I am sitting outside, admiring my surroundings, and I begin thinking about leaving this earth. The thought of it creates a deep-felt sadness and emptiness in me, for I love the beauty of God’s creation – the trees and rustling of leaves, the songs of birds, the rolling plant-covered landscapes, the fascinating ways of animals, the sunrises, sunsets, and cloud formations, the wonder of the stars, the vivid colors of delicately formed flowers, gentle rains, flowing rivers, cascading creeks, and sky-mirroring lakes. I feel quieted and renewed by the still hush of woods and forests, the rare absolute silence when alone on the prairies, and the refreshing feel of wind blowing across my face. It is awe inspiring to see majestic mountains, whether clothed in brilliant sunlight or in the gray shadows of foggy mists. I even love the startling thunder-clapping storms that remind me of God’s unmatchable power. All of this has been a part of my earth-bound experience. Maybe it is something like what a farmer might feel about his land. I have become attached; I don’t want to leave it. Then I think that I should not hate to leave; I should not hold on to these things because they are not the most important things in life. I am not down-playing the fact that above all I desire to be with my beloved Jesus and with loved ones, but why shouldn’t I feel this way about leaving the world I live in, after all, God made me to be a part of nature, created from the stuff of the ground. I know that God has a better place for me, but somehow, I can’t imagine anything better than a planet like this, designed to sustain life, full of breath-taking beauty and interesting diversity, offering much to discover and marvel at and use and enjoy.
Then, as I read the Bible, God’s word, rather than grieving the loss of all of this, I become hopeful that maybe I will not have to leave it. Could it be that God has planned a creation similar to this one that goes on forever into the future? Could it be that the Bible offers truths and promises that give us the hope that “soul stuff” and “physical stuff”, which are bound together in this life, will remain bound together in the world to come; and in fact, will be similar to our present world make-up, minus the defects? We shall explore this possibility.
The human body, as a combination of “soul stuff” and “physical stuff”, is a good place to begin. An entirely unheard of and unexpected event, the resurrected body of Jesus, convinces us of the continued future existence of earth-like stuff? (Luke 24:36-43) After He was crucified, dead, and buried, He arose bodily from the dead – His tomb was empty. (Luke 24:1-9) The resurrected body of Jesus was both different than our earthly bodies, and yet the same. It was different in that it could mysteriously appear and disappear, it could pass through walls or closed doors (Luke 24:30-31; John 20:26), it would no longer die, (Romans 6:9), and although it somehow seemed indistinguishable from His previous body, He still could be recognizable to those who saw Him. (John 21:12; Luke 24:13-31) Even though Jesus’ resurrected body is different, in some aspects it is the same. Just like in His earthly life, He could still eat, and He had flesh and bones as we all have. (Luke 24:39, 41-43) The “soul stuff” and “physical stuff” remained connected. Our bodies, even though we die, will become like His when He returns. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:14; Philippians 3:20-21) God meant for the whole man, body-soul-spirit, to be preserved forever. (1 Thessalonians 5:23) The Bible’s teaching about the future resurrection of the body demonstrates that some aspects of our body in this present world will carry over into the next so that it will not be a bodily existence totally foreign or unfamiliar to us.
Jesus’ resurrected body had a glory to it that was super human. Such a body was amazingly demonstrated in His eye-witnessed transfiguration experience. (Luke 9:28-32) This passage shows us something else; that other persons who have died on earth, such as Moses, are still living, and apparently can be recognizable. Surely, we will be recognizable to one another in God’s future kingdom. And Jesus was right when He told us that those who believe in Him will never die. (John 11:25-26)
Another important passage concerning the resurrected body is 1 Corinthians 15. Here it is again pointed out that we will be bodily raised just as Christ Jesus was bodily raised. He is the first to be raised from the dead, and we are to follow. (1 Corinthians 15:16-23) Our resurrected body is described as one which will no longer perish and is no longer weak; it is imperishable and powerful. (1 Corinthians 15:42-43) Then comes an intriguing concept – it is no longer a natural body, but a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44) The term spiritual body does not mean ghost-like spirit without any physical stuff involved, an idea that has been fancifully portrayed by some as spirits floating on clouds and playing harps. No! A spiritual body means that it is a body designed to live in the new world, no longer being corrupted by evil. It is a body possessing all the moral qualities of spiritual life that we are presently learning as Spirit-filled Christians. To have been converted by a new birth, and to be living the life Christ wants us to live, daily improving little-by-little, is part of our transformation from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18) The likeness of Christ is being formed in us (Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:19; 1 John 3:2-3), and a body fit to live that life is forthcoming – a spiritual body. A spiritual body implies one like Jesus has, one that will never die, having remarkable new spiritual features that enable it to live a perfect godly and moral life; though still connected with “physical stuff”. The Bible promises a continuation of our bodies, and although they are given a heavenly form, yet they remain similar to the ones we have in our present world.
