10 Things You Should Know about the New Heaven and New Earth

Where will believers in Jesus spend eternity? It won’t be on a cloud or a star in some distant galaxy. It will be on the sanctified and redeemed soil of the new earth. Here are ten things you should about what eternal life will be like in the new heaven and new earth.

(1) According to Revelation 21:1 this present earth and the heavens above will “pass away” when Jesus Christ returns to destroy his enemies and consummate his kingdom. But this present earth does not give way to a purely spiritual existence somewhere in the clouds above. The “first heaven and the first earth” give way to a new heaven and a new earth. The relationship between the former and the latter is ambiguous. Will the new heaven and earth replace the old or simply be a renewal of what we now experience? Certainly there are elements of continuity, even as there are between our present, corruptible bodies and our future, incorruptible and glorified bodies. We will be in heaven the same, though transformed, people that we are now. Yet, the heaven and earth to come are also said to be “new” or kainos, a word which typically indicates newness of quality, not time.

(2) One element of discontinuity between the present earth and the new earth is the absence of the “sea” in the new creation. Those of you who love to fish and sail and water ski and ponder the expanse and beauty of the ocean need not worry. John does not mean that there won’t be bodies of water in the new earth for us to enjoy.

The “sea” was typically regarded as symbolic of evil, chaos, and anti-kingdom powers with whom Yahweh must contend. See especially Isaiah 17:12-13; 27:1; 51:9-10; 57:20; Jer. 46:7-8; Job 26:7-13. And we must not forget that in Revelation 13:1 (see also 17:2, 15) the “sea” is the origin of the Beast as well as the pagan and rebellious nations that oppose the kingdom of God. It is also the place of the dead (Rev. 20:13) and the location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (18:10-19). As Ladd has noted, in ancient times the sea “represented the realm of the dark, the mysterious, and the treacherous” (276; cf. Ps. 107:25-28; Ezek. 28:8; Dan. 7:3ff). Thus, this is John’s way of saying that in the new creation all such evil and corruption and unbelief and darkness will be banished.

When Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee he was giving us a foretaste of heaven. It was his way of saying that one day he will rid the heavens and the earth of all opposition and rebellion and disturbances.

(3) At the center of life in the new earth is the New Jerusalem. It’s important to remember that the New Jerusalem is more than a place. The New Jerusalem is also a people: you and me! Here we see that the descent of the new Jerusalem from heaven to earth is compared to a bride coming to her husband. It would appear that John is equating the new Jerusalem with the bride of Christ, hence the Church = the New Jerusalem (see Rev. 3:12; 19:7-8). This identification is explicitly reinforced by Revelation 21:9-10 where John is told, “’Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” In other words, whereas in one sense the people of God shall dwell in the New Jerusalem, in another sense the people of God are the New Jerusalem (see also Heb. 11:8-10,13-16).

(4) The glory of life on the new earth is found in the intimate fellowship we will experience with God. We read in Revelation 21:3, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (see Lev. 26:11-12 and Ezek. 37:27; cf. 2 Cor. 6:16). This is what makes heaven so heavenly! What makes heaven heaven isn’t the absence of the things that we dislike now on earth. What makes heaven heaven is the presence of God! Heaven will be glorious not primarily because there will be no sin or death or pain or tears but because of the presence of God.

No longer will there be any sense of distance between us and God. Never again will you feel that God is absent or remote. Loneliness is banished from the new heaven and new earth. Our constant companion, our closest and most intimate friend will be God himself! Yes, God is omnipresent. He fills the galaxies with his glory. But his primary place of residence is with you and me! If today you don’t sense God’s nearness, comfort and reassure yourself with the promise that in eternity future you will always and forever be with God and God will always and forever be with you.

(5) In the new heaven and new earth tears of sorrow and pain will be banished (Rev. 21:4). How could we possibly weep in sorrow and sadness and anguish if we are with God and God is with us? There are, of course, multiple reasons why we cry. Tears of joy and gratitude and amazement will certainly be present in the new earth. But gone forever are the tears caused by grief and pain and sin. The tears that we shed now because of persecution and slander will nowhere be found in the age to come.

(6) It isn’t the case that you and I will wipe away our own tears. God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Many of you are weeping today. Some of you hold back tears of sorrow and suffering for fear that if you ever yielded to the tendency to weep you wouldn’t be able to stop the flow. But in the new earth God will personally wipe away every tear! He will personally banish from your thoughts and your experience everything and anything that in this life led you to cry.

