Let me share with you some relevant excerpts from my book Heaven, related to a New Universe, other planets, aliens and space travel.
But here’s a warning: these excerpts from the book do not include much of the development of the biblical foundation related to a redeemed creation and the extensive promises that God’s children will rule the New Earth, and possibly the entire material universe, serving as kings under the King of Kings. This biblical foundation is laid in the book Heaven, in which these excerpts find their larger context.
The kingdom of God . . . does not mean merely the salvation of certain individuals nor even the salvation of a chosen group of people. It means nothing less than the complete renewal of the entire cosmos, culminating in the new heaven and the new earth.
The gospel is far greater than most of us imagine. It isn’t just good news for us—it’s good news for animals, plants, stars, and planets. It’s good news for the sky above and the earth below. Albert Wolters says, “The redemption in Jesus Christ means the restoration of an original good creation.”
Many of us have come to think of redemption far too narrowly. That’s why we’re fooled into thinking that Heaven must be fundamentally different from Earth—because in our minds, Earth is bad, irredeemable, beyond hope. However, “the teaching that the new creation involves a radically new beginning,” writes theologian Cornelius Venema, “would suggest that sin and evil have become so much a part of the substance of the present created order that it is unrelievedly and radically evil. . . . It would even imply that the sinful rebellion of the creation had so ruined God’s handiwork as to make it irretrievably wicked.”
But let’s not forget that God called the original earth “very good”—the true earth, as he designed it to be (Genesis 1:31). The breadth and depth of Christ’s redemptive work will escape us as long as we think it is limited to humanity. In Colossians 1:16-20, notice that God highlights his plan for the church, but then he goes beyond it, emphasizing “all things,” “everything,” “things on earth,” and “things in Heaven”:
For by him [Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (emphasis added)
God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, on Earth and in Heaven. The Greek words for “all things,” ta panta, are extremely broad in their scope.
Eugene Peterson captures the universal implications of Christ’s redemption when he paraphrases Colossians 1:18-20 in The Message: “He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.”
The power of Christ’s resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe—mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars, nebulae, quasars, and galaxies. Christ’s redemptive work extends resurrection to the far reaches of the universe. This is a stunning affirmation of God’s greatness. It should move our hearts to wonder and praise.
Do you ever sense creation’s restlessness? Do you hear groaning in the cold night wind? Do you feel the forest’s loneliness, the ocean’s agitation? Do you hear longing in the cries of whales? Do you see blood and pain in the eyes of wild animals, or the mixture of pleasure and pain in the eyes of your pets? Despite vestiges of beauty and joy, something on this earth is terribly wrong. Not only God’s creatures but even inanimate objects seem to feel it. But there’s also hope, visible in springtime after a hard winter. As Martin Luther put it, “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” The creation hopes for, even anticipates, resurrection. That’s exactly what Scripture tells us.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)
The “redemption of our bodies” refers to the resurrection of the dead. Paul says that not only we but “the whole creation” awaits the earth-wide deliverance that will come with our bodily resurrection. Not only mankind in general but believers in particular (those with God’s Spirit within) are aligned with the rest of creation, which intuitively reaches out to God for deliverance. We know what God intended for mankind and the earth, and therefore we have an object for our longing. We groan for what creation groans for—redemption. God subjected the whole creation to frustration by putting the Curse not only on mankind but also on the earth (Genesis 3:17). Why? Because human beings and the earth are inseparably linked. And as together we fell, together we shall rise. God will transform the fallen human race into a renewed human race and the present Earth into the New Earth.
What does it mean that creation waits for God’s children to be revealed? Our Creator, the Master Artist, will put us on display to a wide-eyed universe. Our revelation will be an unveiling, and we will be seen as what we are, as what we were intended to be—God’s image-bearers. We will glorify him by ruling over the physical universe with creativity and camaraderie, showing respect and benevolence for all we rule. We will be revealed at our resurrection, when our adoption will be finalized and our bodies redeemed. We will be fully human, with righteous spirits and incorruptible bodies.
John Calvin writes in his commentary on Romans 8:19, “I understand the passage to have this meaning—that there is no element and no part of the world which is being touched, as it were, with a sense of its present misery, that does not intensely hope for a resurrection.”
What is “the whole creation” that groans for our resurrection? The phrase appears to be completely inclusive of “the heavens and the earth” that God created in the beginning (Genesis 1:1). So it is the heavens and the earth that eagerly await our resurrection. This includes Earth and everything on it, as well as the planets of our solar system and the far reaches of our galaxy and beyond. If it was created, Paul includes it in “the whole creation.”
Why does the creation wait eagerly for our resurrection? For one simple but critically important reason: As mankind goes, so goes all of creation. Thus, just as all creation was spoiled through our rebellion, the deliverance of all creation hinges on our deliverance. The glorification of the universe hinges on the glorification of a redeemed human race. The destiny of all creation rides on our coattails.
What possible effect could our redemption have on galaxies that are billions of light years away? The same effect that our fall had on them. Adam and Eve’s sin did not merely create a personal catastrophe or a local, Edenic catastrophe; it was a catastrophe of cosmic—not just global—proportions.
