The story you’re about to read is based loosely on Revelation 20:7–9 and 21:2. It’s about the events that lead up to the conflict between good and evil at the end of the millennium. Our story begins near the end of this conflict. God’s people have lived in the New Jerusalem for a full thousand years, and it’s time to return to Earth for the final battle. The story is imaginative, told from the perspective of “one of Earth’s former inhabitants who now lives in the New Jerusalem.” The purpose of the story is to stimulate your thinking about how that return to planet Earth might look. However it actually happens, we will, of course, be left fully contented and delightfully surprised.—Editor
Heaven has been perfect, of course—everything that we’d been promised. Yes, streets of gold, a tree of life that produces the most delicious fruit, an extraordinary city, and a perfect countryside to visit whenever we want to. Yet ideal surroundings and perfect health were nothing when compared with the opportunity to worship God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Back when I was still earthbound, I used to have questions about God and the reasons for the pain and suffering I and others experienced. And when we first arrived in the New Jerusalem, I used to wonder why some of the people I’d loved weren’t there, but by the time we reviewed every record of every human being who’d lived on Earth—records that gave us virtual windows into their actual thoughts—we were all satisfied that God had granted perfect justice to every human being, including those who hadn’t joined us in our new home.
Busy as we’d been during those thousand years, the time passed quickly. From the moment of our arrival, we’d been aware that at the end of the thousand years, we’d be given a chance to start life on planet Earth all over again. If heaven was a vacation after years of pain on the old Earth, I was sure that life on this new Earth would be a welcome challenge—the challenge to reoccupy and rebuild our planet, almost like our distant ancestors Adam and Eve had done.
One day, we citizens of God’s heaven, in response to an invitation whispered to us by God’s Spirit, began to make our way from wherever we were in the universe back to God’s Holy City, the New Jerusalem. We were about to begin this long-awaited journey back to planet Earth!
the spaceship city
Back in our previous life on Earth, science fiction writers, when they imagined traveling to distant stars, thought we’d need ships that were the size of small planets that contained all the life support necessary for human survival. This memory came to me when I saw the New Jerusalem lifting off from its place like a cubical spaceship.
If one tries hard enough, he or she can imagine a city that’s 1,500 miles square, but it’s next to impossible to imagine one that’s also 1,500 miles high! Fortunately, the walls of this spaceship-city were transparent, so no matter where we were along the walls, we had a front-row view of the journey.
We zoomed past galaxies, nebulas, and black holes. None of us will ever forget our close-up view of Saturn’s rings against the blackness of the heavens, the sight of Jupiter as a gigantic multicolored marble ball, or the flyby of our own lovely, glowing moon.
the old Earth
Then we saw it: our own Earth that from a distance looked like a pristine ball—but we were shocked when we arrived above it and looked down at what remained of it. Yet we need not have been. We knew how it had become that way. In our greed and ambition, we had overpopulated and overburdened the world that we’d been given. We’d stripped it of its minerals, altered its topography and climate, polluted its air and water. We’d exterminated countless species of animals, birds, and fish that God had created for our enjoyment—not to mention billions upon billions of our fellow citizens. We’d exploded bombs on our planet, leaving a residue that would take centuries to disperse.
And during Earth’s final apocalyptic events, when Christ returned to redeem us, He had shaken the entire planet with a mighty earthquake. What lay beneath us now made even the dry moonscape we’d just passed look beautiful by comparison. Much of the ground had been stripped bare, covered with the bones of people and animals and the remains of cities. The oceans were thick, dark lagoons of pollution. We looked down on a thousand-year-old trash dump! We hovered above our abused Earth for a long time, pondering what sin had done to the planet that had once been the Garden of Eden.
Then our city, the New Jerusalem, settled down upon the Earth as gently as a feather. Unfortunately, the entire planet had been so altered by its destruction a thousand years earlier that I had no idea where on Earth’s old map we’d landed. Suffice it to say that our city was so huge that, had we set down on what was the United States with one corner at Chicago, the other would have been near Phoenix! That’s how huge the New Jerusalem really is! (See Revelation 21:16.)
And now began another set of astonishing events. As we watched, a huge figure appeared before us. We’d been told that Satan had been imprisoned on our Earth, but the creature who stood before us didn’t have red skin, horns, or a tail. He was an attractive, handsome being, with a voice so full and perfect that listening to him was like listening to a choir. He introduced himself, not as Satan, but as Lucifer. Every one of us could see and hear the entire drama, each in our own language, no matter where we
He addressed himself to Jesus, and his argument went something like this. “God says He’s perfectly just. Yet here I am, trapped, given no possibility of defending myself. Is that justice? You allowed sin to grow on Earth and expected these poor, weak creatures to prepare themselves for salvation, but what chance did they have? Had I been able to lead them—I, who am acquainted with both divinity and sin, could have helped them to become worthy of salvation. Instead, here’s what you see”—and he lifted a skull from the ground, held it up, and let us look at its stark grin and empty eye sockets. “Wouldn’t justice tempered by love and mercy have given this poor soul another chance?”
