Friday, January 13, 2017
More on what the Bible teaches about Heaven
1 Corinthians 2:9 "but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
In yesterday's post we began considering what the Bible has to teach on the subject of Heaven. The focus yesterday was on John's particular vision of heaven in Revelation 4-5. We had noted that before diving into that vision, we were going to explore in brief the scripture's teaching on heaven. Today's post will aim to discover what the scriptures have to teach us on this subject. My thoughts veer towards Heaven today in light of the two-year anniversary of my father's passing. His love for Jesus will ever resonate in my mind. My prayer is that this current series of posts encourages people and makes us all think more closely about eternity.
The Bible teaches that there are 4 places called heaven.
The subject of heaven in the Bible is immense to say the least. According to Dr. John MacArthur, the Bible uses the word "heaven" 582 times in 550 verses.1 Obviously we won't be able to cover all of those instances, however we can glean a fundamental sense about what the Bible has to teach about the four main places or "realms" called heaven. When the Bible says God "created the heavens and the earth", the word "heaven" in the text is rendered plural - telling us that there are multiple realms (physical. non-physical and future) with the designation "heaven".
A. The 1st heaven - the sky
In Genesis 1:8 we see reference to what is called "The first Heaven" or, what we know to be "the sky" - i.e "And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day." The word translated "firmament" comes from a Latin root, "firmamentum", which is a translation of the Hebrew original meaning: "a stretched canopy or covering".
This idea of a stretched canopy give the sense of pitching a tent and stretching the canvas over a frame. In making the sky or "1st Heaven", God took the atmosphere of Nitrogen, Oxygen and other gases and stretched them around the globe he had made. Psalm 147:8 reminds us - "Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains." Already He had set the earth rotating about its axis as it was illuminated by His glory. With the first heaven, the sky, now in place, Earth would be ready for the Sun He would create on day four and the birds He would create on day five.
B. The second Heaven - The Universe
The first picture on the left was taken by the Cassini spacecraft orbiting the planet Saturn on July 19, 2013. The picture captures the "pale blue dot" of earth suspended in the blackness of the universe nearly a billion miles from the Cassini probe's location. This photograph is a fine example of what we could call - the second heaven - the universe. In Genesis 1:14 we see the first reference the details of second Heaven or "universe" - "And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens, to divide between the day and the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years".
The second heaven is the domain of stars, planets, moons and space itself. By the time of Genesis 1:14, God had already created the space in which the earth was suspended. (Job 26:7-10)
In continuing the stretching forth of the universe, God made the sun, the moon and later on the stars (Genesis 1:16). Astronomers estimate our earth and moon, along with the seven other planets and other objects going around the sun, with their attendant moons, are sweeping through our Milky Way Galaxy at 500,000 m.p.h. Our Galaxy is composed of over 100 billion stars, with over 100 billion galaxies populating our universe. If you were to take a spaceship and travel at an average speed of 17,000 m.p.h, it would take you several days to reach our moon and nearly a year to reach our sun. To get to Saturn at the same rate of speed (like the Cassini Space probe above) would take you over five years!
To measure the distances in space, the ruler used by astronomers is what is called "the light year", which measures the distance traveled by light in one year. Any signals sent by spacecraft such as Cassini travel at the speed of light, and take on average 80 minutes to reach receiving stations here on earth. To get to the nearest star traveling at the speed of light (670 million m.p.h) would take you four years (or over 100,000 years in the space shuttle!) However as you travel deeper into space, even the light year (some 6 trillion miles long) begins to lose significance, with our Milky Way Galaxy alone being 100,000 Light Years across, and our visible universe being composed of an estimated 100 billion such galaxies of smaller or greater size! As you study each of these "heavenly realms", each one gets larger and more different from common, everyday experience.
C. The Third Heaven - God's Throneroom
Clearly we don't have any photographs of what the Bible terms "the third heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12:2. No other book in the world but the Bible gives us the necessary, sufficient and accurate description of this third realm. As we travel through Genesis, we see another 30 or so mentions of the word "heaven" with most references to either the first heaven (sky) or second heaven (universe).
In Genesis 28:12 we read: "And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to the heavens. And behold, angels of God ascended and descended upon it." Though scripture up to this point indirectly alludes to the existence of a distinct realm in which God occupies as Sovereign and Lord over His creation (Genesis 2:1-3), as well as the existence of angels, yet this verse shows the activity of the third heaven touching down here on earth.
According to John 1:51, what Jacob saw was none other than an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ. It is in 2 Corinthians 12 that the Apostle Paul refers to this realm as the "third heaven" (hence the reason for terming the first two realms as "1st heaven" and "2nd heaven"). From what we see in the Bible's descriptions of the third heaven, that realm of God's abode must be far larger and more grander than the second heaven - the universe. It is to the third heaven that believers go who die in the Lord. 2 Peter 1:10-11 includes this phrase: "for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."
What John will be describing in Revelation 4-5 confirms this notion - being that from the present third heaven, the Father and the Son are and will be orchestrating all of the events and coming judgments that will impact both the second heavens and the world living under the first heaven in Revelation 6-19. More could be said but for now we must move on to the the fourth major type of realm, a realm that is referred to as "the New Heavens".
D. The "Fourth" place called Heaven - The New Heavens
Admittedly the the "New Heavens and New Earth" described in many Old and New Testament passages is a realm that is in one sense future to us, and yet in another sense is impacting our current lives as Christians. Its main time of manifestation will occur when Christ has ruled and reigned for 1,000 years and sets up the Great White Throne Judgment.
Bible Scholar George Eldon Ladd summarizes how the reality of the "New Heavens and New Earth" is partially impacting us presently as a result of Jesus' resurrection from the dead in the following chart:2
Many Bible teachers call this Biblical pattern an "already/not yet" experience, meaning that we are "already" experiencing a foretaste of the age to come, even though it is clearly "not yet" here. We can also say that when we as Christians experienced the New Birth, that greatest of all realities described at the end of the Bible is being "previewed" in us, since the Bible describes the Christian as a "new creation in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Bible tells us in Revelation 20-22 that following the Great White Throne Judgment, a New Heaven and a New Earth will be established by God. Some have suggested that God will do away with this present order completely and re-create a whole new earth and a whole new Heaven. However it appears, from other scriptures such as Romans 8:21-25 and 2 Corinthians 5:17, that God will somehow (in a way we don't completely comprehend) transform our current world and perhaps the third Heaven into that incredible reality spoken of at the end of Revelation. More could be said on these two thoughts, but I want to hasten onto the main point of Revelation 21.
God's goal in the Bible: for heaven and earth to be together
The point of Revelation 21 is that the New Heavens and the New Earth are no longer separated from one another. The Glory of God will indeed flood the New earth and Heaven will touch down upon our planet. All those who by grace through faith have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ will be in that august company of the redeemed as ordained by the Father and promised by the Son (John 14:1-3; Jude 24-25). Just as the second heaven exceeds the first, and the third heaven far exceeds the second, this "New Heaven" will exceed them all. The "New Heavens and New Earth" will be saturated with God's unending glory (Habakkuk 2:14; Revelation 21-22). Furthermore, the "New Heavens" will saturate the "New Earth" with God's unending glory, literally fulfilling His ultimate will of "the earth being filled with His glory". (Habakkuk 2:14)
1. John MacArthur. "The Truth About Heaven, Angels and Eternal life".
2. George Eldon Ladd. "The Gospel of the Kingdom."