What Will Eternity Be Like?
Main Idea: God will establish a new heaven and a new earth, where Christ will spend eternity among His redeemed people in perfect and constant communion.
- We Will Enjoy a New Heaven and a New Earth (21:1-2).
- We Will Live in Intimate and Personal Communion with Our God (21:3).
- We Will No Longer Experience the Horrible Effects of Sin (21:4).
- We Will Rest in the Sure Promises of God (21:5-6).
- We Will Live as God’s Adopted Children with No Fear of the Second Death (21:7-8).
One of the most wonderful promises in the whole Bible is that persons who have put their faith in Jesus Christ will spend all of eternity with God in a place called heaven. Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:20, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Hebrews 12:22 affirms, “Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem).” This is our future home and our future hope, and that ought to make a difference in our lives today.
Throughout my life I have often heard statements to this effect: “He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good.” There is only one thing wrong with that statement: It is not true! The fact is those who are the most heavenly minded are the most earthly good. That is why Colossians 3:1-2 teaches us, “So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.” C. S. Lewis beautifully echoes the truth of Scripture when he writes,
A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in:” aim at earth and you will get neither. (Mere Christianity, 134)
Revelation 21–22 brings us to the end of the Apocalypse and to the end of the Bible. It is a fitting conclusion to the historical drama of redemption that began in Genesis 1–3. In fact, it is interesting to compare the beginning of Genesis with the end of Revelation. Parallels and differences are too important to ignore.
|Heaven and earth created (1:1)||New heavens and earth recreated (21:1)|
|Sun created (1:16)||No need of the sun (21:23)|
|The night established (1:5)||No night there (22:5)|
|The seas created (1:10)||No more seas (21:1)|
|The curse announced (3:14-17)||No more curse (22:3)|
|Death enters history (3:19)||Death exits history (21:4)|
|Man driven from paradise (3:24)||Man restored to paradise (22:14)|
|Sorrow and pain begin (3:17)||Sorrow, tears, and pain end (21:4)|
|The Devil appears (3:1)||The Devil disappears (20:10)|
Indeed, one of the most wonderful things about the Bible is that in its first two chapters the Devil is not there, and in its last two chapters the Devil is not there. Examine Genesis 1–2, and you will find no mention of the ancient serpent. Examine Revelation 21–22, and you will likewise find no mention of Satan. He is not there. He is in the lake of fire (20:10), where he will be imprisoned for all eternity.
These final two chapters unfold clearly in a threefold division: 21:1-8; 21:9–22:5; and 22:6-21. They logically and theologically follow the second coming (19:11-21), the millennium (20:1-6), the final rebellion (20:7-10), and the great white throne judgment (20:11-15). The eternal destiny of the redeemed is so radically different from the eternal destiny of the lost. Only new and wonderful things are in the future for those who love God and trust in His Son. A new day is coming! As the old hymn says, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!” What, then, is in store for those who live under the reign of this King? What will eternity be like?
We Will Enjoy a New Heaven and a New Earth
John sees “a new heaven and a new earth,” since “the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” Duvall notes, “This final ‘and I saw’ passage (cf. 19:11,17,19; 20:1,4,11,12; 21:1) serves as the high point of the whole letter” (Revelation, 280). John draws on the language of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22. Heaven is mentioned more than five hundred times in the Bible and right at 50 times in Revelation (MacArthur, Revelation 12–22, 262).Three heavens are mentioned in the Bible (see 2 Cor 12:2-4):
- the earth’s atmosphere, where the clouds are and the birds fly;
- the starry heavens, where the planets, sun, and stars reside; and
- the unique dwelling place of God, where good angels and saints will live forever and ever.
That heaven has not yet been created, and no one is there right now. Believers who die do immediately go to be with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8), but that is an intermediate place of blessing, not our final heavenly home. Revelation 21–22 describes our eternal abode, the third heaven.
