Eternal Happiness—In Heaven or on Earth?
DOES your happiness depend primarily on where you live? Most people would readily acknowledge that happiness depends more on factors like good health, a purpose in life, and fine relationships with others. A Bible proverb puts it this way: “Better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it.”—Proverbs 15:17.
Sadly, however, our earthly home has a long history of hatred, violence, and other forms of wickedness. But what about heaven, or the spirit realm, where many people hope to go after they die? Has it always been a place of blissful peace and tranquillity, without disturbance of any kind, as is commonly supposed?
The Bible teaches that God resides in heaven along with millions of spirit creatures called angels. (Matthew 18:10; Revelation 5:11) These are described as spirit “sons of God.” (Job 38:4, 7) Like humans, the angels also have free moral agency; they are not robots. It follows, therefore, that they too can choose to do right or to do wrong. Would angels choose to do wrong? It may come as a surprise to some to learn that thousands of years ago, a considerable number of angels did, in fact, sin against God—they rebelled against him!—Jude 6.
Rebels in Heaven
Sin appeared in the spirit realm because of the rebellion by an angel, who came to be called Satan (Resister) and Devil (Slanderer). This once-obedient angel chose to do wrong of his own free will. Thereafter he became a corrupting influence on other spirit creatures, so that by the time of Noah, prior to the Flood, a large number of them joined Satan in rebellion against God.—Genesis 6:2, footnote; 2 Peter 2:4.
These fallen angels were not evicted from heaven immediately. Rather, their access was tolerated—apparently with certain restrictions—for thousands of years. * However, when God’s toleration of these evildoers ended, they were “hurled” out of heaven, ultimately to be destroyed. A voice in heaven then said: “On this account be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them!” (Revelation 12:7-12) Evidently, the faithful angels rejoiced greatly that, at last, the heavens were rid of those vile troublemakers!
Considering these generally unknown details, it is apparent that there can be no true peace whenever intelligent creatures disregard God’s laws and principles. (Isaiah 57:20, 21; Jeremiah 14:19, 20) On the other hand, when all obey God’s law, peace and tranquillity prevail. (Psalm 119:165; Isaiah 48:17, 18) So if all humans loved and obeyed God and loved one another, would not the earth be a truly delightful, happy abode? The Bible answers yes!
But what about those who selfishly refuse to change their wicked ways? Will they forever disturb the peace of those who truly want to do God’s will? No, God dealt with the wicked angels in heaven, and he will also deal with the wicked people here on earth.
An Earth Swept Clean
“The heavens are my throne, and the earth is my footstool,” God said. (Isaiah 66:1) Being the very acme of holiness, God will not allow his “footstool” to be soiled by evil indefinitely. (Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4:8) Just as he purged the heavens of wicked spirits, so he will rid the earth of all wicked people, as the following Bible passages show:
“Evildoers themselves will be cut off, but those hoping in Jehovah are the ones that will possess the earth.”—Psalm 37:9.
“The upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it. As regards the wicked, they will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.”—Proverbs 2:21, 22.
“It is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.”—2 Thessalonians 1:6-9.
“The world [of wicked mankind] is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
Will the Earth Remain Peaceful?
Although the Scriptures clearly show that God’s toleration of the wicked has its limits, how can we be sure that evil, once eliminated, will not recur? After all, following the Flood of Noah’s day, it soon surfaced again to such an extent that God had to thwart mankind’s wicked schemes by confusing their language.—Genesis 11:1-8.
Our main reason for confidence that evil will not arise again is that the earth will no longer be ruled by humans as it was soon after the Flood. Rather, it will be ruled by the Kingdom of God. Ruling from heaven, this Kingdom will be earth’s sole government. (Daniel 2:44; 7:13, 14) It will act quickly against anyone who attempts to reintroduce evil. (Isaiah 65:20) In fact, it will eventually destroy the very originator of wickedness—Satan the Devil—along with the demons, the wicked angels that followed him.—Romans 16:20.
Additionally, mankind will have no causes for anxiety about food, clothing, shelter, and employment—the lack of which today drives some into a life of crime. Yes, the entire earth will be transformed into a productive paradise with an abundance for all.—Isaiah 65:21-23; Luke 23:43.
More important, the Kingdom will educate its subjects in a peaceful way of life while at the same time raising them to the very pinnacle of human perfection. (John 17:3; Romans 8:21) Thereafter, humankind will no longer have to struggle with weaknesses and sinful tendencies, making perfect obedience to God both possible and delightful, as it was in the case of the perfect man Jesus. (Isaiah 11:3) In fact, Jesus remained loyal to God even in the face of great temptation and torture—things that will be utterly foreign to life in Paradise.—Hebrews 7:26.
Why Some Do Go to Heaven
Many readers of the Bible, however, are aware of Jesus’ words: “In the house of my Father there are many abodes. . . . I am going my way to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2, 3) Does this not contradict the idea of life everlasting on a paradise earth?
These teachings are not contradictory. In fact, one supports the other. To begin with, the Bible states that only a limited number of faithful Christians—namely, 144,000 of them—are raised as spirit creatures to live in heaven. Why are they given this wonderful reward? Because they make up the group that John saw in a vision who “came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 14:1, 3; 20:4-6) Compared with the billions on earth, the 144,000 truly are a “little flock.” (Luke 12:32) Moreover, having experienced the problems common to humankind, like Jesus they will be able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” as they supervise the rehabilitation of mankind and of the earth.—Hebrews 4:15.
Earth—Mankind’s Eternal Home
By providing the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God began gathering the 144,000 almost 2,000 years ago, and indications are that this group is now complete. (Acts 2:1-4; Galatians 4:4-7) However, Jesus’ sacrifice was not for the sins of the 144,000 only, “but also for the whole world’s.” (1 John 2:2) Hence, all who exercise faith in Jesus have the prospect of eternal life. (John 3:16) Those asleep in the grave but who are in God’s memory will be resurrected, not to heaven, but to life on a cleansed earth. (Ecclesiastes 9:5; John 11:11-13, 25; Acts 24:15) What will await them there?
Revelation 21:1-4 answers, saying: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind . . . And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” Imagine—humans being released from death, and the pain and outcry it causes gone forever! At last, Jehovah’s original purpose for the earth and humankind will reach its glorious fulfillment.—Genesis 1:27, 28.
Our Choice—Life or Death
Adam and Eve were never given the option of going to heaven. Their choice was either to obey God and live eternally on a paradise earth or to disobey him and die. Sadly, they chose disobedience and therefore returned to the “dust” of the ground. (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3:2-5, 19) It was never God’s purpose for the human family in general to die and to populate heaven via the grave. God created myriads of angels to live in heaven; these spirit creatures are not humans who are deceased and who have been resurrected to life in heaven.—Psalm 104:1, 4; Daniel 7:10.
What must we do to receive the blessing of living forever in Paradise on earth? A first step is to study God’s Word, the Holy Bible. “This means everlasting life,” Jesus said in prayer, “their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.”—John 17:3.
Putting that knowledge into practice is another step to everlasting happiness in Paradise. (James 1:22-24) Those who live by God’s Word have the prospect of seeing with their own eyes the fulfillment of such thrilling prophecies as the one recorded at Isaiah 11:9, which says: “They [humankind] will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.”
^ par. 7 For a discussion of why God has tolerated evil in heaven and on earth, see the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., pages 70-9.
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“The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29