Astronomy has been my hobby since childhood. Years before I came to know Christ, I was fascinated by the violent collisions of galaxies, explosions of stars, and implosions into neutron stars and black holes. The second law of thermodynamics, entropy, tells us that all things deteriorate. This means that everything was once in a better condition than it is now. Children and stars can both be born, but both ultimately become engaged in a downward spiral. Even the remotest parts of the universe reveal vast realms of fiery destruction. On the one hand, these cataclysms declare God’s greatness. On the other hand, they reflect something that is out of order on a massive scale.
It seems possible that even the second law of thermodynamics (at least as it is popularly understood) may have been the product of mankind’s fall. If true, it demonstrates the mind-boggling extent of the Curse. The most remote galaxy, the most distant quasar, was somehow shaken by mankind’s sin.†
Adherents of some views of the origin of the universe believe that entropy (i.e., all things tend toward deterioration and disorder) has always been operative. But we should not look at things as they are now and assume they’ve always been this way. In 2 Peter 3:4-7, the Bible rejects the uniformitarian view that “processes acting in the same manner as at present and over long spans of time are sufficient to account for all current . . . features [in the universe] and all past . . . changes.” We are so accustomed to the cycle of death in nature that we assume it is natural and has always been as it is. The Bible appears to say otherwise: “Death came through a man [Adam]” (1 Corinthians 15:21). I see no biblical evidence for the assumption that God designed his creation to fall into death, or that animal death predated mankind’s fall. Do artists deliberately inject decay into their work? Would an omnipotent Artist do so? Both Genesis and Romans 8 suggest otherwise. (I am well aware that many will disagree with me on this, but I state it based on my understanding of Romans 8.)
Isn’t it reasonable to suppose that the pristine conditions of God’s original creation were such that humans and animals would not die, stellar energy would be replenished, and planets would not fall out of orbit? What if God intended that our dominion over the earth would ultimately extend to the entire physical universe? Then we would not be surprised to see the whole creation come under our curse, because it would all be under our stewardship.
“Even after the fall,” writes theologian Erich Sauer, “the destiny and the redemption of the earth remain indissolubly united with the existence and development of the human race. The redemption of the earth is, in spite of all, still bound up with man. . . . Man is the instrument for the redemption of the earthly creation. And because this remains God’s way and goal, there can be a new heaven and a new earth only after the great white throne, i.e., after the completion and conclusion of the history of human redemption.”
Excerpts from Heaven, Chapter 22
God says of the reigning Messiah, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). What does this mean? If it was simply that the Messiah’s reign will never cease, it would more likely say, “His government shall never end.” That’s true, of course, but it’s not the point of the text. If it means only that his government shall be all-encompassing, it might say, “Of his governmental authority there will be no limit.” That’s also true, but again it’s not the point. The key word in Isaiah 9:7 is increase. Nearly every major English translation of the Bible renders the Hebrew word marbiyth as “increase” or “expansion.” In other words, Christ’s government of the New Earth and the new universe will be ever-expanding.
How could that be? Even if the New Earth were many times the size of the present one, wouldn’t every inch of it immediately or eventually be under his control and under ours as his representatives? If so, it wouldn’t be ever-expanding. So what can it mean? There are two ways in which a government can increase: (1) by expanding into previously ungoverned territories; or (2) by creating new territories (an option not available to us as humans).
It may be that Christ’s government will always increase because he will continually create new worlds to govern (and, perhaps, new creatures to inhabit those new worlds). Or perhaps it will always increase because the new universe, though still finite, may be so vast that what Christ creates in a moment will never be exhaustively known by finite beings. From what we know of our current universe, with billions of galaxies containing millions of billions of stars and untold planets, this is certainly possible. The restoration of the current universe alone will provide unimaginable territories for us to explore and establish dominion over to God’s glory.
Mankind’s fall may have initiated a divine moratorium on creation. By analogy, imagine a skilled artist who encounters difficulties with one great painting, his magnum opus. For the time being, he sets aside everything else to focus on this one work to bring it to completion. He’s still a creator, still an artist. A hundred other dream projects await him. Once his consuming central creation is finally done, he will return to his practiced habit of creating new works of art. (Of course, the analogy breaks down because God isn’t limited to one “painting,” one act of creation, at a time.)
If Christ expands his rule by creating new worlds, whom will he send to govern them on his behalf? His redeemed people. Some may rule over towns, some cities, some planets, some solar systems or galaxies. Sound far-fetched? Not if we understand both Scripture and science. Consider how our current universe is constantly expanding. Each moment, the celestial geography dramatically increases. As old stars burn out, new stars are being born. Is God their creator? Yes. Suppose the new heavens also expand, creating new geography in space and ever increasing the size of God’s Kingdom. Will he fill that empty space with new creation? Will he dispatch exploratory and governing expeditions to these worlds, where his glory will be seen in new and magnificent creations?
The proper question is not, Why would God create new worlds? That’s obvious. God is by nature a creator and ruler. He is glorified by what he creates and rules. He delights to delegate authority and dominion to his children to rule his creation on his behalf. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.”
Is there anything in Scripture—anything we know about God—that would preclude him from expanding his creation and delegating authority to his children to rule over it? I can’t think of anything. Can you?
