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Section 9B .. The Future

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What And Where is “Heaven”?..
Part I... Defining “Heaven”

Christians who anticipate heaven being the eternal reward of the faithful, seem content knowing little or nothing about the place, this in spite of the fact that the Bible tells us a great deal about it.

Carol Brooks

Index To All Six Sections

You Are Here 001orange Part I ...   "Heaven" v. The Promised Kingdom of God

 Part II ... The Location and Nature of Heaven... The Promises and The Prophecies

Part III ... Jesus' Second Coming and The Resurrection of The Body

Part IV ... What The Bible Says About The Resurrected Body

Part V ... A New Heaven and A New Earth

Part VI ... No More Sea?

 Part VI ... The Bema or Judgment Seat of Christ, and Rewards in Heaven
 

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On This Page

It is quite sad that people who are moving to a new city or state or even planning a short vacation, spend a great deal of time finding out as much as possible about their destination. Yet, Christians who anticipate heaven being their eternal reward settle for knowing little or nothing about it, seemingly quite content with the pious buy incomprehensible jargon fed them. This in spite of the fact that the Scriptures promise exactly the utopian world that mankind can only dream of and tells us quite a bit about it. See The Message of The Bible


Varied Beliefs
Death is the one topic that most of us avoid like the plague perhaps because we know that the best we can do is temporarily postpone the inevitable and the inescapability and finality of this event leaves us feeling hopeless and empty. Our spirit despairs of the idea that our lives will come to such a senseless conclusion and that everything we have learned, everything that we have achieved, and everything that we are, will simply cease to exist at the moment we die.

Thus it is no wonder that people both ancient and modern, have been ready to grasp at the slightest straw of hope that there is something beyond the grave. However, the fact that different cultures and religions have such widely disparate beliefs about the afterlife should make it glaringly obvious that it is completely impossible for all of them to be right. Here are some examples of the various beliefs,

    Judaism: While the Hebrew Olam Ha Ba means "the World to Come", the concept is never explicitly defined. As said by Judaism 101..."because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected" [01]

    Hinduism: Hindus believe that the essence of life or the soul, is immortal and cannot be destroyed. However, the ultimate and highest goal of Hinduism is Moksha, a final communion with Brahman, and liberation from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth. However, it is said that "the attainment of moksha is very rare and countless reincarnations are required for a person to reach this state of spiritual perfection". [02]

    Buddhism Buddha accepted the basic Hindu doctrines of reincarnation and karma, as well as the notion that the ultimate goal of the religious life is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddha asserted that what keeps us bound to the death/rebirth process is desire, desire in the sense of wanting or craving anything in the world. Hence, the goal of getting off the Ferris wheel of reincarnation necessarily involves freeing oneself from desire. Nirvana is the Buddhist term for liberation. Nirvana literally means extinction, and it refers to the extinction of all craving, an extinction that allows one to become liberated. [03]. 

    Islam: Islamic texts speaks of several levels of heaven. The Qu'ran says those who "believe and work righteousness" will "will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade: They will recline therein on raised thrones" [04]

    Mormonism teaches there are three different levels of heaven for people of different levels of spiritual maturation; and obedient Mormons can eventually achieve the status of "Gods" over their own planets. [05]

    Baha'í: Baha'ís understand the spiritual world to be a timeless and placeless extension of our own universe - not some physically remote or removed place. "In the final analysis, heaven can be seen partly as a state of nearness to God; hell is a state of remoteness from God... Beyond this, the exact nature of the afterlife remains a mystery. [06]

Not only do several of these teachings contradict the others, but many of them are ill defined and impossible to understand. At worst, they are extremely depressing - the goals being either freedom from desire thus achieving "nirvana" or nothingness (seriously?), or vague assurances that you will in some way to come "close to God".

And the 'vagueness' continues right on into the church.

Christianity: Christians, who accept the Bible as the word of God rightly hold Jesus has prepared a special place for believers (John 14:1-3), that they will enter into the Lord's presence at death (2 Corinthians 5:8) and dwell with the Lord for all eternity (John 11:25-26). Quoting Philippians 1:21 ("For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain") they assert that Heaven will be a vast improvement on our present lives.

