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Section 9B .. The Future

 

003white  Index to Section 9B... The Future         >        Index To Heaven       >     Heaven:  Defining “Heaven”

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

Christians who anticipate heaven being the eternal reward of the faithful, are 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
Edited by Vicki Narlee

Index To All Six Sections

You Are Here 001orange Part I.. Defining "Heaven" as 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... A New Heaven and A New Earth

Part IV B... No More Sea?

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

Part VI... Will There Be Time and Space In The New Earth?

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

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On This Page

Part I.. Defining "Heaven" as The Promised Kingdom of God

 

Varied Beliefs
The human spirit resists the idea that everything we have learned, everything that we have achieved, and everything that we are, or have become, will simply cease to exist at the moment we die. Death seems to be the most tragic and and senseless conclusion to our lives, and because the best we can do is temporarily postpone the inevitable, it is no wonder that the thought of death leaves us feeling hopeless and empty.

Which is why people from every religion and culture, both ancient and modern, have been ready to grasp at the slightest straw of hope that there is something beyond the grave.

However, most theories of the afterlife and 'heaven' differ so vastly from one another, that it is completely impossible that they can all be accurate. For example.

    Ancient Egyptians: To the ancient Egyptians, life after death was a high-stakes underworld journey fraught with terrifying obstacles: fiery lakes of death, battles with bona fide monsters, and ultimately eternal death or resurrection with the sun [1]

    Judaism: While the Hebrew Olam Ha Ba means "the World to Come", the concept of Olam Ha Ba 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" [2]  

    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". [3]

    Buddhism accepts the Hindu doctrines of reincarnation and karma, and believes the ultimate goal of religious life is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth. However, 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. [4]. This ultimate state of perfection, bliss, and enlightenment is called nirvana.... a mental state where all desires, selfishness, greed, and anger have been extinguished and eliminated. [5]

    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" [6]

    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. [7]

    Baha'í: Baha'ís understand the spiritual world to be a timeless and placeless extension of our own universe--and 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. [8]

Reading what different cultures and religions believe about the after life makes it obvious that, at best, many of these ideas are ill defined and vague at best, often impossible to understand. At worst, they are extremely depressing. Either the goal is freeing oneself from desire and achieving "nirvana" or nothingness (seriously?), or we are in some way to come "close to God", or there are yet battles to be fought and won, or more goals to achieve.

And the 'vagueness' continues right on into Christian theology.


People of Hope?
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. [All Emphasis Added]

    Peter exhorted the readers of his letter to fix their hope completely on the grace to be brought to them when Christ returns (1 Peter 1:13) and, two verses later said they were be ready always to give "an account concerning the hope that was in them. (1 Peter 3:15)

    Hebrews 6:18 and 19 says this "hope set before us" is a "strong comfort" and a sure and stedfast "anchor to the soul".

    Romans 12:12 says to persevere in prayer, endure tribulation and rejoice in hope.

    Colossians 1:27 talks about "Christ in you, the hope of the glory"

Colossians 3:1-2 instructs us to both set our minds on, and seek, things that are above.

    Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2 NASB)

Scripture tells us that ...

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

Eagerly wait?

Conversations with some Christians over the years has given me the distinct impression that far from eagerly waiting, they are completely oblivious to the great things God has in store for us... that they can not raise their eyes far enough beyond the horizon to envision what God has promised. Either they have never learned, have forgotten, or are so immersed in the paltry few years we have on this go around, that "Heaven" seems more like a distant dream than a soon to be reality. John Piper once said...

    The problem with the church today is not that there are too many people who are passionately in love with heaven. Name three! The problem is not that professing Christians are retreating from the world, spending half their days reading Scripture and the other half singing about their pleasures in God all the while indifferent to the needs of the world. The problem is that 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....

    ... 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? [09]

And Mr. Piper is absolutely right. However, what he seems not to realize that no one can be “passionately in love with with the promised glory of heaven” when they have absolutely no idea what, or where heaven is, what it will look like, what they will do for all eternity or possibly, even what our bodies will be like in this world to come.


