What is Heaven?

What is Heaven? By Jack Kettler

As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical, and commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. This study is a continuation of a previous study on heaven.

Definitions:

Heaven: Primarily, “the essential and immediate dwelling place of God and the eternal home of His people;” also “the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless.” *

Heaven: is the dwelling place of God and for those who go there a place of everlasting bliss. Scripture implies three heavens, since “the third heaven” is revealed to exist (2 Corinthians 12:2). It is logical that a third heaven cannot exist without a first and second. Scripture does not describe specifically the first and second heaven. The first, however, apparently refers to the atmospheric heavens of the fowl (Hosea 2:18) and clouds (Daniel 7:13). The second heaven may be the area of the stars and planets (Genesis 1:14-18). It is the abode of all supernatural angelic beings. The third heaven is the abode of the triune God. Its location is unrevealed. (See Matthew 23:34-37; Luke 10:20; and Revelation 22:2; Rev 22:20-21). **

From the Scriptures on heaven:

“So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)

“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2-3)

“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

From the Pulpit Commentary on Acts 1:11:

“Verse 11. – Looking for gazing up, A.V.; this for this same, A.V.; was received for is taken, A.V.; beheld him going for have seen him go, A.V. In like manner; i.e. in a cloud. The description of our Lord’s second advent constantly makes mention of clouds. “Behold, he cometh with clouds” (Revelation 1:7). “One like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13; and so Matthew 26:64; Luke 21:27, etc.). We are reminded of the grand imagery of Psalm 104:3, “Who maketh the clouds his chariot, who walketh upon the wings of the wind.” It may be remarked that the above is by far the fullest account we have of the ascension of our Lord. St. Luke appears to have learnt some further particulars concerning it in the interval between writing his Gospel (Luke 24:50-52) and writing the Acts. But allusions to the Ascension are frequent (Mark 16:19; John 6:62; John 20:17; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 4:8, 9; Philippians 2:9; Colossians 3:1; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:22, etc.). With reference to Zeller’s assertion, that in St. Luke’s Gospel the Ascension is represented as taking place on the day of the Resurrection, it may freely be admitted that the narrative in the Gospel does not mark distinctly the interval of time between the different appearances and discourses of our Lord from the day of the Resurrection to that of the Ascension. It seems to group them according to their logical connection rather than according to their chronological sequence, and to be a general account of what Jesus said between the Resurrection and the Ascension. But there is nothing whatever in the text of St. Luke to indicate that what is related in the section Luke 24:44-49 took place at the same time as the things related in the preceding verses. And when we compare with that section what is contained in Acts 1:4, 5, it becomes clear that it did not. Because the words “assembling together with them,” in ver. 4, clearly indicate a different occasion from the apparitions on the day of the Resurrection; and as the words in Luke 24:44-49 correspond with those in Acts 1:4, 5, it must have been also on a different occasion that they were spoken. Again, the narrative of St. John, both in the twentieth and the twenty-first chapters, as well as that of Matthew 28:10, 16; Mark 16:7, precludes the possibility of the Ascension having taken place, or having been thought to have taken place, on the day of the Resurrection, or for many days after, so that to force a meaning upon the last chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel which it does not necessarily bear, and which places it at variance with St. Luke’s own account in the Acts (Acts 1:3; 13:31), and with the Church traditions as preserved by St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. John, is a violent and willful transaction.” (1)

Additional Scriptures on heaven:

“But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55ESV)

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, and house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2Corinthians 5:1)

“For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:10)

“But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16)

“And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2)

From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Revelation 21:2:

“And I John saw the holy city… The same with the beloved city in Revelation 20:9 the church of God: sometimes the church militant is called a city, of which the saints are now fellow citizens, governed by wholesome laws, and enjoying many privileges; but here the general assembly and church of the firstborn, or all the elect of God, are intended, the whole body and society of them, being as a city, compact together; called holy, not only because set apart to holiness by God the Father, and their sins expiated by the blood of Christ, or because he is made sanctification to them, or because internally sanctified by the Spirit of God, which now is but in part; but because they will be perfectly holy in themselves, without the being of sin in them, or any spot of it on them: and John, for the more strong ascertaining the truth of this vision, expresses his name, who saw it, to whom God sent his angel, and signified to him by these Apocalyptic visions what should be hereafter; though the name is left out in the Alexandrian copy, and in the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions:

new Jerusalem; the church of God, both in the Old and New Testament, is often called Jerusalem, to which its name, which signifies the vision of peace, agrees; it was the city of the great King, whither the tribes went up to worship; it was a free city, and a fortified one: the Gospel church state in its imperfection is called the heavenly Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem above, which is free, and the mother of all; and here the church in its perfect state is called the new Jerusalem, where will be complete peace and prosperity; and which is called new, because it has its seat in the new heaven and new earth: the inhabitants of which will appear in their new and shining robes of immortality and glory; and to distinguish it from the old Jerusalem, and even from the former state of the church; for this will be “the third time” that Jerusalem will be built, as say the Jews, namely, in the time of the King Messiah:

coming down from God out of heaven; which designs not the spiritual and heavenly original of the saints, being born from above, on which account the church is called the heavenly Jerusalem; but a local descent of all the saints with Christ from the third heaven into the air, where they will be met by living saints; and their bodies being raised and united to their souls, they will reign with Christ in the new earth: and this is

the building which the Jews say God will prepare for the Jerusalem which is above, “to descend into:”

prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; Christ is the husband, or bridegroom, and the church is his spouse, and bride; and in these characters they will both appear at this time, when the marriage between them will be consummated: and the church may be said to be prepared as such, when all the elect of God are gathered in, the number of the saints is perfected; when the good work of grace is finished in them all, and they are all arrayed in the righteousness of Christ: and to be “adorned”, when not only they are clothed with the robe of righteousness, and garments of salvation, and are beautified with the graces of the Spirit, but also with the bright robes of immortality and glory. The phrase is Jewish, and is to be read exactly as here in the book of Zohar (t).” (2)

