Will heaven be on earth?

The Bible refers to both heaven and hell as real places. In a technical sense, these are better understood as the places where the dead are right now. What we commonly think of as "heaven"—the final, eternal abode of enjoyment in God's presence of those who are His children through Jesus Christ—is the new heavens and new earth. What we commonly think of as "hell"—the final, eternal abode of torment of all who reject Jesus Christ—is the lake of fire.

First, the explanation for hell. There are several terms in the Bible that are translated as hell (sheol in the Old Testament; gehenna, hades, and tartarus in the New Testament). One of these words, gehenna, includes a facet of torment within its definition. Revelation 20:14 says: "Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." In practice, people refer to hell as a place of eternal torment when, on a technical level, the lake of fire is the place of eternal torment. What is more important than these semantics is the deeper idea of separation from God and punishment for all of eternity, rather than how this condition gets labeled. More important than that, of course, is recognizing that we are all condemned to the lake of fire apart from Jesus Christ (John 3:16–18). But by God's grace, we can be saved (Ephesians 2:1–10). Jesus paid the penalty of sin (death) and He conquered death by His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3–6). All who put their faith in Him will not be cast into the lake of fire, but will instead be with Him for all eternity.

Now on to heaven. Heaven is not the final eternal paradise for Christians—or, at least, not heaven as it currently is. When the Old Testament talks of heaven it is usually in the context of looking up to the heavens, or, the sky/universe. This location became associated as being God's home. In Acts 1:11, Jesus ascended "into heaven," and when He returns, He will come back down to earth from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16). In both of these cases, heaven could simply mean the sky, but it has come to be associated as the dwelling place of God, which we see in Revelation 4—5 where it talks about there being worship of God happening in heaven. Hebrews also talks about Jesus and His ministry in heaven (Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 9:24–26). The apostle Paul said that "we would rather be away from the body" (dead) so that we may be "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). So, in this we see the reasoning behind saying that a Christian who has passed away is now in heaven with God—he or she is.

But this heaven is not the believer's final, eternal home. We know this because 2 Corinthians 5 talks about looking forward to our resurrection body while we are in heaven away from our deceased body. By this passage, heaven seems like it may be more of a temporary resting place for our souls until we receive a physical resurrection body. The heavens and earth of today (see Genesis 1:1) will ultimately be done away with and replaced by new heavens and a new earth "in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:12–13). This will be the true eternal home for believers and will hearken back to God's original design in the garden of Eden, having physical bodies and living on a new earth (see Revelation 21—22). In a way, this is "heaven on earth."

In Revelation 21:1–5, John recalls this portion of his vision: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'"

Heaven will be on earth in the sense that the believer's eternal dwelling place will be in the new heavens and new earth. God will resurrect all those who are dead in Christ and create a new heaven and a new earth to match His original intent and purpose.

It is important to recognize that "heaven on earth" is not something we create ourselves. We do not bring heaven down or make earth into some sort of utopia. Rather, we live our lives in a fallen world with faith and in obedience to God (Matthew 5:13–16; John 15:1–11; Galatians 5:16—6:10). We live as lights of righteousness and beacons of hope for what is to come (Ephesians 4:1–6; 1 Peter 2:11–12). We are actively transformed by God and we seek to love others well in practical ways (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 12:1–2; John 13:34–35; Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 6:9–10; 1 John 3:16–18). We eagerly share the gospel of salvation so that others may also spend eternity with God (Matthew 28:18–20; 1 Peter 3:13–16). If we are in Christ, we will be with Him when we die. And one day we will be raised with a body suited for eternity and joyfully live in the new heavens and new earth.

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