[See also the program on this topic]
The following is an excerpt (pp. 83–85) from my book Antichrist Before the Day of the Lord: What Every Christian Needs to Know about the Return of Christ
The last part of verse 17 climaxes with reassurance: “And so we will always be with the Lord.” Where will we spend eternity? In this passage, we are not told specifically. Paul’s purpose is to stress that we will be with the Lord. But he does tell us that we will meet him in the clouds. From the clouds, where is our destination? Where will believers go after they are united with Christ in the sky? Do they remain in the air? Do they go straight to heaven forever? Do they immediately descend to the earth? Or is there another answer?
I believe we will be in fullness of fellowship and worship with our Lord eventually on earth. The locus of heaven will be the New Jerusalem, which will descend and establish itself on earth (see Revelation 21:1–22:5). But the question remains, where will the people of God dwell between the time of the rapture and the coalescing of the New Jerusalem on earth? There are four passages that give us the answer, revealing that the Lord will first escort his people temporarily to the heavenly abode (into the Father’s presence) before we later make our descent to our eternal home on earth. Paul wrote of this time:
We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his [Father’s] presence (2 Cor. 4:14).
Before his departure Jesus promised,
There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too. (John 14:2–3)
Finally, the book of Revelation says,
Then one of the elders asked me, “These dressed in long white robes—who are they and where have they come from?” So I said to him, “My lord, you know the answer.” Then he said to me, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb! For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one seated on the throne will shelter them.” (Rev. 7:13–15)
There is a helpful fourth passage, although only implying that we are taken before the throne of the Father. Isaiah says,
Your dead will come back to life; your corpses will rise up. Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground! For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew, and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits. Go, my people! Enter your inner rooms! Close your doors behind you! Hide for a little while, until his angry judgment is over! For look, the Lord is coming out of the place where he lives, to punish the sin of those who live on the earth. The earth will display the blood shed on it; it will no longer cover up its slain.” (Isa. 26:19–21)
These passages picture the Lord escorting believers into the presence of the Father. The Lord then will mete out his eschatological wrath upon the ungodly on earth. But the church will not remain in heaven because the New Jerusalem will eventually descend to the earth for the millennium and eternity.