The Eternal State
Our study of Bible prophecy has taken us to the far shore of time, to the horizon of history. It also allows us to see beyond time, to the dawn of eternity, and into “the day of eternity” (2Peter 3:18 Darby).
It is a remarkable thing that God allows us to take the telescope of Scripture and peer into eternity. It is even more remarkable that we display such a reluctance to do so. When planning a trip, we usually spend time thinking about our destination, consulting travel guides and visitor reviews, planning where we will go, and what we will do, anticipating what it will be like when we arrive.
If this is true of our earthly journeys to destinations that often fall far short of our expectations, how much more should it be true of our journey to eternity, to a destination of unimaginable and unending glory. Peter certainly thought that believers should be “looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” (2Peter 3:12). It is worth asking ourselves how well we conform to the expectations of the apostle – and of the Holy Spirit.
In contrast to the wealth of detail that Scripture provides about the character and conditions of the Millennium, just a handful of passages give us details about the eternal state or, to use Peter’s terminology, the day of God. There are two very brief references to the creation of the new heaven and new earth in the OT (Isa 65:17; 66:22). In the NT, three passages deal with the day of God (1Cor 15:24-28; 2Peter 3:12-13; Rev 21; some expositors include Rev 22:1-5, while others interpret these verses as speaking of the Millennium). Though these references are relatively sparse, they do provide us with a picture of the eternal state morally (2Peter 3), administratively (1Cor 15), and religiously (Rev 21).
With the exception of 1 Corinthians 15, each of these passages speaks of the creation of a new heaven and new earth. Expositors have long debated whether the existing creation will be utterly annihilated and replaced with a creation that is totally new, or whether the language of Scripture envisages a re-creation of the existing cosmos. Both viewpoints have their supporters, but looking at Scripture as a whole, and taking care to distinguish between passages that speak of the Millennium and those that present the eternal state, it seems clear that the existing creation will be dissolved (Psa 97:5; 102:25–26; Isa 13:13; 34:4; 51:6) and that the new creation will be a replacement for, not a renovation of, the cosmos that exists today. Whichever view we take, we must not miss the fact that we will spend eternity in a new creation, in a setting that is dramatically different from, and infinitely more blessed than, anything that has been known by the inhabitants of time.
In 2 Peter 3, the righteousness that will mark the new creation is stressed. Even the least cynical would have to acknowledge no human institution is immune from the corrupting effects of man’s unrighteousness. During the Millennium, divine righteousness will reign, but it will be a righteousness imposed on mankind, and enforced with the most stringent of penalties. By contrast, righteousness will dwell in the new creation, residing there in a way that has never been true of the first creation. No tempter’s voice will ever be heard, no sinful motive ever manifest, no unjust act ever committed. The perfect righteousness of God will be at home throughout the unending eternal day.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28 emphasizes the divine rule that will mark the day of God. “Then cometh the end … when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death … And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.” The greatest purpose of the Millennium will be the vindication of Christ. His reign will display His authority, and demonstrate the truth of all that men challenged and denied. He will faithfully and successfully carry out the purpose of God right to the end. The end here is not the end of the age or dispensation. It is the end of time, the end of the old creation. At that point Christ will willingly deliver the kingdom up to the Father. The mediatorial kingdom will be subsumed into the eternal and universal kingdom of God and, in the new creation, the triune God will be all in all.
Revelation 21 is the most detailed passage dealing with the eternal state. The apostle lists many things that will be absent. There will be no death, sorrow, crying, or pain (v4). The New Jerusalem will not contain “anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie” (Rev 21:27). There will be no need of the sun or the moon (v23), and there will be no temple (v22). The temple, with its mediating priesthood and sacrifices, will no longer be needed. God will reside in the midst of His creation. His glory will be universally manifest, filling all of the new heaven and the new earth.
The greatness of our eternal dwelling is something that we, bound by the limits of time and the constraints of the flesh, cannot comprehend. But the contemplation of it ought to have a greater part in our lives than it does, and those Scriptures that outline its blessedness ought to be our continual contemplation and joy. As we understand that this world and its glory are only transitory, that every material possession is only so much fuel for the purging fire, “what manner of persons ought [we] to be in all holy conversation and godliness?” (2Peter 3:11). Even as we grasp that the temporal things that ensnare our hearts and enmesh our lives will shortly and certainly pass away, may we in truth look for and hasten to the day of God, looking, according to His promise for “new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” heeding the exhortation of Scripture: “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (vv13-14).