John also says there is no sea. Greg Beale notes there are five uses of the “sea” in the Apocalypse. They are:
1) The origin of cosmic evil (especially in light of the OT background; so 4:6; 12:18; 13:1; 15:2), 2) the unbelieving, rebellious nations who cause tribulation for God’s people (12:18; 13:1; Isa. 57:20; cf. Rev. 17:2,6), 3) the place of the dead (20:13), 4) the primary location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (18:10-19), 5) a literal body of water, sometimes mentioned together with “the earth,” . . . in which the sea as a part of the old creation represents the totality of it (5:13; 7:1-3; 8:8-9; 10:2,5-6,8; 14:7; 16:3 . . .). (Revelation, 1,042)
He believes all five are probably in view here as being excluded from the new earth, though I am not sure about his fifth option. As beautiful bodies of water were a part of God’s original creation, I believe they will also be a part of the new creation.
Verse 2 sees the descent of “the Holy City, new Jerusalem.” She is pure, spotless, and without blemish in character. She comes down as a wonderful gift of grace. And she is “prepared like a bride adorned for her husband,” the Lamb, the Lord Jesus. She will be described in greater detail in 21:9–22:5. Significantly, she is both a place and a people. God’s people, as Scripture reveals, have long awaited this day and moment (Gal 4:26; Heb 11:8-10; 12:22; 13:14).
Now we should address an important question: Will God renovate the old creation, as Romans 8:19-22 seems to teach, or will He completely recreate a new creation, as 2 Peter 3:10-13 appears to affirm? This is not an easy question to answer. Might it be that there is something of a transformation of the old order through the destruction of the old order? I think we are on good ground to affirm some type of continuity between the old order and the new order, though the new will be radically superior. Perhaps the judgment of 2 Peter 3 is one of cleansing rather than total destruction (Osborne, Revelation, 730n4). What we can say for certain is, “There will be a whole new reality, a new kind of existence in which all the negatives of the ‘first’ (Gen 1) world will be removed, all the discoloration by sin will be gone” (ibid., 730).
We Will Live in Intimate and Personal Communion with Our God
This is one of the most wonderful promises in the Bible. In a real sense this is what the Bible has been pointing toward throughout its 66 books. Again John hears “a loud voice,” something we hear more than 20 times in Revelation. This voice comes with divine authority and power, for it comes from God’s throne. The voice announces that God’s dwelling place (or tabernacle) is with man! God will permanently and forever pitch His tent (see John 1:14) among His redeemed people. His “shekinah glory” will make its home in and among His peoples. The plural “peoples” is preferred here, as heaven will be a kingdom diversity home for all the ethne¯’s (granted, the Greek uses the related word laoi here). It will be wonderfully multicultural and multiethnic. There will be no segregated subdivisions in the new Jerusalem!
God’s tabernacle is His people. He tabernacles among His peoples (see Lev 26:11-13). And the great promise of this verse only gets better: “God Himself will be with them and be their God.” “God Himself” is emphatic. Our great God will be with us, in our midst, as our God. As Mounce beautifully puts it, “It is with the redeemed peoples of all races and nationalities that God will dwell in glory” (Revelation, 383). Matthew 5:8 says, “The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God.” That great promise is now fulfilled. It becomes reality in the fullest measure.
Often I am asked, “In heaven, will we see God?” REVELATION 21:3 says, “Absolutely!” And 22:4 seals the deal!
We Will No Longer Experience the Horrible Effects of Sin
I have often referred to this verse as one of the most precious in all of Scripture and with good reason. I almost always read it at funeral services because it is filled with so much hope and assurance. This sinful, fallen world has left so many people beaten and broken. The pain it inflicts often overwhelms us, almost crushing us. This verse promises us that in eternity all that causes pain and sorrow will forever be taken away!
Verse 4 identifies five things that will be absent in eternity: tears, death, grief, crying, and pain. Wiped out forever are the horrible consequences and effects of sin. Revelation 7:17 previously promised, “For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And hear also the words of Isaiah 25:8-9:
He will destroy death forever. The Lord Godwill wipe away the tears from every face and remove His people’s disgrace from the whole earth, for the Lordhas spoken.
