the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
People in ancient times did not understand the universe the way we understand it today. For them the universe consisted of ‘the heavens and the earth’. The earth was where they lived and the heavens were the skies above, the place of the sun, moon, stars, clouds and birds (Genesis 1:1; Genesis 1:17; Genesis 1:20; Genesis 15:5; Deuteronomy 4:19; 1 Kings 18:45; Matthew 5:18; Hebrews 11:12).
A characteristic of human speech is that people often speak of realities and experiences beyond their understanding as being ‘over’, ‘above’ or ‘higher than’ them. Consequently, it was natural for people to speak of God as dwelling far, far above them in the highest place they could imagine, namely, heaven (Deuteronomy 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30; 1 Kings 8:32; Ezra 1:2; Psalms 2:4; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:9; Matthew 7:21).
The Bible therefore speaks of heaven as being ‘up’; not in the sense that it occupies a particular location in outer space, but in the sense that it represents a state of existence far beyond anything people can experience in the physical world. The Jews so identified heaven with God that they often used the word ‘heaven’ instead of ‘God’. This was also a sign of respect for God, for it prevented them from using his name irreverently (Daniel 4:26; Matthew 19:23-24; Luke 15:18; John 3:27; see KINGDOM OF GOD).
Heaven is the dwelling place not only of God, but also of the angelic beings who worship him (Nehemiah 9:6; Matthew 18:10; Matthew 28:2; Mark 13:32; Luke 2:15). Jesus Christ came from heaven (John 3:31; John 6:38), returned to heaven after his death and resurrection (Acts 1:11; Ephesians 1:20), at present appears in heaven on behalf of his people (Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 9:24) and will one day return from heaven to save his people and judge his enemies (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Through the grace of God, heaven becomes also the eternal dwelling place of all those who through faith have become God’s children (John 14:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2; Colossians 1:5; Hebrews 12:22-23; 1 Peter 1:3-5). For them, to be for ever in the presence of God is to be in paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2-3).
From the present viewpoint of earth, no one has any way of knowing what life in heaven will be like (1 John 3:2). No doubt people will be identifiable in heaven by their individual personalities just as they are on earth. The form of life, however, will be different from the form of life in the present world (cf. Matthew 22:23-30; 1 Corinthians 15:35-44; 1 Corinthians 15:50; see RESURRECTION).
When the Bible writers refer to some of the features of heaven, they are not giving literal descriptions of physical characteristics of heaven. They are merely using the only language available to them to try to illustrate and describe life as it will be in an entirely new order of existence (Matthew 22:30; Matthew 26:29; John 14:2; Hebrews 12:22-23; 1 John 3:2).
This new order will find its fullest expression in what the Bible calls ‘a new heaven and a new earth’. This again distinguishes it from the physical universe as we know it at present (Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21; Revelation 22:1-5). Although the Bible writers give few details of life in the new order, that life will not be one of laziness or idleness. It will be a life of joyful activity in the worship and service of God (Revelation 5:8-14; Revelation 14:2-3; Revelation 22:3).
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Heaven'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​h/heaven.html. 2004.