A Wonderful Home
Where exactly will the children of God spend eternity? Many Christians imagine that heaven will be our eternal home, and they erroneously conceive of heaven as an ethereal place unsuited to any way of life that we could now anticipate with pleasurea place where we will have nothing to do except sit on clouds and strum harps. It is true that when we die, our spirits go to heaven (Heb. 12:22-3; 2 Cor. 5:6-8). It is true also that the eternal dwelling places which Jesus has prepared for us are currently in heaven (John 14:1-3). But these dwelling places, within the heavenly city called the new Jerusalem, will not always remain where they are now (Rev. 21:1-3). After God destroys the present cosmos and fashions a new heaven and a new earth, the new Jerusalem will descend from heaven and take its place as the earth's capital city. The realm of our eternal home will therefore not be heaven, but the earth in a newly created form, free from all the corruption and death we see in the present world.
Nature as we know it is, as the poet Tennyson said, "red in tooth and claw." It is a place where most creatures live brief lives in constant danger of being seized and devoured by larger creatures. Consequently, the Bible describes the present natural world as groaning and travailing in pain, awaiting deliverance from the curse (Rom. 8:22). But in the new world that God will create after the Millennium, there will be no pain, no suffering, and no death anywhere in nature (1 Cor. 15:26-8). Every creature, down to the smallest bunny (and it is hard to imagine that God will exclude the most amiable forms of life from the new earth), will live happily ever after. During the Millennium, when the curse will be only partially lifted, Christ will enforce total peace on His holy mountain, Mt. Zion, as a witness to the conditions that will prevail in the new earth He intends to create (Isa. 11:1-9).
The place where we will dwell forever will be, as we said, the new Jerusalem. Jerusalem means "city [or possession] of peace." This city made by God will be vast beyond our comprehension (Rev. 21:10-7). Each of its three dimensions will be 12,000 furlongs. A furlong is 660 ft., but the Greek word is stadion, the term for 1/8 of a Roman mile, equal to about 607 ft. So, in length, width, and height, the new Jerusalem will measure about 1380 miles, roughly the distance from Maine to Missouri or from Missouri to Utah. It will be so tall that it will reach virtually into outer space and be visible throughout almost a whole hemisphere, although we need not suppose that the earth will be the same size as it is now. Perhaps it will be enlarged to the same colossal scale as its capital city.
Some have imagined that the city will be cubical in shape. In our immortal bodies, gravity will not fetter us, so that vertical motion will be as easy as horizontal motion. If the shape of the new Jerusalem is indeed cubical, it will, even if its levels are widely separated, contain enormous ground area. It has been estimated that if only 25% of the city is reserved for residences, and if the number of residents is twenty billion (a greatly exaggerated number, I suspect), each person will own a block of space which is 1/3 of a mile long, wide, and high.
The difficulty in this conception is that the Bible says that the city will have a wall only 144 cubits (about 215 ft.) high. Therefore, others have imagined that the city will be shaped like a pyramid, or Babylonian ziggurat. It is likely that readers in John's day would have assumed a shape of this kind, similar to familiar ancient monuments.
From a distance the city will be so magnificent as to defy description (Rev. 21:18-21). Unlike the ancient and medieval cities of man, which were surrounded by rough walls of gray stone, the New Jerusalem will shine with all the colors of the rainbow. The wall will be jasper, the meaning of which is unknown. Perhaps it refers to diamond. Along the wall will be twelve gates, three on each side, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. At the base of the wall will be twelve foundation stones, three on each side, bearing the names of the twelve apostles. The identity of many of the foundation stones is also a mystery, but we recognize a few, among them sapphire (radiant blue in color), emerald (green), amethyst (purple), and beryl (yellow). The gates will be pearl (translucent white), and the pavement and buildings of the city will be pure, untarnished gold (muted orange). There will be dazzling reflections wherever you look.
No longer will the earth be a satellite of the sun. When God fashions the new universe, He will omit the sun, because He Himself will furnish all necessary daylight (Rev. 21:22-23). He will omit the moon as well, because there will be no night (Rev. 22:5). Never will the city require any form of artificial illumination.
