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The concept of heaven has intrigued artists, theologians, and laypeople throughout history. According to recent polls, two-thirds of Americans believe that heaven is a real place. But what is heaven like? Is it a Hallmark card, filled with cherubs and celestial music? Or is it a Zen-like afterlife where the souls of good people go to be at peace? Can we really know anything definitive about it? Absolutely we can. The Bible presents a clear picture of heaven.

Heaven Defined

In the King James Version (KJV) translation, the word "heaven" is found 327 times in the Old Testament and 255 times in the New Testament. The word "heaven" is used three different ways in Scripture:

  1. Heaven as sky - The Old Testament frequently refers to the sky or earth's atmosphere as the "heavens; Matthew 6:26. Psalm 19:1 says that "the heavens declare the glory of God," meaning that the literal sky, the one with air and clouds, is a testimony to God's creative power.
  2. Heaven as space - The second way the word heaven is used in the Bible is to describe or speak about the realm of space or the stars (Jeremiah 8:2). When God is creating the world, He places the sun, moon, and stars in the "heavens" (Genesis 1:14-18).
  3. Heaven God's dwelling place - Scripture is clear that the third heaven is God's home. It is a literal place where God sits on His throne (Ezra 1:2; 2 Corinthians 12:2). Only four biblical authors had visions of the third heaven; Isaiah and Ezekiel (Old Testament prophets) and Paul and John (New Testament apostles). The apostle Paul recorded just such an experience in II Corinthians 12:1-9. There biblical figures, (Stephen and Micaiah) who got a "glimpse" of heaven was a mere mention and not an actual description of heaven itself (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55).

The first two ways the word "heaven" is used in the Bible are fairly straightforward. The third way the word "heaven" is used is what we commonly think when we talk about heaven today.

The Third Heaven

It is natural to be curious about heaven, particularly as our short years on earth are waning. There are several things we can know about the heavenly realm: who resides and will reside there, what it looks like, how it is different from earth, and its most glorious attribute.

  • Heaven is my home - Heaven is God's eternal dwelling place. God's throne is there and when Jesus left the earth He returned to heaven to live and to prepare a place for His followers (John 14:2). Believers in Christ will call heaven their home for eternity (John 3:16). Also, servants of God who died before Christ's coming will go to heaven (Ephesians 4:8).
  • Streets of gold - God showed a glimpse of heaven to the apostle John (Revelation 21:10-27). John describes heaven to be a city built with gemstones and gold. Twelve gates and twelve foundations surround the city (Revelation 21:12,14). John's awe and wonder are apparent as he attempted to describe the indescribable beauty of heaven (1 Corinthians 2:9).
  • No more sin - Sin and the consequences of sin are eradicated in heaven. Pain, tears, sorrow - all have no place there (Revelation 21:4). Death is no more (Revelation 20:6). The fruit of the tree of life, forbidden to humanity after the fall, is available to all of heaven's residents (Revelation 22:1-2).
  • God's presence - Best of all, heaven is filled with the glory of God (Revelation 21:11). His presence is so bright that neither sun nor moon is needed (Revelation 22:5). The closeness that existed between the Creator and His creation in the Garden of Eden is found in heaven. We will see God's face and walk with our Savior there (I John 3:2).
  • The Bible's descriptions of heaven gives us a taste of the rich wonders of heaven and as Christians we are commanded to set our hearts and minds on it (Colossians 3:1-4). The burdens and cares of this world will fall away forever upon entering that glorious place because of our wonderful and perfect savior Jesus who waits to be reunited with his us.

Recommended Read

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Cary Byrd is the founder of ChristiansLikeMe.net, a free Christian social network that is dedicated to connecting people to Jesus Christ and others. He is also the president of eDrugSearch.com, a free price comparison engine for prescription drugs that helps consumers to get safe access to affordable medications.

Comments

  • Ask many people to describe Heaven and they will tell you about Gothic buildings with  huge pillars and golden spires sitting on a bed clouds.  Rather than a place, the Bible tells us that Heaven is a state of existence, the residence of God and His angels, and that is our first clue.  God and His angels are spiritual beings, even though angels are created beings.  One of the verses that promote the image of great buildings is John 14:2 that says:

    In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?

    Here the words 'house' and 'room' is used, but if we look at the Greek from which this is translated we find that the two words have almost identical meanings.  The word translated 'house' is 'oikia' meaning a residence or an abode,  or by implication 'a family'.  The word 'rooms' is the translation of the Greek word 'mone', which actually means a residence or an 'abode', again.  So why did Jesus tell us this, did He actually say simply that there was a place for many of His followers?  He did not actually specify that these 'abodes' were in heaven though; it was more of a metaphor.  Again much of our image of heaven comes from John the Evangelists visions in Revelation, verses like Revelation 21:21-25 which speaks of gates made of pearl, city streets of pure gold and gate that are never closed.

    The Bible also gives us other information about Heaven, if Heaven is the place where God resides.  God and His angels are spiritual beings Hebrews 1:14 tells us this specifically that the angels are ministering spirits.  John 4:24 tells us also that God is Spirit and like pure energy, spirit does not need a physical home or realm.  We can further deduce that not only is Heaven outside of our physical universe, but it is also outside of time.  In the Old Testament (OT) and in Psalm 90:4 it tells us:

    “For a thousand years in your sight
        are but as yesterday when it is past,
        or as a watch in the night.”

     Also in 2 Peter 3:8 this fact is confirmed, something that Peter must have heard Jesus saying, it says:

    “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

    So we can safely assume that Heaven is not a place but a condition (in the scientific meaning of the word), which is outside of both space and time.  How then can we support this in any other way?  We can look at the context of another promise of God, one that was made way back in the OT.  Firstly we know that when we die, we ‘sleep’ in the Lord until the day of resurrection, so where do we go once we are resurrected?  God will create a New Earth, as well as a new heaven (which in this case may mean the sky or universe as it is the plural, heavens).  The first mention of this is in Isaiah 65:17, which says:

    “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth,
    and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

    And a few in the next chapter Isaiah says (66:22):

    “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make
    shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain.”

    Later in Revelation 21:1, John takes up this theme and talks about a New Heaven and a New Jerusalem.  Here we have to ask, will this New Earth be a physical realm?  It is my belief that it will be physical, but a different sort of physical.  When Jesus was respected from the dead in His earthly uncle’s tomb He had a body, He could eat and drink and He could be touched, but it was a resurrection body, not a caporal one.  If you cast your mind back to His first appearance to the disciples, He said something which has always fascinated me.  In John 20:17, Mary meets with the newly risen Jesus and He tells her:

    17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them,

    Yet a short time later when He first appears to the twelve, He invites them to touch Him and He eats with them, in Luke 24:38 Jesus says:

    “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

    So there seems to be a difference between a human body and a resurrection body, and so it leads me to believe that on resurrection day, when the saints will rise with Jesus, we will be given new bodies, similar to the one Jesus had after He was risen.

    All of this leads me to believe that what we generally call Heaven, as the place where we will go after we rise in Christ will be the New Earth, somewhere paradise-like, where the lion will lay down with the lamb, as in Isaiah 11:6:

    “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
        and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
    and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
        and a little child shall lead them.”

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