self conscious. Something which turns our thoughts away from an event or object, causing us to check our watches? Will any of these exist in heaven?
If I could be completely captivated by something, then something else would have to interrupt—interfere—to cause me to turn away from the event to consider how long you have been doing it. Will there be anything to turn me away in heaven?? We need to think of our eternal existence in heaven as an event, not simply a time idea—a fabulous, exhilarating, joyous, eternal event! Remember, “that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us” (Eph. 2:7)
These are interesting thoughts, and for the most part I don’t disagree. I just don’t see the need to see time, even if it continued as we now know it, as a problem. The problem is not time, it is sin and death and suffering and how they have taken time hostage in this fallen world. Obviously that won’t be a problem in the ages to come. And like you, I see Eph. 2:7 at the heart of this. (Though I think His kindness will be shown to us in innumerable adventures, discoveries, etc., in which we will not be passive, but active, as He has made us to be, which will glorify Him.)
Where will we be? We will always be “with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Apparently, for the first 1000 years we will be with Him with our glorified bodies as He reigns on earth (Rev. 20:4-6). Following that, God will so radically transform this universe, including a new earth, that it will perfectly correspond to all the transcendence and glory of heaven. In some sense, heaven and earth will become one. This will be our eternal home. (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1-5)
I agree, except that the very verses you cite demonstrate that God will come down to dwell specially with his people on the New Earth. This indicates a new center to Heaven. The fact that God’s throne is in the New Jerusalem makes it clear that this new central dwelling place, Heaven itself, is one and the same with the New Earth. And that New Earth is described in very physical ways. The eternally incarnate Christ will be with his people, but even God the Father will dwell there with his people, where they will see his face. Amazing and joyous!
His entire section on animals I seriously question in light of the fact that other than his strange reference to Ez. 1 and 10 and Rev. 4:7. “The living creatures are animals” (italics are his. P. 379),
If this is incorrect, please refute it biblically or linguistically. Just because it is “strange” to you does not make it incorrect. Indeed, there are many things strange to both of us, that Scripture explicitly teaches.
I did not always believe this about the living creatures. I was shocked when I read about it, and went to do a word study to prove to myself how wrong the writer was who claimed it. I just thought the living creatures were angels. Well, in the broadest sense, if all non-human intelligent beings dwelling with God are by definition angels, then they are. But the word used of them is zoon. It’s a word that consistently is used of animals.
Please do your study of the text, do a complete word study and tell me if I am wrong in what I’m saying here. If the translators had consistently translated zoon as “animals,” I think we all would have long ago come to terms with the fact that certain intelligent animals live in his presence praising God. Now, they are not earthly animals, they are in Heaven, but God’s inspired Word calls them animals. I never would have come up with such an idea! But I must believe what Scripture says and adjust my understanding to it. Here’s what the book says:
The word translated “living creatures” is zoon. Throughout most of the New Testament the word is translated “animal” and is used to indicate animals sacrificed in the Temple and wild, irrational animals (Hebrews 13:11; 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 1:10). In the Old Testament, the Septuagint used zoon to translate the Hebrew words for animals, including the “living creatures” of the sea (Genesis 1:21; Ezekiel 47:9). In extrabiblical writings, zoon commonly referred to ordinary animals and was used of the Egyptians’ divine animals and the mythological bird called the Phoenix (1 Clement 25:2-3). In virtually every case inside and outside of Scripture, this word means not a person, not an angel, but an animal.
The King James Version translates zoon “beasts” in Revelation, but the negative connotations of that word led subsequent translators to settle on “living creatures.” The most natural translation would be simply “animals.” That word would likely have been chosen by translators if it didn’t sound so strange for readers to envision talking animals praising God around his throne! The “living creatures” look like a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle (Revelation 4:7). They appear to be the same creatures of Ezekiel 1:5-14 and Ezekiel 10:10-14, also called the cherubim, who are distinguished from angels (Revelation 15:7). The cherubim are first mentioned in Genesis 3:24, as Eden’s guardians. Their images were carved out of gold and placed on the Ark of the Covenant, indicating their closeness to God.
Somehow we have failed to grasp that the “living creatures” who cry out “Holy, holy, holy” are animals—living, breathing, intelligent and articulate animals who dwell in God’s presence, worshiping and praising him. They preexisted and are greater than the animals we know. Perhaps they’re the prototype creatures of Heaven after whom God designed Earth’s animals. But even though they’re highly intelligent and expressive, they’re still animals; that’s what Scripture calls them.
