Where Will Christians Spend Eternity?

On Earth or in Heaven?

Paul writes that the Church has “one hope.” [Ephesians 4:4] While most Christians throughout the Gospel Age have believed this hope is heavenly, there are some Bible students who believe this hope is earthly. Where will Christians spend eternity? On earth or in heaven?

What is “Heaven”?

The first occurrence of the English word “heaven(s)” in the King James Version is, of course, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It is to go in the Old Testament to use “heaven” in Genesis 45 times, Deuteronomy 46 times, and most often in Psalms, 76 times for a total of 776 times in the whole Bible. In the Christian Bible [New Testament] “heaven” occurs most often in Matthew [88 times] mainly in the phrase “kingdom of the heavens.” The word occurs a total of 317 times in the entire Christian Bible.

The Hebrew word usually rendered “heavens” is sha·ma'yim [it is always plural] and means essentially that which is high or lofty. [Psalm 103:11; Proverbs 25:3; Isaiah 55:9] The Greek word is ou·ra·nos'. The origin is obscure but some believe it stems from an Indo-European word referring to rain. The verb is anciently used also for what is godlike or divine. From Homer onward OURANOS is used of heaven’s vault, or the firmament, meaning the celestial lights. [Dictionary New Testament Theology, Volume 2, page 188ff] The English word “heaven” [heaved up] also suggests the firmament or “covering” of the earth.

In the Bible the “heaven” is used it at least ten different ways. However, the primary uses deal with three essential aspects: a) the firmament with its shining lights [Genesis 1:1; Deuteronomy 4:19; Isaiah 13:10; 1 Corinthians 15:40, 41; Hebrews 11:12]; b) the atmosphere where birds fly and from where come rain, snow, and hail [(Genesis 1:8; 27:28; Job 38:29; Deuteronomy 4:17; Proverbs 30:19; Matthew 6:26; Psalm 78:26; Luke 17:24; Joshua 10:11; 1 Kings 18:45; Isaiah 55:10; Acts 14:17]; and, c) the place of God’s dwelling. [Isaiah 40:22] This may be what Paul calls the three heavens in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Some consider the phrase “heaven of the heavens” to refer to the complete stellar cosmos or universe. [Deuteronomy 10:14; Nehemiah 9:6] Even these cannot “contain” God. [1 Kings 8:27]

However, Yehowah is described as having His own dwelling place, possibly beyond the stellar universe. Solomon describes God’s residence as “ … from the heavens, your established place of dwelling." 1 Kings 8:30, 39] It seems clear from the Bible that God does not dwell on earth with mankind but in a lofty abode. Thus Isaiah uses the analogy: “Heaven is Your throne and the earth your footstool.” [Isaiah 66:1] From his Divine Habitat God “looks down on humanity.” [Psalm 14:2; 102:19; 113:6]

Solomon seems to affirm that God cannot literally dwell on earth when he asks the rhetorical question: “But will God truly dwell with mankind upon the earth? Look! Heaven, yes, the heaven of the heavens themselves, cannot contain you; how much less, then, this house that I have built?” [2 Chronicles 6:18 NWT]

There is also an angelic heavens where the celestial beings live. (Jude 6; Genesis 28:12, 13; Matthew 18:10; 24:36) The expression "army of the heavens," often applied to the stellar creation, sometimes describes these angelic sons of God. [1 Kings 22:19; Psalm 89:5-7; Psalm 103:20, 21; Daniel 7:10; Luke 2:13; Luke 15:7, 10; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 19:14] These seem to be organized into governments, authorities, and lordships. [Ephesians 1:21; 6:12] In Daniel the millions of angelic beings are seen before the Divine Presence. [Daniel 7:10]

Like Daniel, the beloved apostle John is also exalted above the earth into the heavenly Throne-Room of God Almighty. Revelation 4:1-3 describes this Divine Habitat:

“Next I looked, and behold, a door opened into Heaven and a trumpet-like Voice called to me, ‘Ascend up here!’ … Then at once I was under the influence of the Pneuma. Behold, a Throne located in Heaven. There was One Person seated upon the Throne. Now this enthroned Person had the appearance of a sparkling diamond and also a blood-red gem-stone. Encircling the Throne was an emerald aura.”