We need not imagine that we will live only in the new Jerusalem. We will all have private lodgings there, serving as our place in town, as it were. But the whole wide universe, stretching from the beautiful earth nearby into deep space, will exist for our pleasure and benefit. We will sometimes occupy ourselves by roaming this world, sometimes by exploring distant worlds. Perhaps God will give each of us remote places to develop for our own use. These may include entire planets or star systems or even galaxies in regions beyond our present sight and imagination.
The Finest Luxuries
The Millennium will begin with the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, surely a literal feast (Rev. 19:9). After the universe is restored to perfection, no doubt the whole earth will be a garden surpassing the original Garden of Eden. We will find every manner of luscious fruit and succulent vegetable and wholesome grain. Moreover, we will have access to the Tree of Life, not an ordinary tree of normal size but a huge plant with offshoots extending over many square miles (Rev. 22:2; Ezek. 47:6–12). It is called the Tree of Life because the leaves will be for "healing," better translated "health." They will contain some ingredient essential to maintaining our bodies forever. How we will draw this missing ingredient from the leaves, we can only surmise. Perhaps we will boil them to make a tea.
Another virtue of the Tree of Life is that it will bear delightful fruit of a different kind every month. One implication is that there will be reckoning of time, but not according to the movements of celestial bodies. The Tree of Life will mark the progress of months.
The same tree existed also in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). God permitted man to eat from it, although He forbade him to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. After the Fall, God removed man from the Garden lest he eat from the Tree of Life and live forever (Gen. 3:22-4). If we understood the chemistry of our present bodies well enough, we would see that something is missing to prevent aging.
No doubt we will have a varied wardrobe, as we do here, but at least on state occasions and at high ceremonies we will wear white robes of linen (Rev. 3:4, 5. 18; 6:11; 7:9, 13-4; 19:8, 14).
The Bible says that we will reign with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:10). Several parables of Christ teach that the amount of authority we will be given depends on how faithfully we discharge our responsibilities and how diligently we use our talents here on earth (Luke 19:12-27, especially v. 17; Matt. 25:14-30, especially v. 21). Over whom or over what will we reign?
- Christ's Millennial kingdom. We will help Christ govern the earth during His thousand-year reign over the survivors of the Tribulation and their descendants (Rev 20:6). Exactly what our duties will be remains to be seen, but I have often imagined that the Lord might give me a place in the Office of Education. I might get a chance to use all those textbooks I have written or started to write. But our standing as corulers with Christ will not cease when God destroys this decaying universe and replaces it with one that is incorruptible. We will reign with Christ forever (Dan. 7:27; Rev. 22:5). What will exist in eternity that will require government?
- The world of nature. In the beginning, God gave man dominion over the earth and all its creatures (Gen. 1:28), and this dominion has never been revoked (Ps. 8:3-9). No doubt God will give it to man again when He creates the new earth, which will be a restored Paradise, populated with an immense variety of subhuman creatures. In our governance of the animals, we will expect them to serve us by assisting us in our duties and giving us their companionship, and they will gladly comply, because serving man will be their natural desire. We find an inkling of man's future relationship with the animals in the account of Christ's descent to the earth at His second coming (Rev. 19:11-14). He and the army of saints in His train will ride on horsesnot earthly horses, but horses with immortal, spiritual bodies as possessed by all heavenly creatures. (I am not saying that horses go to heaven. Rather, I am saying that everything good on the earth is a foretaste of something perfect that will exist in eternity.)
- Over the angels. It appears that in eternity we will have authority over the angels, at least in respect to judging their conduct during the millennia when sin and Satan ruled the earth (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
- Over new worlds. It is the very essence of God to create wonderful things. It is at least possible (and here we enter the realm of speculation, or perhaps we should say "sanctified imagination") that in the remote future He will put us in charge of new worlds and new races of men who, by virtue of our oversight, will refuse the path of rebellion against God. We are leaping beyond any clear teaching of Scripture, but I know of no Scriptural principle or promise that we are violating.
While we are reigning with Christ, we will also be serving Him (Rev. 22:3). We will be servant-kings (Dan. 7:27). He will then, as He does now, direct our paths, giving us work and responsibility enough to fill our lives with meaningful activity, and we will, without hesitation or complaint, do everything He asks. In serving Him, we will also serve each other. We will spend much of our time in the effort to bring others joy and happiness.