His support comes primarily from passages that by standard historic premillennial perspective have been viewed as being millennial.
This New Earth passage (which contains two verses which appear incompatible with the New Earth, and may therefore be millennial) culminates with these words: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord” (v. 25).
I do not believe it is proper exegesis to take Isaiah 65:17-25, which starts by talking about the New Earth and ends by talking about no more hurt or destruction on earth, and say that everything in it, or even most things in it, are purely millennial. It is a way of maintaining the notion that the New Earth is not earthly, but I don’t believe it’s true to the text or context. Isaiah 65 is completely consistent with Romans 8, Isaiah 60 and Ezekiel 48, all of which speak of the New Earth either specifically or by clear implication (Romans 8 and all creation longing for deliverance that will come in our resurrection).
His use of Moreland’s remarkable effort to place animals in the eternal state because they are described as souls, not only is unnecessary biblically, but in light of the inclusive-ness of the word animal, it introduces the strangest picture of the eternal state. Since, according to Moreland, all animals have or are souls, then all animals will be on the new earth—not a larger earth, but a renovated earth. How many feet above the surface of the earth will we have to walk because of the incalculable quantity of animals beneath us—billions of rats, trillions of ants, oceans clogged with fish? Moreland has opened a literal can of worms by his assumptions.
This is an overstatement and somewhat a misstatement of Moreland’s views, and certainly my own. Have you actually read Moreland and Habermas’s book? If not, I would recommend it.
I do not believe all animals who have ever lived will inhabit the New Earth. I don’t believe all people will either. As people can be excluded on the basis of their lack of faith, animals—including the vast majority of animals—can be excluded by God for any reason whatsoever that He may choose.
John, you are taking conclusions rooted in a serious study of Romans 8 and making them to appear silly. Most who carefully read the book, even if they disagree, will realize my position, while not often taught, is neither unfounded nor silly. In fact, I did not believe it myself until I carefully studied the text, which drove me to it.
As for Moreland and Habermas, they have written a carefully researched book. They are not idiots. They base their beliefs on the explicit statement of Scripture that animals have nephesh, souls, the same word used of humans having or being souls. Do a word study of nephesh and you will find they are correct. For instance, Genesis 1:20: Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures.” And 1:24, “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth.”
Animals are also called nephesh three times in the flood account in Genesis 9:12-16: God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations…I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh….I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”
Note Ezekiel 47:9, which says “It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live.”
These passages demonstrate why DBL puts this definition as the primary one, the first of four of nephesh: “1. LN 4 creature, being, i.e., an animal of any kind, as a living thing in creation (Ge 1:20)”
Now, the fact that not only humans but animals are said to be nephesh may be a new or troubling notion to someone, but it is simply a fact. It deserves not to be dismissed out of hand, but to be taken seriously.
Lest it be thought that I am equating animal and human souls in any sense, which I would consider heresy, here’s what I actually said in the book:
Do Animals Have Souls?
When God made the animals, he made “the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25). Animals were important in Eden; therefore, unless there’s revelation to the contrary, the principle of continuity suggests that they’ll be important on the New Earth.
Like humans, animals were formed from the ground. “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air” (Genesis 2:19). When God breathed a spirit into Adam’s body, made from the earth, Adam became nephesh, a “living being” or “soul” (Genesis 2:7). Remarkably, the same Hebrew word, nephesh, is used for animals and for people. We are specifically told that not only people, but animals have “the breath of life” in them (Genesis 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; 7:15, 22). God hand-made animals, linking them both to the earth and humanity.
Am I suggesting animals have souls? Certainly they do not have human souls. Animals aren’t created in God’s image, and they aren’t equal to humans in any sense. Nonetheless, there’s a strong biblical case for animals having non-human souls. I didn’t take this seriously until I studied the usage of the Hebrew and Greek words nephesh and psyche, often translated “soul” when referring to humans. (Nephesh is translated psyche in the Septuagint.) The fact that these words are often used of animals is compelling evidence that they have non-human souls. That’s what most Christians in the past believed. In their book Beyond Death, Gary Habermas and J. P. Moreland point out, “It wasn’t until the advent of seventeenth-century Enlightenment . . . that the existence of animal souls was even questioned in Western civilization. Throughout the history of the church, the classic understanding of living things has included the doctrine that animals, as well as humans, have souls.”
I cannot emphasize strongly enough that humans and animals are different. Humans continue to exist after death, but that may not be the case for animals. However, to do justice to Scripture, we need to recognize that people and animals share something unique: They are living beings. Because God has a future plan for both mankind and Earth, it strongly suggests that he has a future plan for animals as well.
