What is God’s promise for a new heaven and a new earth? Does the Bible say that heaven is our eternal home? Or is it as Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, that the next chapter of our story begins with “the renewal of all things,” by which he means the earth we know and love in all its beauty?
Bible Gateway interviewed John Eldredge about his video Bible study, All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love
Why do you say heaven is not our eternal home?
John Eldredge: Paul says in Romans 8 that all creation—meaning this earth—groans for the day of its redemption. Creation is included in the coming kingdom. Revelation 21 and 22 are the summation of the entire human story; they’re the announcement of the coming kingdom. John sees “heaven and earth new-created” The earth is right there, restored. That is why Jesus described our future as “the renewal of all things,” “the re-creation of the world”. In fact, when John sees the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven, it’s coming to the earth. Our future is to reign with God “on the earth”. Heaven is where the saints who’ve died in Christ currently live. But a day is coming when even Jesus leaves heaven to come to the earth: “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets”. As Dallas Willard taught, “The life we now have as the persons we now are will continue, and continue in the universe in which we now exist.”
What does Scripture mean when it says “make all things new”?
John Eldredge: Let’s look at this very carefully, because this promise is essential to the teaching of Jesus and to the hope he wants us to grab hold of. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne…everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life”.
The Greek word used here for renewal is palinggenesia, which is derived from two root words: paling, meaning again, and genesia, meaning beginning, which of course hearkens back to Genesis. Genesis again. Eden restored. Could it possibly be? Sometimes comparing the work of various translators gets us even closer to the meaning of a passage; let’s look at two more. Petersen translates it as, “the re-creation of the world.” The NLT has it as, “when the world is made new.”
Jesus announced the coming kingdom of God. He then demonstrated what that promise means—crippled walk, blind see, deaf hear, the dead are raised to life. His miracles are illustrations for his message, and unforgettable demonstrations they are. No one who saw them could miss the point—the kingdom of God means a great restoration. He then announces the renewal of all things right before the Romans seize him; and as if to make sure everyone gets the point, he walks out of the grave scot-free three days later—the most dramatic illustration of restoration you could ask for.
Many people have the vague but ominous idea that God destroys the current reality and creates a new “heavenly” one. But that’s not what the Scripture actually says: “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.”
Paul teaches us that creation—meaning the earth and the animal kingdom—longs for the day of its redemption when “it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” Clearly that does not imply destruction; far from it. Paul anticipated a joyful day when creation shares in the eternity of the children of God: “The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead.”
The glorious times ahead, when all things are made new. God restores the lives of his children; he restores the earth he loves.
Why do you write that our hope is in God’s promise of restoration, not heaven?
John Eldredge: I want to say as clearly as I can—nothing I have written is intended to diminish the beauty, hope, or truthfulness of heaven. Heaven is where your dear loved ones who died “in Christ” are now. Should you or I die before the palinggenesia, we’ll immediately be in that paradise ourselves, thank the Living God. Jesus is currently in heaven, too, along with our Father, Holy Spirit, and the angels. Which makes it a breathtaking place!
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Heaven is absolutely real, and precious far beyond words. It’s the “rest of” the kingdom of God, the “paradise” Jesus referred to. The City of God is currently there.
For the time being.
Peter explained in Acts that Jesus remains in heaven until his return, when all things are made new: “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
Until—so much gravity and excitement contained in that word; such patient anticipation. When the time comes for God to restore everything, Jesus leaves heaven and comes to earth. To stay. The heavenly Jerusalem comes to earth, and “the dwelling of God is with men.” Heaven is not the eternal dwelling place of the people of God. The new earth is, just as Revelation says. Just as the entire promise of the renewal of all things says. Just as Jesus explained, and the Bible declares.
Better said, we get heaven and earth; both realms of God’s great kingdom come together at the renewal of all things. Then will we truly say, “it’s heaven on earth.” For it will be.