Fortunately, we’d all had a thousand years to study God’s plan of salvation. I had personally looked through God’s records to try to understand why my grandfather, whom I’d loved so much, wasn’t in heaven. And I’d learned of the stubborn rebellion in his heart, of the sins and hatreds he’d nourished, unknown to me or anyone else back then.
Suddenly, an astonishing thing happened. The ground began to boil. First, we saw bones, feet and legs, growing like weeds from the soil as far away as we could see. Then thighs, hips, torsos, arms, and skulls appeared. Over these macabre skeletons grew layers of red muscle and fat that were overspread by skin, hair, and even clothing. Before us, on the plains surrounding the New Jerusalem, we saw billions upon billions of human beings of all shapes and sizes, all colors and races, babbling in a million languages. And right in the front row was my grandfather, dressed as he’d always dressed, in his farmer overalls. And he was smiling at me. In fact, by some trick of physics that none of us understood, each one of us saw a loved one there, one who at his funeral had been pronounced ready for heaven.
A troubling smile spread across Lucifer’s face. “Now,” he said, “we can talk.” And talk he did. Day after day, he appeared before us, making his arguments.
But what concerned me was what else I saw. Factories lighted up again. Among those who’d been resurrected on Lucifer’s side of the city wall were some of the old world’s great scientists, technicians, and leaders. And they were remaking the Earth right before our eyes! Buildings were being repaired; factories began belching smoke. The old power sources of Earth were coming alive again, and lights stretched across the plains.
The cities and factories continued growing around us, buzzing and bustling with people and vehicles. We saw airplanes, fighters, rockets, cars, trucks, and trains. Obviously, Lucifer still had some of his previous powers, for all of this happened with a speed that human beings alone could never have accomplished by themselves.
And every day, there was Lucifer, pleading his case, demanding to be given back his rightful place in the administration of heaven, which he argued had been taken from him merely because he’d asked some probing questions of the Creator&mdash “friendly opposition,” he called it.
None of us could leave the safety of the city right then, though we could look out through its crystal walls, and occasionally tears would fall as we saw our loved ones. Day by day, Lucifer’s lectures became more powerful, but fortunately, we knew the answers to his challenges. And how we longed for God to answer him!
It’s hard for me to tell you how long this state of uncertainty lasted. It could have been months or even years. However, it soon became clear to us that this standoff was working up to some kind of showdown. Lucifer talked to us every day, and all of us wanted to see a resolution.
One day, we saw the wicked people who’d been resurrected a few months (or was it years?) in the past, drawing up in ranks around the city, and Lucifer was at the front of the crowd as though he were planning an announcement. When everyone was assembled, standing in rows as far as we could see, he stood, somehow above us, larger than ever. Lucifer had long talked about how he saw the weaknesses in the whole mechanism of salvation. Now he began, for the first time, to address God directly.
“The time has come,” he said, “for God to answer us. We’ve argued that we’ve been treated unfairly. God, you could easily incorporate us into this new Earth! It’s time for you to decide to do the right thing. We don’t want this standoff to last any longer! Answer us now! We demand it!”
And God did. His voice spoke words that are so familiar to us from the book of Revelation: “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11, NKJV).*
Lucifer paused for a moment and said, “I thought you’d say that.” Then he raised his hands and gave a shout. The whole host of those around him suddenly displayed weapons of all kinds: guns, bazookas, and mortars, and from the horizon came jet planes that strafed the New Jerusalem. Then, on every side of the city rose up nuclear explosions, the kinds that blasted over Hiroshima and destroyed the city—only multiplied by the thousands. The whole arsenal that had been building up for weeks or months was being let loose all at once!
Yet by God’s miraculous power, our city wasn’t even touched. There before us still stood the ranks of people who we all knew had chosen evil over good. Even face-to-face with God, they’d given loyalty to Satan.
Then a different kind of fire fell from the heavens—one even more devastating than nuclear bombs. It roared on Earth for what seemed like days. But when it burned out, the Earth had been cleansed of every sign of wicked humans. Their habitations and their works were gone. Earth was a charred ball!
And then it happened. Suddenly, the blackened dirt turned to dark brown soil. And from it, we saw plants grow up in mere seconds. Then animals appeared—lions and lambs, cattle and birds. We’d read stories of God’s original creation of our planet. Now we saw it happening before our very eyes!
And then we heard Jesus’ voice proclaim, “Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!” (Matthew 25:34, NKJV). And we all poured out of the city, thrilled to search out our newly re-created planet!
Loren Seibold is a retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, USA, and he is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
* Bible texts marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.