Most Christians believe that when they die, they will go to "heaven". Therefore it is quite surprising to find that the word heaven is rarely used to describe our future life in the New Testament.

The Greek word for heaven, "ouranos" is used in a number of ways in the New Testament.

  1. The atmosphere is often referred to as the heavens. "Ouranos" is the normal word for describing the sky.

  2. God is also said to dwell in the heavens, especially the highest heavens. The word heaven is used to describe the spiritual realm.

  3. The word heaven is only used twice to describe the dwelling place of those who inherit eternal life (Matt 5:12 and Col 1:5). However, even in these verses, it describes where our reward comes from more than its location.

    Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven (Matt 5:12).

The word heaven is generally used in the New Testament to describe the spiritual dimension of life. This spiritual dimension exists now. Through the Holy Spirit, we can interact with the spiritual dimension now, even if we cannot fully see into it (Eph 6:10-12).

Heaven is not a place we will go to in the future. We should be bringing heaven to earth, so that God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven, now.

The expression "eternal life" is used 36 times in the New Testament. This makes it a better expression for describing our future life than the word "heaven".

Limited Language

We have a problem with understanding the heavenly realm because we live in a three-dimensional world (four, if time is included). All our categories of thought are shaped by the world in which we live. Our language is inadequate for describing the spiritual dimension of life. The New Testament uses physical images to describe the spiritual dimension, but these will always be inadequate to describe something that is beyond description.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

Our human minds are not capable of understanding what this universe looks like when perceived from the spiritual dimension as God sees it.

When we think of heaven, we tend to think of a place where God dwells. The problem is that God is spirit, so he is not confined to one place. The heavenly realm is not a three-dimensional world like the one we live in, so the idea of "being somewhere" does not mean what it means here on earth. The same applies to expressions like "third heaven" or "highest heaven". These phrases do not mean that the heavenly realm has layers like a multi-level building. Up and down do not mean the same in a spiritual world as they mean in this physical world. The expression "highest heaven" is just an attempt to describe the total difference between the physical world and the spiritual world.

The description of the heavenly realm in Revelation 21 should be understood in the same way.

The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man's measurement, which the angel was using (Rev 21:15-18).
John is trying to describe the wonder of the spiritual realm using human words, but they are inadequate for this purpose, so we need to be careful how we interpret them. Length, width and height will not mean much in the spiritual world, so they should not be taken as a literal description. The walls were 144 cubits thick by "man's measurement", but thickness does not really mean anything in the spiritual world. Jesus proved this when he appeared to the disciples hiding behind physical walls in a locked room after his resurrection. Thick walls could not keep Jesus out.

John reminds are that these dimensions are "man's measurement". He is using human categories of thought so that he can communicate to us, but they cannot fully capture the glory of the heavenly realm.

The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass (Rev 21:19-21).

I doubt that gold and emeralds will have much value in the future life. Peace and love and truth will be the important values. The problem is that the human mind cannot conceive of a place where love and peace have replaced height and width as the core dimensions. Using precious jewels was a way of describing the indescribable using things of value to a human mind.

Eternity with God

The word that is used the most in reference to our future life is "kingdom". Jesus said that the righteous shall inherit the kingdom that has been prepared for them since the foundation of the world (Matt 25:34). Speaking of the future life, he said,

The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt 13:43).

And I will confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me (Luke 22:29).

Our future life is not just a state of eternal bliss, where the saints bask in God's glory. It is a kingdom in which they rule with Christ. Our life on earth is a time of training to prepare us for ruling with Christ.

Adam was placed by God in the Garden of Eden, but that was not to be his final resting place. Once he had learned to care for the garden, he was to go out and subdue the rest of the earth. In the same way, our time on earth is a period of training, in which we learn how to rule. The Kingdom of our Lord is an eternal kingdom, which will continue after the last judgment in the spiritual realm (2 Pet 1:11).