Since Randy believes that the same animals that inhabit our earth will inhabit the new earth
Here’s what I actually said (leaving out a great deal of the biblical development that’s in the book):
How Closely Are Animals Tied to Our Resurrection?
Did Christ die for animals? Certainly not in the way he died for mankind. People are made in God’s image, animals aren’t. People sinned, animals didn’t. Because animals didn’t sin, they don’t need a redeemer in the same way.
But in another sense, Christ died for animals indirectly because his death for humanity purchased redemption for what was brought down by humanity’s sin, including animals. Romans 8 is explicit on this point: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. . . . The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth. . . . We wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:21-23). On the New Earth, after mankind’s resurrection, animals who once suffered will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.
If God created a new race of humans on the New Earth—rather than raising the people who had lived on the old Earth—would it fulfill the promise in Romans 8 of redemption, deliverance, and resurrection? No. Why? To have meaning, the people who are redeemed and resurrected into the new world must be the same people who suffered in the old world. Otherwise, their longing for redemption would go unmet. As goes mankind, so go the animals. If we take to its logical conclusions the parallel Paul makes between humans’ and animals’ groaning, then at least some of those animals who suffered on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth.
It’s not some abstract “animalkind” that cries out. The creatures that groan and cry out for their resurrection are specific suffering people and specific animals. They cry out for their deliverance, not another’s. I believe this suggests that God may remake certain animals that lived on the old Earth.
Many passages indicate that God will bring judgment on “men and animals” or “man and beast” because of mankind’s sin (Exodus 9:22-25; Jeremiah 7:20; 21:6; Ezekiel 14:12-13, 17). God’s blessings on the righteous include blessings not only on their children but also on the offspring of their animals (Deuteronomy 7:13-14; 28:1-4).
This fits the words anticipating Christ’s coming: “And all flesh will see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6, NASB). The Greek word translated “flesh” is sarx. Some Bible versions translate this as “all people” or “all mankind,” but the word is more inclusive. “All flesh” includes animals. They too will behold and benefit from Christ’s redemptive work.
and since fishes live in the oceans, even though the Bible says that there will be no more oceans, he argues that there will be huge lakes (p. 266). He argues this from Is. 60:9 “in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your sons from afar with silver and gold to honor the Lord” (the broader context is millennial.)
Here again we disagree. To say the context is millennial is to ignore the fact that God applies Isaiah 60:11 to the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:25-26: “Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations—their kings led in triumphal procession.”
The magnificence of nations will be welcomed into the King’s great city: “The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir and the cypress together” (v. 13). The hearts of the nations will be transformed in their attitudes toward God, his people, and his city: “The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you the City of the Lord” (v. 14). God promises the New Jerusalem, “I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations” (v. 15). This is not a temporary period of fleeting prosperity but an “everlasting” condition. It will not be limited to one time period but will be for “all generations.”
How can you say the broader context is millennial? Based on words such as “everlasting,” and the direct NT application of portions to the New Earth, I think the broader context should be viewed as New Earth, with the minority of passages being exclusively millennial (many could well be both).
The New Jerusalem will be the beneficiary of all people groups and their rulers: “You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts” (v. 16). The fulfillment of all these promises will testify to God’s greatness: “Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (v. 16).
God promises something that has never yet been true of the earthly Jerusalem: “I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise” (vv. 17-18). Does this not correspond to the strongly emphasized walls and gates of the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21?
Isaiah 60:10-20 says “The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end” (vv. 19-20).
Once again Scripture applies this directly to the New Earth (in Revelation 21:23; 22:5). Of the New Jerusalem, we’re told that “nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). Isaiah tells us the same, using inclusive language that could not apply to the old Earth under the Curse: “Then will all your people be righteous” (60:21).
Isaiah adds, “and they will possess the land [erets] forever.” The earth will be theirs, not for a glorious decade or century or millennium, but forever.
As persuasive to me as Isaiah 60 is, John, note Ezekiel 47:9, which says “It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live.”
This is a particularly interesting one in that the immediate context, Ezekiel 47:12, is specifically cited and applied in Revelation 22: “By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
Since the immediate context is definitely New Earth, doesn’t it suggest this verse is also? If it is, then it is speaking of living creatures (nephesh), animals living on the New Earth.
In view of what he says regarding his support of the symbolism of Jesus as a lamb, p. 471, why does he choose to make the cherubim animals?
