Do People Die and Go to Heaven Forever? Not Exactly.
People talk about dying now and living in heaven “as it is now” forever. Such a thought or statement isn’t exactly right. It is true that the most prominent use of the word heaven is to describe the place in which the full presence of God is manifested. In that sense, saying, “When saved people die they spend eternity in heaven” is true and will always be true. Yet, we should acknowledge that heaven as it exists right now at 11:00 a.m. on June 30, 2009 is not the heaven that will be for all eternity.
After all chaos and judgment is complete, after the resurrection, after the followers of Christ have received body 2.0, John says in Revelation 21:1-4,
“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. . . (v. 4c) for the former things have passed away.”
Heaven and earth as they exist now will pass away, they will cease to be. It seems that the new place generally referred to as heaven will exist in three recognizable parts. There will be a heaven above as there is now. There will be an earth below, as there is now and from which I am writing to you today! There will be a capital city, the new Jerusalem.
So what will life be like in the new heavens and new earth? Revelation 21 and 22 gives us a marvelous picture that at the very least tells us that there is not a sin worth clinging on to, or a persecution to endure, or a trial to suffer worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. Paul was spot on (Rom. 8:18). There is nothing in this world that even compares to what is to come. If you have yet to repent of your sin and receive the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ the coming glory revealed in Rev. 21 and 22 ought to be reason enough. I could write on and on about this, but it does not fully answer our question. What will life be like in the new heavens and new earth?
- That which is in part shall be done away (1 Cor. 13:12). There are a lot of verses in the Bible that we take metaphorically, devotionally, ideally, or spiritually. When we read a verse like Psalm 73:25-26 we may have a moment or two in which we experience what it might be like for God to be our portion, but not fully. In the new heavens and the new earth, God will actually be our portion. The metaphors of the Bible will be actualities. Spiritual truth will be physical, tangible, sensational (in the most literal sense). Psalm 73 will not be an ideal, in heaven and earth 2.0 God will be the energy, the light, the sustenance, the fullness. He will be our everything.
- There will be no more tears, death, mourning, or pain.
- While the physics of life have changed, there will be physical elements of life that will be familiar. Many scholars, including Wayne Grudem, do not take the description of the New Jerusalem literally. I have read many who say the dimensions alone indicate this cannot be a literal city because it simply would not fit on earth. The new Jerusalem is physically impossible. I would disagree.[i] It is obvious in the new heavens and new earth, physics as we know it will change. The glorified body in and of itself will make physics quite interesting. Jesus said that in His Father’s house were many mansions, dwelling places. Yet in the glorified body, who needs walls? But yet there will be walls, but why? While the physics of the earth and heaven 2.0 raise interesting and pointless debates we do recognize from Rev. 21-22 some things that are familiar to us, like walls, foundations, trees, rivers, streets, music, gates, jewels, and the throne.
is the capital city, but will there be states and cities throughout the world as there are now? My guess is, yes. I like what Grudem says about life in 2.0, Jerusalem
“Perhaps people will work at the whole range of investigation and development of the creation by technological, creative, and inventive means, thus exhibiting the full extent of their excellent creation in the image of God.
Moreover, since God is infinite and we can never exhaust his greatness (Ps. 145:3), and since we are finite creatures who will never equal God’s knowledge or be omniscient, we may expect that for all eternity we will be albe to go on learning more about God and about his relationship to his creation. In this way we will continue the process of learning. . .”[ii]
Do people die and go to heaven forever? Absolutely, but not exactly. The marvelous part of it all is that most of us will experience heaven 1.0 and 2.0. The salvation of God in His Son Jesus Christ is marvelous.
[i] You have to love it when I say I disagree with some of the most prominent and respected scholars in the world. It is like the year I hit thirty homeruns in my back yard playing wiffle ball and comparing that summer to anything Major League! Even still, I, Mr. Wiffle Ball of Indian Springs 1986, disagree with Wayne Grudem. Hilarious!
[ii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1162.