Action and Challenge

Some descriptions of the future life give the impression that it will be a boring place. The novelty of sitting on a cloud and playing a harp would soon wear off. The problem is that just as we have lost our vision for the Kingdom of God on earth, we have also forgotten that our future life will also be in a kingdom. God's kingdom will never be boring. It will be packed with interesting challenges. There will be even more challenges and opportunities than exist in the present world; enough work to keep God's people occupied for all eternity. We will have an infinite world to explore and study. Having learned to rule on earth, and been perfected in the new creation, we will always be victorious. God has created men to rule. In this life we rule on earth, in the next life we will exercise authority over the angels, in God's kingdom in heaven (1 Cor 6:3).

In the letter to the Hebrews, eternal life is described as a city. On this earth, we have no continuing city, but we are looking for one that is to come (Heb 13:14). Abraham was seeking the same city.

He was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God... Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Heb 11:10,16).

A city is an interesting and exciting place. It represents activity and social interaction. Humans have always had a basic drive to build cities, but apart from God, this always ends in failure. The architect and builder of the heavenly city is God, so it will be perfect in every way. We will co-operate with God in building this heavenly city. Our creative energies will find complete and perfect fulfilment.


The Bible tells us what this heavenly Kingdom will be like.

  1. The saints will be clothed with spiritual bodies (1 Cor 15:44).

    He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit (Rom 8:11).

    Our souls that have been with Jesus in Paradise will be rejoined with our new spiritual bodies. At death, the soul is wrenched from the body. Death is such a terrible experience, because it makes us divided and diminished beings. God has mercy in receiving our souls into his presence into Paradise, but our ultimate destiny is not to get into paradise. We long to be made complete again with our resurrected body is rejoined to our disconnected soul and our spirit perfectly attuned to understanding the spiritual dimension of this world. We will then ready for kingdom work that was impossible while we are in Paradise.

    It is hard to imagine what a spiritual body will be like, but all the limitations of our physical bodies will be gone. Our new bodies will be imperishable. They will not deteriorate, and will be impervious to pain and sickness. This will be a glorious existence. We shall bear the likeness of the Lord's glorious resurrection body (Phil 3:21). Our present bodies are not adapted for the state of things that will exist in the heavenly Kingdom so they will be changed.

  2. Those who enter the heavenly kingdom will be immortal (1 Cor 15:53). God's people will live with him forever.

    I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).
    So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:42-44).

    Our new spiritual bodies will never decay.

  3. We will still be human. Our spiritual bodies will bear a resemblance to our physical bodies, in such a way that other people will be able to recognise us. We will be able to communicate with them.

  4. There will be a glorious fellowship among the saints. We will be able to share with the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all those who have been redeemed. At present, our friendship is limited by time and by the number of people with whom we have contact. In heaven, we will have infinite time to develop friendships with numerous people. There will be thousands of other people with similar tastes and interests and many more with different ones. The extension and the perfection of friendship will bring great blessing to everyone.

  5. There will be no marriage during the eternal life.

    Those who are considered worthy of taking part in this age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels (Luke 20:35,30).

    Too many married couples, this seems rather strange, but in heaven we will actually have a deeper fellowship with all people than we now have with our spouses. And though we are not married, we will actually have a deeper relationship with our spouses. However, this does suggest that family will not be an important institution in the future life. God will be the Father of all.

  6. Believers will receive their reward in the heavenly Kingdom.

    Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven (Matt 5:12

    Those who have suffered for Jesus on the earth will receive their reward.

  7. Those who belong to Jesus will receive tremendous blessing. Paul could not find words to describe the extent of this blessing.

  8. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

    Eternal life will bring blessing beyond words for those who love the Lord.

  9. Sin will have no place in the heavenly Kingdom. This will mean that there can be no sorrow or trouble.

  10. God will be at the centre of all things. He will direct all things. His power will inspire all activity. Everything will be done for his glory. The saints will have perfect fellowship with God.

  11. Worship will be an important activity during eternal life. Whenever there is a glimpse into the heavenly realm in the book of Revelation, there is always a burst of praise and worship. This worship will not cease after the last judgment. The whole of life will be an act of continuous worship and praise. It will not be something that we do at special times, as in the present life. People will live in a continuous attitude of worship.

  12. God's people will possess powers that are unknown at the present time. This will partly come from the intimate fellowship with God, but at the same time, our faculties will be expanded.

    So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; (1 Cor 15:42-43).

