I'm always delighted when I hear people speaking about the true Christian hope for the future: not that we will escape this earth and go to heaven for eternity, but that Jesus will return to this earth, and that we will live here for ever.
But sometimes the language we use doesn't convey that clearly. Here are some words and phrases I often encounter.
- Heaven. Sometimes we use the word "heaven" as a convenient shorthand for the Christian hope. I suppose the justification would be that it's familiar language, and it conveys the idea of being with God for ever. But it really makes me uncomfortable. It's wrong: we're not going to heaven for ever. And being with God for ever isn't the only thing it's important to believe about our eternal hope. Alternatives: earth, eternity, etc.
- The new creation, the new heaven(s) and the new earth. This comes from Revelation 21:1. But, very literally, that verse says, "And I saw heaven new and earth new". I suspect that "a new heaven and a new earth" is grammatically fine as a translation (but what do I know? I still try to multiply the letters together when I try to read Greek!), but a few verses later, we read of the one on the throne saying, "Behold, I am making all things new". Note: making "all things new", not "all new things". The problem with saying "new X" in English is that it sounds like "replacement X" (e.g., "new car", "new shoes"). But we're not looking forward to a "new creation" in the sense of a "replacement creation". The creation itself is looking forward to being set free, not to being replaced. We're looking forward to the present old-and-worn-out creation being turned into the dazzling-and-made-new creation. I don't think that "the new creation" conveys that idea adequately in English. Alternatives: the renewed creation, the heaven(s) and the earth when God makes them new.
- We will ... in the new heaven(s) and the new earth. So where are we now? "In the heaven(s) and the earth"? That just sounds weird. Alternative: we will ... on the renewed earth.
- There. "When we've been there ten thousand years". When we've been where? Where's "there"? Alternative: here. Or instead of being all Platonic and contrasting life "here" with life "there", talk about life "now, in this present age" and contrast that with life "then, in the age to come".
- At the end of time. When Jesus returns, will all clocks stop? Alternatives: in the age to come, when Christ returns.