“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” (v. 1).
– Revelation 21
Having established the necessity and existence of an afterlife, today we conclude our study of the biblical understanding of suffering by looking at what Scripture says about the final blessed state of those who die in Christ. Ultimately, we are looking forward to a new heaven and earth that are to come at the consummation of all things. We who love Jesus will live in this perfect place, a creation that has been renewed and glorified as the dwelling place of God and His people.
As we think on the new creation that will come at the return of Jesus, we must note that anyone who dies in Christ goes immediately to be with the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:6). Theologians typically refer to this existence in heaven before the second advent of Jesus as an intermediate state because it comes between our life on earth and the new creation. Scripture has little to say explicitly about the intermediate state, although we are certainly not far off the mark to say it approximates the bliss of the new heaven and earth. Perhaps the most significant difference between the new heaven and earth and the intermediate state is that we do not get resurrected, physical bodies until Jesus returns, and our spirits alone live in God’s presence until then (Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20).When the new heaven and earth arrive, the world as we know it will end, as will the present separation between the physical and the spiritual. God will dwell permanently with His people in the temple of His creation. Redemption will reach its consummation in the renewal of the physical order, and the effects of sin’s curse will be absent from our resurrected existence (Rev. 21:1).
In the new heaven and the new earth, God Himself will wipe away all our tears. There will be no death and no reason to mourn, for all that causes sadness will have passed away (vv. 2–4). The New Jerusalem, a city of immense size and beauty, will be our dwelling place (vv. 9–21).
Finally, and most wonderful of all, we will dwell in the brightest light imaginable — the light of God’s glory — in this renewed creation. The triune God will be our lamp, and we shall rejoice in His radiance forever, never having to fear His purity, for we will be holy just as He is holy (vv. 22–27; see 1 John 3:1–3).
The ultimate Christian hope is not a disembodied spiritual existence but a resurrected body in which we perfectly bring glory to God and reflect His awesome holiness. We will be finally and fully complete at our resurrection as our entire selves — body and soul — will function just as the Lord originally designed us. Sin will no longer be a problem, and we will never have to fear that we will suffer again.