Life on Earth—A Stepping-Stone to Heaven?
IS OUR planet just a place on which to be born, to live for a few troubled years and then, if we are good, to leave behind for a life of eternal bliss in heaven—or, if we are bad, for a life in a fiery place of torment? As for the earth itself, will the time come when it will be burned to a cinder?
Many religious leaders of Christendom would say yes. Are you in agreement with such views? What, though, does the Bible say about the earth and God’s purpose in creating humans upon it? Psalm 115:16 answers to the point: “As regards the heavens, to Jehovah the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.”
Putting aside all religious dogma and looking at the Bible record we are told that right from the beginning of man’s life on earth God made the first human pair in His image and likeness. (Genesis 1:26-28) There is not even a hint that God’s purpose for them was that they and their children would eventually die and go to heaven or some other place. As they carried out their God-given commission to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth,” the globe gradually would be filled with their descendants.
A special location, the garden of Eden, was arranged by God so that the first humans had a perfect home. The record states: “Jehovah God proceeded to take the man and settle him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to take care of it.” (Genesis 2:8, 15) This would be expanded as needed, until the whole earth eventually would become a Paradise with an unlimited supply of delicious and wholesome food and other resources.
That the earth was to be more than a temporary home or a stepping-stone to some other destiny is clear from God’s next words to Adam: “Jehovah God also laid this command upon the man: ‘From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.’”—Genesis 2:16, 17.
When tempted by the Devil, Eve and then Adam disobeyed this command and received God’s just penalty, death. But ask yourself, ‘What if they had not disobeyed?’ The clear implication is that they would have kept on living—never dying. Yes, Adam and Eve would still be living today, in perfect health and happiness.
What About Earth’s Future?
Albert Barnes, in his Notes on the New Testament, sums up the general belief of Christendom as to earth’s future. With reference to 2 Peter 3:10, this commentator wrote:
“The earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up. That is, whether they are the works of God or man—the whole vegetable and animal creation, and all the towers, the towns, the palaces, the productions of genius, the paintings, the statuary, the books, which man has made.”
As here stated, the consensus in Christendom has long been that the time will come when the earth will no longer be the habitation of man or of any living thing. Our planet, in the view of many churchgoers, will have served its purpose, for to them the earth is just a proving ground leading either to heaven or to hell.
However, at this point you would do well to consider, Did God’s purpose for the earth and man change when Adam and Eve sinned? You will find that no one can point to a single Bible passage that says so. To the contrary, many years after the first human pair sinned, Isaiah the prophet was inspired to write:
“This is what Jehovah has said, the Creator of the heavens, He the true God, the Former of the earth and the Maker of it, He the One who firmly established it, who did not create it simply for nothing, who formed it even to be inhabited.” Isaiah quoted Jehovah as saying: “My own counsel will stand, and everything that is my delight I shall do.” (Isaiah 45:18; 46:10) The psalmist also wrote about Him: “Your faithfulness is for generation after generation. You have solidly fixed the earth, that it may keep standing.”—Psalm 119:90.
You can see that the Bible thus clearly states that God, in creating the earth, made it a permanent fixture in the universe and that his definite purpose in creating it was that it be inhabited by humans. That purpose has not changed. God will see to it that his purpose will be completely fulfilled.
But does not the Bible show that some people will go to heaven? Yes, the Bible does teach that a limited number go to heaven for a special reason. God does not need humans in heaven; nor does he have to take them to heaven in order to give them eternal happiness. Otherwise, why did he not create them in heaven to begin with, dispensing with all the suffering and turmoil they have gone through while on earth?
Nevertheless, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, by exercising their own free will that he had given to them as intelligent creatures, God acted immediately to ensure that his purpose for the earth and man upon it would be carried out. All the details were not revealed to humans until centuries later. Yet it is evident from the disclosing of what the Bible calls a “sacred secret” that God right then conceived his grand purpose for the redemption of man. This was “before the founding of the world,” that is, before Adam and Eve could produce children that might be redeemed, such as their faithful son Abel.—Romans 16:25; Ephesians 1:4.
