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 (@johneldredge) about his book, All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love (Thomas Nelson, 2017).
What do you mean, “How you envision your future impacts your current experience more than anything else”?
John Eldredge: If you knew you were going to inherit $30 million dollars in three years, it would totally change your outlook on your life right now. The only possible reason that Paul could describe our current suffering as “light and momentary” (2 Cor 4:17) was because he knew we were about to inherit the fulfillment of our wildest dreams. He saw it coming; it took his breath away.
I think we have radically underestimated the power of hope. If you honestly believed that all your dreams were going to come true any day, it would change the way you live. It’s the hopeless who give up on living; people who are filled with hope live extraordinary lives.
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” (21:1) 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” (Matt 19:28). 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” (Rev 5:10). 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” (Acts 3:21). 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” (Matthew 19:28).
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” (Romans 8:19-23 NLT).
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” (v.21). 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” (Romans 8:19-21 MSG).
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 (Hebrews 12:22-24).
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” (Acts 3:21)
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” (Rev 21:3). 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.
What is the new earth and why does it matter?
The new earth is this planet (and the heavens, too, the cosmos) restored and renewed. I want to point out that when, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:5) he does not say, “I am making all new things.” He says he is restoring his heavens and his earth. As scholar and theologian N. T. Wright has written, the early Christians “believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter.”
What are myths about heaven and what does the Bible actually say?
John Eldredge: First, heaven is not the eternal church service in the sky. We do not sing songs forever. Second, God does not destroy this planet like the Death Star and airlift us all to some other place. We reign with God on the earth. When the Master returns in the parable of the minas and the talents, he does not send his servants to church forever. He gives them the entire estate. So too, in the parable of the sheep and goats, the sheep are rewarded by being given kingdoms. Notice also that we eat and drink in our coming life: Jesus said he would not drink wine again until he does so with us in the kingdom. We go to a feast. Our coming life is very much like what Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall—a sinless humanity living with God on a sinless earth. Think of all the adventures we’ll have!
Why should a person read this book?
John Eldredge: Hebrews 6:19 says that there is a hope that is “the anchor of the soul,” or as Petersen translated, “an unbreakable spiritual lifeline.” The world is in a massive hope crisis. Suicides are skyrocketing; depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In this broken hurting world, we’re supposed to be living with so much hope people stop us and ask us about it (1 Peter 3:15).
But hope isn’t something you catch like a cold or the flu—you have to take hold of it; you have to seize it. “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go” (Hebrews 6:19 MSG).
Most Christians have no real imagination for their future; they’ve never given a single thought to the first three things they plan to do when they step into the kingdom of God. As Pascal wrote, “Our imagination so powerfully magnifies time, by continual reflections upon it, and so diminishes eternity…for want of reflection, that we make a nothing of eternity and an eternity of nothing…this is a dangerous game.” The tragic result is, we put all our hopes and expectations on this life, and it breaks our hearts.
What will be the great and sustaining hope of your life? That is an urgent and critical question.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
John Eldredge: I love the post-resurrection stories about Jesus. Remember—he is the forerunner for the Great Renewal, “the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18). He died, as everyone has and will. But on the third day he was raised to life, leaving his grave clothes folded neatly in the tomb. (A very touching detail I might add, as if to say, “And that’s that,” like a man putting away his flannel pajamas now that winter is past). On Easter morning Jesus walked out of the grave radiantly alive, restored, and everyone recognized him. The “new” Jesus is not someone or something else now; he’s the Jesus they loved and knew. He walks with them, has meals with them—just like before. The most striking thing about the post-resurrection activities of Jesus is that they’re so remarkably ordinary:
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish…When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. (John 21:4-6, 9-13)
This is such a homely scene—so commonplace—the sort of thing you’d expect to run into along the shore of Lake Michigan or the Mississippi. Just a group of guys hanging out at the beach, cooking breakfast for some friends. Jesus’ restored life is surprisingly like his “former” life. As will be drinking wine at the feast; as will be the feast itself (do you realize you eat in the life to come?!). The Great Renewal rescues us from all the vague, ethereal, unimaginable visions we’ve been given of an eternal life Somewhere Up Above.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
John Eldredge: I know to say it here sounds like pandering, but the truth is, I use it all the time. It’s very, very helpful.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
John Eldredge: The renewal of all things is the most beautiful, hopeful, glorious promise ever made in any story, religion, philosophy. or fairy tale.
And it is real.
And it is yours.
Bio: John Eldredge is an author of many books—including Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul and You Have What It Takes: What Every Father Needs to Know—a counselor, and a teacher. He is also president of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recovering their own hearts in God’s love, and learning to live in God’s Kingdom. He lives near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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