Two events recently happened to me that got me seriously thinking about my eternal destination. Not where I would be going, but what I would be doing when I got there. The first event, was several nights ago when I found myself chasing rabbit-trails on YouTube with regards to the J.R.R. Tolkien’s addendums on the Lord of the Rings books (yes, super nerdy I know). I was curious about what happened to Middle Earth after the good guys destroyed the ring, defeated Sauron, and Aragon got crowned king. Needless to say, I never read the books, so my curiosity was engaged and I had to find out. The movies stop woefully short of the full story.
The Peter Jackson theatrical renditions show the hobbits returning home, the elves leaving for the Undying Lands, and peace finally returning to Middle Earth. As Mr. Tolkien writes it, Aragon would go on to rule for the next 120 years, dying peacefully at the age of 210. His son, Eldarion, would assume the throne and he ruled for the next 100 years. Aragon’s descendants would go on to rule over Middle Earth for the next 100 generations (5-10K years?). During this time (i.e., the age of men), the magical creatures (ents, elves, dwarves, orcs, dragons, etc.) would eventually disappear from Middle Earth altogether, taking with them, the age of magic.
Now the next event was in talking to one of my cousins-in-law over an afternoon cookout. We were talking about random things when the conversation turned to Mormonism. One of the core beliefs in Mormonism (although downplayed to non-Mormons), is that through eternal progression (in the celestial state) those faithful Mormons will one day create and populate their own worlds as gods. This isn’t just my opinion, this comes from their own teachings (D&C 76:24, etc.). This is what Spencer W. Kimball (Twelfth President and Prophet [1973-1985]) of the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints had to say about this in a 1981 letter:
We have this life of limited years in which to learn of God, to become the masters of our own destiny, and secondly, we have this life plus eternities to learn of the earth and the things thereon, and to accumulate secular knowledge which will help make us gods, which is our destiny.
Although I’m tempted to go on another rabbit trail here describing the gross heresies and outright blasphemies of the Mormon religion, I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say, Mormonism has more in common with Hinduism, than it does with Christianity. See here for a summarized list of their beliefs and documented by their own teachings which prove this point.
So at this point, you might be asking how the Lord of the Rings (post-Sauron) and Mormonism, have to do with the eternal realm. For starters, they’re both works of fiction. Secondly, the former lacks the scope of eternity, and the latter blasphemously exceeds the scope.
Let’s put things in perspective by comparing the other major world religions' versions of eternity (i.e., never-ending, goes on forever). Islam believes in paradise with ease, luxury, and fair virgins. As good as this sounds, even this, will get old after a while. At some point, it too will become a form of a tortuous existence. Both Buddhism and Hinduism believe in reincarnation. At some point, the sun will expand and heat up into a Red Giant star, and then burn out. Even before the sun dies out, the planet will have burned to a crisp. Not sure how reincarnation works after this point. Roman Catholicism supports the idea of purging your sins in purgatory before entering heaven. However, no one can specify how long one needs to stay in said purgatory before they are worthy to enter God's presence. We can only reason then, that if purgatory is necessary, then one must remain in purgatory forever because the ONLY thing that can purge one’s sins, is the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Leviticus 17:11; Matthew 26:28).
All of these belief systems are rather short-sighted in terms of eternity. The reason they are short-sighted is that they were dreamt up by mortal, finite creatures, who have no real concept of eternity. The best we humans can think of (apart from the Bible) is those pleasures we have here on earth, and then try to multiply them in such a way that they equal, and they lived happily ever after.
Yet, none of these belief systems deal with the heart of the problem; human beings at their core, are corrupt and wicked. We first have to be changed from the inside out, before our “actions” or “works” really mean anything. It means nothing to God if we outwardly act altruistic, but inwardly, only do so because we crave the praise of men (Matt. 6:1-4). And the only thing that can change man’s wickedness is God; we are wholly incapable of changing ourselves.
This is what I believe the purpose of the Millennial Reign of Christ serves. It nullifies these humanistic beliefs that if we just had paradise-like living conditions, we could all live happily ever after. When reading what the Kingdom will be like after Christ returns (Isaiah 2, 11, 66, Rev. 20, etc.), the earth will be once again, returned back to its original state- paradise. There will be no shortage of food, no sickness (that we know of), centuries-long life spans, the animal kingdom at peace with man and each other, no wars, no injustices, no political corruption, and yet, man still rebels at the first opportunity he can (once Satan is released for a season). This is where they foolishly attempt to overthrow Christ.
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:7-10
In summary, yes, Christianity (like most of the other world religions) has a version of paradise on earth. But this paradise lasts only a thousand years, and it highlights the flaws unredeemed humanity still carries with it. The thousand-year reign ends with Satan's last failed coup d'état, and then, the Great White Throne Judgment begins. All of humanity, from Cain, until the last of the Millennial deviants, are judged according to their works, and they (along with death and hell) are cast into the Lake of Fire, which burns forever and ever. For them, this is the second death. They will spend eternity in a state of perpetual destruction for rejecting the free gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, for the believer, here is where our real future begins.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:1-5
After the Rapture, the Seventieth Week, and the Millennial Reign of Christ, what will we be doing? According to Scripture, God is going to make ALL things new. That means a new universe, a new solar system, a new world, and a New Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven. The Bible does not say it actually lands on earth, so we can rightfully assume it hovers above the earth like a jewel-adorned bride. I like to think of this as our home base, where we can explore the universe and always come back to. Even still, will I be doing that a trillion years from now?
