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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Heaven

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Introductory.-The subject of heaven is difficult to treat fully without diverging into the discussion of kindred subjects and trespassing on the province of other articles. The reader is referred to the articles Eschatology, Hades, Immortality, Paradise, Parousia, and Resurrection, in this and other Dictionaries for discussion of various matters which are relevant to the treatment of the conception of heaven.

Two broad general lines of development in things eschatological were already at work at the beginning of the Christian era. Palestinian Judaism on the whole tended towards literalism and more material conceptions of the Last Things, while Alexandrian Judaism was moving towards a spiritualization of the principal elements in the future hope. Both these tendencies are discernible in the development of Christian eschatology during the 1st century. But the most important element is the influence of the primitive apostolic beliefs concerning the Resurrection of Christ and His state of existence after death. Special attention is directed in this article to the influence of these beliefs on the development of the Christian conception of heaven.

1. Jewish apocalyptic

(a) Alexandrian.-The principal features or Alexandrian Jewish eschatology in relation to heaven are the view that the righteous enter at once into their perfected state of happiness after death, and the view that the resurrection of the righteous is of the spirit only. Hence the conception of heaven is wholly spiritualized, and the thought of it as an intermediate place of rest disappears. But it must not be supposed that a wholly consistent view can be found in the apocalyptic literature of the period, any more than in the NT writers. It was a time of change; new forces were at work modifying the older beliefs, and the above statement is simply a broad generalization of the trend of Alexandrian Judaism. When particular passages are examined the difficulty of constructing a homogeneous scheme of the Last Things becomes apparent at once. The principal difficulty is the recurrence of the idea of the earthly Messianic kingdom (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 3:7 f. with Wisdom of Solomon 5:17 f.), which is incompatible with a purely spiritual conception of resurrection and of heaven. The chief passages are: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-14; Wisdom of Solomon 5:15-16; Wisdom of Solomon 5:2 En. iii-xxii. (account of the ten heavens in order; Paradise is in the third heaven, and also the place of punishment for the wicked), Leviticus 2, lxvii, 2, 4 Maccabees 13:16; 4 Maccabees 5:37; 4 Maccabees 18:23 (note the phrase ‘Abraham’s bosom’ used for the place of rest for the righteous after death).

(b) Palestinian.-The two important writings belonging to this period are Apoc. Baruch and 2 Esdras. For a full treatment of their critical analysis and eschatological system see Charles, Eschatology, ch. viii. also Box, The Ezra-Apocalypse, 1912, and the edition of both in Charles, Apoc. and Pseudepig. of the OT. The general view of heaven in Palestinian apocalyptic as illustrated by these two writings is as follows.

Heaven, also identified with Paradise, is the final abode of the righteous (Apoc. Bar. li., 2 Esdras 7:36; 2 Esdras 8:52). An intermediate place of rest for the righteous (Apoc. Bar. xxx. 2) is described as ‘the treasuries,’ ‘in which is preserved the number of the souls of the righteous’ (cf. also 2 Esdras 4:41). Messiah comes from heaven to establish a temporary Messianic Kingdom, and returns to heaven at the close of it. The righteous in heaven are made like to the angels (Apoc. Bar. li. 10).

2. Pauline literature.-In dealing with any eschatological conception in the NT it is necessary to consider first of all how much is due to the Jewish background of thought; then, in the case of each writer, to see how for the conception belongs to the common stock of primitive Christian tradition, and how far it is peculiar to the writer under discussion. In dealing with St. Paul it is also necessary to examine the question of a possible development of thought. In general the orthodox Jewish view of heaven represented in the Synoptic Gospels forms the background and starting-point of all the NT writers. The principal points which call for examination in St. Paul’s correspondence are the relation of the conception of heaven to Christ, and the conception of heaven as the future place of abode for believers.

(a) Heaven in relation to Christ.-Two main questions arise from St. Paul’s treatment of this subject. First, the question of the pre-existent life of Christ; and second, the question of His present state of existence.

(1) For the first point the chief passages are 1 Corinthians 15:47, Romans 10:6, and possibly in this connexion Philippians 2:6 and Colossians 1:15-17. In 1 Corinthians 15:47, reading ‘the second man is from heaven,’ it is quite possible to interpret the passage as referring to the Parousia rather than to the doctrine of a pre-existent Heavenly Man. Romans 10:6, an application of Deuteronomy 30:12-13, to Christ, may be referred to the present place of Christ; i.e. it is unnecessary to bring Christ down again after His Resurrection and Ascension. Philippians 2:6 is also capable of being interpreted as referring to Christ’s moral likeness to God. Thus St. Paul’s testimony to the pre-existent life of Christ as in heaven is not clear, though it may be upheld on the ground of the above passages.