Here we find the fulfillment of what is prophesied by Isaiah (35:10):

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

(7) There will no longer be death in the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:4). Not of husbands, wives, aunts, uncles, children, brothers, sisters, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins, friends, neighbors. Funeral homes will be put out of business. Cemeteries will be empty, for all will have been raised in glorified bodies that are no longer susceptible to disease and decay. Never again the long meetings at the funeral home deciding on caskets and vaults and limo’s and flowers. No graveside services. No obituaries to be read, no video tributes of a person’s life. No eulogies. No flowers to be sent or cards of condolence to be written. Never again a long caravan of cars with their headlights on. No police escorts to the cemetery. No headstones or awkward moments when you don’t know what to say.

(8) Neither shall there be any more pain (Rev. 21:4). There will be no physical pain because our bodies will have been glorified and made like unto the body of Jesus. Paul spoke of this in Romans 8 and called it “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). Earlier in Romans 8 he made this remarkable promise: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11).

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul again declares that “this perishable body,” that is to say, this body that is subject to germs and bacteria and cancer and old age and decay, “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality, . . . [and] then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:53-56).

This is again what Paul had in mind when he assured us in Philippians 3 that Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21). That is why there will no longer be kidney failure or heart disease or diabetes or cancer. No more asking why me or how long? No decay or dissolution.

Those of you who live with constant, chronic pain and disability should be especially encouraged and empowered to persevere. The day is coming, and when it comes it comes forever, never to be reversed, when all pain will be gone! And not just physical pain, but emotional pain, marital pain, relational pain, the pain of a wayward child or an unfaithful spouse, the pain of disappointment and loss, indeed, the pain of every sort and from every cause, all will be gone!

You who suffer from depression or anxiety or relentless fear will forever and finally be set free! The joy and happiness and elation that will be yours will immeasurably, indeed infinitely exceed anything you have ever experienced in this life or hope to have experienced.

This is because “the former things have passed away” (v. 4). The “former things” refers to whatever may have been the cause of your pain. It will have disappeared, never to re-emerge. Indeed, as God himself declares in v. 5, he is “making all things new.”

(9) In the new heaven and new earth God will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). We will be made spiritually and morally new in the sense that our battle with sin and temptation and lust and greed and envy will be forever over. Your frustration with not being able to do what you know is right and your guilt for having failed will be gone. The struggle to resist wicked and perverse thoughts will give way to constant victory.

As I have already stated, we will be made physically and bodily new. There will be enough continuity between what we look like now and what we’ll look like then that we will undoubtedly recognize one another. But gone will be all defects and disabilities. You who are frustrated with your bodies now and live in constant envy of those you regard as more attractive or more athletic than you will never experience that in the new earth. If you hate your body now, you will love it then. Paralysis will be gone. Blemishes will be eliminated. Deafness and blindness and every deformity will be banished.

Let’s be clear about this once again. You will not spend eternity as a disembodied soul or spirit. You will live forever in a new, transformed, glorified physical body that is perfectly suited and adaptable to life in the new heaven and new earth.

(10) “Sam, you say all this with such energy and confidence. How can you be so certain? How do you know it isn’t all a pipe dream? How can I be sure that if I put my hope in this promise it won’t come crashing down on me and leave me disappointed as has happened in so many other instances?” Good question. The answer is given in Revelation 21:5 – “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

How do we know they are trustworthy and true? We know because they are the words of him who is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (v. 6). God has staked his reputation on it. His honor and fidelity hang in the balance. He said it, therefore it will come to pass. In fact, God speaks as if it has already come to pass. “It is done” (v. 6) is literally, “it has happened” (perfect tense). But even more to the point, the verb is plural, hence: “everything has happened”! In speaking this way God assures us as only he can that everything he promised will most assuredly come to pass.

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On My Shelf: Life and Books with Scott Swain

On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.

I asked Scott Swain—president and professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and author of Trinity, Revelation, and Reading and The God of the Gospel—about what’s on his nightstand, his favorite fiction, books that have most influenced his thinking, and more.

What books are on your nightstand?

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve been on something of an Augustine kick. Of late, I’ve been reading three of the bishop of Hippo’s treatises on the nature of marriage, celibacy, and Christian sanctification: The Excellence of Marriage; Holy Virginity; and Continence (New City Press). Though not without his own idiosyncrasies and mistakes, Augustine has much to teach both conservatives and progressives on the nature of sex and sanctification.

Other theological books on my shelf include:

For work and pleasure respectively, I’ve also been reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and Adam Roberts’s The Thing Itself.

What are your favorite fiction books?

I don’t read as much fiction as I’d like, but when I get the chance I enjoy authors such as John Updike and P. D. James. Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country was an early favorite that deeply affected me as a teenager. More recently, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead probably sits at the top of my list of favorite fiction books.

What books have most influenced your thinking and how?