A study of Revelation, where the word heaven occurs 52 times, will show that “heaven” stands in great contrast to the earth - heaven highly exalted above the earth. Celestial beings ascend and descend between heaven and earth.

What is the Future of the Earth?

God’s original purpose is a given based on Genesis 1:28 and the record in Eden: a global paradise people by ever-living perfect human beings.

God’s purpose remains unchanged according to Isaiah 45:18: “For the Lord [YHWH] is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos.” [The Living Translation]

The hope of ageless human life on earth is the hope of the majority of humankind following their judgment.

In a little while, the wicked will disappear.
Though you look for them, they will be gone.
Those who are gentle and lowly will possess the land;
they will live in prosperous security.
The godly will inherit the land
and will live there forever. [Psalm 37:9-11, 29 The Living Translation]

The earth will never be destroyed but remains forever generation after generation.

You placed the world on its foundation
so it would never be moved. [Psalm 104:4 The Living Translation]

Generations come one after another, but the earth remains forever. [Ecclesiastes 1:4]

Some conditions in that future New Earth are highlighted in Isaiah 65:17-23:

17“Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth-so wonderful that no one will even think about the old ones anymore. 18Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people. And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more.

20“No longer will babies die when only a few days old. No longer will adults die before they have lived a full life. No longer will people be considered old at one hundred! Only sinners will die that young! 21In those days, people will live in the houses they build and eat the fruit of their own vineyards. 22It will not be like the past, when invaders took the houses and confiscated the vineyards. For my people will live as long as trees and will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains. 23They will not work in vain, and their children will not be doomed to misfortune. For they are people blessed by the Lord [YHWH], and their children, too, will be blessed. 24I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking to me about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers! 25The wolf and lamb will feed together. The lion will eat straw like the ox. Poisonous snakes will strike no more. In those days, no one will be hurt or destroyed on my holy mountain. I, the Lord [YHWH], have spoken!” [The Living Translation]

Though ever-living existence on an Edenic earth was the hope of God’s ancient peoples, God foresaw “something better” [“a better hope”] for the Christian Church. Paul writes regarding these:

[Christ] is a mediator of a much better covenant, which is also lawfully based on superior promises. …Though all of these [ancient faithful] received convincing evidence regarding their faith, they did not capture the Promise, our God having foreseen something better for us [in the Church] so that they might not be perfected apart from us.” [Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 11:39, 40 NCMM]

Will Christians Live in Heaven with God?

The Nazarene promised his disciples they would share in his “heavenly Kingdom.” [2 Timothy 4:18; 1 Corinthians 15:50] At John 14:1-3 Jesus promised his followers a completely new home, one in the Father’s celestial Home: “Let your hearts not be overly concerned. Believe in The God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s House there are many abodes. I am leaving to prepare a place for you. I will Return and will receive you home to me, that where ever I am you also will be.”

In his lengthy Passover prayer Jesus promised his apostles a heavenly place beside him. John 17:5, 24 reads: “I have glorified You upon the earth. Now You glorify me, Father, at Your side with the glory I possessed beside You before humankind’s social order began. … Father, concerning what you have granted me, I wish that where ever I am, they also may be with me.” 

The “One Hope” of the Church

Ephesians 4:4, “You were called to one hope in your invitation … [from the one God].” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary©] There is only “one hope” in the Church, the Body of Christ, and this a spiritual, celestial existence.

Philippians 3:20, 21, “As for us our citizenship exists in [the] heavens, from which also we eagerly await a savior, [our] Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodily schematic to be conformed to his glorious body.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary©] The Christian’s true home is heaven and not the earth. The members of the Bride of Christ will share his body type in order to live in the celestial environment.

2 Timothy 4:18 “The LORD will … save me into His heavenly Kingdom.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Paul knew his future lie in the heavenly Kingdom, not an earthly existence.