(2) The second point is far more vital to St. Paul’s thought, and has largely influenced his view of heaven in relation to the future condition of believers. The words ‘ascended into heaven’ clearly represent the consensus of primitive apostolic tradition. To the Jewish view of the transcendence of God, and of His dwelling in heaven as in contrast to earth, the primitive tradition added the doctrine of Christ’s present existence there with God. It is evident that St. Paul held the common Jewish views of heaven (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2 : the third heaven, or Paradise, regarded as God’s dwelling-place; Philippians 2:10 : the division of the universe into things heavenly, earthly, and infernal; Galatians 1:8 : an angel from heaven; Romans 1:18 : God’s wrath revealed from heaven, etc.). But it is still more evident that he had also thought deeply on the question of Christ’s Resurrection, its nature, His present state of existence, and the bearing of these questions on the future state of believers. This is not the place to discuss the possible conclusions at which St. Paul may have arrived. But we can see that his thinking on this point tends in the direction of a spiritualization of the whole conception of heaven. He conceives of Christ’s present existence as spiritual; Christ and the Spirit are identified; Christ is for the present ‘hid in God’ (Colossians 3:3); the dead believers are ‘at home with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:8). It is generally conceded that Ephesians, even if not St. Paul’s, is certainly Pauline. Hence we may use it here as evidence for the elaboration of the conception of a quasi-material, quasi-spiritual region, τὰ ἐπουράνια. Here Christ is seated at God’s right hand; believers have here their proper home and their characteristic blessings; and here is being waged the age-long conflict between the spiritual powers of good and evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Lastly, the link which connects this side of the subject with the more purely eschatological use of heaven as the future abode of believers is the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2. Here we have the conception (possibly developed directly from St. Paul’s view of our Lord’s Resurrection, although the conception of a ‘body of light’ found in Jewish and Gnostic sources may have influenced his thought) of a spiritual body laid up in heaven for the believer. This body was evidently after the pattern of our Lord’s Resurrection body or mode of existence (cf. Philippians 3:20, 1 Corinthians 15:49). In thinking of it as laid up or reserved in heaven, St. Paul is no doubt using Rabbinical categories of thought. For example, the Rabbinical tradition could think of the Law, the Temple, and other central ideas of Judaism as laid up with God before the creation of the world.

(b) Heaven as the future abode of believers.-This conception is conspicuous by its absence from St. Paul’s thought. The Parousia is always ‘from heaven,’ alike in the earliest (1 Thessalonians 1:10) and in the latest (Philippians 3:20) of St. Paul’s letters. But when he speaks of the future place of existence of the Christian it is always ‘with the Lord,’ ‘with Christ,’ and apparently he has been chiefly occupied with the fresh question of the mode of the Christian’s future existence as determined by Christ’s existence. Possibly, also, he so takes it for granted that believers will have their place in a Messianic earthly kingdom that he does not think it necessary to mention it. The grief of survivors in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 seems to imply this clearly, also the reference to the judgment executed by believers in 1 Corinthians 6:2. But what seems most evident is that St. Paul passed almost unconsciously from the traditional and more material view of the future state implied in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to the simpler and more spiritual conception of future likeness to Christ, and a blessed existence with Him. This takes the place of all sensuous joys of heaven.

3. Petrine literature.-If the Lucan record of St. Peter’s speeches may be taken as at least representing Petrine material, then we have one or two passages relating to Christ’s present place in heaven. Acts 2:34-35 interprets Psalms 110:1 of the Ascension of Christ, and Acts 3:21 adds that it was necessary for the Messiah to return to heaven because the ἀποκατάστασις had not yet arrived. Both passages show that the belief in the Messiah’s present existence in heaven was an essential part of primitive apostolic tradition, and also that the early tradition was very little occupied with heaven as a place of abode in the future, but rather as the place whence God would intervene by sending the Messiah again to establish the kingdom on earth. The few passages in the First Epistle which speak of heaven add nothing to this position. 1 Peter 1:4 echoes Colossians 1:5 : heaven is the place where the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled is kept with care until the moment for the revelation of Messiah. 1 Peter 3:22 re-affirms the doctrine of Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 4:10, etc.: the Ascension of Christ to heaven and His Exaltation over all the spiritual powers in the heavenly sphere. Hence, as far as the literature attributed to St. Peter is concerned, we do not find anything peculiar to him, but only a confirmation of the two main elements of primitive Christian tradition-the present existence of Christ in heaven conceived of in a quasi-material way as a place or sphere contrasted with earth, and the revelation of Christ from heaven bringing the accomplishment of all hopes of blessing, all that is comprised in σωτηρία. The connexion of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven with the eschatological expectation of the early Church is also characteristic both of the speeches in Acts and of the Epistle (cf. Acts 2:16-18, 1 Peter 1:12). The same thought is frequent also in St. Paul (Romans 8:23, where the Spirit is the ἀπαρχή, an anticipatory guarantee of the blessings yet to come; and Ephesians 1:14, where the Spirit is the ἀρραβών).