Digging deeper from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words Heaven:

Shâmayim (שָׁמֶה, Strong’s #8064), “heavens; heaven; sky.” This general Semitic word appears in languages such as Ugaritic, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Arabic. It occurs 420 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew.

First, shâmayim is the usual Hebrew word for the “sky” and the “realm of the sky.” This realm is where birds fly. God forbids Israel to make any “likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air” (Deut. 4:17). When Absalom’s hair caught in the branches of a tree, he hung suspended between the “heaven” and the earth (2 Sam. 18:9). This area, high above the ground but below the stars and heavenly bodies, is often the locus of visions: “And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem” (1Chron. 21:16).

Second, this word represents an area farther removed from the earth’s surface. From this area come such things as frost (Job 38:29), snow (Isa. 55:10), fire (Gen. 19:24), dust (Deut. 28:24), hail (Josh. 10:11), and rain: “The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained” (Gen. 8:2). This realm is God’s storehouse; God is the dispenser of the stores and Lord of the realm (Deut. 28:12). This meaning of shâmayim occurs in Gen. 1:7-8: “And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.”

Third, shâmayim also represents the realm in which the sun, moon, and stars are located: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night …” (Gen. 1:14). This imagery is often repeated in the Creation account and in poetical passages. Thus the “heavens” can be stretched out like a curtain (Ps. 104:2) or rolled up as a scroll (Isa. 34:4).

Fourth, the phrase “heaven and earth” may denote the entire creation. This use of the word appears in Gen. 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Fifth, “heaven” is the dwelling place of God: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2:4; cf. Deut. 4:39). Again, note Deut. 26:15: “Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel…” Another expression representing the dwelling place of God is “the highest heaven [literally, the heaven of heavens].” This does not indicate height, but an absolute—i.e., God’s abode is a unique realm not to be identified with the physical creation: “Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is” (Deut. 10:14). (3)

How do we get to heaven?

Belgic Confession, Article 26: The Intercession of Christ

Article 26: The Intercession of Christ

We believe that we have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor, “Jesus Christ the righteous,”[63] who therefore was made human, uniting together the divine and human natures, so that we human beings might have access to the divine Majesty. Otherwise, we would have no access. But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does. Although he was “in the form of God,” Christ nevertheless “emptied himself,” taking “human form” and “the form of a slave” for us; [64] and he made himself “like his brothers and sisters in every respect.”[65] Suppose we had to find another intercessor. Who would love us more than he who gave his life for us, even though “we were his enemies”? [66] And suppose we had to find one who has prestige and power. Who has as much of these as he who is seated at the right hand of the Father, [67] and who has “all authority in heaven and on earth”? [68] And who will be heard more readily than God’s own dearly beloved Son? So, the practice of honoring the saints as intercessors in fact dishonors them because of its misplaced faith. That was something the saints never did nor asked for, but which in keeping with their duty, as appears from their writings, they consistently refused.

We should not plead here that we are unworthy—for it is not a question of offering our prayers on the basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith. Since the apostle for good reason wants us to get rid of this foolish fear—or rather, this unbelief—he says to us that Jesus Christ was made like “his brothers and sisters in every respect, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” to purify the sins of the people. [69] For since he suffered, being tempted, he is also able to help those who are tempted. [70]

And further, to encourage us more to approach him he says, “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted, as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace, to help in time of need.” [71]

The same apostle says that we “have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus.” “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith….” [72]

Likewise, Christ “holds his priesthood permanently….Consequently, he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” [73]

What more do we need? For Christ himself declares: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” [74] Why should we seek another intercessor?

Since it has pleased God to give us the Son as our Intercessor, let us not leave him for another—or rather seek, without ever finding. For, when giving Christ to us, God knew well that we were sinners.

Therefore, in following the command of Christ we call on the heavenly Father through Christ, our only Mediator, as we are taught by the Lord’s Prayer, being assured that we shall obtain all we ask of the Father in his name.

63 1 John 2:1; 64 Phil. 2:6-8; 65 Heb. 2:17, 66 Rom. 5:10; 67 Rom. 8:34; Heb. 1:3; 68 Matt. 28:18; 69 Heb. 2:17; 70 Heb. 2:18; 71 Heb. 4:14-16; 72 Heb. 10:19, 22; 73 Heb. 7:24-25; 74 John 14:6

Notes:

1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Acts, Vol.18., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 3.

2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Revelation, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 454-455.

3. W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of OT, (Dallas, TX, Thomas Nelson), p. 298-299.4.

“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)

Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com

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