Heaven Is Coming To Earth
The hope of all Christians is to be with the Lord in heaven. What kind of heaven one is anticipating, however, varies greatly from believer to believer. There are all sorts of personal speculations as to what heaven will be like, ranging from agnosticism to that of a glorified playground. What exactly is heaven? Where will we spend eternity after the Great White Throne Judgment?
One's personal expectation of the nature and of heaven will depend, in part, on the extent of their knowledge of the Bible's teaching in this regard. Unfortunately, most people's view of heaven is based on their wildest imagination, not the Biblical text. While the Scripture has not painted an extensive picture of the eternal state, there are some indications as to its nature.
The Scripture teaches that following the Millennium God will destroy the present earth and present heavens, and create a new earth and a new heaven (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; II Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). "New heaven" does not refer to the spiritual abode of God. The Scripture uses "heaven" to refer to both the abode of God, and the atmosphere in which we live (Genesis 2:1, 4; Deuteronomy 33:28; I Chronicles 27:23; Job 35:5; Ps 57:5; 148:4; Jeremiah 4:23, 28; 9:10; Zechariah 8:12; Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 1:10; II Pet 3:5-13). Genesis says that "in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). The heaven is the atmosphere, not the abode of God (the point is obviously not that God created a place for Himself to exist). Therefore, the new earth and new heavens is a new earth and a new atmosphere, patterned after the present earth and atmosphere.
Creating our physical world anew is necessary because of the curse put on earth at the fall of man (Romans 8:18-23). The earth/heavens needs to be renewed and changed just like our bodies need to be changed into incorruptible bodies (I Corinthians 15:35-55). Sin has tainted the whole creation, and thus the whole creation must be renewed to the state which it was originally created/intended. Our eternal abode will be in the new earth and new heaven after the Millennium, just as we are in the earth and heaven (atmosphere) now. The final resting place of the saints is the new earth, not the spiritual abode of heaven. This is the heaven for which we look, and is called "the kingdom of God" in Scripture.
The establishment of the kingdom of God on earth is the unifying theme of the Bible. The kingdom was established with creation. Immediately after Adam's creation he was commanded by God have dominion over every living thing that moves on the earth (Genesis 1:26, 28). A kingdom is a dominion, and those who exercise dominion over something establish a rule over that something. The original creation was God's kingdom, designed to be ruled by mankind Himself. Adam lost this dominion because of his sin in the Garden. Ever since then God has been in the process of re-establishing His kingdom on earth.
The essence of salvation is the redemption of the whole creation (including man, the earth, and the cosmos) to its original state and purpose. The creation started as God's kingdom on earth, and He will ultimately reestablish that kingdom eternally. The eternal state of heaven in which we will dwell after the destruction of the present earth/atmosphere is not necessarily a new place of heavenly bliss as a reward for those who believe in Christ, but rather is the restoration of creation to what it once was. The salvation we experience in this life is what will allow us to enter the eternal kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5).
To demonstrate that the kingdom of God on earth is the hope of the believer we will examine a few crucial passages of Scripture. The kingdom theme is the subject of Isaiah 9:6, in which it was prophesied that the coming Messiah would have the government (literally rule) on his shoulder; i.e. he would be the ruler of the world. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, is in the kingly lineage of David. The Messiah is to be the king of the earth at His return from heaven. Jesus' many parables concerning the kingdom of God pertain to the nature of the kingdom in both the present dispensation (spiritual kingdom established in our hearts-Luke 17:21) and the future (earthly kingdom with Christ ruling from David's throne). Jesus' parable of the pounds teaches concerning the kingdom, that those who are faithful will inherit cities (Luke 19:11-27). We have every reason to interpret this parable to be a literal teaching on the coming kingdom. Jesus even told His apostles that they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:27-28; Luke 22:28-30). The idea of judging, here, pertains to administrative judgment, not the judgment of eternal destiny which is God's prerogative.
Even the titles of Christ, "Son of God" and "Son of Man," refer to refer to the kingdom theme. Both of these titles would be understood to mean "king" to the original audience. See my article titled What Is the Significance of "Son of God" and "Son of Man?" for further discussion.