While there is no question that this is all true, no specifics are ever advanced. 


"Heaven" That Ethereal Place In Christian Thought.
Over and over again, the Bible calls us to be people of hope... a hope that is centered around the good things to come in the future. Scripture calls the Gospel the "good news of good things" (Romans 10:15) and says that Christ is a high priest of these good things (Hebrews 9:11). Romans 12:12 says to persevere in prayer, endure tribulation and rejoice in hope. The author of Hebrews says this "hope set before us" is a "strong comfort" and a sure and steadfast "anchor to the soul". (Hebrews 6:18-19). Thus it assumes that we are eagerly waiting for the Savior.

    so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,  (1 Corinthians 1:7 NASB)

    For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; (Philippians 3:20 NASB)

Eagerly waiting?

John Piper once asked...

    ... Where is the person whose heart is so passionately in love with the promised glory of heaven that he feels like an exile and a sojourner on the earth? Where is the person who has so tasted the beauty of the age to come that the diamonds of the world look like baubles, and the entertainment of the world is empty, and the moral causes of the world are too small because they have no view to eternity? Where is this person? [07]

And Mr. Piper is absolutely right.

However, how can anyone be "passionately in love" with the promised glory of heaven" when they have absolutely no idea what 'promised glory' entails - when there is nothing tangible that they can visualize much less dream about. To put it another way, most believers have absolutely no idea what or where heaven is, what it will look like, or what they will do for all eternity. It remains nothing more than a vague and indescribable place somewhere 'out there' (other side of Pluto anyone?), and even if we do not exactly spend our time floating around on clouds strumming harps, it will closely resembles one unending church service, with everyone present in a nebulous state of disembodied blessedness.

Thus it is no wonder that believers are far more immersed than they should be in the paltry few years we have on this go around. As John Piper also says

    "professing Christians are spending ten minutes reading Scripture and then half their day making money and the other half enjoying and repairing what they spend it on...." [08]

And our leaders haven't helped any


How Some Christian Leaders Describe Heaven
Fed by theologians who rattle on and on about the "promised glory of heaven" and "the beauty of the age to come" instead of clear teachings on the location and nature of the coming kingdom, is it any wonder that even Christians today so rarely seem to look forward to the coming of the day of God. (2 Peter 3:12).

Here are a few examples of what is being preached,

Lehman Strauss who taught Old Testament history for eight years at Philadelphia Bible Institute came to the conclusion that "Heaven is somewhere in the northern heavens beyond the reach of the astronomer's powerful telescope". [09]

Hank Hanegraaff who, in response to the possibility of heaven being boring, once wrote,

    Heaven will be a place of continuous learning, growing, and development. By nature, humans are finite, and that is how it always will be.... Imagine exploring the depths of God's love, wisdom and holiness. Imagine forever growing in our capacities to fathom his immensity, immutability, and incomprehensibility. And to top it all off, the more we come to know Him, the more there will be to know"... Our ability to appreciate one another will be enhances exponentially. [10]

While I am sure that we will learn a great deal about God in heaven, I cannot imagine that we can possibly spend all our time growing in our capacities to fathom God's immensity etc. I hate to say it but this description of Heaven sounds like so much spiritual gobbledygook i.e. as 'pious' as it can get without saying one single practical thing.

GotQuestions says " there are no verses that give us a geographical location". They add that the short answer to the question of where heaven is located is "heaven is where God is." [11]

Which tells us precisely nothing.

After reading these theories one is forced to the conclusion that George Bernard Shaw (an outspoken atheist) wasn't far wrong when he said...

    "Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seashore". [12]

In fact, if this is the best we can do then then it is little wonder that atheists and non Christians are not in the slightest bit interested in our "heaven". Very importantly, unless we understand exactly what God has in store for us, how can we convince nonbelievers that the coming kingdom is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasy place somewhere out there, but a real vibrant and very enticing world.  In fact, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far, far, more practical, and a lot less pious sounding than that of our theologians.

However the one thing we need to get straight is that 'heaven' and the coming "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven" are
NOT the same place.