I know, I know, some of you are already thinking, there will not be time in eternity, so one year, or a trillion, will be irrelevant. Let’s set that specific aside for now, because as mortal, finite beings, we cannot truly comprehend eternity any more than we can try to fully comprehend God. So from our perspective, the absence of time is as inconceivable a topic as trying to wrap our minds around infinity which has neither beginning nor end. There is simply nothing in our universe we can compare it to. Even the universe had a beginning. Therefore, I am going to assume some chronological highlights to better understand what eternity will actually look like (best I can).
This is also not to say we can fully comprehend a number as large as a trillion (a thousand billions, or 10 to the 12th power), but at least, we can quantify it numerically. However, apart from God, there is nothing that is truly eternal, thus, we have to quantify eternal matters with things we can comprehend. For example, in the first century AD, when describing a number that exceeded comprehension, writers would often simply write it as chiliads (thousands) or myriads (ten-thousands). Interestingly, in Revelation 9:16, the Apostle John was given a number (of the apocalyptic horsemen) as being two hundred million (a number almost unknown in his day).
The Bible dedicates two chapters to what life will be like at least 1,007 years from now (the seven-year tribulation, plus the thousand-year reign of Christ), where the Rapture to happen today. In them, Revelation 21-22 describes a time of idyllic peace and a universe restored to what God had originally intended. We have many verses about what the future Messianic Kingdom will be like, but only have a precious few regarding what lays beyond this future kingdom. The Apostle Paul said in 1st Corinthians 2:9: But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
Although 1st Corinthians 2:9 is somewhat cryptic, it does lay out a fairly tall order if you really think about it, because mankind has dreamed up and achieved some pretty wild and fantastical things. Mythologies, legends, books, movies, television, art, and music are filled with every possible spectrum of human imagination. Mankind’s achievements include our exploratory endeavors from discovering the world, mastering flight, walking on the Moon, to sending probes and satellites deep into outer space. Man has split the atom, discovered nanoparticles, created medical and technical solutions (or at least workarounds) for most of the problems. Man has created great works of architecture like the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and any of the other Seven Wonders of the World. Man has broken the sound barrier, created artificial intelligence, and advanced technologically beyond what anyone really believed we could achieve. All of this was accomplished while mankind was in its fallen and mortal state.
Imagine what we could achieve when we are in our glorified state?
The late Jack Kelley had an interesting perspective on what life will be like into eternity. If we hold God to the standard Paul (and Isaiah) mention in their scripture (eye hath not seen…), then God would have to surpass the standard of all we have accomplished in our fallen, sinful state; not for one day, but for all eternity. A tall order indeed. An even taller order will be keeping our imagination intact once we slip these surly bonds. Jack goes on to say-
But the earthly bonds that restrain us will be released, our brains energized, our senses sharpened, and our unique capabilities revealed, not only for worship but for all our experiences. We’ll finally become all that we were created to be, God’s work of art: the highest example of His creative ability. Jack Kelley- Thoughts on Eternity
Going forward, I would like to address some common misconceptions most people have about the realm eternal and time.
1. It will be an endless church service
You've seen all the pictures and the cartoons- heaven is sitting on a cloud while playing the harp. While there will be worship in heaven, our eternal futures will not consist of only worship (as we think of worship). If our future is anything like what the Bible details, then we are in for one, exciting adventure. Both the Old, and New Testaments show the lives of the patriarchs, prophets, kings, priests, and apostles whose stories, include worship, but not only worship. Noah built an ark and survived the world’s first great cataclysm. Abraham led three hundred and eighteen servant-warriors to defeat the enemy kings and rescued his nephew Lot. Moses led the Hebrew captives out of bondage. David slew a giant (and many enemies), and successfully ruled a kingdom for forty years. Daniel directly served the greatest king of his age, revealing dreams and visions which would encapsulate the rest of human history. The apostles walked with their Creator, planted churches, traveled extensively, served their communities, and faced many great challenges. IOW, their lives were anything but boring. Their lives also did not consist of sitting in a temple or church 24/7. They were busy doing what God had planned for them. If our eternal future is anything like the Bible, then it will not consist of just worshipping.
2. Lack of conflict, or a chief antagonist (such as Sauron or Satan), will lead to a time of unprecedented boredom
Living our entire lives (and the history of mankind) with an antagonist like Satan, we’ve built into all of our great stories the concept of good triumphing over evil. So what do we do if there is no great evil to triumph over? In our present state, we are fallen, thus we have at our core, some great need to see good triumph. However, when we are either resurrected or translated into our new, glorified bodies, we will no longer be sinful. We will not need conflict in our lives to make it interesting. I believe this will be the greatest time in our glorified human experience. Again, think about all of what man has accomplished in our fallen state. Imagine man unleashed, free of sin and corruption, to fulfill God’s plans without fail. Also, He created our known universe in six days (allowing the angels to only watch). With us, he’s had six thousand years to plan our eternity-future, and He has built it so that as co-heirs, we will share in this glorious exploration and expansion.
