Is Jesus making something up when he says “the meek shall inherit the earth”? (Matthew 5:5) Is this make believe? A misguided promise? An empty blessing? Does he, can he, really, literally, mean the earth? Yes! And it is often forgotten more than it is doubted.
As Christians, we are not just living for “heaven”. Yes, we believe that after death we will be with Jesus “in heaven”, as we often describe it. But heaven as a place or sphere of God’s dwelling that is “spiritual” and separated from the body is not the end.
We preach Christ Jesus crucified, resurrected, and glorified. This proclamation is good news about something that has happened, and is in the happening, that is bigger than death and “getting to heaven”. It opens up into “life after life after death”: a new bodily life on a new heaven and earth.
All things have been created in Jesus Christ; all things are held together in him; all things are saved and reconciled in him; all things are being made new in him; all things are being united in him (Colossians 1:15-23). All things means “things in heaven and on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). There is no one, nothing, and nowhere that is not under the power and authority of Jesus Christ.
Where he is and where we are will one day be one and the same location. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20) And from him we will receive a new heaven and new earth in which we will not simply be, but we will live there. It will be a life rich, full, abundant, and beyond the furthest reach of the best inkling of the human imagination.
If we think heaven only, we tend to think only or mostly of some “spiritual” component(s). However, if we think not heaven only, but new heaven and new earth, we will begin thinking and feeling towards a whole new world and realm of life that includes the future transformation of every aspect and dimension of our present life and living.
This is a present-future blessing and promise that Jesus is making (Matthew 5:5). We can begin to receive it now. No, this earth will not ever be the new earth. But we do begin to see and to know in part now what we shall see and know in full then. The kingdom of God has come to earth in Jesus Christ.
What God began and wanted man to accomplish on earth in that garden in Eden, to cultivate it and not abandon it to itself (Genesis 2:8), God will complete through Jesus Christ in a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21-22). It won’t be a return to an uncivilized humanity in an uncultivated piece of wilderness, but a new kingdom, heaven and earth united, encompassing the whole world, received and enjoyed by a redeemed and new humanity: the meek and the humble.
What will we do? Who can fully know! But maybe we’ll find new meaning in Paul’s words, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).