The Bible’s descriptions of heaven are not numerous, but they are rich and varied. They are also, for the most part, highly symbolic representations of what the afterlife will include. All the writers of scripture seem to share an understanding that human language is inadequate to describe heaven.
The Hebrew Scriptures (known to Christians as the Old Testament) do not focus on the afterlife; in fact, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, says nearly nothing about life after death. Rather, it addresses most strongly the present life and the importance of right relationship to God in family, business, and community life. There is, however, a great deal of material about heaven as the unseen world, the realm of angels and spiritual beings. God created “the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1.1, 14.19), and the rest of the Bible is, in part, the story of the engagement between these two realms. The prophets, who were especially called by God to speak his word to the people, were given visions of this unseen realm. For example, Isaiah saw the throne of God (Isaiah 6.1), and Ezekiel wrote about his experience when “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1.1).
At the end of Isaiah, the prophet foretold the creation of “new heavens and a new earth,” full of delight, free from sorrow and injustice, and rich in peace (Isaiah 65.17-25). This prophetic vision becomes prominent in the New Testament writings. For Christians, heaven is the place of God’s perfect kingdom and the destiny of all who love God. Just before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that he would soon be going to “his Father’s house” where there are many “dwelling places,” and Christians have understood this to mean heaven; Jesus promised the believers that he would come back and “take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14.1-3). Thus heaven, for Christians, is not about harps or streets of gold or an angelic existence, but about nearness to the God they love.
The book of Revelation, which is full of vivid images of the unseen world, also includes descriptions of heaven. Here, too, the main point is the fellowship with God and the joy that such an experience will bring: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.’ ... He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21.3-4). There are also, however, rich depictions of this place of God’s dwelling, and here are the allusions most familiar to people, including streets of gold and pearly gates (Revelation 21.21).
The Bible also talks a great deal about who will be in heaven. From the beginning of the Bible until its last page, God is described as a holy God, one who rejects sin as a form of death and who ceaselessly calls people into a right relationship with him, a sharing in his holiness. Thus, those who aspire to heaven must recognize that it includes judgment—a thorough setting right of all that is wrong—and is best described as a “being with God.” Christians believe that it is Jesus who makes this judgment by God into reconciliation with God, making an eternity with him a delightful future. Those who love God find this a great comfort and hope.
2/5/2021 8:35:00 PM