I do not make the cherubim anything. I simply point out the fact that the word for “living creatures” is a word that means animals. They are not earthly animals or dumb animals, obviously. The living creatures are not just angels. In fact, they are specifically distinguished from angels in Revelation 15:7. But since God’s Word calls them animals, shouldn’t we acknowledge that’s the case and ponder its significance?
When Jesus is called a lamb we know this is symbol because he is consistently elsewhere said to be a man, and man is not a lamb. Now, if those who call out “Holy, Holy, Holy” are consistently elsewhere called something else which excludes or contradicts the notion that they could be actual zoon then that would be a logical basis to say the reference isn’t literal. Is that the case?
In the case of Christ, the meaning of the lamb symbol is obvious—he is the fulfillment of the OT sacrificial system, dying for the sins of the world. What is the meaning of these beings referred to as animals? Why use this particular symbolic term—in what sense are they animal-like? To conclude that the cherubim are in no sense animal-like is to disregard the significance of language. Personally, in the absence of a compelling reason to do otherwise, I find it more reasonable to believe we should think of them as the text depicts them: intelligent worshipping animals who praise God continuously.
However, the central premises of the Heaven book on which we disagree have nothing to do with secondary issues such as this. Except, I suppose, that it’s another demonstration of how difficult it may be to accept something so physical and earthly as an animal used to describe beings in God’s presence; if you believe animals cannot exist in God’s presence, obviously you can’t believe they are really animals. But if we view God as the maker of animals, and animals as “very good,” the second highest level of life created in the physical universe—then the notion that he could make animals or animal-like living creatures intelligent and capable of praising Him is no real stretch for me. In fact, as Hebrews 8:5 says there is a tabernacle in heaven after which that on earth was patterned, is it possible the living creatures are in some sense prototypes for animals created on earth? What would exclude that possibility? And would this really be a repugnant notion? Why? (Apart from Christoplatonic assumptions.)
And if Jesus is not an animal, why does he necessitate that the horse He rides in Rev. 19:11 is a literal horse?
I say the following in the book. Please note the phrases “these horses could be symbolic” and “Even if this isn’t the case” (that is, if they are not literal). So this is hardly “necessitating” a literal horse, but neither do I believe we should necessitate a non-literal horse given the biblical evidence:
Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a chariot pulled by horses (2 Kings 2:11). Revelation suggests there are horses in the intermediate Heaven (Revelation 6:2-8); in fact, there are enough horses for the vast armies of Heaven to ride (Revelation 19:11-14). There are also invisible horses in angelic armies dispatched to Earth (2 Kings 6:17).
These horses could be symbolic, but as we saw in chapter 6, we find many other references to physical objects in the intermediate Heaven, including Christ’s resurrection body. It’s therefore possible that besides the “living creatures,” horses as well as other animals could be in the present Heaven. Even if this isn’t the case, however, we have every reason to expect animals will find their ultimate home on the New Earth.
I only wish that his handling of apocalyptic literature was as easy as he appears to think.
I don’t think it easy at all, nor do I suggest it is easy. I simply say that it is as much a mistake to think that nothing in Revelation is literal as it is to think everything is literal. I also say this:
There’s considerable overlap between these literary forms. For instance, the Gospels are historical narrative but include Christ’s parables. The letters are instructional but include some history and poetry. Biblical poetry often recalls historical events. Historical books contain prophecy. Prophetic books include history and instruction. Daniel and Revelation are apocalyptic books that contain both history and prophecy. Therefore, it’s a mistake to say that every statement in a historical book should be taken literally and every statement in an apocalyptic book should be taken figuratively. We must always evaluate meaning in light of immediate context.
… The detailed literal fulfillment of Christ’s first coming and death portrayed in Isaiah 52–53 and 61:1-3 instructs us on how we should interpret Isaiah 60–66’s detailed descriptions of a coming life of righteousness and peace on what is called a “new earth.” Similarly, I believe that the historical accounts of Christ’s life on Earth after his resurrection should instruct us how to interpret Revelation 21–22’s account of our lives on the New Earth after our resurrection.
It’s true that large portions of both Isaiah and Revelation contain figurative and apocalyptic depictions, some of which should not be taken literally. Yet we shouldn’t make the same mistake many scholars make with Isaiah 52–53, spiritualizing these passages and entirely missing their central—and very literal—points, even in the midst of much that’s figurative.
In view of what he says about the tree of life being “a tree,” (p. 472), how can he so readily decide elsewhere that this is a “collective singular” so that there will be lots of trees of life?
