Another BIG question that has been intriguing humans for thousands of years is, where and what is Heaven, the abode of God, the trinity and the angels. In this study, which follows on for the previous study on 'what happens when we die', I want to investigate what the Bible tells us about heaven and examine how some popular misconceptions line up with the Bible.
Firstly, to define what we are to study, we must look at the meaning of the word 'Heaven' in scripture. Basically there are three meanings in scripture, Heaven, the realm of our God; the word that describes the space, and the state of mind. However the Bible phrase, "heaven and earth" usually indicates the whole universe [Genesis 1:1] [Jeremiah 23:24] [Acts 17:24]. In the Jewish tradition, there were three heavens:
The firmament, as "fowls of the heaven" [Genesis 2:19] [Genesis 7:3] [Genesis 7:23] [Psalms 8:8] "the eagles of heaven" [Lamentations 4:19].
The starry heavens [Deuteronomy 17:3] [Jeremiah 8:2] [Matthew 24:29].
"The heaven of heavens," or "the third heaven" [Deuteronomy 10:14] [1 Kings 8:27] [Psalms 115:16] [Psalm148:4 ].
In Hebrew the word 'shamayim' is used for "heavens", the plural form of the word meaning 'heights,' or 'elevations' [Genesis 1:1] & [Genesis 2:1]. In the poetic book of Psalms the Hebrew word, 'marom' is used as an alternative too 'shamayim', which literally means 'in high places' or 'heights', also translated as 'heaven'. Psalms also uses 'galgal', literally 'wheel' or 'whirlwind' [Psalms 77:18], also translated as 'heaven', both 'shahak', translated 'sky' [Deuteronomy 33:26] [Job 37:18] [Psalms 18:11] or 'clouds' [Job 35:5] [Job 36:28] [Psalms 68:34] (firmament). Before you start yawning, suffice to say that in Hebrew there are many words that seem to be translated as 'heaven'. One thing to note here is that the common denominator between the above is that heaven is, “Up there, some where,” obviously it is this that has informed people to think that God's realm is also somewhere “Up there”. Besides these, which are essentially 'physical', we also have the Metaphorical and the Spiritual meaning.
Some of the Metaphorical meanings are contained in the book of Isaiah as the 'doors of heaven' [Isaiah 14:13] and [Isaiah 14:14], in 1 Kings 8:35 as heaven shut and in Ezekiel 1:1 as 'opened'. The New Testament use of 'heaven' is mostly the Spiritual use Spiritual meaning a place of eternal blessings, righteous, and even the abode of departed spirits, the place where the dead in Christ, rest. The New Testament refers to Heaven variously as: the "kingdom of heaven" [Matthew 25:1] & [James 2:5]; "paradise" [Luke 23:43] [Revelation 2:7]; Christ calls it his "Father's house"[John 14:2]; "The Jerusalem above" [Galatians 4:26] [Hebrews 12:22] [Revelation 3:12]; "imperishable inheritance" [1 Peter 1:4] [Hebrews 9:15]; "homeland" [2 Peter 1:11]; and a "better country" [Hebrews 11:14] “better country” [Hebrews 11:16]. All of these are different descriptions of Heaven, the promised future place for those whose name appears in the Book of Life.
