What Is the Difference Between Heaven and the Eternal State?

The present heaven and earth will soon pass away, giving way to a renewal of creation in which God will make all things new. Followers of Christ will live forever with Him in a renewed and perfect state on the New Heaven and New Earth.

Earth in colored sky

There have been many popular depictions of heaven as being a place with golden streets and pearly gates. For instance, the comforting and endearing song, “Heaven,” by Chris Tomlin, includes the lyrics, “I’m goin’ home, where the streets are golden” (Lyrics.com, “Home by Chris Tomlin”). While the song is a beautiful reminder that this world is not the home of Christians, the lyrics have confused heaven with the eternal state.

Heaven is not the same as the New Heaven and New Earth, which is described in Revelation 21-22. The present heaven, where the souls of believers currently go after death, is only a temporary destination while the eternal state (New Heaven and New Earth) will be the eternal home of Christians.

To confuse the present heaven with the eternal state is to ignore biblical teaching and to miss out on Scripture’s wonderful description of eternity. Before showing the difference between these two separate destinations, however, the reason why so many people have confused heaven and the eternal state will be established.

Confusing Heaven with the Eternal State

For many years, the teaching that heaven is described in Revelation 21-22 has been pervasive in churches and in popular depictions of heaven. One of the main reasons for this is the New Jerusalem mentioned in Revelation 21:9-27.

The New Jerusalem is a glorious and beautiful city that is described as “coming down out of heaven from God” at the future time when God will make all things new (Revelation 21:10, NIV).

Because the city is said to come “out of heaven,” many people have concluded that the New Jerusalem must be in the present heaven, which is where all the dead in Christ currently reside. Furthermore, such a depiction seems to correlate with Jesus’ words when He stated that He was going to heaven to prepare a place for His disciples (John 14:3).

Hence, if a person equated heaven with the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, then naturally they would attribute the description of the eternal state to the present heaven. The wonderful city is described as having golden streets that are so pure, they are translucent like glass (Revelation 21:21).

Surrounding the city are 12 gates, each made from a single pearl (Revelation 21:21). Beautiful precious stones are described as adorning the foundation of the city (Revelation 21:19). John’s description and imagery of the New Jerusalem are remarkable, which many Christians believe are descriptive of heaven as well.

Another major reason why people have equated heaven with the eternal state is because there is not much detail about heaven in the Bible. Believers are said to enter the presence of the Lord at the time of physical death (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Heaven is depicted as a place of exultation in Christ, as thousands of angels and believers are said to worship Him there (Revelation 5:11). However, there is not a great amount of detail in the Bible about heaven.

Thus, adding in the detail given about the New Heaven and New Earth would help provide a more complete picture for believers as they look forward to their heavenly destination.

The New Jerusalem Is Not Heaven

Although the New Jerusalem is described in Revelation as coming out of heaven, this does not mean that the glorious city is currently occupied by believers in heaven. There is nothing in the Bible that equates the New Jerusalem with the present heaven.

Instead, the Bible is clear that the New Jerusalem will be present in the New Heaven and New Earth where God will make all things new (Revelation 21:1-3).

An important aspect to notice about the “holy city” that John describes in Revelation is that it is “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2, NIV).

The bride imagery of the New Jerusalem would suggest that currently the city has never been occupied, but rather is new and specifically prepared for “her” husband, the Lord.

God will dwell eternally in the New Jerusalem with all His followers. As Revelation 21:3 states, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (NIV).

Unlike the Jerusalem of old, there will be no temple in the New Jerusalem since God will physically and visibly live alongside believers (Revelation 21:22).

In addition, the word “heaven” used in Revelation 21:2 to describe the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven can also have other meanings. The word “heaven” in the Bible can refer to three different realms: the sky within earth’s atmosphere, the realm of outer space, which includes the stars and planets, and the dwelling place of God and dead believers.

The Greek word used in Revelation 21:2 and 21:10 could refer to the sky, outer space, or to heaven. However, since Revelation 21:1 states how the present heaven will have already passed away, it could be more likely that the New Jerusalem proceeds out from the sky or from the realm of the stars.

The Eternal State Is the Final Destination for Christians

Heaven is the hope for many Christians. What is not commonly known, however, is that the current heaven is only temporary and will pass away in the future (Matthew 24:35). As John described in Revelation 21:1, “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” (NIV, emphasis added).

The current Heaven where believers go at death will be a glorious and wonderful destination, where Christians will see Jesus face-to-face and be reunited with loved ones (1 Corinthians 13:12). Heaven should encourage hope in Christians since citizenship in heaven is a privilege of those who believe (Philippians 3:20).

As much as the thought of heaven brings comfort and encouragement to followers of Christ, how much more should their eternal home in the New Heaven and New Earth spark hope.

God’s plan for the universe is a renewal of His creation, which will occur when He creates the New Heaven and New Earth for His people to dwell in (Revelation 21:1-5).

The renewal of all things is described in the Bible as the longing of both creation and the children of God (Romans 8:18-25). In the eternal state, there will be no more death, crying, or sin, “for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Such a wonderful future spent in close intimacy with the Lord should bring hope and excitement to the Christian who eagerly looks forward to eternity.

A Complete Picture of Eternity

Christians have mistakenly confused heaven with the eternal state for too long. Using phrases like “we will live in heaven forever” or “heaven is my eternal home” does not provide a complete picture of eternity. Heaven is a destination that believers should long for and anticipate.

However, the faithful student of Scripture should consider all the passages in the Bible and recognize that the eternal state in the New Heaven and New Earth will be the eternal home for believers.

The present heaven and earth will soon pass away, giving way to a renewal of creation in which God will make all things new.

Followers of Christ will live forever with Him in a renewed and perfect state on the New Heaven and New Earth. Anticipating eternity should involve both the hope of heaven and the eternal state.

For further reading:

Why Is it Important to Have an Eternal Mindset?

What Does it Mean That Our Citizenship is in Heaven?

What Is Heaven Like According to the Bible?

What Does the Bible Say about the New Heaven and the New Earth?

How Does God Make All Things New?

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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.