The Word 'Heaven' in The Bible

The Old Testament
In our English Old Testaments, there is a distinction made between "sky" and "heaven" (or heavens). However, it was the translators who decided which English word to use, since no such distinction exists in the original Hebrew. In all cases the Hebrew word used is shâmayim, which was used in three different ways..

1) The visible sky - home to birds and clouds.

    God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth." (Genesis 1:28 NASB)

    "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; (Isaiah 55:10 NASB)

2) Outer space where planets and stars etc. exist

    Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; (Genesis 1:14 NASB)

    And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be." (Genesis 15:5 NASB)

3) God's Abode: The third far less tangible place is where God Himself dwells. In the Old Testament, this heaven was sometimes described by using shâmayim twice, which was then translated into "the heaven of the heavens" or "the highest heaven". The verses below indicate that two different heavens are being referred to...

    Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. (Deuteronomy 10:14 NASB)

    But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house which I have built!  (1 Kings 8:27 NASB)

The New Testament
Heaven in the New Testament is usually translated form the Greek word ouranos that, like the Hebrew shâmayim, can mean either sky, outer space, or the abode of God. Here is one example of each,

    1.) The Sky: And as they were gazing intently into the sky (Gk. ouranos) while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. (Acts 1:10 NASB)

    2.) Outer Space: and the stars of the sky (Gk. ouranos) fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. (Revelation 6:13 NASB)

    3.) God's Abode: But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven (Gk. ouranos) and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; (Acts 7:55 NASB) Note: When Paul, using Jewish terminology, spoke of someone (himself?) being caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2), he was referring to the very dwelling place of God.

In view of the three different meaning of 'heaven', we have to carefully distinguish which "heaven" was being spoken about. Jesus certainly was.


Jesus' Core Message Was The "Kingdom" of God or The "Kingdom" of Heaven
The heart of Jesus' preaching was the good news of the kingdom of God. Not only did Jesus define his purpose as being the announcement of the kingdom (quote 1) but He spoke continuously about this kingdom, which really isn't surprising considering that salvation loses its meaning if there isn't a coming kingdom.

    1. "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose" (Luke 4:43).

    2. And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)

    3. but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 10:6-7)

    4. Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15 NASB)

Many of Jesus' parables emphasized the importance of this kingdom. He likened it to a mustard seed, a treasure, a merchant looking for pearls, and a king who gave a banquet (Matthew 13:44-47; 22:2)”. (See What Was The Message Of Jesus?). However, we need to pay attention to something that seems to have gone largely unnoticed -

Jesus very carefully distinguished between "heaven" and the "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven".

With, as we shall see, good reason.


"Heaven" vs. The "Kingdom of Heaven"
Whenever Jesus, His disciples, or the apostles, used the single word "heaven", it always referred to the understanding of heaven prevalent at the time - that is either the sky, outer space, or the "third heaven" where God dwells. For example,

    "And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. (Matthew 23:22 NASB)

    Jesus *said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:64 NASB)

    So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19 NASB Also See 1 Peter 3:22)

    Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. (Luke 9:16 NASB)

    "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:7 NASB)

However, whenever Jesus spoke about the 'heaven' that we look forward to He virtually always called it the 'kingdom of heaven" or the "kingdom of God".  (Note: In spite of long and complicated arguments to the contrary, the 'kingdom of heaven" and the "kingdom of God" are exactly the same place. See Footnote I.)

On the rare occasion that Jesus used the single word "heaven" to refer to the coming kingdom, He had already used the term "kingdom of heaven", or "kingdom of God" earlier in the same discourse, which meant that His readers knew exactly what He was talking about. Two examples of this come from the gospel of Luke.

    And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. "Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. "Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:20-23)

    "But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. (Luke 12:31-33)

The only exception to this was when Jesus told a young man who came to Him, that if he wished to be complete, he should sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and follow Him (Matthew 19:21). However, the context of the conversation was the coming kingdom...The young man had just asked Jesus what good things he should do in order to obtain eternal life.

Q. What difference does the terminology make?

A. A world of difference, because if Jesus had simply used the word "heaven", His listeners might have assumed He was talking about the third heaven, where God dwells.  However, He made it very clear that He was talking about a "kingdom" - which would have struck a chord with the Jews, every last one of whom was expecting the earthly kingdom of David to be restored to Israel.

    Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: "Hosanna! blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:9-10 NASB)

This included the disciples who asked Jesus if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel (It is particularly telling that Jesus did not correct them).

    So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?"  (Acts 1:6 NASB)

Two of the disciples even said this to Jesus when after His resurrection He walked with them unrecognized on the road to Emmaus,

    "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.... (Luke 24:21 NASB)


Summary and Conclusion
Jesus' core message was the good news of the kingdom of God and men should repent and believe. However, whenever He referred to this coming kingdom He used either of the two synonymous phrases... "kingdom of Heaven" or "kingdom of God",  never the single word "heaven". This distinguished God's coming kingdom from "heaven" which in the day meant the sky, deep space, or the present dwelling place of God.

Note:  "Kingdom of Heaven" in only found in Matthew’s writings. It is entirely possible that Jesus only used the phrase "kingdom of God" but Matthew declined to overuse the phrase - for very good reason. See Footnote I Below

In spite of the fact that Jesus' language was so very specific, the church has failed to differentiate between the present abode of God, and His coming kingdom. This has led to the totally erroneous idea that the heaven we will spend eternity in is this intangible place that God now dwells in.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Although the exact phrase "kingdom of God" does not exist in the Old Testament, there were many, many prophecies made about the coming kingdom, and it is to them that we need to turn in order to answer the question of where God's coming kingdom will be located and what it will be like. Those men of God from centuries past provided a fair bit of detail.


Continue on To Part II... The Location and Nature of Heaven - The Promises and The Prophecies
HERE It may surprise many to learn that the Bible teaches that "heaven" is going to be right here on earth, ample evidence for which is provided by the Scriptures.

 

Footnote I
The "Kingdom of God" and The "Kingdom of Heaven" Are The Same Place

 The phrase "Kingdom of Heaven" in found only in Matthew’s writings.

There are those that believe that "kingdom of God" and the term "kingdom of Heaven" refer to different things. That this is not true is readily seen from the fact that the words are used interchangeably in parallel accounts. For example... 

    a.) I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; (Matthew 8:11 NASB)
    b.) And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29 NASB)

    a.) Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2 NASB)
    b.) and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15 NASB)

    a.) He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:33 NASB)
    b.) And again He said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." (Luke 13:20-21 NASB) (Also See Matthew 13:31-32 and Mark 4:30-31)

Jesus also repeated Himself using both phrases in two consecutive verses .

    And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24 NASB)

It is true that Matthew used the term "kingdom of heaven" far more often that he did "kingdom of God", but that does not mean that the terms meant different things. Because the Jews held the name of God in the highest respect Matthew, whose Gospel was directed at the Jews, would have refrained from using the word "God" too often probably to try and avoid unnecessarily offending their sensibilities.

He only used "kingdom of God" when warning or rebuking his fellow Jews.


End Notes
[01] Olam Ha-Ba: The Afterlife. http://www.jewfaq.org/olamhaba.htm

[02] The New World Encyclopedia. Moksha. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Moksha

[03] Buddhist afterlife beliefs. http://purifymind.com/BuddhistAfterlife.htm

[04] https://sacred-texts.com/isl/quran/01804.htm

[05] Russ Wise. Mormon Beliefs About the Bible and Salvation. http://www.inplainsite.org/html/mormon_beliefs.html#Beliefs2

[06] Spiritual Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. A Bahá'í view of life after death. http://gr.bahai.org/gr.bahai.org/pdf/06_Spiritual_34-41.pdf

[07] John Piper. The Fruit of Hope: Love. http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/sermons/bydate/1986/552_The_Fruit_of_Hope_Love/

[08] ibid.

[09] Lehman Strauss. Heaven--The Home of the Redeemed. https://bible.org/seriespage/9-heaven-home-redeemed

[10] Hank Hanegraaff. Will Heaven Be Boring? http://www.equip.org/audio/will-heaven-be-boring/

[11] Got Questions Ministries. Where is heaven? https://www.gotquestions.org/where-is-Heaven.html]

[12] George Bernard Shaw. A Treatise on Parents and Children.The Horror of the Perpetual Holiday. Pg. 43. Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 12, 2016)

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