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Will the New Heavens and Earth be physical?

Published: 21 January 2017 (GMT+10)
iStockphoto forest

This week’s correspondent, J.D. from Australia, objects to us saying that the New Heavens and Earth will be physical. But when Christians ‘go to heaven when they die’ as disembodied spirits, is that it? No! Christians will be raised bodily and live eternally in the physical New Heavens and Earth. The whole point of the eternal state is that it’s a restoration of the world to the way God originally created it in Genesis 1—very good.

I note that you refer to the New Heavens and New Earth as a literal creation.

You do yourself a disservice therein: the phrase is simply metaphor and the description thereof simply that of our domain in Christ as per the fruits of the Spirit in the NT [New Testament]. It has nothing to do with planets and lions and tigers: that is carnal.

If you check Isaiah 11 you’ll find essentially the same description of things as you find at Isaiah 65, yet with absolutely no reference to any New Heavens or New Earth.

The New Heavens and New Earth are simply metaphor for Christ Himself, and thus it is written that those in Christ “have been seated in heavenly places”.

In the afterlife we shall be spirits, not human beings with arms and legs and genitals. Christ no longer has genitals and arms and legs: those things are for the carnal realm.

Please don’t reply if you’re not prepared to move from your position on this.

I wish you all God’s blessings in Christ, who is the real New Heavens and New Earth.


CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Thank you for your email. There is a need to reply, even though we are not willing to move from our position. Not only is your position wrong, but it is one of the few purely doctrinal issues that is explicitly singled out for extensive refutation in Scripture (1 Corinthians 15, esp. vv. 12–19).

The New Heavens and Earth (NHE; i.e. the eternal state) will indeed be a physical place. Our article The New Earth does not say this world will be replaced, but rather that it will be restored to an Edenic state (indeed, even better than Eden!). This doctrine is one of the main reasons why we defend the reality of the first Eden and the goodness of the original creation; it is the culmination of the ‘restoration’ (or ‘redemption’) aspect of the Creation, Fall, Restoration historical framework of Scripture.

However, the physical reality of the eternal state does not depend on how the Bible uses the NHE language. The use (Isaiah 65, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 21) or lack of use (Isaiah 11) of this NHE language is irrelevant to the truth of the doctrine.1 Indeed, the physicality of the eternal state can be shown from Scripture without referring to passages that use NHE language.

First, Scripture explicitly teaches the physicality of the eternal state in Romans 8:18–25 without using NHE language. “[T]he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (v. 19), since “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (v. 21). What is this “freedom of the glory of the children of God”? It is “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23). If creation is to be set free from its bondage to decay (imposed at the Fall), it’s clearly not going to be done away with completely, or replaced, but redeemed just like the bodies of believers will be redeemed. For more information, please see Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a

Second, the physicality of the eternal state is a direct logical implication of our future bodily resurrection. Since we will be raised from the dead physically (as Christ was), that logically implies that we will live in some sort of physical system. Indeed, the mere existence of our bodies would constitute a physical system!

Third, rejecting the future bodily resurrection, which implies the physicality of the eternal state, is explicitly condemned in 1 Corinthians 15:12–13: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.” For more information, please see NT specialist Lita Cosner’s brilliant article on 1 Corinthians 15: Christ as the last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15.

However, 1 Corinthians 15 is not the only place in the NT that teaches the future bodily resurrection. Now, ‘resurrection’ and ‘raised’ language is sometimes used in the NT to refer to “our domain in Christ as per the fruits of the Spirit” (e.g. Romans 6:4, Ephesians 2:6). However, the language is also used literally. For instance, Romans 8:11:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The predicate of the verb “will give life to” delimits exactly what the Father “will give life to” in this verse—“your mortal bodies”. Not our spirits or souls, not even our relation with God, but specifically “your mortal bodies”. The parallel from earlier in the verse is also emphatic: just as Christ was raised by the Father, so also He will “give life to your mortal bodies”. The predicate of “will give life to” also makes it clear precisely how our resurrection will be like Christ’s—the raising of “your mortal bodies” to deathless bodily life, since Christ “being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Romans 6:9).

