What Will It Be Like? Imagining the New Heavens & New Earth

Circles above representing the new heavens and a globe below representing the new earth

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … (Rev 21:1)

That influential twentieth-century poet and prophet, John Lennon, once penned these words:

Imagine there’s no heaven;
it’s easy if you try.
No hell below us,
above us only sky.

“Imagine” is my least favorite Lennon song. Sadly, Lennon isn’t a dreamer at all in this song, though he claims that he is. He’s living without real imagination or hope, foolishly thinking that the answer to death and war, greed and hunger, is to be found in a world with nothing below it or above it.

Lennon couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, the answer to all the world’s ills is the very thing Lennon asks us to imagine doesn’t exist. If you believe that this present world is all there is, then you will war and plunder and seek to get rather than give. If, on the other hand, you believe that what you’re seeing now is merely a shadow of what is to come (1 Cor 13:12), then you can live freely, generously, and joyously in this present age.

For the Christian viewpoint to be more compelling than the multi-platinum but godless one, we have to have a superior imagination. We have to accept God’s rich picture of the future of heaven and earth.

Lewis vs. Lennon

C. S. Lewis, a far more reliable twentieth-century poet and prophet, asks us to imagine that the world accessible to us right now is nothing more than a black-and-white pencil drawing done by an imprisoned mother trying to teach her child what things look like beyond the walls.

One day, the mother realizes that the child’s viewpoint is truly and only two-dimensional. Indeed, he is shocked and dismayed to discover that there are no pencil lines outlining the real-life trees, clouds, or hills. “What?” says the boy. “No pencil marks there?”

Lewis observes of this imagined child:

He has no idea of the waving treetops, the light dancing on the weir, the coloured three-dimensional realities which are not enclosed in lines but define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve. The child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother’s pictures. In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible.1

So it is with us when we, imprisoned as we are in a fallen world, try to imagine what the new heaven and earth will be like. “What we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2), John tells us. All our natural experiences are merely sketches, penciled lines on flat paper.

If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.2

Revealed in Revelation

Toward the very end of Revelation, John is shown that the invisible heaven above us will descend to the earth that was all John Lennon could see:

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, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Rev 21:1–7 NIV)

In this passage, you’ll find concepts you’re already familiar with: heaven, earth, sea, city, a bride, a tabernacle; God dwelling with us, tears, eyes, and death, mourning, crying, and pain; a throne. Newness. Thirst quenched at springs of water of life freely given. Inheritance. Adoption. I’m sure if I asked you for definitions of any of those words and phrases, you’d easily comply. But we have a problem: what we know about those things now are only pencil sketches on paper. Our imaginations are imprisoned.

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Imagine that

Imagine this, then: a world where beautiful, soul-satisfying music never ends. Imagine that you won’t be wishing it was louder or quieter. You’ll not be distracted by anything off-key, in fact; and you won’t be nervous about when the music will end. Imagine a world where the joy you have felt possible only just once or twice during a worship service is just a pencil drawing of the actual blast of bliss that you’ll feel when you step into that worship where the angels are dancing (Heb 12:22) and you can barely breathe for joy and excitement—but you’re not worried about dying because you’ve finally tasted real life.

Imagine that.

Imagine sitting down to a wedding feast (Rev 19:7, 9) where the food is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted—though you may have gotten hints of it when you cut into the first juicy peach of the season and your taste buds exploded and you nearly drowned in your own saliva. Imagine that the hall in which the table is set goes on and on and on and yet you don’t feel overwhelmed or insignificant. And imagine that the wine that will flow and flow and yet you won’t get drunk or worry about making a fool of yourself (again) or even of having indigestion. Imagine that no calories must be counted, that you need not worry about how much you’ll have to exercise tomorrow to make up for what you’re about to partake.

Imagine looking to where you think the bridal party is seated and seeing the face of Jesus, the One you’ve been scrounging around looking for in all the dumpsters of this world. Imagine seeing his smile directed specifically at you, though you can’t think of how that’s even possible in this great hall—and then looking down at what you’re wearing and realizing that you’re the bride (sorry, guys) and you’re gloriously dressed in white linen that has been fashioned out of all the good deeds of all your sisters and brothers, the saints (Rev 19:8).

And then, suddenly, you realize that the love this Husband has is so vast that he can fully satiate with his love all these millions and millions of people and that everyone around you is part of his bride, just like you, and that there will never be any jealousy or sorrow over that all-sufficient love.

Imagine that, after seating everyone, Jesus will “put on an apron … and serve them a meal, sharing his wedding feast with them” (Luke 12:37 MSG)—as he told them he would. And then you’ll cry, but these tears won’t be tears of sadness or of rage or fear, but tears of overwhelming joy. You’ll know that he truly does know you, the real you; and that doesn’t scare you anymore, because the old you is finally and completely gone (2 Cor 5:17; Rev 21:5).

Imagine sitting on the most luxurious grass (Ps 23:2) by the side of a crystal river (Rev 22:1) with friends and actually being comfortable. Perhaps they will be people you know now; maybe they’re people you’ve just met. Either way, you will share the joy of this new and beautiful home (Rev 17:9; 19:6).

