On Saturday morning your next-door neighbors hear a knock at their door. They greet two neatly dressed people who introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). Immediately the JWs begin to tell your friends about “paradise on earth,” wherein most of the followers of Jehovah will live forever. “Heaven,” exclaim the JWs, “will be heaven on earth!” “I never heard that before,” say your neighbors, even though they have attended church services almost all their lives. Sadly, all too many Christians (and I was one of them) do not hear about “the best kept secret in town” because it is rarely mentioned in sermons and in Bible study groups.
True, JWs can in no biblical sense be labeled as Christians. They deny the deity of Jesus Christ, His bodily resurrection, the Trinity, etc. However, they are correct when they say heaven will be paradise on earth (though, of course, they are incorrect as to who will dwell in heaven, and heretical concerning the definition of the God who will reign in heaven). The good news is that we can share with JWs that we believe in “paradise on earth.”
Following are excerpts adapted from my Christian Faith 101, copyright © 2000 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press, 800-4-JUDSON, www.judsonpress.com.
Before we start with the adapted excerpts, I need to state that I believe that Christians, when they die before Christ’s return, go immediately to be with the Lord in heaven. But this stage of heaven is only part of the picture, and, sadly, the only part that receives the most attention. There is more to heaven, and this has been “the best kept secret in” – oh, well, you get the point! Let’s begin.
There are a few shades of meaning to the word “heaven.” First, heaven is that which refers to the universe. It is used this way in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The second meaning of heaven is the place of God. Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9). Further, Christ ascended to the Father who is in heaven, and continually exercises His office as mediator in heaven. “For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Heb. 9:24). Presently heaven is beyond our physical perception, but the Bible also teaches us what heaven will be like in the future.
The New Eden
In Christian eschatology heaven will be Eden restored. A few things lead to this conclusion. First, we learn from Scripture that it will be a place where the present heaven of God will become united with the things on earth. Heaven is, as Paul writes, “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth” (Eph. 1:10). Second, the realities of the new heaven and earth listed in Revelation chapters 21-22 strongly suggest a restoring of what was lost in the Garden of Eden. Both humanity (those righteous in Christ) and the creation are restored to their original perfection talked about in Genesis chapters 1-2.
For example, Revelation 21:4 tells us that “there shall no longer be any death . . . or pain.” This is a reversal of the curses listed in Genesis chapter 3. By disobeying the Lord death came upon Adam and Eve (and us). God said that if they disobeyed Him, they would “surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This became a reality after sinning, for God then said, “to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). As for pain, a specific curse is pronounced upon Eve: “In pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16).
Another unmistakable parallel provides more evidence that heaven is Eden restored. Genesis 2:10 reads, “Now a river flowed out of Eden.” Revelation 22:1 speaks of the new heaven and new earth having “a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” Also note that just after Eden’s river is mentioned in Genesis 2:10, one of the rivers (the Pishon) flowing out from that main river is associated with gold, bdellium, and onyx (Gen. 2:11-12). Revelation 21:18-21 features all the precious elements that are associated with the “river of the water of life.” This water of life signifies God as the source of our salvation; the river’s presence in the new heaven and earth signifies God’s presence with us there forever.
And how about Genesis 3:24 / Revelation 21:15? The sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was of such magnitude that they became sinful creatures. Because of this the Lord drove them out of the garden (Gen. 3:24). Nothing impure could stay in God’s presence in the garden. Anything impure was outside. In the Book of Revelation, the New Eden is no different. Here again we find a parallel to the Eden of Genesis: “Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev. 22:15). In short, anything to do with sin is not allowed into the New Eden.
Yet another example is found in Revelation 22:2. Describing the New Jerusalem, John writes, “And on either side of the river was the tree of life.” This “tree of life” does sound familiar! It is found in Genesis 2:9. “The tree of life [was] also in the midst of the garden.” Heaven is going to be “paradise on earth.” We will indeed live forever in heaven.
I saved the most important point for last. Heaven is the place of the presence of God. Genesis 3:8 implies that the relationship between God and Adam and Eve was of the highest intimacy. Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.” This shows that they once enjoyed His direct presence. In Genesis 3:24 the Lord “drove the man out” of the Garden of Eden after he sinned (we should assume that Eve was driven out with him). The significance of this driving out is that Adam and Eve were no longer in the presence of God. But for those who put their trust in the biblical Jesus, this curse is reversed! Revelation 21:3 reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.’” What is the goal of all this? God is. Who are we to desire? We are to desire God. Heaven is the fullness of the reconciliation of humanity to God (already begun in Christ). Heaven is living forever in glorified bodies (see Phil. 3:20-21) in the awesome presence of the triune God of the universe.
What a great promise! I pray that our desire will always be God. I pray that our desire will always be the desire to see God’s glory. Wanting heaven is wanting God. Rejoice and stand on this promise: “He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev. 21:7).