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 Revelation 20:4-6 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×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 Romans 8:21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
American King James Version×). 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 Isaiah 30:20-21 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not your teachers be removed into a corner any more, but your eyes shall see your teachers: 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.
American King James Version×). 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 Revelation 20:11-15 11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
American King James Version×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 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
American King James Version×). 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 1 John 3:2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
American King James Version×). In 1 Corinthians 15:45 1 Corinthians 15:45And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
American King James Version×, Paul says that we will become a “life-giving spirit” as Jesus is. Jesus Himself affirmed this in John 7:38 John 7:38He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
American King James Version×, 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 Deuteronomy 4:19And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, should be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD your God has divided to all nations under the whole heaven.
American King James Version×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 Hebrews 1:10-12 10 And, You, Lord, in the beginning have laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of your hands: 11 They shall perish; but you remain; and they all shall wax old as does a garment; 12 And as a clothing shall you fold them up, and they shall be changed: but you are the same, and your years shall not fail.
American King James Version×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 John 5:17But Jesus answered them, My Father works till now, and I work.
American King James Version×). 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 Isaiah 45:18For thus said the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he has established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
American King James Version×), 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 Romans 8:20For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who has subjected the same in hope,
American King James Version×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 Romans 8:21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
American King James Version×). The work of God continuing into eternity will be that of increasing His glory and expanding His Kingdom, as Isaiah 9:7 Isaiah 9:7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from now on even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
American King James Version×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 Revelation 21:5And he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
American King James Version×), 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?