Just a glimpse of this purpose was given when the promise was made that a “seed” would be born of a certain “woman” and that this “seed” would crush the head of the “serpent,” bringing relief from the problems brought on by the rebellion. (Genesis 3:14, 15) Like the unfolding of a beautiful flower, additional information about the “seed” was progressively revealed so that, after Jesus came, the meaning of the “sacred secret” became manifest. Yes, God made it known that this “seed” would be made up of his only-begotten Son and 144,000 associates who would be “bought from among mankind.” Together with Christ they will form the Kingdom, or new government, over the earth.—Revelation 14:3, 4; Galatians 3:16, 26-29.
God did not foreordain, or predestinate, by name the individuals that would be taken from earth into the heavens to make up this government, but he did foreordain that such a group would come into existence according to his divine will. Who would be selected to make it up, God would determine later, after his Son had come to earth and had opened the way to heavenly life.
After this “sacred secret” had been fully revealed, the apostle Paul, as one of those selected to go to heaven, could write about it to others who had a like hope. Concerning the undeserved kindness thus shown by God, Paul said:
“This he caused to abound toward us in all wisdom and good sense, in that he made known to us the sacred secret of his will. It is according to his good pleasure which he purposed in himself for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times, namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth. Yes, in him, in union with whom we were also assigned as heirs, in that we were foreordained [not as individuals but as a group of fixed number] according to the purpose of him who operates all things according to the way his will counsels.”—Ephesians 1:8-11; Revelation 14:1-4.
Earth Burned Up?
But what about Peter’s words that “the heavens and the earth that are now are stored up for fire”? (2 Peter 3:7) Peter obviously cannot be referring to the literal heavens and the earth that the Bible says will remain forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4) God has no reason to bring to an end the heavens where he resides, nor all the physical heavenly bodies. And the earthly globe itself has given him no reason to destroy it, despite what men have done in corrupting and polluting its surface. Jehovah himself tells us that when earth was created in its uniqueness and beauty his heavenly sons “joyfully cried out together, . . . shouting in applause.”—Job 38:4-7.
The whole purpose of God in gathering a select number to be in the heavens is to bring about his will on earth, yes, to fulfill the long-uttered prayer, “Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” (Matthew 6:10) Moreover, Jesus, in alluding to Psalm 37:10, 11, included these words in his famous Sermon on the Mount: “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) You can clearly see from those words that Jesus did not feel that the earth was a mere stepping-stone. While a limited “little flock” will inherit rulership over the earth for a specific time, Jesus’ promise also widens out to include all the billions of mankind who will have an earthly inheritance. (Luke 12:32; Revelation 7:9, 10) That will be not just for a short lifetime of sorrow, as we know now, but for eternity in happiness!
When Peter refers to “heavens” that will be burned up, he is speaking about symbolic “heavens.” These are the governments over the people who make up the “earth.” As McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia states:
“Wherever the scene of a prophetic vision is laid, heaven signifies . . . the whole assembly of the ruling powers, which, in respect to the subjects on earth, are a political heaven, being over and ruling the subjects, as the natural heaven stands over and rules the earth.”—Vol. IV, p. 122.
Governmental authorities made up of imperfect and often oppressive humans have grossly failed, and they will be dissolved in “the day of Jehovah,” as Peter pointed out. They will be replaced by “new heavens” made up of Jesus Christ and the limited number who go to heaven to comprise the Kingdom government. That is why Peter wrote: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.”—2 Peter 3:12, 13.
Of those making up the “new heavens,” this new heavenly government for the earth, the Bible states: “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Revelation 20:6.
Rule over whom? Obviously subjects on earth—otherwise this verse would have no meaning. The old “earth” will come to its end, as if by fire, when wicked men and their institutions are brought to an end, leaving only a “new” earthly society. When crime, delinquency and rebellion are things of the past, and when perfect health and unbounded happiness are the inheritance of every living person, truly this will be a “new” society of people, a “new earth”!
How can we be absolutely sure that these promises of God will be fulfilled? Since they were made so long ago, what has God been doing to guarantee that the promises eventually will become a reality? For the answers to these questions, we invite you to read the two articles starting on page 10.
[Blurb on page 6]
Christ will rule as King over millions of human subjects enjoying a restored earthly Paradise
[Picture on page 5]
Where did God place Adam and Eve and purpose for them to live?