God’s throne is referred to forty times in the book of Revelation, appearing in sixteen of the twenty-two chapters. In The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven, Wilbur Smith writes, “The basic undertone of all that is revealed in the Apocalypse concerning the activities of heaven may be summed up in this one word throne.” Revelation isn’t primarily a book about the Antichrist or the Tribulation; it’s a book about God reigning. He reigns over the fallen universe now, and he will reign uncontested over the new universe, with mankind reigning by his side. Concerning the repeated references to our reigning over God’s universe, Dr. Henry Grattan Guinness writes, “We must not regard this as a figure of speech, but as the description of an actual reality.”
Humans are made to be kingdom builders, but history demonstrates that when we try to build without God as King, our “utopias” become hell on Earth. “Tragically,” writes Bruce Milne, “humanity failed to fulfill its calling as God’s vice-regents. Instead we have tumbled down to the dust from which we were taken and groveled on the earth instead of reaching to the skies.” Pascal writes that man endures “the miseries of a dethroned monarch.” He asks, “What can this incessant craving, and this impotence of attainment mean, unless there was once a happiness belonging to man, of which only the faintest traces remain, in that void which he attempts to fill with everything within his reach?”11
By rebelling against the King of kings, mankind abdicated dominion over the earth. But Christ will restore us to the throne occupied so briefly by Adam and Eve. He will hand over to us the Kingdom. He said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
What Scripture tells us about the river of life and the tree of life and its fruits is indicative of the natural wonders that will be part of the New Earth. Just as “the tree” probably includes many trees, “the river” likely becomes many rivers, which in turn form lakes. Since this is the New Earth, we should expect geographical properties of Earth: mountains, waterfalls, and other natural wonders.
In describing the New Earth, John speaks of “a mountain great and high” (Revelation 21:10). Note that John calls it a mountain, not the mountain. We know that the New Earth has at least one mountain, and we can assume it has hundreds or thousands of them.
Just as our resurrection bodies will be better than our current ones, the New Earth’s natural wonders will presumably be more spectacular than those we now know. We can expect more magnificent mountains and more beautiful lakes and flowers than those on this earth. If we imagine the New Earth to have fewer and less beautiful features than the old, we picture the earth’s regression. The least we should expect is retention. But in fact, I believe there’s every reason to anticipate progression. The depiction of the precious metals and stones and vast architecture is lavish beyond imagination, as are the descriptions of trees on both sides of the great river, bearing new fruit each month. Everything God tells us suggests we will look back at the present Earth and conclude, creatively speaking, that God was just “warming up” and getting started.
Look at God’s track record in creating natural wonders in this universe. On Mars, the volcano Olympus Mons rises 79,000 feet, nearly three times higher than Mount Everest. The base of Olympus Mons is 370 miles across and would cover the entire state of Nebraska. The Valles Marineris is a vast canyon that stretches one-sixth of the way around Mars. It’s 2,800 miles long, 370 miles wide, and 4.5 miles deep. Hundreds of our Grand Canyons could fit inside it.
The New Earth may have far more spectacular features than these. Imagine what we might find on the new Mars or the new Saturn and Jupiter and their magnificent moons. I remember vividly the thrill of first seeing Saturn’s rings through my new telescope when I was eleven years old. It exhilarated me and stirred my heart. Five years later, I heard the gospel for the first time and came to know Jesus, but the wonders of the heavens helped lead me to God. How many times in the new universe will we be stunned by the awesomeness of God’s creation?
Remember, God will make the new heavens, which will correspond to the old and which will therefore include renewed versions of the planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies God created in the first heavens.
The New Earth’s waterfalls may dwarf Niagara—or the New Niagara Falls may dwarf the one we know now. We will find rock formations more spectacular than Yosemite’s, peaks higher than the Himalayas, forests deeper and richer than anything we see in the Pacific Northwest.
Some current earthly phenomena may not occur on the New Earth, including earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and volcanoes. These may be aberrations due to the Curse. God’s Kingdom is described as one “that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28). However, it may be that the foundations of the New Earth’s buildings will be such that they would remain solid in the most violent storms or earthquakes. In that case, we might ride out an earthquake as if we were on a roller coaster—experiencing the thrill of the event without the danger. We could praise God for the display of his magnificent power.
On the present Earth, God shows himself through natural wonders and weather (Job 9:5-7; 38:34-35). Since the old Earth is the prototype of the new, there’s every reason to believe he will show his greatness and beauty the same way on the New Earth.
What does the Bible mean by the term new heavens? Let’s look at a few passages.
The Old Testament uses no single word for universe or cosmos. When Genesis 1:1 speaks of God’s creating “the heavens and the earth,” the words are synonymous with what we mean by universe. Heavens refers to the realms above the earth: atmosphere, sun, moon, and stars, and all that’s in outer space. Then in Isaiah, God says, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). This corresponds to Genesis 1:1, indicating a complete renewal of the same physical universe God first created.