Once again, you leave a misimpression of what I actually say. Here it is. Please note that I am merely proposing an interpretive possibility to the reader, one that will explain how a single tree of life grows on both sides of a river, which is what the text says. I quote Hendriksen’s suggestion and then I say “even if he is wrong in supposing that the tree of life is collective…” This is hardly the “so readily decide” scenario you describe:
Commentator William Hendriksen suggests, “The term ‘tree of life’ is collective, just like ‘avenue’ and ‘river.’ The idea is not that there is just one single tree. No, there is an entire park: whole rows of trees alongside the river; hence, between the river and the avenue. And this is true with respect to all the avenues of the city. Hence, the city is just full of parks, cf. Rev. 2:7. Observe, therefore, this wonderful truth: the city is full of rivers of life. It is also full of parks containing trees of life. These trees, moreover, are full of fruit.”
This broader view of the tree of life would account for the fact that the tree grows on both sides of a great river at once and yields twelve different kinds of fruit. (Of course, even if Hendriksen is wrong in supposing that the tree of life is collective, it is reasonable that just as there were other trees in Eden, there will be other trees on the New Earth.)
I wonder how on one hand he can reject the idea that the tree of life symbolizes Christ’s cross (I would reject that idea as well), yet then say that the “no more sea” expression should, at least in a major way, be understood symbolically (bottom of p. 265).
One last thought, Jonathan Edwards notwithstanding.
I wonder why he finds it necessary to say that “a primary way we will see the Father on the new earth is through his Son. In light of Rev. 4 and elsewhere the Father always is mentioned first (p. 167)? See John 14:6 plus so many other passages which focus on our fellowship directly with the Father. Since the angels “are always beholding the face of the Father in heaven,” will we do less?
Again, this is covered in the book. Edwards says seeing Christ “is the most perfect way of seeing God with the bodily eyes.” I then state that seeing Christ is “a primary way” of seeing the Father, yet clearly say that we will in fact see the Father. Are you suggesting that seeing the incarnate Christ would not be “a primary way” [I didn’t even say the primary way] to see the Father, when Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Here’s what Heaven says:
Because Jesus Christ is God, and a permanent manifestation of God, he could say to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Certainly, then, a primary way we will see the Father on the New Earth is through his Son, Jesus.
Jonathan Edwards emphasized Christ as the member of the Godhead we will see: “The seeing of God in the glorified body of Christ is the most perfect way of seeing God with the bodily eyes that can be; for in seeing a real body that one of the persons of the Trinity has assumed to be his body, and that he dwells in for ever as his own in which the divine majesty and excellency appears as much as ’tis possible for it to appear in outward form or shape.”
Yet Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). And in Revelation 22:4, when it says “they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads,” it appears to be referring to seeing the face of God the Father.
“God is spirit” (John 4:24). Biblical references to God’s body parts (e.g., “the eyes of the Lord” or “God’s arms”) are figures of speech. Yet in some sense, it seems that Moses saw the bright essence of God himself, even without seeing God’s face. Is brightness really part of God the Father’s essence, or is it a form in which he chooses to reveal himself to physical eyes? I don’t pretend to understand how we will see the Father’s face, but it seems that in some sense we will.
John, in all honesty, I feel that once you became upset with the Heaven book, you started focusing on points of disagreement, and searching for them. It doesn’t matter whether you reject my conclusions, of course. My feelings aren’t hurt. I’ve labored at being faithful to and driven by the texts of Scripture. Still, as I affirm in the book, there are no doubt many things I’m wrong about.
But I do wish you would look more closely at the passages I cite, which have compelled me to many of the conclusions you dismiss as unfounded, outlandish or silly. I wonder if you really gave some of the passages, and what was to you a new interpretation of them, the consideration they deserve.
Another confession: I feel like sometimes (not in all cases certainly) your view of the eternal state is close to that of Eastern mysticism. You seem to think Heaven will be a place of putting our past life on earth, everything that relates to creativity and art and culture, behind us, because it’s all unworthy and tainted.
I see us, rather God on our behalf, putting behind us all sin and death and suffering. Then we can, unfettered at last, enjoy and worship God by living out the beauty and wonder of God-centered living as redeemed people living on the redeemed earth he made for us to rule. I believe Scripture explicitly tells us this.