The more we devote ourselves to others, the greater our standing in the Kingdom will be (Matt. 20:25-28). Recognizing that this life is preparation for the next, we should be active in service now. Do not wait for a call; volunteer. Choose a ministry and get busy. Let God close the door if the ministry is not right for you.
A second determinant of greatness in the Kingdom is whether in this life we have observed and taught every commandment of Christ (Matt. 5:19). Do not live close to the line; seek perfection. If you go to what you think is the line between good and evil, you will find that you have already crossed it.
Never in this world will you completely eliminate sin from your life, but to please God, your heart's desire must always be to defeat sin, and your strategy for defeating it must be to rely upon the Holy Spirit. Moreover, if you have a teaching role, you must conscientiously give voice to God's standards of holiness. You must never waver into words of compromise in pursuit of popularity.
Still another determinant of our standing in eternity is how many souls we have won to Christ or helped to grow in Christ (Dan. 12:3). Do not keep silent; share the truth with others. If you hide your light under a bushel, you will suffocate spiritually.
Fellowship with God
Most Christians understand that one of the great privileges of heaven will be to gather with the saints and sing praises to God. The many texts that foresee our future worship before the throne reveal many interesting details of the eternal state.
- We will not remember the evil days in our past (Isa. 65:11-17). The troubles of this life will be forgotten.
- Heavenly music will employ instruments (Rev. 15:2-4).
- We will shout as well as sing (Rev. 7:9-10).
- We will wave palm branchesa prophecy confirming that indeed our new home will be adorned with plants (Rev. 7:9-10).
- We will raise our voices in unison speech (Rev. 19:1).
Our greatest joy in eternity will be personal fellowship with Christ (Rev. 22:4; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 13:12). We will see Him "face to face," a figure of speech expressing the thought that He will meet and talk with us individually, just as He did with His first disciples. What a privilege! To see Him will perhaps at first give us trepidation, and no doubt we will never lose a sense of wonder and reverence in His presence. But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The purpose in these times together will be fellowship. He will want to share our joys and pleasures, and we will want to show Him our love. At every opportunity we will praise and thank Him for all He has done for us.
The Highest Good
Of all the arguments for the truth of Christianity, one of the best employing pure reason points out that Christianity is the only world view which offers a convincing and satisfying conception of the highest good. The highest good is to live forever in fellowship with a loving Almighty God and in enjoyment of all the rich possibilities of life resident in a glorified body and set in a world devoid of corruption and death. If we were to survey how other world views conceive of the highest good, we would see that none offers a hope comparable to that of a Christian. The best future that any imagines seems pale and petty and disappointing in comparison with eternal life in the Kingdom of Christ. None defines a highest good that excites our desire to attain it.
In brief, Christianity is the only world view that offers us what we really want. It does not follow that Christianity is wishful thinking. Why not? Because the good that it offers is beyond any thought that the natural human mind could conceive. Do cultures and tribes deprived of Biblical truth formulate anything like the hope of a Christian? No, they do not. Yet when men discover what God intends to give them, they desire it, feeling that it is exactly right. They must be told about it before their desire awakens, however, so it is not wishful thinking.
For example, no other world view posits an eternal state so grand and powerful and thrilling as a saints glorification. Not even science fiction writers in their childish fancies about extraterrestrials have come close to the Biblical picture of what a saint will be after he has been loosed from all the trammels of earthly existence. Yet who, knowing the options, would choose to be anything less?
The Christian conception of good appeals to us because the good that it describes is what we were created to want. Its fitness to our nature and natural desires and yet its transcendence beyond our imagination are proof that it derives from our Creator. In other words, Christianity suits us because Christianity is true, and we know Christianity is true because it is the only world view that satisfies the deepest yearnings of our hearts.
So here, in support of the truth of Christianity, we have presented a powerful argument based on design. Either we are what we are by God’s design or by chance. There are really only two world views to choose between. Each has its own god. The Christian world view recognizes the God of heaven. The contrary world view elevates a nonperson to godhood: namely, chance operating upon primeval nothingness and then upon a primitive universe. Our choice of allegiance is between a loving mind and a mindless coincidence. Which choice makes better sense of the world, and of our place in the world, and of our own heart’s desire? The only sensible explanation for a universe obedient to rational laws and serving rational purposes recognizes creation by a rational God.