Imagine learning the stories of how this person learned of the Husband, and never wondering what the rest of the people think of you or whether you’re making a good impression or if they like you. Imagine actually loving them. And not having to pretend to listen or to worry about time speeding by or about saying the wrong thing or misunderstanding their meaning.

Imagine that Jesus comes walking up to your group, still incarnate (Rev 22:4), and you say, “Oh Lord! We were just talking about you!” And he smiles and says, “I was thinking about you, too—and look! I’ve brought lunch!” And he opens up a basket of the most wonderful food and drink, and you sit together until your hearts and bodies are satisfied. And perhaps he tells you how he formed the stars (John 1:3) and how much he loved you even before that (Eph 1:4).

Image that you decide it’s time for a rest and you lie down beside still waters without any fear of harm (Rev 21:7), without worry that you’re not being as productive as you should be, without being distracted by having So Much To Do. Imagine you close your eyes and sleep until you awaken, and you’ve had nothing but peaceful dreams—no fears of being unloved or excluded—and you sleep so deeply and wake up so refreshed. And you don’t have to check the time, because there is no night hastening on (Rev 21:25, 22:5). And you run your hand over the grass and wander down to the river and take a drink and pluck an indescribable piece of fruit from the tree of life (Rev 2:7, 22:2, 22:14) and you take one bite and you’re overwhelmed with energy and happiness.

Imagine that.

Then you learn that Tolkien is teaching a class on imagination, and so you join with others as you listen to his wisdom, and you never worry about being shut out of the class. Or perhaps you take a class from a theoretical physicist or a chemist or an astronomer or philosopher or poet. And you never worry about not having the brain power to understand, because, after all, you’ve got eternity to understand (Rom 5:21; 2 Cor 5:1; 1 Cor 13:12b). And learning becomes the joy it should always have been. And maybe you make a trip out to a nebula, and you begin to understand how stars were formed by the Word of your Husband.

And then you meet with people who treated you wickedly, who lied about you, or gossiped about you, or stole from you, or maybe even murdered you. And when you see them you know that all the justice they deserved for all the wrongs they have done was poured out on the head of your Husband (Gal 3:13; Col 1:14) and they don’t owe you anything anymore because you have all you could ever want and so now you are free to love. And so, you welcome them and shed tears of forgiving joy. And then you see brothers and sisters and children and parents that you treated wickedly, that you lied or gossiped about, stole from, or even murdered. And when you see them, instead of shame and fear, you know that they’ve forgiven you and loved you because they, too, have been forgiven and loved by the Husband. And you take their hand in yours and walk with them in love forever.

Imagine that your body becomes what it was supposed to be (1 Cor 15:42–44). Having been planted in the ground as a seed, it has grown into beauty and strength, like a flourishing, well-watered tree. Imagine that you’ll never know pain again (Rev 21:4). You’ll never look at yourself in a mirror again and be either ashamed or proud. You won’t care about those things at all, because you will know that you have been made glorious and you are the beloved (Rom 9:25).

Imagine walking into the city, the New Jerusalem, built with luminous gold and clear glass walls, filled with every color of jewel (Rev 21:18–21). And when you touch one of these walls, it comes alive and you can see that it was made out of all the good deeds that had ever been done—a mom changing her baby’s diaper, a child sharing a toy, a man persevering in his mundane job for the sake of his family, one neighbor loving another. Indeed, the entire building was constructed out of the good deeds of all the saints and then filled with and made complete by the righteous deeds of Jesus (Rev 21:26). Imagine spending forever just gazing at this beauty and not being intimidated by it or wondering where your portrait is.

And then the king calls for you to rule and reign with him forever (Rev 5:10; 22:5) and you can’t believe—though you do—that he has exalted you like that, and you spend eternity reigning with him over his endless creation. All in joy and in peace; and work becomes what it was always meant to be, without any thorns or weeds or pain or sorrow.

Joys to come

May our hearts be captivated by what is, sadly, no more than mere pencil drawings—though, perhaps by the Spirit we’ve gotten a little taste of the joys to come.

Just imagine that all sad things come untrue.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires to take the water of life without price … Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. (Rev 22:17)

What Is the New Heaven and New Earth? 8 Metaphors to Know by Zach Keele
Setting Your Mind on Things Above in a Things Below World by David Barshinger
When Jesus’s Command Seems Impossible: How to Love Wholly by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Lust, Idolatry & the Power of a Stronger Desire by Elyse Fitzpatrick

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Why read books like these in Logos?

  1. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 109–11.
  2. Lewis, Weight of Glory, 111.
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Written by
Elyse Fitzpatrick

Elyse holds a certificate in biblical counseling from CCEF (San Diego) and an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary. She has authored 25+ books on daily living and the Christian life. Elyse loves to proclaim the good news of the gospel: That Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, perfectly obeyed all the Law in our place, suffered in isolation and agony as punishment for our sin, died, and then rose again, all for our justification.

A frequent speaker at national conferences, she has been married for nearly 50 years and has three adult children and six really adorable grandchildren. Along with her husband, Phil, Elyse attends Grace Bible Church in Escondido, California.

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Written by Elyse Fitzpatrick