In any case, I love and appreciate you. I will always be in your debt. Thank you for your classes at Bible College, which were some of the very best I’ve ever had. Thank you, John, for loving Jesus, and helping me want to love Him more. Though we have not spent much time with each other over the years, your investment in my life is an eternal one. I look forward to our conversations on the New Earth, where we will no doubt both find that our God, and the resurrected life, are more wonderful than we ever dreamed.
Finally, below are thoughts from my book about why I believe looking forward to this New Earth (as 2 Peter 3:13 encourages us to do) does not draw us away from our God, but toward Him.
With warmth, affection and respect,
No Rivalry between Christ and Heaven
A man said to a few of us at a gathering, “I find myself longing for Heaven.” After he left, someone said to me, “Shouldn’t he be longing for God, not Heaven?” This may sound spiritual, but is it?
Scripture speaks positively of “longing for a better country” (Hebrews 11:16). I don’t know the man’s heart, but his statement was biblically warranted. The right kind of longing for Heaven is a longing for God, and longing for God is longing for Heaven. If we understand what Heaven is (God’s dwelling place) and who God is, we will see no conflict between the two. A woman who longs to be reunited with her husband could well say, “I just want to go home.”
I’m often asked the following question in various ways: “Why talk about Heaven when we can just talk about Jesus?” The answer is that the two go together. We were made for a person (Christ) and a place (Heaven). There is no rivalry between Christ and Heaven.
Any bride in love with her husband wants to be with him more than anything. But if he goes away to build a beautiful place for her, won’t she get excited about it? Won’t she think and talk about that place? Of course. Moreover, he wants her to! If he tells her, “I’m going to prepare a place for you,” he’s implying, “I want you to look forward to it.” Her love and longing for the place he’s preparing—where she will live with him—is inseparable from her love and longing for her husband.
Some erroneously assume that the wonders, beauties, adventures, and marvelous relationships of Heaven must somehow be in competition with the one who has created them. God has no fear that we’ll get too excited about Heaven. After all, the wonders of Heaven aren’t our idea, they’re his. There’s no dichotomy between anticipating the joys of Heaven and finding our joy in Christ. It’s all part of the same package. The wonders of the new heavens and New Earth will be a primary means by which God reveals himself and his love to us.
Picture Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve says to Adam, “Isn’t this place magnificent? The sun feels wonderful on my face, the blue sky’s gorgeous. These animals are a delight. Try the mango—it’s delicious!” Can you imagine Adam responding, “Your focus is all wrong, Eve. You shouldn’t think about beauty, refreshment, and mouthwatering fruit. All you should think about is God.”
Adam would never say that, because in thinking about these things, Eve would be thinking about God. Likewise, our enjoyment of what God has provided us should be inseparable from worshiping, glorifying, and appreciating him. God is honored by our thankfulness, gratitude, and enjoyment of him.
I’ve heard it said that “God, not Heaven, is our inheritance.” Well, God is our inheritance (Psalm 16:6), but so is Heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4). God and Heaven—the person and the place—are so closely connected that they’re sometimes referred to interchangeably. The Prodigal Son confessed, “I have sinned against heaven” (Luke 15:18, 21). John the Baptist said, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Why didn’t he say God instead of Heaven? Because God has made himself that closely identified with Heaven. It’s his place. And that’s his idea, not ours. He could have offered us his person without his place. But he didn’t.
So, thinking about Heaven shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle to knowing God but as a means of knowing Him. The infinite God reveals himself to us in tangible, finite expressions. Next to the incarnate Christ, Heaven will tell us more about God than anything else. Some people have told me, “I just want to be with Jesus—I don’t care if Heaven’s a shack.” Well, Jesus cares. He wants us to anticipate Heaven and enjoy the magnificence of it, not to say, “I don’t care about it” or “I’d be just as happy in a shack.” When you go to visit your parents in the house you grew up in, it’s no insult to tell them “I love this place.” It’s a compliment. They’ll delight in it, not resent it.
Every thought of Heaven should move our hearts toward God, just as every thought of God will move our hearts toward Heaven. That’s why Paul could tell us to set our hearts on Heaven, not just “set your hearts on God.” To do one is to do the other. Heaven will not be an idol that competes with God but a lens by which we see God.
If we think unworthy thoughts of Heaven, we think unworthy thoughts of God. That’s why the conventional caricatures of Heaven do a terrible disservice to God and adversely affect our relationship with him. If we come to love Heaven more—the Heaven God portrays in Scripture—we will inevitably love God more. If Heaven fills our hearts and minds, God will fill our hearts and minds.
Those who love God should think more often of Heaven, not less.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.