On that day it will be said, “Look, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He has saved us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.”
Adrian Rogers used to say, “Death is only a comma to a Christian—not a period!” Scott Duvall says, “Like a compassionate parent caring for a suffering child, God will wipe away our tears” (Revelation, 282). Yes, in eternity all the former things associated with the fallen world will pass away and they are never coming back.
We Will Rest in the Sure Promises of God
The One “seated on the throne” speaks again (see v. 3), and once more His words bless, comfort, excite, and bring joy to His peoples. “Look” signals that a special announcement is about to follow. The declaration comes: “I am making everything new.” The promises of verse 4 are just an inkling of all that God is going to do for His people, His bride. A quick survey of chapters 21–22 identifies at least 12 sure promises we can rest in:
|1. God makes a new heaven, earth, and Jerusalem.||21:1-2|
|2. Chaos and disorder are no more.||21:1|
|3. God will live with His people personally.||21:3; 22:4|
|4. The effects of sin are eradicated and done away with.||21:4,8,27; 22:3|
|5. All the legitimate desires of our heart will be satisfied.||21:6|
|6. Our inheritance of heavenly blessings will be plentiful and permanent.||21:7|
|7. The splendor of the new Jerusalem will be magnificent.||21:9-21|
|8. The glory of God will permeate our dwelling place.||21:22-23|
|9. Nations will be guided by God.||21:24,26|
|10. Protections and peace are perfectly present.||21:25; 22:4-5|
|11. Productivity will be bountiful and breathtaking.||22:1-2|
|12. Perpetual, perfect service will be our calling.||22:3|
These promises are not conditional, potentially true, or tentative. John is told, “Write, because these words are faithful and true” (see 19:9; 22:6). Just as the Living Word is “Faithful and True” (19:11), so also the written Word is “faithful and true.”
The new creation has come. The Word of God is faithful and true. Verse 6 affirms, “It is done!” It is finished. It is complete. And who can say this? The sovereign God and ruler of the universe who declares Himself to be “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (see 1:8,17; 22:13; also Isa 44:6; 48:12). He is the A and Z. He is the Lord over both ends of history and all that is in between. David Platt says, “He had the first word in history, and He will have the last word in history” (“Consummation”).
Because He is Himself eternal life, He can give eternal life to others. That is what He has done for all who have trusted in His Son (John 3:16), and that is what is intended by the beautiful image of the “water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life.” John 7:37-38 says,
On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”
If you are thirsty, come to Christ and be satisfied. It will cost you nothing. Jesus has already paid it all. Satisfied forever and it cost you not a thing—what a magnificent picture of God’s amazing grace! Charles Spurgeon said it this way:
What does a thirsty man do to get rid of his thirst? He drinks. Perhaps there is no better representation of faith in all the Word of God than that. . . . So, dear Soul, whatever your state may be, you can surely receive Christ, for He comes to you like a cup of cold water! (“Good News”)
We Will Live as God’s Adopted Children with No Fear of the Second Death
This introduction to the new creation of eternity concludes with a word of blessing in verse 7 and a word of warning in verse 8. The blessing is for the overcomers who trust in Christ. The warning is for sinners who are headed to the lake of fire without Christ. The one who conquers or overcomes is a popular theme in the writings of John. In 1 John 5:4-5 he writes,
Whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
And in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2–3 our Lord makes a promise to “the victors” in each church:
|Ephesus||2:7||You will have access to the tree of life.|
|Smyrna||2:11||You will not be hurt by the second death.|
|Pergamum||2:17||You will be given hidden manna, a white stone, and a new name.|
|Thyatira||2:26-27||I will give you authority over the nations and the morning star.|
|Sardis||3:5||Clothed in white garments, your name will never be blotted out of the book of life, and I (Christ) will confess you before My Father and before His angels.|
|Philadelphia||3:12||I will make you a pillar in the temple of My God, and I will write on you the name of My God, the name of the new Jerusalem, and My own new name.|
|Laodicea||3:21||You will sit with Me on My throne.|
