We tend to think of our future as Christians in terms of 'heaven,' by which we generally picture a disembodied, ghost-like, shadowy existence that is nice but boring. We think of this present life as our only chance to enjoy peach cobbler, a beautiful sunset, a game of basketball with the kids in the driveway, giving a friend a non-awkward hug, sleeping in, skiing, the beach, backrubs, the smell of a rose, and Pachelbel’s Canon in D.
We think: this world is our only shot at any joys that are experienced as embodied creatures. The next life will only be spiritual/disembodied pleasures, so this is our one shot at physically mediated joys.
Now it is true that our temporary state as believers will be a disembodied one, in the presence of the Lord, which is better by far (Phil 1). But this is an interim, less-than-ideal, not-the-ultimate-goal kind of existence. It will only last until Christ's second coming.
Second, what it is.
The final goal, the permanent state, is Eden restored, or new creation.
The immediate, temporary future after death is disembodied. The ultimate, permanent future is embodied. The final state is not the popular notion of heaven but the new heavens and the new earth--by which the biblical writers mean, this earth, restored.
We tend to think God created the world in Genesis 1–2, we screwed it up in Genesis 3, and God is tolerating the whole thing till one day when he scraps it all and brings us to heaven, leaving earth behind like a one-way space shuttle.
But the Bible--especially the final chapters of Isaiah and the final chapters of Revelation--describes our final destination as a restoration of creation. Creation regained, as Al Wolters puts it, and as our Dutch friends have been saying for so long. Taking us back to Genesis 1–2, only this time even better than the first time around. This is the great hope of the prophets, picked up in a myriad of ways both explicitly and implicitly by the NT writers. (Note also Ben Merkle's article in WTJ last year rightly arguing that the ones 'left behind' in Matt 24 and Luke 17 are the believers, not the unbelievers).
Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) said:
It would have been much simpler if God had destroyed the whole fallen world and replaced it with an entirely new one. But it was his good pleasure to re-establish the fallen world, and to liberate from sin the same mankind that had sinned.One last thing to make the point. I see three sustained places in Bible where we see humankind in a state untainted by sin:
- Genesis 1–2
- Revelation 21-22
The supreme joy of the new earth will be the exquisite delights of perfectly restored fellowship with the Triune God, the one for whom our souls were made. And this supreme joy will be mediated through bodies.