"Heaven" In Christian Thought
Christians, who accept the Bible as the word of God, believe Jesus has prepared a special place for believers [John 14:1-3], that they will enter the Lord's presence at death [2 Corinthians 5:8], and dwell with the Lord for all eternity [John 11:25-26]. Additionally they also (rightly) assert that Heaven will be a vast improvement on earth, quoting Philippians 1:21, in which Paul says "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain". And, while there is no question that this is all true, few seem to have any interest in trying to find out where heaven is, or what it will be like.

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 the eternal reward of the faithful, are content knowing little or nothing about the place, this in spite of the fact that the Bible tells us a great deal. While our theologians rattle on and on about the "promised glory of heaven" and "the beauty of the age to come", this amounts to nothing but meaningless phrases if it is not backed by something much more tangible. In all fairness, it is impossible to be enraptured by a place that no one can even form a mental picture of.

And, very importantly, unless we understand exactly what God has in store for us, how can we convince believers that "heaven" is not some pie-in-the-sky fantasy place somewhere out there, but a real, vibrant, world, one that is so enticing that the human spirit cannot but long for it?

Most Christians who seem never to have thought the matter through, much less checked what the Bible has to say on the subject, appear to have no more than fleeting, intangible ideas, tucked away in the furtherest corners of their brains, and which rarely emerge to see the light of day. Thus heaven remains a vague and indescribable place somewhere 'out there', in which if we do not exactly spend our time floating around on clouds strumming harps, will closely resembles one unending church service, with everyone present in a nebulous state of disembodied blessedness.

Seriously?

Are we supposed to get excited about a place that, lets face it, sounds extremely tedious?

While there is little question that George Bernard Shaw was an outspoken atheist, he 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". [10]

In response to the possibility of heaven being boring, Hank Hanegraaff says

    "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". [11]

Which tells us precisely nothing.

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 idea of "heaven".

In fact, I have to confess that after being a Christian for some twenty years, at least the last eight of which have been spent writing extensively on various Biblical topics, I have absolutely no clue as to what it means. In fact, this is, to me, all so much spiritual gobbledy gook. While I am sure that, in heaven, we will learn a great deal about God, 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, while I respect much of Hank Hanegraaff's writing, this description of Heaven sounds as 'pious' as possible without saying one single practical thing.

Fed by theologians who use fancy phrases and high-flown ideas 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]. As Mark Twain once said

    Singing hymns and waving palm branches through all eternity is pretty when you hear about it in the pulpit, but it's as poor a way to put in valuable time as a body could contrive. [12]

The question then is whether the Bible is completely silent on where "heaven" is and, even more importantly, what it will be like. It isn't! Not by a long shot. Much to the contrary, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far, far, more practical, and a lot less pious sounding than that of our theologians.

So, where did our silly notions come from?

The idea that believers will go to an abstract place, or float around for all eternity, probably stemmed from the fact that, in the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the word "heaven" did refer to the very dwelling place of God. However, exactly the same word also referred to the sky or outer space. Therefore, one had to carefully distinguish which "heaven" was being spoken about. Jesus certainly did....


The Word "Heaven" in The Bible

"Heaven" in 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, where birds fly, and clouds float.

    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) The third, far less tangible place, is where God Himself dwells. In the Old Testament, this heaven was often 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)

    "But who is able to build a house for Him, for the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain Him? So who am I, that I should build a house for Him, except to burn incense before Him?  (2 Chronicles 2:6 NASB)

    "But will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built.  (2 Chronicles 6:18 NASB)

    "You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You. (Nehemiah 9:6 NASB)

When Paul 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. Very importantly, note that it is has to be this third heaven that is being referred to, when the Bible tells us that, at death, the believer is "absent from the body" and "at home with the Lord" [2 Corinthians 5:8] since Jesus Himself called this Heaven the "Father's house.”

