“Aren’t you a lucky little girl! Because Jesus is coming back so soon, you’ll never even have to go to college!” I can remember my grandpa saying these words to me when I was seven years old. “You won’t have to get a job or get married or go through childbirth; you won’t have to worry about bills or car payments or mortgages—or ever grow old and die—because Jesus will return long before you ever grow up! Isn’t that exciting?” Grandpa beamed.
I didn’t know what a mortgage was, but it sounded like a lot of work if it was grouped in with those other big scary things like college and bills, so I nodded my head in agreement.
“What a wonderful day that will be,” Grandpa sighed wistfully, “when we get to see the new earth.”
I admit that I felt relief at the thought of not having to go to college, because second grade was already taxing enough. But I did experience just a twinge of sadness at the thought of never being married—because that looked like it might be fun. Forget the childbirth part, though; the future could keep that renowned nightmare! So I decided that I was pretty happy Jesus was coming so soon. And I felt extremely lucky that I would grow up in the new earth and never have to die.
A few weeks after that conversation with Grandpa, I was playing happily in the front yard after school. Absentmindedly, I glanced up at the sky to discover a bright wall of brilliant, billowing, puffy white clouds headed in my direction. In that instant my seven-year-old self just knew for sure that it was Jesus! Here He comes!
Dropping my skipping rope, I ran to my room and cleaned it spick and span—Jesus would not be finding me with a messy room, unprepared for His coming, no siree! I brushed my hair, put on a fancy church dress and ran back outside to wait for Jesus on the front porch. My little heart could hardly contain my excitement. I watched and waited as the clouds drew nearer and grew larger. I sang happy songs and told Jesus how wonderful it felt to see Him coming.
There on the top porch step, I first began dreaming of what my heavenly mansion in the new earth would look like: Would it be a castle, a tree-house or an underwater palace? Would it be filled with animals, angels or lollies? Made of silver, gold, diamonds or, my favourite, amethyst? One thing was for sure—it was heaven—so I wouldn’t have to be sharing my mansion with my annoying little brother (assuming he somehow managed to gain entrance in the first place, which was doubtful).
I kept waiting for Jesus to burst out of those puffy white clouds. I listened so very hard for that first angel’s trumpet call, for the sound of shouting, singing or harps. But of course, the sounds never came. The thunderheads passed over my house with nothing bursting forth except a small spring shower. As the sky cracked open with rain, my child’s heart cracked open in disappointment: Jesus had not come!
I waited a little longer just in case, but soon evening fell. When I turned to go back into my own family’s small home, I noticed for the first time just how very unlike a mansion it really was. There were clothes stacked on the couch, shoes piled by the door and toys scattered underneath the table. Nothing was made of gold—not even one single thing!
At bedtime that night I shared my dashed hope of Jesus’ return with my mother. In detail, I told her all about the puffy clouds, the trumpets I’d listened out for and the mansion home I’d been dreaming of in the new earth. She listened patiently, with a sad smile on her face.
“I just don’t know why that wasn’t Him!” I ended. “Why didn’t Jesus come back?”
“You know, sweetie,” Mum began, “when I was a little girl, I thought Jesus would come back before I grew up too. But here I am, all grown up, and a mummy of you, your sister and your brother, with another baby in my tummy, and Jesus still isn’t here.”
“How can you stand it, Mummy?”
“Well, I guess it’s because I’m happy here,” she said slowly, unsure of her answer. “But listen honey, I’ll tell you something else: I have my heavenly mansion all designed; do you want to hear about it?”
“Yes, Mummy, tell me!”
There in the shadowy glow of my glass swan night-light, I remember my mum describing her dream home in heaven. It showcased four doors: one door led to summer’s sun and beaches, one led to springtime flowers, another opened into winter’s silent, snowy wonderland, and the last door revealed a breathtaking autumn display of vibrant red, yellow, orange and golden leaves.
I loved my mum’s home in heaven even more than I’d loved any of my own, even the one full of lollies! It all sounded so wonderful and, to a little girl, so magical. But best of all, she described long afternoons playing chasey with Jesus or riding exotic animals or listening to King David tell of his escapades as a teenager or exploring new planets in space. I decided right then and there that no matter how long Jesus took to finally come back, I’d be waiting for Him when He arrived!