Revelation 21:1-2 says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . . I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” Because “new heaven” (singular) is used here, some think it’s God’s dwelling place that passes away and is renewed. But the present Heaven is described as unshakable in ways the physical universe isn’t (Hebrews 12:26-28). The “new heaven” in Revelation 21:1 apparently refers to exactly the same atmospheric and celestial heavens as “heavens” does in Genesis 1:1. It also corresponds to the “new heaven(s)” of Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:22, and 2 Peter 3:13. In Revelation 21:2, we see God’s dwelling place isn’t replaced but relocated when the New Jerusalem is brought down to the New Earth. The new heavens will surely be superior to the old heavens, which themselves are filled with untold billions of stars and perhaps trillions of planets. God’s light casts the shadows we know as stars, the lesser lights that point to God’s substance. As the source is greater than the tributary, God, the Light, is infinitely greater than those little light-bearers we know as stars.
The Bible’s final two chapters make clear that every aspect of the new creation will be greater than the old. Just as the present Jerusalem isn’t nearly as great as the New Jerusalem, no part of the present creation—including the earth and the celestial heavens—is as great as it will be in the new creation.
While some passages suggest that the universe will wear out and the stars will be destroyed, others indicate that the stars will exist forever (Psalm 148:3-6). Is this a contradiction? No. We too will be destroyed by death, yet we will last forever. The earth will be destroyed in God’s judgment, yet it will last forever. In exactly the same way, the stars will be destroyed, yet they will last forever. Based on the redemptive work of Christ, God will resurrect them.
Earth is the first domain of mankind’s stewardship, but it is not the only domain. Because the whole universe fell under mankind’s sin, we can conclude that the whole universe was intended to be under mankind’s dominion. If so, then the entire new universe will be ours to travel to, inhabit, and rule—to God’s glory.
Do I seriously believe the new heavens will include new galaxies, planets, moons, white dwarf stars, neutron stars, black holes, and quasars? Yes. The fact that they are part of the first universe and that God called them “very good,” at least in their original forms, means they will be part of the resurrected universe. When I look at the Horsehead Nebula and ask myself what it’s like there, I think that one day I’ll know. Just as I believe this “self-same body”—as the Westminster Confession put it—will be raised and the “self-same” Earth will be raised, I believe the “self-same” Horsehead Nebula will be raised. Why? Because it is part of the present heavens, and therefore will be raised as part of the new heavens.
Will the new planets be mere ornaments, or does God intend for us to reach them one day? Even under the Curse, we’ve been able to explore the moon, and we have the technology to land on Mars. What will we be able to accomplish for God’s glory when we have resurrected minds, unlimited resources, complete scientific cooperation, and no more death? Will the far edges of our galaxy be within reach? And what about other galaxies, which are plentiful as blades of grass in a meadow? I imagine we will expand the borders of righteous mankind’s Christ-centered dominion, not as conquerors who seize what belongs to others, but as faithful stewards who will occupy and manage the full extent of God’s physical creation.
Jesus says of the overcomer, “I will also give him the morning star” (Revelation 2:28). The morning star is a celestial object—the planet Venus. Although most people consider Jesus’ statement to be figurative, it could suggest that God might entrust to his children planets or stars (with their respective planetary systems) in the new heavens. If the new creation is indeed a resurrected version of the old, then there will be a new Venus, after all.
Currently Venus is a most inhospitable planet. Humans could never survive its incredible heat and corrosive atmosphere. However, it’s possible that indestructible resurrected bodies could endure its atmosphere. It’s also possible that when the Curse is lifted, Venus may become a beautiful paradise.
We know God will put one world under his children’s authority—Earth. If the rest of the planets and the entire universe fell with and will rise with mankind, I can easily envision our inhabiting and governing other resurrected planets.
For those of us who love astronomy and for fantasy and science-fiction fans, this has exciting implications. I believe the great nebula of Orion, which has drawn hearts, including mine, to worship through its expansive beauty and wonder, will be refashioned as part of the new heavens. Will we see a new Saturn, new Jupiter, new Ganymede, new Pleiades, and a new Milky Way? I think that’s the logical conclusion based on what Scripture reveals. In the same way that the New Earth will be refashioned and still be a true Earth, with continuity to the old, the new cosmic heavens will likewise be the old renewed.
In my novel Dominion I try to depict this in a scene in which Jesus takes a woman who has died to a new world: Eventually they arrived on a world more beautiful than Dani could fathom—cascading waterfalls, rainbows of a hundred colors, mountain peaks five times higher than any on earth. Oceans with blue-green water, and waves crashing upon rocks the size of mountains. Grassy meadows, fields of multicolored flowers—colors she had never seen before. This place seemed somehow familiar to her, yet how could it, since it was like nothing she’d ever seen? Still, she felt profoundly at home.
“Why hasn’t anyone told me of this place until now? I’d think it would be the talk of heaven!”
The Carpenter smiled at her. “They did not tell you because they do not know of it. They’ve never been here.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are the first to visit this world.”
“No,” she said, then her face flushed. “How could that be?”
“This is yours. As your father once built you that tree house, I fashioned this place just for you.”
Nancy beamed. “He gave us our own worlds too,” she said. “Beautiful as this is, mine seems the perfect one for me. The Master tells me each world he gives is tailor-made to the receiver.”
“This is all for me?”
“Yes,” the Carpenter said. “Do you like it?”
“Oh, I love it. And I haven’t even begun to explore it! Thank you. Oh, thank you.” She hugged him tight. He took delight in her delight.
“This is not the ultimate place I have prepared for you, my daughter. But it is a pleasant beginning, isn’t it?”
