I received this question via the Question Box on our congregation’s web page. You can read the hundreds of questions archived there at http://www.Plymouth-church.com. For almost three years, I have answered an average of about two questions each week there. Some of those I have also posted on this blog.
I will take your last question first. Paul spoke of being “caught up into the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:1-4), as least most students of the Bible believe the man he is speaking of here is himself.
The Jewish concept of the three heavens was that the first heaven is the atmosphere around us where the birds fly. The second heaven is where the planets, the sun, and the stars are – that is, outer space or the universe. The third heaven is where God is. Note that this third heaven is not in this physical universe at all, for God lived before he created the universe (Genesis 1:1).
Actually, God inhabits all three of these heavens. The Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father, which art in heaven….” The word heaven there is plural in the Greek. The literal translation would be, “Our Father, the in-the-heavens-One”. When you think of heaven this way, God is right here around us constantly – in the very atmosphere in which we live and which we breathe, though we see Him only with the eye of faith!
Your other question, about where we will live in eternity, really has only one answer that matters: We will live with God. Peter wrote about this:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare [the KJV has burned up here]. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. – 2 Peter 3:10-13
Note three things from this passage”
- The present earth and heavens (i.e., the physical universe) will be destroyed.
- There will be a new heaven and a new earth.
- Righteousness will dwell in this new heaven and on this new earth.
In Revelation 21:1-4 we can read:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This agrees very closely with what Peter had said. The emphasis here is on the Holy City coming down out of heaven from God – but God comes with the city. He will live with His people and be with them. He will wipe every tear from every eye – and when God wipes our tears away, there will be no more mourning or crying or pain!
Putting the two passages together, the present earth and heavens will be destroyed. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Righteousness dwells in this new heaven and earth. In this new heaven and earth, the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven – and God makes His dwelling with men.
Will this be on the earth as we know it? No, it will not. This earth, indeed this universe, will be melted with fervent heat and the works in it will be burned up. Will it be a cleansed and renewed earth? I think it quite likely. We will be changed when the Lord comes – and so will the earth. (See, for example, Romans 8:18-22.) Just as we do not know what kind of body we will have (except that it is a “spiritual body” – which is not the same thing as a phantom or ghost), we do not know what the earth will be like. We do know it will be new in kind, not just another of the same kind. We also know it will be the home of righteousness.
The rest of the description of that new heaven and new earth in Revelation 22:1-5 lets us see that the curse of sin has been fully removed, not only from mankind but also from the new earth. The Tree of Life is there on both sides of the River of the Water of Life that flows from the throne of God. That tree will give its fruit in all seasons – and its leaves are for the healing of all.
Perhaps you can think of the “rapture” when we meet the Lord in the air as Him taking us away from the earth to safety while the earth is destroyed (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff & 1 Corinthians 15:50-54). At that time, we are changed and God brings us back (as the bride of Christ) our our new home in the renewed earth restored to Eden’s glory. This gives me a way of “picturing” what the Scripture says – but please do not make an “idol” of this picture. It is a way of looking at what the Bible says pictorially, but if that’s not exactly the way things happen when He comes, I’ll be glad to see Him anyway!
I hope these few thoughts will help you as you anticipate that great time of renewal and rejoicing!