Classic Christian Passages and Interpretations on Where We will Live After Death

I find it fascinating at how little thought many Christians give to where we will live after we die. I suspect that, for most of us, the general idea is this:

"We will stand before the Great White Throne judgement and, when God sees Christ's righteousness in place of our sinfulness, we will be admitted to Heaven. We will live there eternally where "all tears are wiped away". We will intermingle with all the saints of all the ages and with the angels and walk the streets of gold, singing and praising God forever."

I know that, having been brought up in the church, this was my idea since I was a child, so I understand how most people I've talked with have this idea.

However, is it really what the scriptures teach? Let me suggest that I'm not sure that the idea above is what is really taught in the scriptures. I will offer a disclaimer of sorts: I'm not sure that all the details are given and I trust God completely to do a great work in our abode in the afterlife. In the words of the popular Christian Singer / Song-Writer of the 70's and 80's, Keith Green, "If it took him one week to create the world, and he's been working on our place for 2000 years, hey man, this is living in a garbage can compared to what's going on up there!" I know God loves us intensely and will do things in a great way!

If the word of God commends the believers of Berea for being noble enough to "search the scriptures daily to see if the things being told them were so" (Acts 17:11), surely we should do the same with any doctrine, including that of our abode after death. So now let's look at the scriptures:

Now, it is easy to read a passage with a previously formed interpretation and thus to miss exactly what the passage really says. It is always easy to read more into a passage than what it necessarily says. With this thought in mind, let me ask several questions and make a few observations. Remember, my only goal in all this is to accurately know the truths that God has revealed to us in His word regarding our eternal dwelling place.
  1. In the Matthew passages, have we added to the truth that the Lord will appear from heaven with all his angels at the end of time (which few people would dispute) and assumed that that is where we will all end up after judgement? Wouldn't every word in each of the Matthew passages be just a true and accurate if we were to live somewhere else after the judgement? For example, some people believe from the Isaiah, Peter and Revelation 21 passages that we will ultimately live on the "new earth". If that were so (and I am not saying it is), wouldn't all the passages in Matthew still be just as true?

  2. So, where do people get the idea about a "new earth"? Look at the last four passages above. The Isaiah passages seem to suggest a new earth will be created. Most commentators tend to "spiritualize" these passages. However, notice that the Peter passage seems to explicitly state that after the destruction of our present earth by fire, a new earth will be created. This tends to dampen the "spiritualization" approach to accurately interpreting these passages. This is where people that believe that a new earth will be created and that this will be our eternal abode get the idea.

  3. On the other hand, however, the passages above from 1Corinthians, Hebrews, Colossians, 2Corinthians, and Philippians sure seem to clearly indicate the in our future eternal dwelling place things will be considerably different. We will definitely have a glorified, spiritual body and a dwelling place in heaven. These passages are why some people believe that we will have only a spiritual dwelling place in heaven.

  4. So how do you reconcile these different ideas? Or do you? I will suggest that, perhaps, Revelation 21 and 22 provide the key. Notice that chapter 21 (given above) talks completely about the new earth and the new Jerusalem. But notice also that the new Jerusalem is "coming down from God out of heaven" (vs 2). The rest of chapter 21 describes a city that just could not exist in our current earth. Notice also that it is unclear whether the things referred to in chapter 22 are in the new earth or in heaven! Exactly where is the throne of God? Every other passage in Revelation seems to indicate it is in heaven (not on the new earth). So just how will the new earth and new heaven exist together? I believe that this is a mystery that will only be revealed when it happens! I have no disappointment in God for not revealing any more than this. How do you explain a spiritual realm to a physical being? How would I explain my love for my wife, kids and grandchildren to a grasshopper in the back yard? I believe that God knows what He is doing, that He has revealed to us exactly the right amount of detail, and, finally that anyone who claims to know much more than this is probably a little over self-confident!

  5. (Some humble thoughts that I have enjoyed thinking about and sharing!)
    David Joyner, December 2, 2012