Heaven on Earth?: What is Heaven?
When I was a child, we used to sing a little song that went, “Heaven is a wonderful place; filled with glory and grace; I want to see my Savior’s face, ‘cause heaven is a wonderful place.” This is very simple yet strikes at deep truths. In this easy we want to outline a few brief points that the Bible tells us about heaven.
Heaven was created by God. Heaven is something that God created (Ps. 96:5, 136:26). Genesis 1:1 tells us “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It is important that we recognize that God is eternal; heaven is not eternal. Before creation there was simply the Triune God. God did not reside anywhere, He just existed. Sometimes we wrongly think that heaven is where God has always been. More than anything, heaven is a place God created for our destiny not because he needed a home.
Heaven is a true and perfect temple. In the Old Testament, God had his people make a tabernacle and then later a temple so that they would understand what is was like to fellowship with God and what was necessary to approach God. The tabernacle was modeled off of how God has made heaven (Heb. 8:5; Exodus 25:40). Heaven is the “true tent [i.e. tabernacle/temple]” which God made with His own hands (Heb. 8:2; Acts 7:48-50; 17:24; Isa. 66:1-2). The Lord dwells in heaven (2 Chr. 6:21, 30, 33, 39; Ps. 2:4; 11:4; 33:13; 102:19 103:19, etc.).
The Lord has made His throne in heaven. Psalm 103:19 “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” When God made the heavens and the earth, in order to show us His rule and authority over all creation, he ‘sat down’ in heaven. Heaven is likened to a great throne room where God sits and rules over all his creation (Isa. 66:1-2). Again, this is not because God needed a throne or because God is not omnipresent in his creation (Ps. 139: 7-12). More than anything it is a picture to us giving us assurance that God is in control and always retains authority over all that He has made. God does not need a throne to be the authority; He is the authority by virtue of creating all things. God’s glory is higher than the heavens. It is a picture to us how much beyond this creation God is. He “dwells” as the supreme one over all the creation. It shows us his glory, his majesty, and his holiness.
Jesus rules from heaven. This is one of the great assurances to us that heaven is a “real place.” Jesus Christ after his resurrection ascended bodily into heaven. He sat down at God’s right hand. Now, God is spirit and does not have a literal right hand. However, the Son in human resurrected flesh takes up the supreme position over all creation in the very glory cloud of God. In his divinity, the Son’s glory and the Father’s glory is one glory; and the Son reigned with God from all eternity. Yet, the climax of God’s redemptive purposes is the Son in his humanity that was crowned with glory entered heaven in human flesh. If we are ever tempted to doubt that heaven is a real “place” with real spatial or dimensional features, ask yourself this question: where is Christ’s body? It did not dissipate. His body did not merge with the beyond like a drop of water might merge with the ocean. Jesus Christ went up and sat in heaven. He reigns and rules from here. This is a great comfort and assurance to believers because Christ continues to serve as our mediator. He is our king and high priest.
Heaven is a wonderful place. Jonathan Edwards is probably most famous for his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” but few people know that he wrote a sermon entitled “heaven is a world of love.” Heaven is a world of love because God is love and God dwells in heaven. The beauty and wonder of heaven is beyond our comprehension. It is a place of peace and tranquility. It is a place where God’s will is done perfectly and God’s authority and glory are perfectly manifest. It is a place of magnificent worship of the high and holy one (Rev. 4-5).
Believers go to heaven when they die. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Paul in Phil. 1, desires to depart and be with the Lord. When the body dies, the believer goes to be in the presence of the Lord. In the book of Revelation, for example, we see that saints who were martyred cry out (Rev. 6:9-11). The martyrs rest in heaven and await the judgment where the Lord sets things right on earth as it is in heaven.
Heaven is not our ultimate hope. If we are a believer, we should rightly look forward to heaven when we die. However, sometimes Christians never realize that there is a hope beyond living in heaven as a soul without a body. The final hope is the resurrection of the dead. God will bring the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; Rev. 21-22). The temple, or New Jerusalem/holy city will come down and be in this new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:10). The great hope is that God will dwell with man: “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” (Rev. 22:3). God no longer has a temple in the city (or in heaven) because the temple of the city “is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22). The throne of God will be in the middle of the new city that God brings down (Rev. 22:1-3). The throne is not “above” but the throne is in the very midst of everything. All things are set right and God’s glorious presence is in the center of God’s creation.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.