John 5:28–29 is also a clear reference to bodily resurrection:

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

This is juxtaposed with Jesus saying in John 5:25 that He grants spiritual life to those who hear Him:

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

The differences between the two statements show how they speak to distinct (though related) realities. Verse 25 refers to a present condition (“and is now here”) regarding “the dead” who hear Jesus’ voice and “live”. Since it’s safe to assume that nobody was being resurrected at the time Jesus was speaking, this clearly must refer to spiritual “life”.

However, in vv. 28–29 the hour Jesus describes is onlycoming”; it is still future from Jesus’ perspective (and ours). Moreover, He never actually uses the word “death” in vv. 28–29. Instead, He offers a description: “all who are in the tombs”. Furthermore, Jesus explicitly uses the word “resurrection” in combination with “all who are in the tombs” who will “come out”; He is here emphasizing the bodily nature of this event. In contrast, He uses no such explicit ‘body’ language in v. 25. There is a clear contrast between spiritual life (i.e. reconciliation with God) in v. 25 and physical resurrection (i.e. bodies coming out of tombs) in vv. 28–29. Ephesians 2:6, in context, is clearly parallel to John 5:25, not John 5:28–29.

Philippians 3:20–21 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 also speak of bodily resurrection. In Philippians 3, Christ “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body”, which again has that notion of transformation of bodies in conformity to Christ’s body. In 1 Thessalonians 4, the “dead in Christ” (an odd phrase if our final state is disembodied) who “sleep” (a common metaphor for death), will be raised and brought with Christ when He returns to the earth. Where are they coming from? Where Christ is now (2 Corinthians 5:8); at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Romans 8:34).

What does this imply about the specifics of Jesus’ (and our) physicality? The corpse that was laid in the tomb after Jesus’ crucifixion is the very same body Jesus appeared to His disciples in (though it was no longer subject to death). That same body was taken up into heaven, and Jesus “will come in the same way as you saw him go” (Acts 1:11), i.e. with the very same body He went into heaven with. The simplest solution is that the resurrected body Jesus had, and will have eternally, still has all the parts that made Him a man before He died. And following the ‘as Christ was raised, so we shall be raised’ logic of Jesus, Paul, and John, the most plausible solution is that we too will be raised as the men and women we are now, genitalia and all.

None of this depends on the precise biblical meaning of the NHE language (though that language is fully consistent with this doctrine). None of this depends on the interpretation of prophetic and apocalyptic literature. Rather, I have appealed to statements of the logic of NT eschatology in didactic discourse (either epistles, or Jesus’ teaching). The logic is simple to follow: ‘We shall be raised as Christ was raised (i.e. bodily) when He returns, and creation will be renewed in concert with our resurrection.’ Not only will we be physical for eternity, not only will we spend eternity in a physical place, but we will spend eternity embodied in this physical place (albeit transformed to be suitable for us to live in). This has always been the hope of the church; in the NT, to when the orthodox fought the Gnostics over the physicality of the final resurrection in the 2nd century, up until today, where people declare that ‘science says dead people stay dead’. And our hope is squarely based on Jesus’ physical, historical resurrection and His continued existence as a physical man.

I would encourage you to listen to and follow the words of the bodily risen Lord Jesus and His apostles, who all looked forward to the resurrection of the body.

References and notes

  1. There is disagreement over what Isaiah 11 and 65 refer to. Some say they refer to the millennium, while others say they refer to the eternal state. However, this disagreement only strengthens the basic point: the NHE language is irrelevant to the truth that the eternal state will be physical. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

The New Heavens and Earth are certainly physical in nature.
David M.
It seems to me that the question of our state of being in the new heavens and new earth has also been addressed in 1 John and 2 Corinthians.

1 John 1:1-3 shows that the disciples had an intimate knowledge of Christ manifested in his incarnation but 1 John 3:2 says that, what we will be like has not yet appeared.

In 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 Paul states re a vision/revelation “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know”.

Is there any place in this discussion where we say, we just don’t know?
Shaun Doyle
2 Corinthians 12:2-3 isn't relevant, since it says nothing about the future eternal state. 1 John 3:2, on the other hand, is relevant, but it doesn't tell us much, other than that we know we will be like him.

However, John's confession of ignorance doesn't mean we have no knowledge of what we will be like. For instance, we know from the resurrection narratives that Jesus has a male human resurrection body, and we know from Paul explicitly (and others implicitly) that Jesus can no longer die (Romans 6:9). That gives us enough information to know that in the eternal state we will be physical and unable to die, and we will still be gendered. We can perhaps glean other hints from Scripture, such as Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22, but beyond those, we are speculating, and the further from the text we get, the more speculative we get.