To those wonderful promises our Lord has added the promise of eternal life via the springs of water in verse 6. Now he adds the promise of a gracious heritage: “I will be his God, and he will be My son.” Throughout all of eternity we will be the adopted heirs of a perfect heavenly Father (see Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7). Patterson notes,
While God has but one ontological Son . . . he has many children by adoption (Rom 8:15,23; Gal 4:5). And the children who by faith have been adopted into the family of God are just as much the heirs and joint heirs as the supernatural Son of God. (Revelation, 366)
Tragically, this is not the destiny of those who never trust in Christ for salvation. An irreversible judgment and justice is all they can expect. God provides a selective, not exhaustive, list of persons who will not be in heaven in verse 8. Eight specific sins are noted that characterize the lives of those who will spend eternity separated from God in the lake of fire, who experience the second death. The “cowards” are individuals who, because of fear, will not confess Christ openly when confronted with persecution (see Heb 10:38-39). The “unbelievers” or faithless are those who deny Christ by their conduct and speech. The “vile” or detestable are those polluted by gross acts of idolatry. “Murderers” are malicious, savage killers (especially those who kill the tribulation saints). “Sexually immoral” are those who lived sexual lifestyles contrary to God’s plan and purpose. “Sorcerers” are those who mix drugs with the practices of spirit worship, witchcraft, and magic. “Idolaters” are worshipers of idols and images (this practice especially will be prevalent when the world bows to the antichrist’s image). “All liars” are those who habitually deceive others. None of these people will have access to the new Jerusalem. They will spend eternity “in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (see Keener, Revelation, 489–90).
So many wonderful things can be said about eternity one hardly knows where to start and end. Chuck Swindoll is helpful and uses negation to highlight 12 things that will not be present in eternity, things we will not miss:
- No more sea—because chaos and calamity will be eradicated (21:1).
- No more tears—because hurtful memories will be replaced (21:4).
- No more death—because mortality will be swallowed up by life (21:4).
- No more mourning—because sorrow will be completely comforted (21:4).
- No more crying—because the sounds of weeping will be soothed (21:4).
- No more pain—because all human suffering will be cured (21:4).
- No more thirst—because God will graciously quench all desires (21:6).
- No more wickedness—because all evil will be banished (21:8,27).
- No more temple—because the Father and Son are personally present (21:22).
- No more night—because God’s glory will give eternal light (21:23-25; 22:5).
- No more closed gates—because God’s doors will always be open (21:25).
- No more curse—because Christ’s blood has forever lifted that curse (22:3). (Insights, 273)
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God “has put eternity in their hearts.” It is great to know that what God has planted in our hearts—this longing in our souls—will be fully and completely satisfied in the new heaven and new earth. We each have a longing for eternity in our soul that only God can fill. Come and taste the Lord. You will find He is better and more wonderful than you ever hoped or imagined. He is that good.
Reflect and Discuss
- Do you think it is possible to be “so heavenly minded” that we become “no earthly good”? What is the real problem with people who are accused of this?
- Compare the first few chapters of Genesis and the last few chapters of Revelation. What strikes you about the parallels and differences?
- What is significant about there being “no sea” in the new heavens and the new earth? How does this give you hope in this life?
- Why is it significant that Christ’s bride is both a place and a people?
- How should the continuity between this world and the new creation affect the way we relate to this creation?
- How do you practice communion with God now? How will communion with God in eternity be similar and different?
- Reflect on the various ways you have seen the brokenness of this fallen world. Now read REVELATION 21:4 and consider how God will set all things right.
- Which of the promises of God in Revelation 21–22 do you most long for? Why?
- Which of the characteristics in Revelation 21:8 is the most applicable warning for you, and how can you heed this warning today?
- What is one thing about your life or ministry that can be changed to be more “heavenly minded” to be more effective for “earthly good”?