Eternal life is the reward that God promises to those who live an obedient life through the power of faith in Jesus Christ, but it is difficult to imagine what could possibly keep us occupied for an eternity! Critical to understanding what we will do forever is what the Bible reveals about how eternity begins—that is, at what point the saints of God receive eternal life and the events that immediately follow. We will see that the first 1,000 years of eternal life in God's Kingdom are already well planned and that we will be busy performing God's ongoing work of salvation! Beyond that, we gain insight into what the future of eternity holds by understanding the amazing destiny of mankind: to inherit the vast universe and to receive the life-giving power of God.
The eternal life that God promises to those who repent of their sins and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ is vastly different from the mortal life that we now experience.
The first 1,000 years of the Kingdom of God
The first time that any human being other than Jesus Christ will receive eternal life is when Jesus returns to the earth. In that same moment, Revelation 20:4-6 describes the "first resurrection"—the resurrection of God's saints (those who are already faithful followers of Christ) to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus and God's resurrected saints will then rule on the earth for 1,000 years, heralding a new era of human history!
Paul described this as a time when "the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). It will be an age of unprecedented peace and prosperity in stark contrast to human history as we know it, and the saints of God will be actively engaged in teaching mankind how to live God's way of life (Isaiah 30:20-21). People will continue to live and die mortal lives during these 1,000 years on earth until the Great White Throne Judgment. This judgment is not a single event, but a period of years described in Revelation 20:11-15 as a time when the "rest of the dead" (all people who have ever lived and died) will have an opportunity to either choose eternal life in God's Kingdom along with those of the first resurrection or to die the "second death" in the lake of fire. For a detailed look at the sequence of these remarkable prophetic events, see the article The Resurrections and Eternal Judgment and also our free study aid Christ's Reign on Earth: What Will It Be Like?
But what comes next? Will God's work be totally finished, with nothing left for Him or the saints to do for eternity but to enjoy one another's company? Critical to our understanding of what we will do is the question of what we will be when we receive eternal life.
Mankind's incredible potential and inheritance
The eternal life that God promises to those who repent of their sins and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ is vastly different from the mortal life that we now experience. We will no longer have corruptible bodies of flesh that grow old and wear out, but powerful spiritual bodies that will last forever (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). And a new body isn't the whole story! We are promised that "when [Jesus] is revealed, we shall be like Him" (1 John 3:2). In 1 Corinthians 15:45, Paul says that we will become a "life-giving spirit" as Jesus is. Jesus Himself affirmed this in John 7:38, where He said that whoever believes in Him, "out of his heart shall flow living waters," and He went on to explain that these living waters are the Holy Spirit. Today, those who repent and believe are filled with God's Holy Spirit—but when we receive eternal life, we will be brought to an entirely new level of existence, being no longer a recipient but a source of God's Holy Spirit, capable of creating and sustaining life as God does! This is vital to understanding the extensive plan that God has for His future children.
Deuteronomy 4:19 reveals that God's incredible purpose for mankind involves ruling not only over the new earth, but the entire universe: "the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven . . . the Lord your God has given to all peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage." Hebrews 1:10-12 explains that the entire universe as we see it today will "grow old like a garment; like a cloak [God] will fold them up and they will be changed."
God's work will continue
Jesus said, "My father has been working until now, and I have been working" (John 5:17). God expended considerable effort, thought, and planning to create everything that we see and enjoy. And yet, what we observe all around us is a creation that is dying. Stars are burning out, entire galaxies are being engulfed by black holes, and meanwhile on earth every living thing has only a short and fragile life. This state of decay was not God's original intention (Isaiah 45:18), but rather it is the result of the corruption that entered the world through the sins of Satan as well as mankind.
Paul described this state of affairs in Romans 8:20 by saying that the "creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope." He points to a future time in verse 21 when "the creation itself will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). The work of God continuing into eternity will be that of increasing His glory and expanding His Kingdom, as Isaiah 9:7 states: "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end" (emphasis).
After the first 1,000 years of the Kingdom of God on earth, God will fulfill His promise to "make all things new" (Revelation 21:5), and His children will be involved in the massive revitalization of the entire universe. The new heavens and the new earth will never again be subject to decay, but will be made beautiful and full of life. Far into eternity, God's government will be continually expanding under the reign of Jesus Christ and His saints, with the New Jerusalem on the new earth as it's glorious capital city. We will be actively involved in managing, beautifying, sustaining and ruling the universe for the glory of God.
For a more in-depth study on the awesome inheritance that God is preparing for us and our eternal destiny, see our free study aid Why Were You Born?