God has built into us the longing to see the wonders of his far-flung creation. The popularity of science fiction reflects that longing. Visiting a Star Trek convention demonstrates how this—like anything else—can become a substitute religion, but the fervor points to a truth: We do possess a God-given longing to know a greater intelligence and to explore what lies beyond our horizons.
In the Star Trek movie Generations, the character Guinan tells Captain Picard about a place called the Nexus. She describes it this way: “It was like being inside joy, as if joy was something tangible, and you could wrap yourself up in it like a blanket.”
I don’t believe in the Nexus. But I do believe in the new heavens and the New Earth. What will the new heavens be like? Like being inside joy, as if joy were something tangible, and you could wrap yourself up in it like a blanket.
Scottish novelist George MacDonald wrote to his dying daughter, “I do live expecting great things in the life that is ripening for me and all mine—when we shall have all the universe for our own, and be good merry helpful children in the great house of our father. Then, darling, you and I and all will have grand liberty wherewith Christ makes free—opening his hand to send us out like white doves to range the universe.”
What has God made in the heights of distant galaxies, never seen by human eyes? One day we’ll behold those wonders, soaking them in with openmouthed awe. And if that won’t be enough, we may see wonders God held back in his first creation, wonders that will cause us to marvel and drop to our knees in worship when we behold them in the new creation.
The doctrine of resurrection is an emphatic statement that we will forever occupy space. We’ll be physical human beings living in a physical universe. The resurrected Christ said, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). He walked on Earth; we will walk on Earth. He occupied space; we will occupy space.
We are finite physical creatures, and that means we must live in space and time. Where else would we live? Eden was in space and time, and the New Earth will be in space and time. We will be delivered from all evil, but space isn’t evil. It’s good. God made it. It’s Christoplatonism that tries to persuade us something’s wrong with space and time.
One writer says of Heaven, “It is certainly justifiable to abandon the scheme of time and space and to put in its place a divine simultaneity.” This has a high-sounding resonance, but what does it mean? That we can be a thousand places at once, doing ten thousand different things? Those are the Creator’s attributes, not the creature’s. There’s no evidence that we could be several places at once. The promise of Heaven is not that we will become infinite—that would be to become inhuman. It’s that we’ll be far better finite humans than we have ever been. Even if we’re able to move rapidly from one place to another or to pass our resurrected molecules through solid objects, as the risen Jesus did, we’ll still be finite. (As I said before, I’m not certain we’ll have that power, though it’s possible.)
If we plan to get together with friends, the question is, “Where and when?” Where is space; when is time. The three gates on the west side of the New Jerusalem are a minimum of fourteen hundred miles from the gates on the east side. If I wait for you at a gate on the west side, you won’t see me if you show up at a gate on the east side. (Even if the stated dimensions are figurative, the principle remains the same.) When we walk outside the city gate, we won’t remain inside. People, even resurrected people, can be in only one place at one time. There’s no suggestion that even the resurrected Jesus was in two places at once.
One author says, “Time and space will not be the same as known here on earth, and relationships will be of a different order. This being so, it is clear that the life of the new humanity in their resurrection bodies of glory can be described only in symbolic terms.” But what’s the biblical evidence for this claim? The biblical texts speak of time and space in the New Earth similarly to how they speak of them here and now. By reducing resurrected life to symbols, don’t we undermine the meaning of humanity, Earth, and resurrection?
Jesus spoke of the uttermost parts or farthest ends of Heaven (Mark 13:27, NKJV). Even the present Heaven appears to occupy space. But certainly the new heavens and the New Earth will. Resurrection doesn’t eliminate space and time; it redeems them.
In the heavenly realms, even angels, whom we think of as disembodied spirits, can be hindered in space and time due to combat with fallen angels (Daniel 10:13). In other words, they can be delayed (time) from arriving at a particular destination (space).
People imagine they’re making Heaven sound wondrous when they say there’s no space and time there. (If it doesn’t have space, it’s not even a “there.”) In fact, they make Heaven sound utterly alien and unappealing. We don’t want to live in a realm—in fact, it couldn’t even be a realm—that’s devoid of space and time any more than a fish wants to live in a realm without water. If fish could think, try telling one, “When you die, you’ll go to fish Heaven and—isn’t this great?—there will be no water! You won’t have fins, and you won’t swim. And you won’t eat because you won’t need food. I’ll bet you can’t wait to get there!” After hearing our christoplatonic statements about Heaven, stripped of the meaning of resurrection, no wonder we and our children don’t get excited about Heaven.
Sir Isaac Newton said of God, “He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity.” God is the one “who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:15, NKJV). Creatures inhabit time. Jesus, as the God-man, inhabits both. By being with him on the New Earth, we will share space and time with God.
After Columbus discovered the New World, Spain struck coins with the Latin slogan Plus Ultra. It meant “More Beyond.” This was a horizon-expanding message to people who’d always believed the world they knew was all there was.
We’ll constantly enjoy the wonders of the New Earth, but we’re promised the new heavens too, including stars, planets, and cosmic wonders that will thrill us. Plus Ultra—there will always be more to discover about our God. In his new universe there will always be more beyond.