3. There will be no concept of time
Although there will be no sun or night there, there will be months, which are marked by the trees and the fruit they bear (Rev. 22:1-2). While we exist in a universe where time serves as the fourth dimension, God will be able to show the passage of time, and yet, do it without the laws of physics and nature we are currently under. IOW, we won’t be able to travel around a sun (because there will be no sun), but He will still allow time to move forward. If God can speak the universe into existence, and make the sun and the moon stand still (Joshua 10:12-14), He can make time without the existence of the sun, our revolutions around it, or the rotation of the earth. Furthermore, it is my opinion that we will also be able to go back through time to see the great events in history (like Creation, the Flood, the Exodus, the Crucifixion, etc.).
4. It will eventually end
Eternity, by definition, has no beginning or end. The Bible describes the eternal state, as lasting forever and ever, without end. Seems pretty straightforward. However, some have come to teach that forever and ever, really doesn't mean, forever and ever. This means teachings by certain faux-Christian groups, like the Seventh Day Adventists and certain Emerging Church sects, which teach annihilationism, are promoting a false teaching. Man was built for eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and if our rewards are meant to be eternal, so will our punishments (sorry Rob Bell). In other words, if Heaven is eternal, then Hell likewise, has to be eternal. Passages that speak to the eternal destinations- Matthew 25:41, 46, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Jude 6-7, Revelation 14:10-11, and 20:10.
5. Time is not a flat circle
The famous line from Nietzsche’s book, The Gay Science, was that time was a flat circle. What he meant by that was given eternity, people would continue to make the same mistakes over and over. While I don’t disagree with that sentiment here in our fallen state, there will come a time when this is no longer true. A quote often attributed to Mark Twain was, perhaps, a bit more accurate by which it says history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Time is chronological. We have a beginning (Genesis 1:1) and we will have an end (Revelation 19:11). When Christ returns at the Second Coming, He assumes command of all creation, thus, the story of fallen man ends, and the story of His Kingdom begins. There is one thing that repeats, and that is man’s fallen nature. At the end of that thousand years, Satan and his massive human uprising, hopelessly attempt to overthrow Christ one last time.
Having small kids, I’ve used a number of tangible examples to try and describe our world and the world to come to them. When describing time, eternity, and the universe, I’ve often used our fish tank in the living room. We go and stand around it and I show them the fish, the water, and the tank itself. I tell them, to this fish, the tank is its entire world. I show them that we can see all of it at once; we don’t need to take it in section by section. I can even put my hand in the tank water to clean it or move things around if need be, however, we (pointing to us) are not bound by the tank. My hand is not forever stuck in the tank if I put it in there. We exist outside of it. This is how God views our universe. He cannot be bound by the universe (and by extension- time) He created. In creating the universe, God (without beginning or end) instituted time for mankind. According to Genesis 1:14, part of the purpose of the creation of the surrounding solar system, galaxy, and universe was for the purpose of time.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years…
Imagine living in a fallen state as we do, without the existence of time. Think about how messed up the world would become if we had no way to measure “when.” God inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15), and has known all of His works for all of it (Acts 15:18). There is some language God uses for our benefit, (Isaiah 46:9-10) which states that God knows the end from the beginning. However, the end is our end, and the beginning is our beginning. There is nothing that can escape God’s notice or knowledge because He says everything at the same time: past, present, and future.
Another analogy I use with them regarding time is the concept of the parade. I tell them, imagine we are watching a parade go by, and we are on the side of the road, packed in on both sides by other bystanders. I tell them to imagine, that the parade itself is time, and we can only see what goes in front of us as it goes by. That is how we view time. However, God is like the news helicopter a thousand feet in the air. It can see both the end and the beginning, simultaneously, and everything in-between.
While a parade and a fish tank are poor substitutes for the grandeur of God, just think of what He has already built into Creation. Think about all the variety and variation within each species and kind of fauna and flora. From the smallest microorganism to the largest galaxy. God's creative genius knows no bounds. He has created things we still haven’t even discovered yet, despite all of our technological achievements. Now think about your life and all the times you’ve earnestly prayed for some solution, or some answer to a problem you were facing, and God came through in unexpected ways that even surprised you.
While we cannot know for certain what we are going to be physically doing a trillion, ten trillion, a hundred trillion years from now, we can rest assured that God is bigger than our expectations. He is bigger than our imagination. And if you are born again, then you are an Eternal. You will live a future so fantastical that one of the greatest writers and expositors in all of scripture, who personally visited heaven, simply writes, he didn't have the words for it. However, do let me close with a passage he did pen that has brought me personally, a great deal of comfort and wonder.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-7 (emphasis mine)