So yes, there is plenty of room for confessing ignorance about the ultimate future. There's plenty about it I don't know! But God has revealed a few important details that allow us to judge on the main issues this article covers. It all comes back to Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever".
Shalee B.
I see some big flaws with this article. If we will simply be resurrected in our earthly bodies to continue life on this earth, how is it that the Bible says there will be no marriage or giving of marriage in the new Heaven? Or what about Revelation 21:1 where it was seen that the past earth had passed away, meaning died and gone away? And how can the former things be forgotten (Isaiah 65:17) if we step on the very soil upon which our forefathers lived and died? If it is wrong to believe that the original earth, that is, the earth on which Adam and Eve were created was good, yet its soil was not filled with the bones and fossils of things that had died beforehand (there being no death before sin), is it logical to conclude that a new and perfect earth would? And what about the verse that states there will be no ocean in the new earth (Revelation 21:1). Though I am sad to think of a place with no ocean, for I very much love the ocean, we are told there will be none in the new earth, yet our earth (restored or not) has an ocean. What does God mean when He said "I have gone to prepare a place for you," in John 14:2? While I do not doubt the physicality of the new earth and its heaven, I doubt that the new earth is the earth on which we currently stand. While I don't doubt God's unending and unlimited power and love, I doubt that He would restore this earth, while disallowing marriage if we are to continue living in a body that was designed for procreation. And what about the gulf that God says will stand between heaven and hell that will prohibit those from either side crossing to the other? I have read nothing in Scripture that suggests the current earth is one and the same with the new earth. The new earth will be physical, but not the same earth where we currently live.
Shaun Doyle
I stated why I didn’t go into passages like Isaiah 11, 34, 65; Jeremiah 4; 2 Peter 3; and Revelation 20–21: “None of this depends on the interpretation of prophetic and apocalyptic literature. Rather, I have appealed to statements of the logic of NT eschatology in didactic discourse (either epistles, or Jesus’ teaching).” I wanted to avoid dealing with prophetic and apocalyptic literature because I didn’t need to go to that literature to prove my main points, and interpreting that literature on this topic would’ve taken me into debates on ‘end times’ matters that are outside CMI's ministry purview. Moreover, the issue of whether the physical world will be replaced or restored was secondary to my main point: the NHE will be a physical place. Even if the physical world is replaced, the new world will still be physical.

Nonetheless, I do believe that the cosmos will be restored, not annihilated completely and replaced. Romans 8:18–25 was my main text for this in the article, and I stand by that argumentation. As to passages like 2 Peter 3:10–13 and Revelation 21:1, consider 2 Corinthians 5:17:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

This language says of the individual Christian what Revelation 21:1 says of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ heavens and earth. But does 2 Cor. 5:17 mean that e.g. the pre-conversion ‘Shaun Doyle’ was annihilated on 1 May 2001 (the day of my conversion) and replaced with the Christian doppleganger who wrote this article? Of course not! If it did, 1 May 2001 wouldn’t have been the day of my conversion, but the first day of my existence! But if we can’t read 2 Cor. 5:17 to imply annihilation and replacement of the subject, why think parallel ‘passing away of the old, creation of the new’ language for the cosmos in 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 20–21 must imply complete annihilation and replacement? 2 Corinthians 5:17 gives us ample warrant to read 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 as implying less than the complete annihilation and replacement of the cosmos, even without addressing precisely how symbolic those passages may be.

That said, I didn’t imply that the restored world would be exactly the same as the world now: “[W]e will spend eternity embodied in this physical place (albeit transformed to be suitable for us to live in) [bold emphasis added].” Scripture explicitly says there won’t be any more death, marriage, or suffering in the eternal state, and a very likely implication is that there won’t be any fossils either. All of this is covered in The new earth, to which I refer you.