1 Peter 1:3, 4, “Blessed The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for in accordance with His enormous mercy He regenerated us unto a living hope by means of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead, unto an incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading inheritance, preserved [in the] heavens for you.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] The “living hope” of the Christian Church is a heavenly one. Had it been earthly Peter could have clearly so stated here.

Hebrews 3:1, “… holy ‘brothers’ -- partakers of a heavenly calling ...” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Paul makes clear in his inspired epistle to the Hebrew Christians that their hope was of a heavenly, not earthly kind.

Hebrews 10:19, 22 -- “Therefore, brothers, possessing a boldness regarding the Way into the [heavenly] Holy Places by the blood of Jesus -- may we continue to approach [The God] with a true heart in complete conviction.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Paul’s parabolic illustration indicates the future of the Church lies within the heavenly “Holy Places” typified by the Tabernacle of Moses.

Hebrews 12:22, 23 - “However, you have approached Mount Zion and a City of a Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem and myriads of angels in a pangeric and the Church of the Firstborn who have been enrolled in [the] heavens.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] The hope of the “Church of the Firstborn” was to be a member or citizen of “heavenly Jerusalem” where angels also reside.

“There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. The glory of the heavenly body is one type and that of the earthly body another type. … The earthly body is planted in the ground dishonorably, the heavenly body is raised in power. Though planted in the ground as a physical body, it is raised as a spiritual body. Of course, the spiritual body is not the first one, but rather the physical body is, then afterward the spiritual type. The very first human [Adam] was from the earth and composed of dirt. The Second Human is from heaven. Now just as the original human was made of dirt, just so are all those also made of dirt. And, just as the Heavenly One is, just so are all those who are heavenly. And, just as we have borne the image of the person composed of dirt, we shall also in contrast bear the image of the Heavenly Person. However, brothers, I tell you this: flesh and blood can never inherit the Kingdom of God. Nor does the decayable inherit the non-decayable. Behold, I tell you a mystery! We shall not all die! Rather, in an atomic instant, in the blink of an eye, we [who do not die] will be changed. For the trump will blow, and then those asleep in death will be resurrected non-decayable, and we [alive] will be changed. For that which is decayable will be clothed in that which is non-decayable; and, that which is mortal must be clothed in what is immortal. Now, when the mortal is clothed in immortality, the prophecy will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up forever.’ [Isaiah 25:8]” [1 Corinthians 15:40-54 NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©]

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 - “For we realize that when our earthen home is dissolved we will have another building from God, a dwelling not of human origin, eternal in the heavens. For in this present dwelling we groan with great desire to be clothed in the heavenly residence. … Indeed, we who remain in this present dwelling groan, burdened, because we wish not to put away the present dwelling, but rather to be clothed in the other dwelling. In this way what is mortal may be devoured by the Life. Now, He that produced us for this is God, who has given us the Token, the Pneuma.” [NCMM Nazarene Commentary 2000©] This text seems to make clear that the faithful in the Church will inhabit a body or dwelling of heavenly origin and this will be “eternal in the heavens” and not on earth.

1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17, “[The Lord] will descend from heaven and those dead in Christ will be resurrected first. Afterward, we the living [at his Parousia] will be raptured in clouds at the same time together with them to meet the Lord in the atmospheric heavens. And thus we shall always be together with the Lord.” The Faithful alive at the moment of Christ’s Return [his Parousia] will be raptured or caught away from the earth to meet the Lord in the heavens. Nothing in this text suggests the Lord will be here on earth.

1 John 2:28; 3:2 -- Now, little children, continue to abide in (Jesus) so when the time comes for him to be made visible we all might speak openly and freely at his Arrival and not experience embarrassment while standing before him. … Beloved, at the present time we are “Children of God.” However, what we are to become has not yet been revealed to us. We only know that when the time comes for the Son’s Appearing we will exist after his resemblance. We shall actually behold him as he exists in reality.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Those raised at the Lord’s Parousia will appear in his presence.

