Yesterday’s study of the correct meaning of the biblical phrase “new heavens and new earth” (Is. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1) showed that the phrase is figurative in nature and not meant to be taken literally. Thus, we know that the saved will not spend eternity living on a literal new earth under literal new heavens.
So where will the saved spend eternity? In heaven, and there are good reasons why this is true. Consider…
Christians are told to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt. 6:20), as opposed to laying up treasures here on earth, where moth and rust destroys and where thieves break in and steal. In other words, earth is temporary and heaven is eternal. It is noteworthy that Christ did not tell us to store up for ourselves treasures in a new earth.
Paul said that we are “longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Cor. 5:2). He did not say, “our dwelling in a new earth.” He also said that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), not on a new earth.
The Christian is said to have “one hope” (Eph. 4:4). What hope is that? “The hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:5). In heaven. Not on a new earth.
The Old Testament men and women of faith were said to be “desir(ing) a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). He did not say they were desiring a better country on earth, or a better “earthly” country. The Hebrew writer then went on to say that Christians are “enrolled in heaven” (Heb. 12:23). In heaven. Not on a new earth.
Peter said that we have “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven” (1 Pet. 1:4). He did not say they were reserved in new heavens and a new earth. Remember, this is the same Peter who in his second letter told us that we are “looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). If he meant that literally, then he would have said here in his first letter that our inheritance is reserved in new heavens and a new earth. But he didn’t.
Let’s go even deeper into what the Bible teaches about heaven. The definition of “heaven” (shamayim, Hebrew; ouranos, Greek) depends on the context of the passage in which it’s used. It could refer to the sky where the birds fly (Gen. 1:20). It could refer to the universe (2 Pet. 3:10). Paul called Paradise “the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
And heaven is also described as the place where God’s throne is and where God the Father is. Solomon prayed that God would “hear” his prayer to Him “in heaven Your dwelling place” (1 Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49; cf. 1 Chr. 6:21, 25, 27, 30, 33, 35, 39). The Psalmist wrote that “the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (Ps. 11:4). Isaiah wrote that God said, “Heaven is my throne” (Is. 66:1). Jesus likewise said that “heaven…is the throne of God…” (Matt. 5:34). The Psalmist described God as “He who sits in the heavens” (Ps. 2:4). Jesus spoke repeatedly of “our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9; cf. 7:11; 10:32; 12:50; 16:17; 18:14; 23:9).
Which definition of “heaven” applies to where the saved will spend eternity? It won’t be the sky or the universe because they will be burned away and melted on the day of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:10-12). It won’t be the “third heaven” which is “Paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4) because Paradise – where Jesus and the thief went after death (Lk. 23:43) – is part of Hades (Acts 2:22-27; cf. Lk. 16:23ff). On Judgment Day Hades “will give up the dead” within it and be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:13-14).
This leaves the “heaven” which is where God’s throne is and where God the Father is. This heaven is described as a spiritual place, not a physical place. God dwells there, and God is spirit (John 4:24). Physical matter – “flesh and blood,” “the perishable,” mortality – cannot inherit the kingdom of God in heaven, which is why upon being resurrected on the last day we will be given imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Cor. 15:50-54; Phil. 3:21; cf. Lk. 20:36; 2 Cor. 5:2-4).
Is this “heaven” – this spiritual realm where God dwells – the place where the saved will spend eternity? Let’s consider more biblical data…
When Jesus left this earth, where did He go? Where is He now? Daniel prophesied, “I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven, One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him” (Dan. 7:13). This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus ascended.
On the day of His resurrection, Christ alluded to His future ascension into heaven to where His Father is when He told Mary, “I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). 40 days later, he “was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk. 16:19). Luke writes that he “was carried up into heaven” (Lk. 24:50) and was “taken up from you into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Peter said that Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33). Stephen saw Jesus “standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56). Paul wrote that Christ “is at the right hand of God” (Rom. 8:34). He also wrote that God “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20), He “ascended far above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10), He “is in heaven” (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1), He is “above…seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1), and He was “taken up in glory” (1 Tim. 3:16). The writer of Hebrews wrote that Christ “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3), He “passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14), He “has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1), He “enter(ed)…into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24), He “sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12), and that He “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Peter likewise wrote that Jesus “is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven” (1 Pet. 3:22).
Therefore, it’s pretty clear that Jesus ascended into heaven, where God’s throne is. He was seated at the right hand of the throne of God. That’s where He current is…in heaven, where God’s throne is.
When He comes back, from where will He come? Heaven.
The apostles were told as He ascended into heaven, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Paul told Christians to wait for God’s Son “from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:10), and that He “will descend from heaven with a shout” (1 Thess. 4:16) when He comes back. He wrote again that Jesus “will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:7).
With this in mind, let’s consider what Jesus promised His disciples the night in which He was betrayed:
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
And you know the way where I am going.”
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:2-6)
There are several things worthy of note in this passage. First, notice that Jesus said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Where did He go? To heaven. Thus, the place He’s preparing for us is in heaven. That means the “many dwelling places” which are “in (His) Father’s house” which He is preparing for us are in heaven.
Second, notice that He said, “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” Where did He go? Heaven. When He comes again, from where will He come? Heaven. He said He will “come again and receive you to Myself,” so that “where I am, there you may be also.” How will He receive us to Himself? Paul wrote that the dead in Christ, as well as those in Christ who are alive on the day He comes again, will “rise” and “be caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” and then “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). We will be with Jesus, where He is, where He went when He left so long ago…which is in heaven, where God’s throne is.
Notice that there is no mention in the 1 Thessalonians passage of the Lord continuing His descent to land on a brand-new earth, nor is there any mention of us descending back to a brand-new earth with Him to spend eternity there. The current heavens and earth will at this same time be burning up and disintegrating, and the “new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells” is figurative terminology which depicts the beginning of a new age, the age of eternity in heaven (2 Pet. 3:10-13).
Third, notice that Thomas asks Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Take note of Jesus’ response: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The question was, “Lord, how do we know the way to where you are going?” The answer was, “No one comes to the Father but through Me.” The question was about where Jesus was going and how to know the way so they could go there too. The answer had to do with how to get to the Father…the Father who is in heaven.
Jesus was going to the Father, who is in heaven. He was talking about how to bring His followers to the Father, who is in heaven.
Where will the saved spend eternity? In heaven, where God the Father and His Son are. Not on a literal new earth under literal new heavens.
I hope this study is proving beneficial to you. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will conclude it by examine other passages in the Bible which, according to some, promote a literal new heaven and new earth in eternity and whether those passages actually do so.