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

    1. 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. 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. 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]


    Jesus' Core Message... The Kingdom of Heaven/God
    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...

      "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).

    but He spoke continuously about the kingdom of God, which really isn't surprising considering that without the kingdom, there is no Gospel [All Emphasis Added]

      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]

      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]

      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?]

    The "Kingdom of God" and The "Kingdom of Heaven" are, most definitely, the same place. See Footnote I

    Bearing in mind that the "Kingdom of God/Heaven Jesus talked about, is the same heaven as the one believers anticipate, we need to pay attention to something that seems to have gone largely unnoticed.... Jesus was very careful to distinguish between "heaven" and the "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven"

    With, as we shall see, with good reason.


    "Heaven" vs. The "Kingdom of Heaven"
    What we really need to pay attention to is that, in the New Testament, 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]

      John testified saying, "I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. [John 1:32 NASB]

      But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; [Acts 7:55 NASB]

    However, whenever Jesus spoke about the heaven that we look forward to, He referred to it as the 'kingdom of heaven" or the "kingdom of God". On the rare occasion that Jesus used the single word "heaven" to refer to the coming kingdom, it is certain that He had, in the same discourse, already used the term "kingdom of heaven/God", which meant that His readers knew exactly what He was talking about. Two examples of this come from the gospel of Luke.

      [20] And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  [21]  "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  [22]  "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. [23] "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]

      [31] "But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. [32] "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.  [33]  "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]

    Perhaps 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, this was in reply to the question the young man put to Jesus, which was what good things he should do in order to obtain eternal life (Vs.16). The context of the conversation was the coming kingdom, which was the central element in Jesus' preaching.

    Q. What difference did the terminology make?

    A. A world of difference, because "heaven" and the coming kingdom are not the same place. They are different both in location and nature. Had Jesus simply used the word "heaven", His listeners might have assumed He was talking about the third heaven, where God dwells. He made it very clear that He was talking about a "kingdom", a word which would have struck a chord with the Jews, everyone 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]

      Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God; and he gathered up courage and went in before Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. [Mark 15:43 NASB]

    This included the disciples who asked Jesus if He was about to restore the kingdom to Israel

      They therefore, when they were come together, asked him, saying, Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? [Acts 1:6]


    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 never used the single word "heaven", but either of the two synonymous phrases... "kingdom of Heaven" or "kingdom of God", thus distinguishing God's coming kingdom from "heaven" which could have meant the sky, deep space, or the present dwelling place of God.

    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 heaven is this ethereal place that God now dwells in, and which we go up to, and live in... for all eternity.

    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 heaven will be located and what it will be like. Those men of God from centuries past provided some tremendous detail.


    Continue On To Part II... The Location and Nature of “Heaven”  HERE

     

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

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

      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 8:11NASB]
      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]

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

      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]
      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 used both terms in two consecutive verses, one a repetition of the other

      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 uses the term "kingdom of heaven" far more often that he does "kingdom of God" (the ratio being, I believe, about 32 to 4), but that does not mean that the terms mean 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. In fact he only used "kingdom of God" when warning or rebuking his fellow Jews. [PLACE IN TEXT]

     

    Endnotes
    [01] Egyptian Secrets of the Afterlife.
    http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/ngs/product/dvds/adventure-and-exploration/egyptian-secrets-of-the-afterlife-dvd?code=SR60001

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

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

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

    [05] Buddhism by Joseph M. Higgins and Chuck Bergman.
    http://www.netplaces.com/evidence-of-the-afterlife/religious-beliefs-and-theories-of-the-afterlife/buddhism.htm

    [06] http://www.usc.edu/org/cmje/religious-texts/quran/verses/018-qmt.php#018.030

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

    [08] Heaven and hell: a Bahá'í view of life after death [http://info.bahai.org/article-1-4-5-2.html

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

    [10] George Bernard Shaw. A Treatise on Parents and Children... The Horror of the Perpetual Holiday

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

    [12] Mark Twain- Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. http://www.twainquotes.com/Heaven.html

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