God is going to enjoy his new universe, and we’ll enter into his joy. Since we’ll draw from the reservoir of God’s being, which never runs dry, we’ll never run out of passion and joy. And God’s creation will never run out of the beauty that will be the Creator’s reflection.
At 2:30 a.m. on November 19, 2002, I stood on our deck, gazing up at the night sky. Above me was the Leonid meteor shower, the finest display of celestial fireworks until the year 2096. For someone who’s enjoyed meteor showers since he was a kid, this was the celestial event of a lifetime.
There was only one problem. Clouds covered the Oregon sky. Of the hundreds of streaking meteors above me, I couldn’t see a single one. I felt like a blind man being told, “You’re missing the most beautiful sunset of your lifetime. You’ll never be able to see another like it.”
Was I disappointed? Sure. After searching in vain for small cracks in the sky, I went inside and wrote these paragraphs. I’m disappointed but not disillusioned. Why? Because I did not miss the celestial event of my lifetime.
My lifetime is forever. My residence will be a new universe, with far more spectacular celestial wonders, and I’ll have the ability to look through clouds or rise above them.
During a spectacular meteor shower a few years earlier, I’d stood on our deck watching a clear sky. Part of the fun was hearing the oohs and ahhs from neighbors looking upward. Multiply these oohs and aahs by ten thousand times ten thousand, and it’ll suggest our thunderous response to what our Father will do in the new heavens as we look upward from the New Earth.
On the inside of my office door is a beautiful photograph of a menagerie of several hundred galaxies (there are more than three thousand detectable in the full picture), averaging perhaps a hundred billion stars each, never seen with any clarity until photographed by the Hubble space telescope. The photograph represents the deepest-ever view of the universe, called the Hubble Deep Field. In addition to the spiral and elliptical shaped galaxies, there’s a bewildering variety of other galaxy shapes and colors. This is a tiny keyhole view of the universe, covering a speck of sky one-thirtieth the diameter of the moon. When I look at this picture, I worship God.
We are not past our prime. The earth and planets and stars and galaxies are not past their prime. They’re a dying phoenix that will rise again into something far greater—something that will never die.
I can’t wait to see the really great meteor showers and the truly spectacular comets and star systems and galaxies of the new universe. And I can’t wait to stand gazing at them alongside once-blind friends who lived their lives on Earth always hearing about what they were missing, some believing they would never see, regretting the images and events of a lifetime beyond their ability to perceive. The hidden beauties will be revealed to them—and us.
Plus Ultra—there is more beyond. If we know Jesus, you and I, we who will never pass our peaks will be there to behold an endless revelation of natural wonders that display God’s glory . . . with nothing to block our view.
From Heaven, Chapter 44
Technology is a God-given aspect of human capability that enables us to fulfill his command to exercise dominion. As we’ve seen, we will find harps, trumpets, and other man-made objects in the @present Heaven. What should we expect to find on the New Earth? Tables, chairs, cabinets, wagons, machinery, transportation, sports equipment, and much more. It’s a narrow view of both God and humans to imagine that God can be pleased and glorified with a trumpet but not a desk, computer, or baseball bat. Will there be new inventions? Refinements of old inventions? Why not? We’ll live in resurrected bodies on a resurrected Earth. The God who gave people creativity surely won’t take it back, will he? The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
When God gave Eden to Adam and Eve, he expected them to develop it. He’ll give us the New Earth and expect the same of us. But this time we’ll succeed! This time no human accomplishment, no cultural masterpiece, no technological achievement will be marred by sin and death. All will fully serve God’s purposes and bring him glory.
On this earth, we seek comfort and invent ways to get it. On the New Earth, comfort may seek us. It may be built into the environment so that our efforts can be spent on other concerns. Of course, we’ll have the technological knowledge and skills to control our environment, so if we can make ourselves more comfortable, we will.
Something in the human constitution loves to create, tweak, experiment, and play with machinery. This isn’t a modern development; it was true of ancient people as well. It’s inherent in exercising dominion over creation.
If mankind had never sinned, would we have invented the wheel and created machinery? Certainly. On the New Earth, shouldn’t we expect machinery made for the good of mankind and the glory of God? On the New Earth people might invent machinery that could take us to the far ends of the New Milky Way, to other galaxies and beyond. Why not? Is this notion more unthinkable than it once was to imagine sailing a ship across an ocean or flying a plane across the world or landing a spacecraft on the moon? Because people in this fallen world have extended their dominion beyond our current Earth, might we not expect people on the New Earth to extend their Christ-exalting reach into the new universe?
Many people have asked how our resurrected bodies will travel on the New Earth, wondering whether we will be able to materialize, as Christ apparently was able to do in his resurrected body (John 20:24-26). Will our bodies become servants to our righteous wills, carrying out their directions? Might we be able to go somewhere simply by thinking or willing it? Possibly. It’s also possible that although our bodies will be like Christ’s, his ability to dematerialize and materialize and to rise in his ascension could be unique to his deity. We can’t be certain on this point.
After Philip met with the Ethiopian, he was “snatched away” by God’s Spirit and found himself at Azotus (Acts 8:25-40). Philip didn’t snatch himself away, but perhaps he experienced a foretaste of what a Spirit-empowered person with a resurrection body might do.