But the question is, where is Heaven? It was thought that Heaven was 'Up there', above the clouds and the ferment. In the past half century or so we have travelled above the clouds, and into space, we have seen pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope from the far reaches of our visible universe and we have not seen Heaven. Is Heaven then, a real place, or is it a fantasy, made up by the minds of men and women who wish to believe that there is somewhere to go after we die? My personal belief is that Heaven is a real place, the Bible says that Heaven is God's throne [Isaiah 66:1] [Acts 7:48-49] [Matthew 5:34-35] and we know by witness statement (Gospels) that Jesus was taken up, ascended, so if Heaven did not exist, where did He ascend to [Mark 16:19] [Acts 7:55-56]? When Jesus ascended He was certainly alive as He rose upwards, leaving His disciples behind to enter Heaven on our behalf and become our great High Priest [Hebrews 6:19-20]. Jesus also talks to His disciples as Heaven being a real place, He tells them that, in His Father's house there are many rooms [John 14:1-4]. This verse in John 14 makes Heaven sound like a huge building, but the words translated 'house' more accurately means residence or abode (Strong's G36140); the word translated 'rooms' is the Greek word 'monè' (Strong's G3306) meaning again, 'abode, dwelling, residence or mansion'. This could mean that the phrase could well mean, 'In my Father's residence (abode) there are many dwellings', what do you think? However, this is an explicit promise of Jesus, that belief in Him will reserve one of those dwellings for us. It is worth taking on-board as a memory verse Hebrews 10:19-22, which says:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
We find then that Heaven does indeed exist as Scripture speaks of it as such, and we get access through Jesus Christ. There are of course no verses in the Bible that indicate exactly where Heaven is, no GPS coordinates or pin on Google Earth or Space to indicate its position, but God must be somewhere, so Heaven is where God is. Paul certainly believed and told of a living man who, fourteen years ago was 'caught up' into the third Heaven [2 Corinthians 12:1-4] the same word, 'harpazo' (Strong's G0726) is used in 1 Thessalonian's 4:17, which describes the rapture. These two passages may indicate that Heaven is somewhere beyond the stars and space itself, possibly outside of our physical universe. What evidence is there that Heaven may be outside of our universe or in some parallel existence? If, as we are told, that God is Spirit He must inhabit a realm which is both remote and close to us because the Bible says we can come close to Him and He close to us [James 4:8] (read Hebrews 10:1 & v22].
Some look at this as being on a different plane from us, rather than in a different place, although there is evidence that God exists outside of space and time. God describes Himself as being the 'I Am' [Exodus 3:14], which suggests that God 'just is'. We can also see that God's time is not our time, a thousand years is like yesterday the Scripture says, [Psalm 90:4] [2 Peter 3:8] which suggests that God is somehow outside of our time. Scripture also says that God inhabits eternity [Isaiah 57:15] [Psalm 102:12, 24-27]. God is above, and outside, of the sphere of our time. God sees all of eternity’s past and eternity’s future as one, this is why His prophesies are accurate, because He sees it as history. We were chosen before the Earth was made and He saw how man would forsake Him at the same instant [Ephesians 1:4] [1 Peter 1:20]. God does not just live a long time, He does not have longevity, suggesting that He grows old slowly, He is 'eternal' [Deuteronomy 33:27] meaning He is always the same, He never changes [Malachi 3:6]. This can also be said of Jesus, that He is the same yesterday, and today and tomorrow [Hebrews 13:7] and as Jesus is one of the Trinity of God, we can take this a further evidence that God is indeed 'Eternal'.
Is there then a location for Heaven? Some believe that there is evidence in Scripture that Heaven is to the north, certainly there are many verses that point to the north as having some significance. When they God's people offered a sacrifice in the Old Testament they would offer it northward toward the Lord. Notice what Moses said in [Leviticus 1:11]. In Job He stretches out the north over the void [Job 26:7] and in Psalm 75:6 God's judgement and lifting up, does not come from the east or west or from the wilderness (south). Isaiah 14:13 also mentions the north and says:
Strangely there is indeed an empty space or void in the North of our universe beyond the north star. This place is so large it could contain 200 of our Milky Way galaxies. Dave Finley, of NARO (National Radio Astronomy Observatory) says, “What we've found is not normal, based on either observational studies or on computer simulations of the large-scale evolution of the Universe," The void is indeed there and no one has yet been able to account for it, in fact astronomers say it should not be there. Certainly God tells Job that out of the North comes golden splendour that God is clothed with awesome majesty [Job27:22], and Leviticus 1:11 instructs that sacrifices should be slain on the north side of the alter, northward toward the Lord. so there does seem to be something special about the north. If then want, or need, a location for Heaven, north is as good a direction as any.
In God's love.