I read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion during my first Christmas break in seminary. Though I wasn’t raised in a Reformed context, Calvin’s Institutes offered me pastoral, exegetical, and theological mentoring from afar that defined my approach to the Bible, theology, and piety.

D. G. Hart’s Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America introduced me to the category of “confessional Protestantism,” not only shaping my self-understanding at an early stage of theological development, but also suggesting a model for the renewal of Protestantism through investment in the institutions of historic, confessional Christianity.

Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine influenced the way I think about the subject matter of the Bible and, consequently, about the nature of biblical interpretation. It was Augustine, not modern books on biblical interpretation, who taught me that the Bible is about the blessed Trinity, about the humility and glory of Jesus Christ, and about nurturing a community devoted to the love of God and neighbor.

Though not (yet) a book, John Webster’s unpublished Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology—the manuscript of which he kindly shared with me a number of years ago—crystalized my thinking on several theological issues and continues to inform my prayer, thinking, research, and teaching.

What three books on the doctrine of God have you found most helpful?

Three of the most helpful books for grasping the basic “grammar” of Christian teaching about God are:

The first is a series of sermons delivered around the time of the Council of Constantinople. The latter two are academic works, by no means easy reads, but sure to reward the patient and studious reader with deeper, more intelligent adoration of the God we worship.

What’s the last great book you read?

Paul J. Griffiths’s Decreation: The Last Things of All Creatures is the most stimulating work in theology I have read in a while. Both formally and materially, this book is a model of excellence in the craft of theology, promoting insight in every paragraph—even when it provokes profound disagreement, as it does at several junctures in the argument.

What’s one book you wish every pastor read?

Like John the Baptist, pastors are “friends of the bridegroom” (John 3:29), charged with contemplating and commending the beauty of Jesus Christ to the church, which is his bride. John Owen’s The Person of Christ: Declaring a Glorious Mystery—God and Man will serve the pastor well in fulfilling this delightful duty. (Christian Focus has recently published an unabridged, reader friendly edition of this classic Christological text.)

What are you learning about life and following Jesus?

I’m always learning and relearning one of the most basic lessons of the Bible: that “the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8) and that our lives, in their greatest extremities of joy and sorrow, as well as in their smallest details, are governed by the sovereign goodness of “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas. 1:17).

I’m also continuing to learn that there is great joy in self-forgetful service of God and neighbor, that denying ourselves, for Christ’s sake, is the path to finding ourselves (Matt. 16:25).

Finally, I’m learning the painful lesson that unlike houses, cars, coats, and ties, persons are irreplaceable. For this reason, their losses in this life are worthy of lament. For this reason also, our reunion with lost mentors, colleagues, friends, and loved ones in the next life will be essential to our eternal happiness in God.

Also in the On My Shelf series: Chad Bird • Sam Chan • Matthew Lee Anderson • Melissa Kruger • Isaac Adams • Denny Burk • Vermon Pierre • Jake Meador • Russ Ramsey • Jason Allen • Jason Cook • Mack Stiles • Michael Kruger • Robert Smith • Tony Merida • Andy Crouch • Walter Strickland • Hannah Anderson • S. D. Smith • Curtis Woods • Mindy Belz • Steve Timmis • David Mathis • Michael Lindsay • Nathan Finn • Jennifer Marshall • Todd Billings • Greg Thornbury • Greg Forster • Jen Pollock Michel • Sam Storms • Barton Swaim • John Stonestreet • George Marsden • Andrew Wilson • Sally Lloyd-Jones • Darryl Williamson • D. A. Horton • Carl Ellis • Owen Strachan • Thomas Kidd • David Murray • Jarvis Williams • Gracy Olmstead • Matthew Hall • Drew Dyck • Louis Markos • Ray Ortlund • Brett McCracken • Mez McConnell • Erik Raymond • Sandra McCracken • Tim Challies • Sammy Rhodes • Karen Ellis • Alastair Roberts • Scott Sauls • Karen Swallow Prior • Jackie Hill Perry • Bruce Ashford • Jonathan Leeman • Megan Hill • Marvin Olasky • David Wells • John Frame • Rod Dreher • James K. A. Smith • Randy Alcorn • Tom Schreiner • Trillia Newbell • Jen Wilkin • Joe Carter • Timothy George • Tim Keller • Bryan Chapell • Lauren Chandler • Mike Cosper • Russell Moore • Jared Wilson • Kathy Keller • J. D. Greear • Kevin DeYoung • Kathleen Nielson • Thabiti Anyabwile • Elyse Fitzpatrick • Collin Hansen • Fred Sanders • Rosaria Butterfield • Nancy Guthrie • Matt Chandler

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