Is heaven eternal? The answer seems obvious at first glance. We sing about spending eternity in heaven, and we say to the bereaved in consolation, “He is with God now.” However, while many Christians believe that heaven and hell are the ultimate final destination for all humans, Scripture provides more insight on the matter. The “heaven” we preach about as the spiritual destination for believers is not our eternal abode. Instead, it serves as a place where deceased saints await the final unveiling of God’s plan. So, although it is accurate to say that all who die in Christ currently reside in heaven, that is not the end of our journey.
In Scripture, the word heaven can describe the sky, outer space, and the dwelling place of God (Genesis 1:14–18; John 14:2; Ephesians 4:8). In the last usage, heaven has no physical description, but it is where all believers will go after death. Paul refers to it as the “third heaven” and describes “a man” being caught up there, likely recounting his own supernatural experience (2 Corinthians 12:1–9). The third heaven is also known as paradise.
Our eternal abode, however, is the new earth, which will come with a new heaven and is referred to as the “eternal state.” The old heaven and earth will be destroyed, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:10–13:
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 done in it will be laid bare. 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, where righteousness dwells.The eternal state is the final piece in God’s plan, where the earth will be restored to its original design, accompanied by the new heaven. It will be more than a mere consolation for the troubles in this fallen world; it will be a renewal, complete with the restoration of Eden (Revelation 22:1–4). Believers will receive new bodies and have access to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and the tree of life (1 Corinthians 15:42–44; Philippians 3:20–21; Revelation 21:1–2, 27; 22:2). The new earth can be envisioned as “Eden 2.0,” the utopia humans have long desired, written about, and even depicted in movies. Our instinctual yearning for something more in life is right because we are made for eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The current order of existence is temporary and subject to God’s curse because of mankind’s sin (Genesis 3:17–18; Romans 8:20–22).
The prospect of a new heaven and a new earth means that God has a reason for the current brokenness. Just as we cannot experience the beauty of healing without the pain of sickness, so perhaps can we not fully appreciate the joy of the new earth without experiencing this old one. In the absence of definite answers, God offers hope, and the resurrection of Christ made that hope even more certain.
In conclusion, while it is accurate to say that believers will go to heaven after death, our final destination is a new, recreated earth where God will dwell with His people. Far from playing harps on clouds for eternity, we will work without the strains of the curse, live without the struggles of sin and suffering, and have direct fellowship with God. The new earth is reserved only for redeemed humanity, as nothing evil can enter (Revelation 21:8,27). As sinful humans, our only passage to this new world is through Christ.