The Old Testament prophets and Revelation tell us what God will do at the end of this present age. In particular, creation will be redeemed, transformed, and united with Heaven. The merging of these two realities—the physical with the spiritual—will become the everlasting abode of God’s people (and animals). The Bible refers to this future eternal home of redeemed and resurrected humans—those who are saved by the atoning work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 15:3)—as a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). Many Christians, however, are confused about where this eternal Kingdom of God’s people will be located, which Isaiah (65:17), Peter (2 Pet. 3:13), John (Rev. 21:1), and others prophesied.
So the first thing that needs to be established, as I begin part two of this series of blog articles, is that Heaven is not an alien, mysterious, otherworldly place located somewhere “far off in space.” Rather, Heaven will actually encompass this Earth, but transformed and restored (hence the term “new earth”). To be sure, the wicked will be removed from Earth (Rev. 20:7-15) and the righteous will inherit it (Rev. 5:10; cf. Matt. 5:5). But nothing in Old or New Testament eschatology suggests that God’s children will be removed from Earth and transported to some kind of parallel universe or to a Heaven located far out in the cosmos. As Hank Hanegraaff, President of the Christian Research Institute, in his book, AfterLife: What You Need to Know about Heaven, the Hereafter & Near-Death Experiences, put it:
You and I are not going anywhere! Heaven and earth [will be] conjoined. . . . When [Jesus] appears again heaven and earth will be as one—united, as it was before the advent of decay, disease, destruction, and death. The dwelling of God will be here. . . .
We are not going to be resurrected to another world. We await our resurrection in this world! This world is not about to be scrapped; it will ultimately be redeemed. (132)
In other words, there will be continuity between this Earth and the prophesied restored New Earth, which will be our eternal home—Heaven. The prophet Ezekiel gives an example of this continuity when he spoke of Israel’s restoration in the prophesied Messianic Age. He wrote that a river will flow “east through the desert into the valley of the Dead Sea. The waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure. . . . Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for its waters will become fresh” (47:8–9 NLT). Unless God creates another Dead Sea on another earth, this prophecy will be fulfilled here on Earth.
Here’s how it plays out in the eschaton. When we Christians die, our souls go immediately to be with the Lord in Heaven (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil 1:21-23). At the end of this age, when Jesus returns to initiate His eternal Kingdom, our souls will then be reunited with our resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15; Phil. 3:21) At that point, Earth will be redeemed and transformed into a New Earth, and Heaven (God’s abode and where yet to be resurrected souls presently dwell) will unite with this New Earth to become our flawless, eternal home—one free forever of sin, suffering, grief, hardships, natural disasters, and all the others evils that plague the human race and nature on Earth today. (C)
In upcoming blogs, I’ll describe what I believe this New Earth (Heaven) will look like, in terms of its physical environment, its inhabitants, and other features that can be gleaned from the Old and New Testaments. But first, in next week’s blog article, I’ll explain how we can know the new heaven and earth will be this Earth gloriously redeemed and transformed.
This blog series is adapted from my book, Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven?: People, Pets, and Wild Animals in the Afterlife, which contains a more in depth treatment of this topic.