WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE IN HEAVEN?

 

DSCN2422 (640x480)Part Four: Will Heaven Resemble the Garden of Eden—or Be Better?

The New Testament does not describe the natural environment in the prophesied future New Earth (Heaven). On the other hand, the Old Testament gives tantalizing glimpses of what the physical environment of the New Earth may look like. The Israelites understood that the future kingdom of God would be on this Earth; spiritually restored Israel would be an earthly abode. For example, the prophet Ezekiel wrote that on the renewed Earth the Dead Sea will be purified with fresh water and inhabited by “swarms of living creatures” (47:8-9). Indeed, the Old Testament prophets foresaw the New Earth as being similar, in many respects, to the Garden of Eden.

Speaking about the prophesied future kingdom of God, Isaiah told the Israelites that “The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (51:3).

Looking forward to the Israelites return from Babylonian captivity, Ezekiel made a similar prophetic statement. But in context of the entire passage (and other passages in Ezekiel), the prophecy also reflects a messianic hope that will only take place at the end of this present age. He writes, “They [the Israelites] will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden’” (36:35).

What did the Garden of Eden look like? Since God was its Creator, it would have been unspoiled, pristine, and indescribably beautiful. There was no death in Eden since it was created before the Fall and nature’s subsequent curse (Gen. 2-3). Thus, natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis would have been unknown. Furthermore, there could not have been predators or other dangerous animals in Eden, and poisonous and harmful plants would have been absent. Adam and Eve, and all the animal inhabitants of the Garden, were vegetarians (Gen.1:29–30), and food was bountiful and available merely by harvesting it (2:16). Adam and Eve’s only responsibility was to tend and care for the Garden (2:15). They didn’t even have to water it (2:10). In short, the Garden of Eden was a paradise, a place where humans lived in harmony with other living creatures and in friendship with God.

The Bible further describes the natural environment in which God placed the first couple as having “all kinds of trees . . . that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). Perhaps these trees resembled the great forests of Lebanon, which God planted (Ps. 104:16). Ezekiel parabolically compares the ancient cedars of Lebanon, whose magnificence was widely proclaimed in the ancient world, with the trees in the Garden of Eden (Ezek. 31:1-9 cf. Isa. 35:1-2). In any case, Eden was probably not a manicured garden in the sense of what we think of as a garden today. (Perhaps it’s referred to as a “garden” because God planted it—Genesis 2:8.) Certainly, the Garden of Eden would have included an abundance of flourishing, edible green plants to feed and shelter humans and animals (Gen.1:29-30), as well as wild, stunning, natural forests along with a variety of exotic, colorful vegetation.

Old and New Testament passages that refer to the prophesied future New Earth provide similar parallels with the Garden of Eden. For example, the Holy City (new Jerusalem) that will descend onto Earth from Heaven (Rev. 3:12; 21:10) will have, like Eden, a flowing river and tree of life (cf. Gen. 2:8-10; Rev. 22:1-2). Isaiah declares that the New Earth will have no deserts or wastelands (51:3; cf. 35:1, 7). In chapter eleven Isaiah further reveals that the future Kingdom of God will have no predators or dangerous animals: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together. . . . The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together . . . and the lion will eat straw like the ox. . . . [T]he young child [will] put his hand into the viper’s nest” (6-8). So although wolves, leopards, and lions will inhabit the New Earth, they will no longer be carnivorous or dangerous to humans and each other. In fact carnivores will become herbivores (Isa. 11: 7), and wild nature and humanity will serenely co-exist in this future Peaceable Kingdom, as the Isaiah passage is often referred to.

Notice that all the prophetic passages I’ve quoted or referenced, which illustrate parallels between the Garden of Eden and the New Earth (Heaven), were made within an historical context that anticipates an eschatological future Kingdom. Even Old Testament passages that seem to focus primarily on the spiritual restoration of Israel forecast the future New Earth as an eternal Peaceable Kingdom. We can be certain that an ecological balance, restored habitats, transformed predators, and peaceful relationship between humans and animals will be a literal reality on the New Earth. ©

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