4. Hebrews.-The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews contributes much of importance to our inquiry. Possibly be is the only one of the NT writers who shows clearly the influence of Alexandrian Judaism in his views on the Last Things. St. Peter represents the primitive Jewish Christian eschatology in its simplest form; even in the First Epistle, although Charles finds an advance on the eschatology of Acts, the hope is still rather for the kingdom on earth; the heavenly nature of the inheritance is not to be understood as referring to the place where it is enjoyed, but rather to the place from which it comes. Even in St. Paul’s case, In spite of the clear advance towards a greater spiritualization of the eschatology, this advance seems to consist in the increasing emphasis laid on the spiritual assimilation of believers to Christ as the goal of hope, rather than in an abandonment of the hope of an earthly kingdom. The idea of the kingdom falls into the background, but its abandonment cannot be proved conclusively from St. Paul’s writings. But the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews seems to have arrived at this stage of the development. There is no passage in his letter which points clearly to the belief that the righteous share with Christ the joys of a kingdom on or over the earth. The principal passages for consideration are:

(a) Those which confirm the primitive apostolic tradition of the present session of Christ in heaven (Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 8:1; Hebrews 9:23-24). The writer lays stress on the fact that Christ is higher than the ‘heaven’; he implies a contrast in the phrase ‘heaven itself,’ αὐτὸν τὸν οὐρανόν, the special dwelling-place of God, with the heaven of Jewish theology. Jesus has passed ‘through the heavens.’ Of course this thought is found in Ephesians 4:10 also. (b) The eschatological passages (Hebrews 3:1; Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 12:22-24). Believers are partakers of a ‘heavenly calling.’ This might be understood as the source of the calling, but in the light of the subsequent passages it is more naturally understood as referring to the place and goal of the calling. In Hebrews 11:16 the writer represents the believers of old as seeking a better and a heavenly country, and declares that God has prepared a city for them. In Hebrews 12:22-24, the climax of his appeal, he depicts the heavenly city, the home of the Christians whom he is addressing. ‘Ye have come,’ he says, implying that the city exists already, and that it contains the myriads of angels, the assembly of first-begotten ones whose names were enrolled in heaven (Luke 10:20), the spirits of righteous men who have been ‘perfected,’ and finally Jesus Himself, the Leader and Completer of the faith. The sense of τετελειωμένοι is a difficulty, but its interpretation is clearly suggested by the author’s use of the word with reference to Christ in Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:28. The author implies that Christ’s present existence in heaven in a perfect state is the result of His experience on earth. He is morally and spiritually perfected as Man, and hence fitted to be the Leader and Completer of the faith. His present state is the witness and the guarantee of the future state of those who follow His leadership. God will do for them what He has done for Christ. This order of things constitutes the heavenly kingdom, the ‘unshakable kingdom’ which will be manifest at the Parousia, when everything that can be shaken will be removed. The writer evidently regards the Parousia as the moment when the material heaven and earth will disappear, the wicked and apostates will receive the just judgment of God, and nothing will remain but the heavenly order of things already revealed to faith by the Resurrection and Attainment of Christ. Here we have St. Paul’s line of thought carried to a clear and triumphant conclusion. Moral and spiritual progress and ultimate full conformity to the character of God are the true goal of hope. The old words σωτηρία, ἔλπις, κληρονομία are being filled with a definitely spiritual content, and have practically lost their temporal and material significance.

The Pastorals, James and Jude add nothing of importance for the study of this particular conception.

5. Johannine literature.-The treatment of the Johannine literature as a whole is of course impossible. While it still remains a tenable position to regard the Apocalypse, the Epistles, and the Gospel as the work of the same author, representing three different stages of his spiritual development (Ramsay), the question is too complex to discuss here, and too undecided to assume any position as certain. It will be sufficient, therefore, to treat our subject as it appears in each of the three divisions of the Johannine literature separately. On the surface, the difference between the Apocalypse and the Epistles seems to represent the extreme movement of Christian thought from the most material form of Jewish apocalyptic to the most deeply spiritual form of the Christian hope.

