The idea of eternity seemed overwhelming when I was a kid. There were nights when, after a full day of doing typical kid things, I would lie awake on my bed thinking about what eternity would be like. Even though I was a Christian and believed I would spend eternity with Jesus, those thoughts could be terrifying. Endless existence? One moment after another? Wouldn’t I get bored and run out of things to do?
As I got older, I realized that I had an underdeveloped sense of eternity with God. Since I had only experienced time as one moment succeeding another, and everything I knew decayed and died, I had trouble imagining the eternally new, energetic, dynamic ways of God. Even now it is hard to imagine in some ways, but I’ve had enough experiences of God’s goodness that eternity with Him doesn’t seem daunting, even if it is still impossible to fully wrap my mind around.
I also had an underdeveloped sense of how I needed to be transformed to enjoy eternity with God. This is what Paul was getting at when he said to the Corinthians negatively, that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” and, positively, that “this corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal body must be clothed with immortality.” Those who are characterized by a fleshly way of being cannot enter God’s kingdom. Not everyone would like eternal life with God because life in the new heavens and new earth is not about the gratification of our fleshly desires. There will be joy there, certainly—in abundance. But to enjoy God’s presence, we need to become who God made us to be. In this life, we are malformed. We don’t want or value the right things; God needs to clothe us with immortality for us even to want the life we were made for.
Paul wasn’t saying physical existence is bad, but it does need to be renewed—and not just us, but all of creation. But good news! This is the project God is committed to. Showing John a vision of the new heavens and earth, He says, “Look, I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:5). The new Jerusalem is a cube, reminiscent of the holy of holies in the temple. Only the high priest could enter that sacred space, but there is no temple in the new Jerusalem because it is all sacred space, filled with God’s presence. And “there will no longer be any curse” (Revelation 22:3) because the sting of death is gone. In Jesus’s death and resurrection, death is defeated.
Because death has been defeated, we can be courageous in the face of trials. Because the victory has been won, we can know that the work we have done in the Lord’s service matters, even if we don’t see its fruits right away. The full scope of eternity is still beyond our grasp. But because of Jesus—our living hope—there is nothing to fear in this life or the next.