The Book of Acts mentions the fact that the apostles preached the kingdom of God six times (Acts 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). Jesus spoke of the kingdom before His ascension (Acts 1:3-7). The phrase "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven" appears in the NT ninety-nine times. With such frequency we must take the topic quite seriously.
Daniel spoke of the eschatological kingdom saying, "And there was given him [the son of man who is identified as the saints-see vs. 13, 18] dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. … But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever" (Daniel 7:14, 18). Mention is made of the antichrist, who is said to rule only until the time that the Ancient of Days comes and gives judgment to the saints, and they possess the kingdom (Daniel 7:22, 26). Finally it is said that "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him" (Daniel 7:27). God has prepared for us a kingdom that is everlasting, to be realized at His second coming when He returns to overthrow the power of the antichrist.
The Book of Revelation speaks of the realization of the kingdom when it is said at Christ's coming, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15; See also 1:9; 2:26-27; 12:10). It is at this time that the saints will begin to rule and reign with Christ in His kingdom (II Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6). This rule will initially be for the millennial reign of Christ on this present earth, but ultimately an eternal rule on the new earth.
It is this eternal, earthly kingdom which we seek. The kingdom of God is not just a 1000 year period of peace, but the kingdom will continue on the new earth after this 1000 year period. The Millennium will be the kingdom on the present earth, but the kingdom of God after this will be on the new earth wherein only righteousness will dwell (II Peter 3:13). The hope of the Christian is not to escape to a "spiritual abode" in the sky, but to be regenerated, and live life as it was originally intended by God, and as it was originally created, on earth.
What will heaven be like? Most saints' conception of heaven is derived from a Greek view of heaven which has been popularized in our culture. We are seen as disembodied spirits floating in the clouds, nothing more than faceless, formless blobs, or as angels with wings, playing harps. This is not the Biblical perspective. The Bible teaches that the eternal state will be very similar to the present state, but perfected. We will live on a new earth, with a new atmosphere (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; II Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), in a literal city (Revelation 3:12; 21:2), in our own resurrected and glorified bodies (Romans 8:11, 23; I Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:21; I John 3:1-2). We will look like real people, and will have real flesh, albeit glorified.
When speaking of the saints' expectation of heaven, it should be noted that one's theological position concerning the time of the rapture in relation to Christ's second coming has profound impact on one's conception of where they will be immediately following the rapture. Pretribulationists believe the living saints will be raptured into the spiritual abode of heaven seven years before the Lord's second coming, only to return to earth at the second coming to set up the millennial kingdom. Posttribulationists, believing that the rapture of the living saints will occur at the second coming, are expecting to immediately return to the earth from their meeting with Christ in the air to enter the millennial kingdom. Thus, posttribulationists are not expecting for those alive at the rapture to ever go away to the spiritual abode of heaven (where all the dead in Christ had been prior to the rapture).
In the way of evaluation, the conception of the "ultimate heaven" espoused by many pre-trib believers makes the return to the earth for the Millennium a letdown rather than the eschatological hope of the church! After all, if the spiritual abode we so often refer to as heaven is the best state to be in, why would God "punish" us by making us come back to earth after seven years of bliss? The spiritual abode of heaven commonly referred to as the "intermediate state" is a blessed state, but not the most blessed of all. There are yet better things prepared for God's people, and these better things involve a physical world and physical bodies.
The final hope of the Christian is not to "go home" to the Lord. Our hope is for Him to return to the earth during our lifetime. For those of us who will die before the kingdom commences (to occur at the second coming) we can look forward to our presence with God in His spiritual abode of heaven; yet even in this blessed state we will not be fully satisfied because God has more in store for us. Those believers who are with the Lord presently will have their spirits/souls reunified with their bodies (II Corinthians 5:1-8), and will dwell in the new earth/atmosphere with God in their midst as He intended it to be in the beginning. Let us continue to look in hope for the coming kingdom prepared for us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself!
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