WHAT HEAVEN IS

The Gospels reveal that the chief and fundamental message was the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] Even with that being said, that does not reveal to the reader what Heaven actually is other than the foremost thought Jesus brought to His listeners.  While Heaven may be the final reward for the life of faith and trust in God, Scripture reveals a different picture than the contemporary image of clouds, angels and harps. C.S. Lewis, when asked what Heaven is, stated that it is the hope that gives meaning to life and ultimately a promise that God is not finished with His creation.[2] Again, this gives the idea that Heaven may be more metaphorical than literal; more a state of mind than anything else. Matthew 25:4 and Revelation 22:3 tell the believer that a kingdom has been prepared in advance for him and this Kingdom is unlike any other. All curses, as the result of sin, have been removed and “the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall worship Him”. This Kingdom and place prepared in advance is commonly referred to as Heaven.[3] Yet, the biblical teaching on Heaven is much richer than just living with God forever. In fact, Scripture reveals that there will be a new heavens and a new earth, an entirely renewed creation, where believers will live with God eternally.[4]

A careful study of Scripture will help reveal the characteristics of Heaven. Heaven has three main meanings within Scripture. The Greek word for heaven “ouranous” can refer to the:

  1. Atmospheric heavens – This type of usage corresponds mainly to a cosmological use such as in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. Here, heaven is used to describe the area above the earth, basically all the atmospheres that contain and hold the gases of earth. It may refer to the place where the clouds are and the birds fly, etc.
  2. Celestial/Starry heavens – This may also be referred to as the sidereal or the observation and tracking of the celestial objects which reside in outer space. 1 Kings 8:27 remarks on the immensity of the starry heaven, yet still making them less grand than the third use of heaven, described below.
  3. Eternal abode of God – Matthew 6:9-13 speaks well of the usage now being discussed. Jesus opens the Lord’s Prayer with “Our Father who art in Heaven”. Clearly in this verse, Heaven is the dwelling place of God. It is the place where God’s presence is most intensely and immediately felt. It is in this heaven that those redeemed believers and the unfallen angels will be able to share in God’s life and the blessedness of Jesus Christ.[5]

For the purpose of this study, Heaven will be linked with the third meaning. Heaven is the greatest manifestation of God’s glory, where angels, other heavenly creatures and redeemed humanity will eternally worship and adore Him.[6] Heaven therefore can be seen as the hope of an afterlife in which the believer will enjoy continuous communion and relationship with God. Heaven, as the dwelling place of God, may also be delineated by one more word: holiness. Many words in Scripture are used to define God’s dwelling in Heaven such as temple, tabernacle, habitation, sanctuary and dwelling place. However the one characteristic common in all these descriptions of Heaven is God’s holiness.[7] What makes Heaven, Heaven, is God’s holiness. Heaven is not holy apart from God and remains holy because of God’s abiding presence. While it is true, as stated in 2 Chronicles 2:6; Deuteronomy 4:39; and Joshua 2:11, that heaven cannot contain God and that He is present everywhere, in heaven and on earth; Scripture also teaches that God chooses to dwell in Heaven and to make it His habitation.[8] Wayne Grudem states that Heaven can be defined as “…the place where God most fully makes known His presence to bless.”[9]

Perhaps a better way to explain what Heaven is is to explain what Heaven is not. Many myths surround Heaven and dispelling them may answer most of the questions believers have. To begin, Heaven will not consist of believers sitting on clouds, playing music on harps for extended periods of time. Possibly this myth may come from Revelation 15, where Scripture speaks of those who have conquered the beast as playing harps and singing songs to God. While this myth may be too literal an interpretation, one must realize that the song sung by these believers will be unlike any song sung on earth. Music and worship will take on a whole new meaning, power and purpose.[10] Another common myth is that believers will become angels, complete with halos and wings. There is no scriptural support for this myth. The Bible does teach that believers will have glorified and changed bodies in Heaven but they are never transformed into angels. Additionally is the myth that heaven will be a time of thinking, contemplation and leisure. While this may have truth to it, usually this is viewed from a human standpoint of defining what leisure is. Leisure and rest in biblical terms signify not rest from activity, but rest in activity. A final myth that must be dealt with is that Heaven will be dreadfully boring and bland. A simple observation of Luke 19:12-19 reveals anything but a bland, boring life for the believer upon entering Heaven. This parable reveals that the Kingdom of Heaven will involve an allocation of responsibilities among believers. Each will be in charge of certain responsibilities, which will be merited for faithful service upon earth. While many more myths are of course confusing and may bewilder believers, they may have faith that God has made Heaven as the pinnacle of rewards for the believer’s faithful life of service.

A.A. Hodge may have best summarized what Heaven is when he stated:

Heaven, as a place, is where the God-man is. Heaven, as a place, is one of intimate knowledge of him and of the whole Godhead in him, and of fellowship with him. Heaven, as the supreme centre of divine revelations and communications through Christ, must pre-eminently bear the characteristics of God. It will be absolutely pure, majestic, holy, noble, in all its elements and characteristics…There must be the exercise of all the faculties (of redeemed mankind), the gratification of all tastes, the development of all talent capacities, the realization of all ideals. The reason, the intellectual curiosity, the imagination, the aesthetic instincts, the holy affections, the social affinities, the inexhaustible resources of strength and power native to the human soul must all find in Heaven exercise and satisfaction.[11]


[1] Peter Toon. Heaven and Hell: A Biblical and Theological Overview. (Nashville : Nelson, 1986), 3.

[2] Terry Glaspey. C.S. Lewis: His Life and Thought. (Edison: Inspirational Press, 1996), 171.

[3] For the purpose of this paper, Heaven will refer to the dwelling place of God currently and of the future “New Heavens and new Earth” as revealed in Rev 21.

[4] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000), 1158.

[5] J. Oswald Sanders. Heaven: Better by Far. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1993), 16-17. The above three meanings for heaven were compiled from the reference work. Obviously many more examples could be given for each meaning, but the author of this paper was merely using one per meaning to give Biblical reference and typological usage.

[6] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000), 1159.

[7] Wilbur Smith. The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), 62.

[8] Ibid. 50.

[9] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000), 1159.

[10] J. Oswald Sanders. Heaven: Better by Far. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1993). Many of the myths mentioned are conceived of in this book. The author of this paper thought that minimizing myths would help maximize the true nature of Heaven.

[11] A.A. Hodge. Evangelical Theology. (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 399-402.

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