Christians often talk about living with God ‘in heaven’. In fact, writes Wayne Grudem, the Scripture speaks of a new heaven and a new earth – that is, a completely renewed creation – and of living with God there. See Isa 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1f.
The term ‘heaven’ is often used in Scripture to speak of God’s dwelling place; Isa 66:1; Mt 6:9; 1 Pet 3:22. Of course, God is present everywhere; but heaven is the place where ‘God most fully makes known his presence to bless’.
Heaven is a place, and not just a state. This is seen clearly in the fact that Christ ascended in his body, and a body must needs be located somewhere. See Acts 1:9, 11. Moreover, at his return Christ will come back from heaven to earth in his body. We too will have resurrection bodies and as such will inhabit a definite place, just as Jesus does now. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jn 14:2, and spoke of coming and going between that place and this earth, Jn 14:3.
In the new creation, there will be a place and purpose for our resurrection bodies. The original creation was pronounced ‘very good’, and there is nothing inherently evil about the physical universe, tainted though it is by human sin. The new heaven and earth will constitute a perfected creation. Heb 2:8f implies that the new creation will be subject to the wise government of human beings, under the kingship of Jesus Christ. Accordingly, biblical descriptions of the new creation refer to banquets, rivers and trees, Rev 19:9; Lk 22:18; Rev 22:1f. Although we must allow for a strong symbolic element in these descriptions, they do point to a very physical element to our future existence. As for other activities within the new creation, we note that music plays a large part in biblical descriptions, and we can perhaps assume that artistic and creative gifts will be exercised. Since God is infinite and our knowledge can never be so, we can suppose also that even eternity will be too short for learning more and more about God, his being and works. In this way we will continue what has begun in this life – ‘increasing in the knowledge of God’, Col 1:10.
The idea that the new creation will be ‘timeless’ (reflected in the hymn, “When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more”) is based on an erroneous translation of Rev 10:6 in the AV. The various descriptions found in Scripture indicate a succession of events, as required by our own finiteness.
Since our present life is temporary, and the life to come is everlasting, we do well to use this life as a preparation for the next. Jesus taught his disciples to ‘lay up treasures in heaven’, Mt 6:19-21. Peter urged his readers to consider what kind of lives they ought to lead, in view of the re-creation of heaven and earth, 2 Pet 3:11-13.
Rev 21-22 in particular describes the renewed creation as a place of great beauty, joy, holiness, love, sustenance, radiance. But the greatest thing will be to be in the presence of God and enjoy unhindered fellowship with him. This will be bliss indeed, Rev 21:3f. Here, in the fallen world, the presence of God is an overpowering thing, 2 Chron 5:14; Lk 2:9. But there, in the heavenly city, we shall live continuously in an atmosphere pervaded by the glory of God, Rev 21:23. In this life we have but brief foretastes of what it means to really know and enjoy God (cf Psa 27:4), but there our joy will be multiplied many times over and will be without interruption. The culmination of all these blessings is, ‘they shall see his face’, Rev 22:4.
Based on: Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1158-1164.