As to the nature of our resurrection bodies, I simply take my cues from Jesus’ resurrection body, since He is the archetype and prototype. Since He is a resurrected man, it’s a straightforward deduction that we too will come out of the tombs with the same physical genders we went into them with. Does this mean our bodies will be capable of procreation? No, but who said the only purpose for gender differences is procreation? Indeed, Jesus’ male resurrection body is conclusive evidence that there is more to gender differences than procreation. Can we conceive of what that purpose is? Perhaps not now, but that doesn’t matter. It’s better to trust in what we do know (from Jesus’ resurrection body), and leave the details that puzzle us to God, rather than doubt what has been revealed because we can’t understand how it all makes sense.
Tommy S.
You state:

"Our article The New Earth does not say this world will be replaced, but rather that it will be restored to an Edenic state (indeed, even better than Eden!)."

Actually, your article on The New Earth DOES say that the world will be replaced, not restored. And that position is the correct position. Even Lita Costner responded to a comment on that article, stating the following:

"Mark, the idea is that what happens to creation is analogous to what happens to people. People really die, our bodies really decompose, we really 'return to dust'. But when we are raised, we have a new body, but there is continuity with the body that died (1 Corinthians 15). So creation will really pass away, it will really be destroyed. But the new creation has continuity with the old."

Any attempts to take the plain reading of scripture which clearly states that the old earth and heavens will pass away takes some interpretive gymnastics and are simply based on preconceived belief instead of what scripture actually says.

Clearly, though, your articles contradict one another and members of CMI are contradicting each other on this point as well.
Shaun Doyle
Let me be a bit more precise on this matter. When I say that "this world will not be replaced", I mean that God will not completely annihilate this world are create from nothing a New Heavens and Earth. That would mean that there would be no material continuity between this physical world and the New Heavens and Earth. In other words, the basic stuff of this physical world will be the basic physical stuff of the New Heavens and Earth. Note what The new earth says concerning this destruction:

It is not a hyperbole to call them an “uncreation” of the heavens and earth—many judgments in the Bible are reversals of creation; for example, the Flood reversed creation to the time before the land was separated from the seas on Day 2, and Jeremiah 4:23 alludes to a future uncreation that reverses the universe back to the state described in Genesis 1:2 [emphasis added].

If the universe is returned to a Genesis 1:2 condition and remoulded from there, the basic stuff of this universe will still be the basic stuff of the New Heavens and Earth. Yes, this destruction is drastic, but it does not involve God dissolving back into nothing the universe He created from nothing in Genesis 1:1.
Hans G.
We, our spirits, are in heaven but the New Jerusalem with our many rooms is on the new earth? The universe needs to be demolished and what purpose would our fleshly existence have had when there is no conclusion? Tempting our spirits via flesh? Then this findings can't be transferred into the spiritual world because physical existence and experience have no meaning. I like to be physical perfect in the from God promised world.
Phil M.
I guess JD's illogic can be shown by the fact that if the new heavens and new earth are simply metaphor for Christ Himself, then the current heavens and current earth would have to be a metaphor for Adam himself.
Egil W.
I think many may be confused by the simple thing that questions can be misleading in the first place, or wordings used to the effect of importing strawmen.

"Physical bodies" ..may come across as merely "mortal bodies", "spiritual" may be perceived as "misty, elusive, vague, without defined qualities".

In heaven we shall not marry or be given to marriage, for we shall be like the angels.

So how are the angels in the Bible described...?

And the Bride of Christ shall be married to the Son of God, but marriage as we see it here and now will obviously cease ("not marry or be given to marry").

When using words like "spiritual" or "physical" those interested must try to study how the Bible would relate to these things.

Many places in the Bible, "soul" and "spirit" overlaps in meaning.

Many places in OT we get to hear of Sheol (Hades -the realm of the dead), both as a place of darkness and confusion, but also where the dead have existence as individuals.

In NT the Apostle Peter says that the heavens and earth that are now will dissolved being on fire and the elements melt; and Rev 20,11 says "Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away. And there was found no place for them."(NKJV-translation).

Of course these things are difficult to grasp in their entirety! Therefore we need to go to our Bibles when questions pop up in our mind as to how the reality of the everlasting things will actually be. And we need to find out how the Bible uses words like "spirits", "souls", "bodily", "body", "transformed", "glory", "resurrection", and the same with expressions.

And we all should want to use the Bible properly, reading it for what it wants to say; trying honestly to find out "what does the author want to communicate here?".
Shaun Doyle
J.D. was clear enough in his rejection of bodies "with arms and legs and genitals." Why? He reasoned that: "Christ no longer has genitals and arms and legs: those things are for the carnal realm." He was indeed rejecting the physicality of Jesus' resurrection body, and by extension rejecting the physicality of the New Heavens and Earth.