    Our powers of perception and reason will be vastly increased. This will lead to a constant increase in knowledge and understanding. The spiritual world will contain immense mysteries for the saints to study and explore. The vast increase in knowledge will be used for the glory of God in his Kingdom.

  13. Authority will be exercised on God's behalf by the saints in the heavenly Kingdom. The extent of the authority given will depend on the responsibility shown in this present life. In the parable of the ten minas, Jesus said that the most trustworthy servant would be given ten cities to rule, once the master returned (Luke 19:17). He had cared for only ten minas, yet he was given ten cities to rule as his reward. Those who have exercised their authority responsibly here on earth will exercise great authority in eternal life.

  14. Some people will get greater reward than others.Our reward will depend on our capacity to receive. Christians often naively assume that at the resurrection our old nature will be gone and a new perfect nature will appear. That is true, but the strength of our new nature will be shaped by how much God has been able to shape it in this life. If the Lord has not been able to discipline and transform us in this life, that will limit the capacity of our new nature in the new life. Some receive a lesser reward, because they do not have the capacity to receive any more, because they have not allowed God to transform them enough in this life.

In all this we see the tremendous mercy of God. Salvation is a free gift from God. Those who are chosen to belong to the kingdom of heaven receive the privilege as a free gift. Even the good works they have done have been prepared beforehand by God. All the tremendous blessings described here are totally undeserved. Only a gracious God could give such a wonderful gift.


Where does our future life take place? Some say on this earth, while others say there will be a new heaven and a new earth somewhere else. Here are some scriptures.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Pet 3:10-13.

Peter says that the heavens (ouranos) will disappear (2 Pet 3:11). Here he must be referring to the sky, however it is not clear how the sky disappears. It may be that the glory of Jesus appearance is so dazzling and bright that the sky cannot be seen. The expression "destruction of the heavens by fire" (v.12) is interesting, because Peter does not use the usual Greek word for destruction. The literal meaning of the word he uses is "loosen". The sky being loosened up by fire may just mean that the universe is shaken up.

Peter says that the elements will be "loosened by fire" (2 Pet 3:10) and "melt in the heat" (2 Pet 3:12). This suggests a real transformation, but may not mean total destruction. The earth and everything in it will be "laid bare" (2 Pet 3:10). This suggests a lot of destruction, but it does not mean that the earth will be totally destroyed. It also has a sense of things that are hidden being exposed.

Peter's message is that the earth and the atmosphere will be really shaken up by Jesus return, but he does not seem to be saying that the universe will actually disappear.

Both Peter and John speak of a new heavens and a new earth.

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, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them (Rev 21 1-3).

These references do not explain whether the word "new" is used in the sense of "totally different" or in the sense of being "totally renewed". I suspect that it will be a bit of both. The whole universe will be totally transformed by Jesus coming. It will be like the current heaven and earth and yet totally different.

We must also remember that once we have spiritual bodies, we will be able to see the spiritual dimension of the universe as clearly as we now see the physical dimension. And because the spiritual dimension is vastly more important than the physical, it will appear to be totally different. It will be like God has taken the lid off the universe so we can see everything.

The only way that I can think about this is to imagine an ant living in the middle of my lawn. All he can see is enormous columns of green grass and the brown soil it grows in. He may see some of the microbes in the soil and the structure of the worm holes more clearly than I can, but essentially he lives in a two-dimensional world of green and brown. If the ant could come up to my level and see the world from where I see it, he would see a totally different world. He would see mountains, trees, animals and stars that he had never seen before. Although nothing had changed, he would feel like he was living in a totally new world.

When we see this world in both the physical and spiritual dimensions, our experience will be similar, although the contrast will be even greater. The best way to describe such an experience in human words might be to be as a new heaven and a new earth.

Where is explained further in Multi-Dimensional World.

Beyond Earth

Our future life will not be limited to this earth. The universe that we live in is absolutely enormous. There are probably thousands of other planets similar to earth. Some Christians may be in charge of cities and kingdoms on planets and stars in other parts of the universe. as part of their eternal reward. Others may be put in charge of small kingdoms. Some of these cities and kingdoms will be on earth, but there may not be room for them all. Limitations on space travel will be gone. God may use his people to fill the whole universe with life.

Return to After Life.