Since we will rule with Christ over a vast New Earth and possibly over far away places in the New Heavens, it would seem likely that we might be able to be instantly transported great distances.
Perhaps we might be able to be directly in the presence of Christ, worshipping him before his throne in the New Jerusalem, then go off to our duties far away, only to come back to him regularly. Perhaps we will be able to travel to the far ends of the New Earth, or even the remote parts of the New Universe, in the blink of an eye.
We do know, however, that the New Jerusalem will have streets and gates, suggesting conventional modes of travel. If citizens only walked, perhaps paths would be enough. But streets may suggest the use of wagons and horse-drawn carts, or something more advanced. Will we ride bicycles and drive motorized vehicles? Will we travel to other places outside New Jerusalem in airplanes? We don’t know. But we should use the “why not?” test. Is there anything sinful about wheels and motors? Unless you’re a Christoplatonist, you realize the answer is no. Therefore, there’s no reason to assume we won’t enjoy high-tech modes of travel on the New Earth.
Remember, the New Earth isn’t a return to Eden in the sense of abandoning culture, which includes inventions, transportation, and technology. It’s a resurrected Earth with resurrected people who have better brains and will be capable of better inventions. How long would it take brilliant people working in full cooperation to make startling technological breakthroughs? Imagine how quickly the space shuttle could become a relic.
I’ve explained my understanding of Scripture that God will resurrect nations and cultures and that we’ll be able to visit them on the New Earth. This may seem radical, but it’s just the beginning. I’ve also mentioned my belief that we will explore the far reaches of the new universe. Let me further develop that idea.
God promises to make not only a New Earth but also “new heavens” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13). The Greek and Hebrew words translated “heavens” include the stars and planets and what we call outer space. Since God will resurrect the old Earth and the old Jerusalem, transforming both into the new, shouldn’t we understand “new heavens” as an expression of his intention to resurrect galaxies, nebulae, stars, planets, and moons in a form as close to their original form as the earth will be to its original form and we will be to ours?
The stars of the heavens declare God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), yet how vast and distant they are. God made countless billions of galaxies containing perhaps trillions of nebulae, planets, and moons. Not many in human history have seen more than a few thousand stars, and then only as dots in the sky. If the heavens declare God’s glory now, and if we will spend eternity proclaiming God’s glory, don’t you think exploring the new heavens, and exercising dominion over them, will likely be part of God’s plan?
As a twelve-year-old, I first viewed through a telescope the great galaxy of Andromeda, consisting of hundreds of billions of stars and untold numbers of planets, nearly three million light years from Earth. I was mesmerized. I also wept, not knowing why. I was overwhelmed by greatness on a cosmic scale and felt terribly small and alone. Years later I first heard the gospel. After I became a Christian, I found that gazing through the telescope became an act of delighted worship.
From the night I first saw Andromeda’s galaxy, I’ve wanted to go there. I now think it’s likely I will.
Many of us have taken pleasure traveling on this earth. What will it be like to travel both the New Earth and the new universe? People didn’t venture across oceans and to outer space because of sin. They did so because God made us with the yearning to explore and the creativity to make that yearning a reality. Have you ever read about people who have taken amazing journeys and wished you had the time, money, courage, or health to do the same? In the new universe, none of those restraints will hold us back. It’s hard for me to believe God made countless cosmic wonders intending that no human eye would ever behold them and that no human should ever set foot on them. The biblical accounts link mankind so closely with the physical universe and link God’s celestial heavens so closely with the manifestation of his glory that I believe he intends us to explore the new universe. The universe will be our backyard, a playground and university always beckoning us to come explore the wealth of our Lord—as one song puts it, the God of wonders beyond our galaxy.
When we travel in the new universe, will we find new beings on other worlds? No Scripture passage proves that God will or will not create new races of intelligent beings, either on Earth or on other planets spread across the new universe. It’s not speculative to say there will be a new celestial universe of stars and planets. Scripture is clear on this point; that’s what “new heavens” means. Whether God might inhabit them with new creatures is not provable but certainly possible. God is a creator. He’ll never stop being what he is. We should expect new and wondrous creations that declare his glory. God hasn’t exhausted his creative resources. He never will.
Some people will say, “To imagine that God would populate worlds with new beings is just science fiction.” We may have it backward. Science fiction is the result of mankind’s God-given sense of adventure, wonder, creativity, and imagination. It emerges from being made in God’s image. Like everything else undertaken by sinful humans, science fiction is often riddled with false philosophies and assumptions that glorify mankind and ignore God. But this shouldn’t cause us to dismiss its glimpses of what an infinitely creative God might fashion across the broad expanse of the new heavens and the New Earth. Is God’s imagination less than that of his image-bearers? Or is the height of human imagination at its best a reflection of the infinite creativity of the divine mind?
Those who consider extraterrestrial creation a foolish notion shouldn’t dismiss too quickly the longing and intuitive sense that many people have about intelligent creatures different from ourselves. The worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, and E. T. are fictional, as are the worlds portrayed throughout the long history of mythology, fantasy, and science fiction. But if people, created in God’s image and endowed with divine creativity, have invented these fictional alien races and have so passionately contemplated them, should it surprise us if God creates the substance of which science fiction, fantasy, and mythology are but shadows?