(a) The Apocalypse.-The following is a summary of the chief points regarding heaven as the writer of the Apocalypse uses the conception. (1) There is the current division into heavenly, earthly, and infernal (Revelation 5:3; Revelation 5:13). (2) The principal part of the vision implies a sharp contrast between heaven and earth as spheres of moral activity. In heaven is the throne of God; His will is done in heaven; Christ is there; the angels, and the OT symbols of the power and presence of God in Creation, are seen in heaven. The redeemed are seen there. Heaven is the source of every action directed against the power of evil. On the other hand, earth is the scene of conflict between good and evil. Those who maintain the cause of God and Christ are a suffering and persecuted minority. From the abyss comes the moving power of the enmity against God. In the writer’s view, earth is ruled by the abyss rather than by heaven. Even heaven itself is invaded by the powers of evil, and we have the war in heaven (Revelation 12:7) and the victory of Michael and his hosts over the dragon and his hosts; the heavens and all those that dwell therein are summoned to rejoice over the victory and the final deliverance of heaven from the powers of evil (Revelation 12:12). (3) The heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the dwelling of God, of Christ, and of the saved, comes down from heaven, after the earthly kingdom is over. It is only the new heaven and earth that the prophet’s vision conceives of as fit for the coming of the holy city. Apparently during the millennial reign, the city, in so far as it is conceived of realistically, remains in heaven. We have, on the one hand, a description of the earthly blessing of the risen saints and martyrs during the millennial kingdom (Revelation 20:4-6); on the other hand, the vision itself supposes that those who have attained are already in heaven. The elders probably re-present those who are ‘perfected’ in the sense of Hebrews. There are the multitudes of the redeemed (Revelation 7:9-17); the souls of the martyrs are seen under the altar in heaven; they are granted white robes, and rest until the appointed number of the martyrs is made up. Further, the description of the heavenly city supposes that there is built up of the apostles and saints a spiritual city whose place is heaven. The difficulty of distinguishing between symbol and the literal meaning of the vision makes it a hard task to sum up clearly the writer’s position. He is obviously heir to all the visions of the prophets and the apocalyptists, and master of them all. The spiritual and the symbolic are so subtly blended that it is hard to think that the writer is the slave of his symbols. He seems rather to have brought all the symbols of the previous apocalyptic, from Babylonia and Egypt in the remote past down to the almost contemporary visions or Ezra and Baruch, under the sway of the spiritual conception of the kingdom of God. If we may read him so, then his view of heaven must be so interpreted in terms of the ultimate and fundamental contrast between good and evil, progress and perfection, struggle and attainment.

(b) The Epistles.-These add practically nothing to our inquiry, although they are of importance for the study of the Parousia (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ). The only passage that calls for comment is 1 John 3:1-3, where the ultimate hope of the believer consists in being like God (αὐτῷ really has θεοῦ in 1 John 3:2 as its antecedent, but it is characteristic of the writer’s method of thought that he often passes from God to Christ without apparently being aware of a change of subject; in 1 John 2:28, e.g., the Parousia is naturally interpreted as Christ’s, but ‘born of him’ in 1 John 2:29 must refer to God; cf. also 1 John 3:24 with 1 John 4:13). We have already noticed the tendency in St. Paul and Hebrews to represent the ultimate goal of the Christian as conformity to God or Christ.

(c) The Gospel.-In the Gospel we have: (1) the passages which unequivocally represent heaven as the dwelling-place of the pre-existent Christ- John 1:18; John 3:13 (which retains the implication, even if we omit ὁ ὢν ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ with א BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] 33 and good Western support) John 3:31; John 6:38; John 6:62. Unlike the Pauline passages, these examples are quite unequivocal evidence of the writer’s belief on this point.

(2) The eschatological passages- John 14:1-3; John 17:22-24. Here it is worthy of note that the use of the term ‘heaven’ is avoided. The nearest approach to a suggestion of a place is the phrase ‘in my Father’s house are many abodes,’ which may perhaps be taken as a spiritualizing of the Temple (cf. ‘my Father’s house’ in John 2:16). Apart from this, the idea of a place of material joy or rest does not appear. We have instead the phrases ‘where I am,’ ‘with me,’ ‘receive you unto myself.’ The satisfaction of a personal relation is presented as the hope. The enjoyment of Divine love without hindrance is the ultimate goal, a spiritual union of character, will, and affections whose type is the union that exists between the Father and the Son. These things constitute heaven. But a resurrection state in the future is also implied by John 6:39; John 6:54. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of the spiritual blessings described in chs. 14 and 17 does not apparently depend on this at all. For the writer of the Fourth Gospel death is a mere incident that does not break the continuity of eternal life; and where such a position is reached, the precise conception of heaven has evidently become irrelevant.