I’m all grown up myself now, with college and a wedding behind me, more childbearing than I care to recall, and mortgages and bills and all the other things Grandpa said I’d never have to face. I’m still eagerly waiting for Jesus. But life’s struggles and sorrows have changed my hopes for heaven and the new earth quite a bit since childhood. Instead of sparkly jewels and homes full of lollies, I’m more interested now in being reunited with loved ones lost. I don’t care about the design of my mansion as much as I care about who will be in it, particularly my four children. Death, suffering, pain and loss have taught my heart to long for a world free from sin and sadness. And the closer I grow to Jesus, the more I long to walk and talk with Him face to face.
The Bible’s book of Revelation, in particular chapters 21 and 22, describes a new heaven and new earth that replace the present ones—real and literal places in which real people with real bodies will dwell for eternity. Just as God made this world perfect in the beginning—before sin intruded—when He cleanses the earth with fire and re-creates everything it will be perfect again.
It’s hard to imagine an earth very similar to this one but without all the scars and results of sin. Will we still have an Uluru, a Bay of Islands, beaches and mountains? Or an Amazon rainforest, but without the bugs and bites? I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it will be at once both familiar and different. We will recognise it as Earth, but it will be unlike the Earth we knew.
What will life on this new earth be like? Will I still be married to Greg? Will I recognise Grandma Shirley if she rises to life as a youthful 25-year-old? How long will I have to wait in line to see Jesus? Is the apostle Peter going to tire of telling his fishing stories? And will he have forgiven himself—and forgotten—his denial of Jesus? What are we going to do for all of eternity? The amazing thing about an eternity of perfection is that it will offer unlimited potential—with a brain untouched by sin and “all the time in the world” (if time still exists, that is). Who knows what we’ll be capable of learning, building and enjoying?
Perhaps more important than what the Bible says the new earth will be like and who and what will be there, is what it says the new earth will not be like. One of the questions my own children ask me now is, “Mummy, how do we know that bad things won’t come back when Jesus makes the world brand new?”
The Bible writers actually anticipated their question: Revelation 21:4 says that there will be no more death, sickness, crying and pain. Satan and sin will be eradicated forever and, with them, both our natural inclination to sin along with our many temptations. While we won’t experience the ache of years past any longer, we’ll still remember how serious sin was. Throughout eternity, the scars in Jesus’ hands, feet and side will serve as reminders of all that sin did to us as human beings, and we will be able to examine God’s goodness and grace to a depth we can’t even imagine now.
Just last week, my son climbed up beside me on the couch clutching his favourite blanket and asked, “Mummy, do you think Blankie will be in my new home when Jesus comes back? What about Charlotte [the guinea pig] and my books and fish? If they’re not there, I’ll miss them too much, Mummy!”
I smiled down at his bedtime hair, his blue pyjamas and sleepy brown eyes and, recalling my own conversation with my mother so many years earlier, answered, “I don’t know for sure, honey. But I do know that Jesus will be there! And He will make us happier than we’ve ever been in our whole lives. So, if He needs to include Blankie and Charlotte to do that, well, I think He can.”
“That’s good, Mummy,” he sighed. “That’s reeeal good. Our new place will be just the best place. Ever.”
Heaven and the new earth
There’s a difference between heaven and the new earth. Heaven is where Jesus went when He left this earth. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (italics added). And Jesus promised His disciples that when He left this earth He would return to His Father’s house—which is in heaven—to prepare a place for them and for us. He went on to say that He would come back and take us to be with Him (John 14:1–3). So at Jesus’ second coming we will go to heaven to be with Him.
Heaven is also where the angels dwell. That’s where a war took place thousands of years ago between Michael and His angels and Satan and his angels. The loyal angels cast the evil angels out of heaven to this earth, and the loyal angels remained in heaven (Revelation 12:7–9).
The new earth is different. As the name suggests, it will be new. Following Christ’s second coming there will be a period of 1000 years (Revelation 20:1–3), during which God’s people will be in heaven. At the end of this 1000 years our sin-wracked planet will be destroyed by fire (verses 7–10) and God will recreate our world into the home of His people for all eternity. In this world “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things [will have] passed away” (Revelation 21:4).