Revelation 3:12, “To the one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the Divine Habitat of my God and he shall never leave [the Divine Habitat. … To the one who is victorious I shall grant to sit down with me on my throne even as I also conquered and sat down on my Father’s Throne.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Those victorious members of the Church will make their eternal home in God’s residence and remain within His Temple forever.

Revelation 4:2; 7:15 -- “I saw a throne in heaven. … The Large Crowd are standing in sight of the Throne, rendering The God worship service day and night in His Divine Habitat.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Those living end-time Saints at the moment of Christ’s Return will be raptured to the heavenly Throne-room to begin their heavenly service before God and the Lamb.

Revelation 11:12, 13 - “And the 2 Witnesses heard a great voice out of Heaven, calling: ‘Come up here!’ And the 2 Witnesses ascended into Heaven in the cloud and their enemies beheld them.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©]

Revelation 14:1-4, “I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion and the 144,000 with him. They are singing a new song in sight of the Throne. … The 144,000 have been bought from the earth. These were bought from among humankind as firstfruits to The God and the Lamb.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] The faithful end-time Saints, the 144,000, are seen on “heavenly Zion” ruling in the same location where Jesus began his own rule. [Psalm 2:6, 7; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 12:22, 23] These are bought from the earth to dwell everlastingly in the heavens.

Revelation 15:1, 2, 5 - “Now I saw another sign in heaven. … Also I saw sea of glass mingled with fiery flame, and there were those who were victorious over the wild Sea Beast. …Then I saw next the Divine Habitat of the Testimony Tent was opened in the Heaven.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©] The victorious end-time Saints, the 144,000, are

Revelation 22:1-5 -- “Next the angel showed me a crystal clear river of water of life flowing out from the Throne of The God and the Lamb. … The Throne of The God and the Lamb will be in her [the Holy City New Jerusalem]. His slaves will offer up worship service and they will behold His face…. They will reign [as kings] into all future periods of time.” [NCMM, Nazarene Commentary 2000©]

The New Jerusalem and the Thousand Years

Though the hope of the Church is eternity in the heavens [2 Corinthians 5:1] this does not mean the Saints will not also spend time on earth during the Thousand Years. Revelation 5:10 states the Saints “will reign upon the earth.” The Glorified Lord in his Christine epistles to the churches in Philadelphia and Laodicea promised the victorious: “All who are victorious will become pillars in the [HEAVENLY] Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write my God’s name on them, and they will be citizens in the [HEAVENLY] city of my God-the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. … I will invite everyone who is victorious to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his [HEAVENLY] throne.” [Revelation 3:12, 21 The Living Translation] Based on Revelation 4:1-3 the Father’s Throne is in heaven and not on earth.

However, when the celestial Holy City New Jerusalem descends, settling its foundations down here on earth during the Thousand Years, the Saints will, indeed, “rule upon earth.” Revelation 20:9 compares this to a temporary military bivouac as a “camp.” From this we may assume the Holy City will not forever remain on earth but may go on to other royal assignments throughout the Universe.

The Bible does not tell us what, if any contact the residences of the Celestial City will have with humans on earth. Some see the possibility of manifestations similar to those of our Lord after his resurrection. [John 20:1; Mark 16:12 KJV]

Endure in the “One Hope”!

The Church of Christ bears “one hope” resulting from God’s invitation or calling. [Ephesians 4:4] Colossians bears testimony to this heavenly hope: “On account of the hope treasured up for you in Heaven. Of this hope you have already heard in the Message of the truth of the Good News. … Give thanks to the Father who has made us fit to receive our share of the inheritance of God's people in Light. [Colossians 1:5, 12]

This hope is a strong basis for endurance in the race for life. [Romans 5:4] Jesus himself endured a torturous death because of his heavenly hope: “Observe carefully the Arch-Leader and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus -- who endured execution because of the Joy that lay before him - [he] disdained the humiliation [of the Cross].” [Hebrews 12:2 NCMM, Nazarene Commentary2000©]

Like Paul, daily we call out, “Rejoice in The Hope!” [Romans 12:12]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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