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What Is Heaven? An In-Depth Biblical Study

Some thoughts I've been stringing together over the Labor Day weekend involve Heaven, the New Jerusalem, the Tabernacle, and the Temples.

In the Old and New Testaments, the etymology of the Hebrew and Greek words that translate to atmosphere, space, and what in English we commonly refer to as "Heaven", are the same.  In the Bible, Heaven is the sky, the stars, and the place where God dwells "behind the veil".

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter." - 2 Corinthians 12:2-4

This concept of three heavens is important in the original languages of the Bible, because they needed some way to differentiate between sky, space, and God's unveiled presence.  In the Bible, they are all "Heaven", but the difference is the type of Heaven: first, second, and third.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'" - Revelation 21:1-4

In Revelation 21 we see that the present first and second heavens (sky and space) will pass away and then be replaced with new first and second heavens (a new sky and space).  Alternatively, some scholars say they will not be replaced, but may instead be restored after having "passed away" as a result of God burning the Creation with fire (2 Peter 3:10).

Also, the "dwelling place of God" becomes "with man".  God is already omnipresent, but this may indicate that the "third heaven" (possibly referred to as the highest heavens in the Old Testament), which is the unveiled presence of God, becomes manifest in the physical new Creation, either everywhere, or in specific places (such as the throne of God in the New Jerusalem or wherever the incarnate Christ is).  This theme of the fusion of Heaven and earth is central to biblical eschatology.

My first point is that while we may reside in the third heaven after we die (see 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Luke 23:43), this is only temporary.  We were designed to reside in the first and second heavens, which is the physical universe. 

Jesus says that in the resurrection we will be like the angels (Matthew 22:30).  And Daniel 12:3 indicates that Believers will be like the stars.  With these two verses in mind, consider these:

"And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven." - Deuteronomy 4:19

"He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in." - Isaiah 40:22

These verses seem to indicate that the first and second heavens (sky and space) will be accessible to us in the new Creation.  This appears to be part of God's plan and part of the purpose for which God created all that "stuff" out "there" (stars, galaxies, planets, etc).  The Heaven we typically envision with harps, clouds, and golden pews, with a perpetually boring church service, is not the Heaven envisioned in the Bible.  God created this universe for us, and it was corrupted because of our sin, and because of this, God placed a curse upon it.  Presently there is much in the universe that is hostile to life and inaccessible to us, but in the future, God will remove the curse and undo the corruption.  Sin will be no more.  The Kingdom of God will be the only government, and its King will be the LORD Jesus Christ.  His Kingdom will be everywhere, and we will be able to move freely throughout the Kingdom.

Notice Isaiah 9:7:

"Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this."

The Hebrew is quite clear in this verse: His government (i.e. the government of the Messiah), will be increasing in perpetuity forevermore.  Part of one of the most famous prophecies in the entire Bible, this would seem to bolster the verses and points above, that in the new Creation, His redeemed will be expanding out into the heavens (sky and space).  We also know from science that the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, which means the physical universe is becoming exponentially larger in perpetuity.  God designed it this way because He designed it "like a tent to live in".  We will be exploring and expanding into the Creation that God made.

Next, let's take a look at the capital of this universe-wide kingdom - a place where the incarnate God will be physically residing:

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, 'Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.'  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,  having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.  It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.  And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.  The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia.  Its length and width and height are equal.  He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel's measurement.  The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass." - Revelation 21:9-18


The city that John is describing is a giant cube with edges that are each approximately 1380 miles in length.  The walls of the city are described as transparent and made of either jasper or gold.  The city comes down out of Heaven, but John does not describe it as resting on the earth.  For one thing, the city could not physically rest on a curved earth - it is simply too big.  It would only touch the earth in one place: the center point of the city's foundation.  It would also crush the earth's crust and cause major seismic problems worldwide if it actually rested on the earth itself.  The city is probably close to the earth, but in orbit... like a moon perhaps.

Now notice what John sees a few verses later:

"And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations." - Revelation 21:22-26

We learn several key things here about New Jerusalem and the new earth.  First, God Himself will be manifest in the city and the incarnate Christ will be the light source.  The sun and moon will provide no needed light to the city.  Second, not only is Christ the light source of the city, but He is apparently the light source for the earth below as well.  This indicates that not only are the sun and moon not needed, but since the Lamb is the light source for the earth, the sun and moon are probably either permanently darkened or even removed all-together.

It is no accident that the city's walls are described as being as clear as crystal...  Jesus is the city's light source and because the walls are clear, His light shines through and brings light upon the earth below.  The orbiting city, which is half the volume of the moon and has edges that are two-thirds the length of the diameter of the moon, will serve as the Sun in the new Creation.  You could fit more than a dozen Death Stars inside the city!  If it had an orbit just slightly closer than the moon, it would appear in the sky to be as big as either the moon or the sun. 

What makes this all the more amazing is the Messianic prophecy in Malachi 4, the last chapter in the Old Testament (Apocrypha excluded):

"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall." - Malachi 4:1-2

This describes a time, probably at the final judgment (hence the wicked being destroyed in an "oven"), when afterwards the "sun of righteousness shall rise".  I believe that God has such incredible foresight and poetic mastery that He knew that the English words for "Son" and "Sun" sound the same.  The English Bible is the most printed version in human history.  To top this off, in the new Creation, Christ will be literally serving as the "Sun", because He will literally be "the light of the world".

Another incredible foreshadowing is in the descriptions we are given in the Bible of the Holy of Holies, which was present in the Tabernacle and the stone Temples.

The Holy of Holies is also laid foresquare, also has a length, width, and height that are the same, and also is made of gold.  The Holy of Holies was to be inlaid with pure gold.  And at the center of the Holy of Holies sat the Ark of the Covenant, and on the Ark sat the Mercy Seat, and on the Mercy Seat dwelt the manifest presence of God, referred to as the "Shekinah Glory."  Jewish sources indicate that while God was still manifestly present with the Jewish people, the Shekinah was a visible manifestation and light source that hovered over the Ark... similar to Christ who is the visible image of the invisible God and who will be the light source in the future city.


Lastly, of all the shapes that are used to demonstrate the Trinity, such as a triangle, interlocking circles, or the clover-shape, it is actually the cube that is the closest representation.  Such a clever representation, in fact, that this may have been one of the reasons God used the cube shape for the Holy of Holies and will use it in the future for New Jerusalem.

Unlike all other shapes, a cube's length, height, and width are all the same and these three constitute a single, unified, indivisible whole space.

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1 comment :

  1. Gary this is an excellent article and you and your site are a continual blessing to me personally. JohnC

    ReplyDelete


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