What does the Bible say about the future of our physical earth? There is no question that God will create a new earth. It is stated plainly in both the Old and New Testaments. (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1) One question is whether it will be a totally new earth, not the same one we now live on, or whether it will be the same earth, ruined in God’s day of judgement, but remade. The Scriptures are interpreted in both directions. One of the main Scriptures in support of the present earth being remade says that our earth is waiting to be set free from its corruption. Just as we wait for the redemption of our bodies, so the earth awaits its redemption. God’s plan is not only to redeem our human bodies, but also to redeem His created earth. (Romans 8:18-23) Furthermore, the Bible speaks of a time of restoration of all things. (Acts 3:19-21) Restoration means taking something that exists in a ruined condition and making it over so that it again appears as it was in its original condition. It is like restoring antique furniture or cars; we put them back into their original condition. Our earth had an original condition. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth and declared everything He made to be good. (Genesis 1:1, 31) Obviously, it is no longer good since evil has spoiled it. To restore it is to remove the corruption and return it to its original state of goodness. Is that God’s intention for His creation; to reclaim it and re-form a new heaven and a new earth? In Genesis there is a tree of life. After evil entered, God kept us from eating of that tree. (Genesis 2:9; 3:24) In Revelation, the tree appears again, but this time we may eat of it. (Revelation 2:7; 22:2, 14, 19) If there really is a literal tree, the implication is strong that we have a restoration of this earth to its original condition, and more. But if we take it as symbolism, that symbolism has a reality behind it. If the tree is figurative for something real, the implication remains the same as if it were a literal tree; God will bring us back to conditions similar to those in His original creation.
Even though there are other Scriptures stating that the earth will pass away, or be destroyed, the concept of passing away, or destruction, does not have to mean going out of existence. (Matthew 5:18; 24:35; 1 John 2:17; Psalm 102:25-26; 2 Peter 3:10; Hebrews 1:10-12) It is possible “passing away” could mean that the old form of earth passes away, much like the verse about new Christians that says, “old things have passed away, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) We are still the same person, but new and different. Scientists tell us that matter is never destroyed in terms of losing its existence, it simply changes form. We can relate to the possibility of a ruined earth being reformed because in our present experience we have seen or heard about countries being destroyed by the weapons of war, and then rebuilt. It is certainly possible for God to redo this earth. It may be a different size, and, like our bodies, some things remain the same and some things different, but nonetheless, in its newness, it will be similar to what we have known and experienced. Could it be that the heavens and the earth will go through a similar transformation as Jesus’ body and our bodies; not going out of existence, or being replaced by something else, but being made over and restored?
On the other hand, one of the main Scriptures against this earth being remade is one that says “the heaven and earth fled away from God’s presence and no place was found for them”. (Revelation 20:11) Taken for what it says, it is a powerful argument pointing to an entirely new earth needing to be created. This means that the other Scriptures having to do with the earth passing away or being destroyed would be understood to say, “be no more, perish, and come to an end.” (Matthew 5:18; 24:35; 1 John 2:17; Psalm 102:25-26; Hebrews 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 21:1) From this interpretation about the earth passing away and being destroyed, it would be easy to conclude that this earth will be no more and that the new earth will be totally different from the one we have experienced in this life. To reinforce the idea that earth will be entirely different from anything we know, some refer to the verse that says, "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him." (1 Corinthians 2:9-10) According to this view, even though we may not know what the future earth looks like, whatever is coming will be wonderful beyond our imagination. Personally, I think that there is more Scriptural evidence for the former view stated above, that this present earth will be remade, but then, how is one to interpret Revelation 20:11?