When we get excited reading Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy or Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, it’s not our sinfulness that arouses that excitement. It’s our God-given hunger for adventure, for new realms and new beings, for new beauties and new knowledge. God has given us a longing for new worlds.
Give painters a room full of canvases, and they will paint. Why? Because they are painters. It’s their nature. When the Creator fashions the new heavens—as we’re told he will—whatever he does will be in keeping with his nature. Considering that his higher glory and praise come not from inanimate objects such as stars and planets but from intelligent beings such as people and angels, it’s no great stretch to suppose he might create other intelligent beings.
Would I expect the Creator, from whom human artists derive their creativity, to do less to demonstrate his ingenuity in the coming ages than he has in this first age? No. I anticipate an eternity of delight in watching and discovering what he creates to reveal more of himself to us.
If we will travel to other galaxies, will we also be able to travel in time? Even though I believe we’ll live in time, God is certainly capable of bending time and opening doors in time’s fabric for us. Perhaps we’ll be able to travel back and stand alongside angels in the invisible realm, seeing events as they happened on Earth. Maybe we’ll learn the lessons of God’s providence through direct observation. Can you imagine being there as Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount? Perhaps you will be.
Want to see the crossing of the Red Sea? Want to be there when Daniel’s three friends emerge from the fiery furnace? It would be simple for God to open the door to the past.
Because God is not limited by time, he may choose to show us past events as if they were presently happening. We may be able to study history from a front-row seat. Perhaps we’ll have opportunity to see the lives of our spiritual and physical ancestors lived out on Earth.
Usually we’re not able to see God’s immediate responses to our prayers, but in Heaven God may permit us to see what happened in the spiritual realm as a result of his answers to our prayers. In the Old Testament an angel comes to the prophet Daniel and tells him what happened as the result of his prayers: “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you” (Daniel 9:23).
Will God show us in Heaven what almost happened to us on Earth? Will he take us back to see what would have happened if we’d made other choices? Perhaps. Will the father whose son had cerebral palsy see what would have happened if he’d followed his temptation to desert his family? Would this not fill his heart with gratitude to God for his sovereign grace?
Will I see how missing the exit on the freeway last night saved me from a crash? Will I learn how getting delayed in the grocery store last week saved my wife from a fatal accident? How many times have we whined and groaned about the very circumstances God used to save us? How many times have we prayed that God would make us Christlike, then begged him to take from us the very things he sent to make us Christlike? How many times has God heard our cries when we imagined he didn’t? How many times has he said no to our prayers when saying yes would have harmed us and robbed us of good?
Perhaps we’ll see the ripple effects of our small acts of faithfulness and obedience. Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol and George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, perhaps we’ll see how we affected others, and how living our lives differently might have influenced them. (May God give us the grace to see this now while we can still revise and edit our lives.)
If we believe in God’s sovereignty, we must believe God would be glorified through our better understanding of human history. We’ll no longer have to cling by faith to “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28, NASB). We will see history as definitive documentation of that reality.
Does this discussion seem to you a bit bizarre? Consider it further. Surely you agree that God is capable of sending resurrected people back in time or of pulling back the curtain of time and allowing us to see the past. If he couldn’t do this, he wouldn’t be God. So the question is whether he might have good reasons to do so. One reason might be to show us his providence, grace, and goodness in our lives and the lives of others. Wouldn’t that bring God glory? Wouldn’t it cause us to praise and exalt him for his sovereign grace? This is surely a high and God-glorifying response. Couldn’t this fit his revealed purpose “that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7)?
C. S. Lewis wrote, “Don’t run away with the idea that when I speak of the resurrection of the body I mean merely that the blessed dead will have excellent memories of their sensuous experiences on earth. I mean it the other way round; that memory as we know it is a dim foretaste, a mirage even, of a power which the soul, or rather Christ in the soul . . . will exercise hereafter. It need no longer . . . be private to the soul in which it occurs. I can now communicate to you the fields of my boyhood—they are building-estates today—only imperfectly, by words. Perhaps the day is coming when I can take you for a walk through them.”
In much of what I’ve just said, I’m speculating, of course. But because the Bible gives a clear picture of resurrection and of earthly civilization in the eternal state, I’m walking through a door of imagination that Scripture itself opens. If all this seems more than you can imagine, I’d encourage you not to reject it simply on that basis. Our God, after all, is called the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). The very next verse gives praise to this God who acts immeasurably beyond our imaginations: “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!”
In my novel Edge of Eternity, Nick Seagrave beholds the Woodsman (Jesus) and the end of the world—then realizes it’s really a beginning:
I saw a dying cosmos hold out its weak right arm, longing for a transfusion, a cure for its cancerous chasm. I saw the Woodsman, holding what appeared to be a tiny lump of coal, the same size as the blue-green marble he’d held before. The Woodsman squeezed his hand and the world around me darkened. Just as I felt I would scream from unbearable pressure, the crushed world emerged from his grip a diamond. I gasped air in relief.
I saw a new world, once more a life-filled blue-green, the old black coal delivered from its curse and pain and shame, wondrously remade.
It looked so easy for the Woodsman to shape all this with his hands. But then I saw his scars . . . and remembered it was not.
Photo by Arnie Chou