To most people, heaven speaks of the eternity we enter when we leave this natural life. Heaven is thought to be the place our conscious awareness goes when our heart stops beating, our body returns to dust, and our spirit goes back to God. (a) (See endnotes for scriptures) Heaven is referred to as the reward for good people, especially if you’ve responded to God’s invitation to interact and follow His guidance. (b)
Many questions abound about heaven. Since it is often described as having streets of gold and mansions on hill tops, could it be on another planet in this natural universe? Is heaven in the eternal realm? Do we only experience heaven after we die and leave this earth? Just where exactly is the heaven of Scripture?
We are all destined to enter a reality beyond this natural existence, also known as an afterlife. While we debate what it is like, everyone senses there is more to our conscious existence than this life. When we physically die and are no longer consciously active in this world, we appear to the natural eye as though we are no more because we have passed away. However, we’ve just moved into our next phase of life.
Many ancient writings show mankind has always been aware that we consciously continue beyond this temporal reality. Throughout history, literally hundreds of thousands of Near-Death Experiences (NDE) have been recorded. These are occasions when the heart stops, breathing ceases, and people are declared dead. Then several minutes later breath returns, the heart starts, and they consciously return to this life.
In a vast majority of these NDE reports, people consciously leave their body and enter an awareness where the light is brighter and the love is more intense than any known on earth. They see people who have died and observe earthly things like hills, streams, trees and animals. Many report they could not return to earth if they passed a certain point. This indicates they did not fully enter eternity but just tasted a precursor to illustrate to natural perceptions a peaceful beauty that exceeds this natural world.
While God’s thoughts are eternal perspectives, He uses natural terms and visuals to help convey His insights to us. We want to remember eternity is not like the created world with its repetitive sunrise and sunsets because God is its light. (c) Clearly a greater perception of life is entered when we are released from the limiting restrictions and constraints of this natural realm. Scripture puts it this way:
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.” (d)
We are all destined to enter a reality beyond this natural existence.
The first words in our Bible begin with “In the beginning (of time) God created the heavens and the earth…and God called the expanse heaven.” (e) Did you notice the plurality? God created the heavens to be expansive elevations in the natural universe. The created heavens are natural elevations where birds fly, clouds meander, and where planets and constellations roam. (f)
The Hebrew word translated ‘heaven’ in our Old Testament is shamayim. It means: aloft, the sky, height. It is rendered in the KJV 21 times as ‘air’ and 398 times as ‘heaven’. The comparable New Testament Greek ouranos means: what is above. It is translated ‘air’ 10 times, ‘sky’ 5 times, and ‘heaven’ 268 times. These Hebrew and Greek words clearly refer to heavens as what is above.
Our Bible declares the heavens have four directional corners as: North, South, East and West. The heavens are known to drop dew and send fire (lightning), the hosts of heaven are worshiped (sun, moon, stars) and capital cities ascend into their heights. (g) The heavens of Scripture are elevations above the earth.
Scripture continually speaks of the heavens as elevated conditions, positions, and locations in the natural realm. Regarding God, we are told: “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You!” (h) God even says: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (i)
The combined phrase ‘heaven and earth’ is used in Scripture to refer to the two-tier system of rulers and the ruled over. The Tower of Babel was built to “ascend into heaven.” (j) Obviously they could not ascend into eternity; they just wanted to be ruling masters. Many centuries later the King of Babylon arrogantly said: “I will ascend into heaven…and make myself like the Most High,” above all authority. (k) Yes, the Scriptural heavens are ‘above us’ but they do not specifically refer to eternity.
Ever since the Garden of Eden temptation was accepted, “You can be like God,” (l) people have assumed they or someone should be in charge. When men negate God’s input and take control over others, it is a corrupt effort to be like God. This type of control is what Jesus referenced when he told his generation “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away.” (m)
The heavens of Scripture are elevations above the earth.
Living “As Above”
From humanity’s very beginning, God has offered to be our guiding light. His influencing reign is not like men who use fear to force us into submission. God offers to “lead and guide” (n) us in such a way that His thoughts and ways are received and adapted “into our minds and upon our expressive hearts.” (o)
Further clarity comes as we realize Jesus spoke often of the overriding aspect as what was above; “My Father who is above” (p) as the authority he followed. (q) Jesus said “I came down from above” to live as a man. (r) After his resurrection, Jesus “ascended above” (s) and “was seated at God’s right hand (as His ruling arm)…above all power and authority.” (t)
Although ‘above’ can seem far away, God is very much within reach, as in a touch! This is why Jesus said “the Kingdom of heaven is right here,” at hand, touchable, accessible.” (u) Rather than waiting for an after-life, God invites us to look ‘up’ for guidance ‘from above’ right now. We can know God and His ways among us and live a quality of life that is not limited to this world’s natural limitations.
“Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (v)
God’s governing influence is already in our midst. His influencing reign in our lives is available now. To whom and to what do we look up to for leadership and guidance? When men assume they can be in charge and rule over others, they occupy the heavens above everyone else and impose “rules for thee but not for me.” Worldly authorities frequently leave us confused or even distraught.
We want to realize the heavens we are invited to ascend into and partake of are elevated ways of life, a quality of life that is “above” the earthly norm. How often do we ask, “Father, show me what is true in this situation?” As we receive and follow God’s guidance, we experience degrees of “eternal life.” (w)
So why is it assumed these Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as ‘heaven’ actually speak of the eternal realm? When we think, speak and write about God and angels coming from “heaven above,” we are appropriately trying to relate to a reality that is beyond this temporal life.
Be encouraged! We are not doomed to die before we experience heaven. God-in-Christ is with us today! Realize that “God blesses us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places” (x) during this life. We can partake of the perspectives Christ shares with us and live “as above” the muck and mire of this world. Live today in this reality and stay tuned for our next blog on heaven!
God invites us to look ‘up’ for guidance ‘from above’ right now.
a) Ecclesiastes 12:7; b) 1 Timothy 4:10; c) Revelations 22:5; d) 1 Corinthians 2:9; e) Genesis 1:1, 8; f) Genesis 1:20-22; Genesis 1:14-18; g) Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 8:8; 4:23; Genesis 19:14; Exodus 16:4; 2 Chronicles 33:3; Amos 9:1-2; h)1 Kings 8:27; i) Isaiah 55:9; j) Genesis 11:4-6; k) Isaiah 13:1; 14:12-14; Jeremiah 51:53; l) Genesis 3:5; m) Luke 21:33; n) Psalm 23:2-3; 31:3; John 16:13; o) Hebrews 8:10; 10:16; p) Matthew 10:32-33; 12:50; q) John 5:19, 30; r) John 6:41-42; s) Acts 1:9-11; t) Ephesians 1:20-21; u) Matthew 3:2; 10:7; v) Luke 17:21; w) John 17:3; x) Ephesians 1:3; 2:6