Each of us must decide in light of these Scriptures what we will believe about this, but whichever way we believe, there will be a new earth. The term “earth” would certainly say that whatever it will be, it will be made of real physical “stuff”, and in my mind there is no reason to doubt that it will be a place where some things are different and some things the same as our present earth, a place where our new bodies will live.
The Lord gave a vision to John, revealing some of the differences that will be present in the next age of our world, when all things will be made new. There will be no more death, crying, pain, or evil of any kind. God will be present with us and we will be His people. There will be a new city coming down to where we are; people from the earth are said to be going into it. (Revelation 21:2, 24) This could be the city whose builder and maker is God, promised to Abraham and all who have faith like his. (Hebrews 11:8-10; 13-16)
Some take the creation story as myth and symbolism. If that is so, why do we see that what it talks about are real objects in our present world – rivers, trees, sun, moon, stars, animals, humans? Why is Adam listed in the genealogy of Christ? (Luke 3:38) Somehow, these so-called myths represented real objects and people. In Revelation, if the Bible says there will be a new earth, is that myth and symbolism? On that new earth there is a new garden with rivers and trees and food. Even if the words are symbolic, they represent something that is real, just as the first story of creation represented real “stuff”. There is no reason to doubt a future for a new planet earth, with objects familiar to us.
I once heard a theology professor say that we think of heaven as being “up there” somewhere. But is it? Does the Bible actually teach us that heaven, or at least part of heaven, will be “down here” on a new or restored planet? When Jesus comes, and we raise from the dead, will we go up to heaven; or will we be with Christ as our reigning king on a newly formed earth, with access to a promised city that has come down to us? (Hebrews 13:14; Revelation 21:2) It seems very likely to be the truth that heaven is not a distant place out in space somewhere, totally different from anything we have ever known, but rather, a place somewhat familiar to us, maybe even including the same earth we now inhabit, restored, but different.
What did Jesus promise His followers when He was on earth? He promised that He would go on ahead of us and prepare a place for us. (John 14:2-3) He promised His disciples that they would eat and drink with Him again in His kingdom when He returns. (Luke 22:28-30) They have long ago died; how can they eat and drink? I take it that there will be food in the next life, able to be eaten by our resurrected body. He also promised his disciples that they would rule with him in the regeneration. (Matthew 19:27-29) Regeneration is a renewing of something – what? There are other Scriptures that strongly state we will be rulers of the world and reign with Christ in the next age. (1 Corinthians 6:2; Daniel 7:18, 22, 27; Revelation 2:26; 2 Timothy 2:12)
Maybe I won’t have to leave all of the beauty, wonder, and delight I have come to enjoy in this world. Certainly the kingdom of God will include another world similar to this one, only grander and more perfect. The hope of it gives me a great anticipated joy. I don’t have to stay sad and say grievous goodbyes, but by faith I can know that I will step through death’s door and come to a new and beautiful world similar to this. Can it be true? According to Scripture, yes it can. To be sure, I have many unanswered questions having to do with a possible millennial age, and another age after that, and when and where and how everything will work, but I feel quite confident of one point at least; the invisible “soul stuff” of God’s creation will not end up separated from the visible “physical stuff” of God’s creation. New forms may take shape, but the new forms will be, in part, a continuation of things that have been familiar to us. Such a hope enables us to endure all the hardships that we may face. We can say with certainty that what happens to us in this life matters very little to us compared to the fantastic future awaiting us. (Romans 8:18)
I have always loved fairy tales. They take you to enchanting and magical lands where wonderful things happen and life is lived happily ever after. Why do people like fairy tales? I like to think that people write them and tell them and make movies of them because this art form is a reflection of how people wish their lives really were. Some think the Bible, with all its miracles, is a fairy tale, and when you think about it, it really does sound very much like a fairy tale. It is sometimes hard to believe, but unlike the wishful thinking hoped for in our made up fairy tales, the Bible is true, and the things written that have been promised by a faithful God will come to pass. (Revelation 22:6-7) Past fulfilled prophecies in Scripture are evidence to that fact. The historical eye-witnessed resurrection of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ is the key event giving evidence to the fact that our hope of eternal life in a future kingdom including heaven and earth is real. (Revelation 1:7) If we are following our Lord Jesus Christ, He will take us there.