However, the Bible is amply clear in its affirmation of a 'bodily' resurrection involving us having arms, legs, and genitals. The model for what the resurrection will be is clearly Jesus' own body. And as I showed in the article, Jesus was raised as the man He was before He died, genitalia and all. Since we will be raised as Jesus was raised, that implies we too will be raised as the men and women we were born as, genitalia and all. This also suggests human gender has a value that transcends marriage and procreation, since God will preserve man and woman even though He will end marriage.

As to the angels, Gary Bates has some incisive comments in his book Alien Intrusion:

In a parallel passage in Luke 20:34–36 the context is made clear:

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that 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. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.”

He answered the question primarily to affirm the reality of the resurrection and the eternal life it will bring believers (like that of the angels), contradicting the beliefs of the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead and who were trying to trick Jesus.

In every biblical account where angels are sent by God and manifest in physical form, the Bible records them as appearing as males, therefore with gender (e.g., Gabriel, Michael). If masquerading angels are appearing as aliens, then the experiences of abductees suggest that fallen angels, at least, can manifest as female, too. An unwarranted extrapolation of the above text is used to suggest that because believers will not be married in the resurrection life, they will also be genderless (supposedly like the angels). Once again, the passage tells us only that people will not be married in heaven, although they do marry now. God’s ordained purpose for marriage was for procreation to populate the earth. Each of the angels was supernaturally created, so there was no need for procreation, and in this way we will be like them. Christians will not marry each other in the new heavens and Earth.

Keith H.
Lassi P.
The sound scholarship in this article is desperately needed. Thank you for staying true to the Word not just in creation, but in restoration as well. I totally agree, you had to response to the critic. It's bit disturbing when people say "carnal" every time the Bibles clear physical teachings are understood as clear physical teachings. It's actually carnal to view everything concrete as carnal.
S. H.
Excellent and very clear response to what is a very clear Scriptural truth. The irony of someone saying 'don't reply if you're not prepared to move from your position on this' should not be lost on anyone, especially when not at all Biblically based! I like the Bereans who searched the Scriptures and Paul who challenged Timothy and us all to rightly divide the Bible. Any Bible doctrine (such as the one proposed by the correspondent) that is not Biblically consistent or that plucks verses out in order to affirm a doctrine is not one that is rightly dividing the Word. It is therefore not a Biblical doctrine and the correspondent should rightly be challenged, especially when they themselves have written! Conversely, the CM response is very Biblical and full of truth for which I commend you!
Michael T.
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus being physical, why should ours not also be?

Luke 24:36 ¶ And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
43 And he took it, and did eat before them.
Richard L.
Thank you, Shaun!

Dear J. D., I've often thought of using the following illustration to show the need (re. God's glory) for a physical-aspect-also NHE. Let me try it out on you.

Imagine a box. It is covered with pristine blank paper. Each vertical side has a relationship label: P&G (person - God); P&P (person - person); P&S (person - self); P&C (person - creation).

Before the fall, all sides remain pristine: God walks daily with Adam and Woman in the garden; Adam and Woman are in love; psychologically, they are naked and not ashamed; no suffering or death needed--all animals (Gen. 1:30) eat plants.

The fall happens: Adam and Woman hide from God; they blame others for their sins; they are ashamed of their nakedness; the creation groans in travail as it comes under the Curse. Visually, a giant label, "obscene graffiti", covers each of the 4 vertical sides of the box.

Redemption at the cross now happens, but only a PORTION of the "obscene graffiti" label gets removed for each of the 4 sides: Christians still need to confess sin; we still struggle with human relationships and guilt; while our stewardship of the environment helps a little, the earth is still Cursed.

The restoration of all things: Total reconciliation with God; the curse cannot be found, necessitating that we will no longer struggle with interpersonal relationships or with guilt. Visually, the defiling graffiti is TOTALLLY removed from 3 sides. HOWEVER, the obscenity on the 4th side still stares us in the face--UNLESS there is also a total restoration physically, which is the physical-aspect-also NHE. God's glory demands this. Otherwise, Satan gets a lasting victory.

Hope this helps.

P.S. This ALL-sides cleansing COMPREHENSIVENESS assures us it is also true in the 3 'spiritual' dimensions.

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