What we usually think of when we hear “Heaven” is the intermediate state. That’s where we go when we die. It’s the place we’ll live until the resurrection. But it’s not the place we’ll live forever. That place, where God will come down to dwell with his people, is called The New Earth (Revelation 21:1-3).
Our minds rarely go to the eternal state, where we’ll spend eternity...where we’ll live forever after the culminating event of human history that’s linked to Christ’s return—our resurrection. We’ll reign over a resurrected universe, centered on a resurrected earth, with its capital city the resurrected Jerusalem. Carefully read Revelation 21-22 and many other passages, and you’ll discover life on a new earth described in familiar ways. We will eat, drink, work, play, worship, discover, invent, travel, etc. The references to “nations” on the new earth suggests civilizations will be resurrected, including human cultures with distinctive ethnic traits (Revelation 21:24, 26). There will be resurrected nature and human culture. Together these elements combine to distinguish the eternal state, where God will come down and live with his people. So the word “Heaven” can be properly used of both the intermediate state, where we go when we die, and the future state, where we’ll live as resurrected people. That’s why I use it to refer to both in this handout.
Books on Heaven often fail to distinguish between the intermediate and eternal states, largely because the same word “Heaven” is used of both. The same word can be used of God’s different dwelling places, but we need to keep clear in our minds the major differences between them. In my book on heaven, when referring to the present Heaven, where believers go when we die, I often use the term “intermediate Heaven” or “third Heaven,” which Paul used of the place he’d been taken (2 Corinthians 12:2). I refer to the New Earth as just that, or I call it the eternal or “ultimate” Heaven.
The New Earth as a physical place isn’t an invention of short-sighted human imagination. Rather, it’s the invention of a transcendent God, who chose not only to make physical man to live on a physical earth, but chose to become a man on that same earth, that he might redeem man and earth, to enjoy forever the company of men in a world made for them—a world called The New Earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). It is that world that we are to be looking forward to (2 Peter 3:14).
For more information on this subject, see Randy Alcorn's book Heaven.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.