6. The Apostolic Fathers

(a) Clement of Rome.-In 1 Clement we have the following passages: v. 4: Peter ‘went to his appointed place of glory’; v. 7: Paul ‘departed from the world and went unto the holy place’; l. 3: ‘they that by God’s grace were perfected in love dwell in the abode of the pious (ἔχουσιν χῶρον εὐσεβῶν), who shall be manifested in the visitation of the kingdom of God.’ In 2 Clement we have-v. 5: ‘the rest of the kingdom that shall be’; vi. 9: ‘with what confidence shall we … enter into the kingdom of God?’ (τὸ βασίλειον should perhaps be rendered ‘the palace of God’); xvii. 7: the righteous see the torments of the wicked; ix. 5: the righteous receive their reward ‘in the flesh,’ in the coming kingdom.

No striking or original thoughts as to the future place and state of believers are found here. We have the simple acceptance of the doctrine that the righteous enter after death into a place of rest and glory with Christ. The resurrection of the flesh is taught and apparently is referred to the Parousia, but the nature of the intermediate condition is not clearly stated.

(b) Ignatius.-In the Ignatian correspondence there is no explicit doctrine of heaven, but the implication of several passages seems to be that immediately after death the believer is perfected, ‘attains to God.’ His emphasis is laid principally on the resurrection, which is after the pattern of Christ’s (Trall. ix. 2). He looks forward to receiving his inheritance; he will rise unto God (Rom. ii. 2); ‘I shall rise free in Him’ (iv. 3); ‘when I am come thither then I shall be a man’ (vi. 2). Death for him is new birth (ὁ τοκετός μοι ἐπίκειται, vi. 1). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Ignatius thought of the believer, or at least the martyr, as entering upon his perfect state and full reward immediately after death. His view of heaven would seem to coincide with the developed Johannine conception, though several phrases, ‘attaining to resurrection,’ and so forth, are Pauline.

(c) The Martyrdom of Polycarp contains one interesting passage describing the condition of Polycarp after martyrdom: ‘Having by his endurance overcome the unrighteous ruler in the conflict and so received the crown of immortality, he rejoiceth in company with the Apostles and all righteous men, and glorifieth the Almighty God and Father, and blesseth our Lord Jesus Christ’ (xix. 2).

The Shepherd of Hermas lies outside our period, and is more curious than valuable for information as to the teaching of the Church of the Apostolic Age. It is easy to see that we are no longer dealing with a creative period. The doctrine of heaven is becoming stereotyped. Such a man as Ignatius is probably hardly representative of the general thought of the Church. The passage from the Martyrdom of Polycarp probably gives the common view of the state of the believer in heaven after death.

Conclusion.-In conclusion, it may be said that for the Church in general during the 1st half of the 1st cent. the centre of interest was not heaven but the Parousia of Christ. Heaven occupied the attention of the NT writers principally as the place where Christ was and whence He would come. St. Paul and others, such as the author of Hebrews, were interested principally in the spiritual consequences of the Resurrection of Christ. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews presents the most striking and consistent picture of the future state of the believer.

As the century advances, the tendency appears in the literature of the period to regard the Parousia more as an article of the faith than as a fact of imminent importance. Side by side with this tendency we find the growth of firmly established ideas of future blessedness based on the imagery of the Apocalypse, crowns and harps, etc., and no searching analysis of the reality of such ideas. It remained for the fresh creative period of Clement of Alexandria and Origen to go over the stereotyped ideas of heaven and transform them.

Literature.-R. H. Charles, Eschatology2, 1913, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the OT, 1913; P. Volz, Jüdische Eschatologie, 1903; J. B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, 1 vol., 1891; C. Clemen, Primitive Christianity and its Non-Jewish Sources, Eng. translation , 1912; E. F. Scott, The Fourth Gospel, 1906, The Kingdom and the Messiah, 1911; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Last Things, 1908; S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality4, 1901; H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John2, 1907; B. F. Westcott, Gospel acc. to St. John, 1908, Epistles of St. John, 1883; Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5 (International Critical Commentary , 1902); articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Dict. of Christ and the Gospels .

S. H. Hooke.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Heaven'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/h/heaven.html. 1906-1918.

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