the Fourth Week of Lent
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Heaven, the state and place of blessedness in the life to come.
As we can have no distinct conception of those joys which never have been and never will be experienced by us here in their full extent, we have of course no words in human language to express them, and cannot therefore expect any clear description of them even in the Holy Scriptures. Hence the Bible describes this happiness sometimes in general terms designating its greatness (as in; ); and sometimes by various figurative images and modes of speech, borrowed from everything which we know to be attractive and desirable.
The following are the principal terms, both literal and figurative, which are applied in Scripture to the condition of future happiness.
Among the literal appellations we find 'life,' 'eternal life,' and 'life everlasting,' literally 'a happy life,' or 'eternal well-being' (;;; ); 'glory,' 'the glory of God' (;; ); and 'peace' (). Also 'an eternal weight of glory' (); and 'salvation,' 'eternal salvation' (), etc.
Among the figurative representations, we may place the word 'heaven' itself. The abode of departed spirits, to us who live upon earth, and while we remain here, is invisible and inaccessible, beyond the bounds of the visible world, and entirely separated from it. There they live in the highest well-being, and in a nearer connection with God and Christ than here below. This place and state cannot be designated by any more fit and brief expression than that which is found in almost every language, namely, 'heaven,'—a word in its primary and material signification denoting the region of the skies, or the visible heavens. It is there that the highest sanctuary or temple of God is situated, i.e., it is there that the omnipresent God most gloriously reveals Himself. This, too, is the abode of God's highest spiritual creation. Thither Christ was transported: He calls it the house of His Father, and says that He has therein prepared an abode for His followers ().
This place, this 'heaven,' was never conceived of in ancient times, as it has been by some modern writers, as a particular planet or world, but as the wide expanse of heaven, high above the atmosphere, or starry heavens; hence it is sometimes called the third heaven, as being neither the atmosphere nor the starry heavens.
Another figurative name is 'Paradise,' taken from the abode of our first parents in their state of innocence, and transferred to the abode of the blessed (;;; ).
Again, this place is called 'the heavenly Jerusalem' (;; ), because the earthly Jerusalem was the capital city of the Jews, the royal residence, and the seat of divine worship; 'the kingdom of heaven' (; ); the 'heavenly kingdom' (); the 'eternal kingdom' (). It is also called an 'eternal inheritance' (; ), meaning the possession and full enjoyment of happiness, typified by the residence of the ancient Hebrews in Palestine. The blessed are said 'to sit down at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,' that is, to be a sharer with the saints of old in the joys of salvation; 'to be in Abraham's bosom' (; ), that is to sit near or next to Abraham [BOSOM]; 'to reign with Christ' ), i.e. to be distinguished, honored, and happy as he is—to enjoy regal felicities: to enjoy 'a Sabbath,' or 'rest' (), indicating the happiness of pious Christians, both in this life and in the life to come.
All that we can with certainty know or infer from Scripture or reason respecting the blessedness of the life to come, may be arranged under the following particulars:— 1. We shall hereafter be entirely freed from the sufferings and adversities of this life. 2. Our future blessedness will involve a continuance of the real happiness of this life.
I. The entire exemption from suffering and all that causes suffering here, is expressed in the Scripture by words which denote rest, repose, refreshment, after performing labor and enduring affliction. But all the terms which are employed to express this condition, define (in the original) the promised 'rest,' as rest after labor, and exemption from toil and grief; and not the absence of employment, not inactivity or indolence (;;;; comp. 7:17).
This deliverance from the evils of our present life includes—
1. Deliverance from this earthly body, the seat of the lower principles of our nature and of our sinful corruption, and the source of so many evils and sufferings (; ).
2. Entire separation from the society of wicked; and evil-disposed persons, who, in various ways, injure the righteous man and embitter his life on earth ().
3. Upon this earth everything is inconstant, and subject to perpetual change; and nothing is capable of completely satisfying our expectations and desires. But in the world to come it will be different. The bliss of the saints will continue without interruption or change, without fear of termination, and without satiety (;;;;; , sq.).
II. Besides being exempt from all earthly trials, and having a continuance of that happiness which we had begun to enjoy even here, we have good reason to expect hereafter other rewards and joys, which stand in no natural or necessary connection with the present life. For our entire felicity would be extremely defective and scanty, were it to be confined merely to that which we carry with us from the present world, or were we compelled to stop short with that meager and elementary knowledge which we possess here. Besides the natural rewards of goodness, there must, therefore, be others, which are positive, and dependent on the will of the Supreme Legislator.
In the doctrine of the New Testament positive rewards are considered most obviously as belonging to our future felicity, and as constituting a principal part of it. For it always represents the joys of heaven as resulting strictly from the favor of God, and as being undeserved by those on whom they are bestowed. Hence there must be something more added to the natural good consequences of our actions, something which cannot be considered as the necessary and natural consequences of the good actions we may have here performed. But, on this subject, we know nothing more in general than this, that God will so appoint and order our circumstances, and make such arrangements, that the principal faculties of our souls—reason and affection, will be heightened and developed, so that we shall continually obtain more pure and distinct knowledge of the truth, and make continual advances in holiness.
Some theologians have supposed that the saints in heaven may be taught by immediate divine revelations, especially those who may enter the abodes of the blessed without knowledge, or with only a small measure of it; e.g. children and others who have died in ignorance, for which they themselves were not to blame. On this subject nothing is definitely taught in the Scriptures; but both Scripture and reason warrant us in believing that provision will be made for all such persons in the world to come. A principal part of our future happiness will consist, according to the Christian doctrine, in the enlarging and correcting of our knowledge respecting God, his nature, attributes, and works, and in the salutary application of this knowledge to our own moral benefit, to the increase of our faith, love, and obedience.
In the Scripture revelations respecting heaven Christ is always represented as one who will be personally visible to us, and whose personal, familiar intercourse and guidance we shall enjoy. Herein Christ himself places a chief part of the joy of the saints (, etc.); and the apostles often describe the blessedness of the pious by the phrase being with Christ. To his guidance has God entrusted the human race, in heaven and on earth. And Paul says (), we see 'the brightness of the divine glory in the face of Christ,' He is 'the visible representative of the invisible God' (). According to the representation contained in the Holy Scriptures, the saints will dwell together in the future world, and form, as it were a kingdom or state of God (Luke 16;;;; ). They will there partake of a common felicity. Their enjoyment will doubtless be very much heightened by friendship, and by their confiding intercourse with each other.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Heaven'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​h/heaven.html.