Doctrine of Heaven

Tod Kennedy, August, 2005



1.    Heaven is a distinct place and God our Father lives there. Though he is omnipresent, he has a throne room or place in which he localizes his person. The heaven of our heavenly Father is the third heaven.

2.    The word is “heaven” used 222 times, many of which refer to the kingdom of heaven, some to the atmospheric heavens, some to interstellar space, and some to the third heaven or God’s home.

3.    There are three heavens mentioned in the Bible. The third is specified. We assume the first and second by reasoning; if there is a third, there must be a first and second.

a.    The atmospheric heaven is apparently the first heaven. This is the sky above us, and the residence of birds (I Kings 21:24; Hosea 2:18), clouds (Daniel 7:13), rain (Acts 14:17), snow (Isaiah. 55:10), dew (Dan. 4:23), frost (Job 38:29), wind (Ps. 135:7), thunder (1 Sam. 2:10), and hail (Job 38:22).

b.    The second heaven may be that which Moses called the firmament (Genesis 1:8) and we call stellar space (Genesis 1:14-18; Nahum 3:16). This is apparently the home for angelic beings.

c.    The third heaven is mentioned many times in the New Testament. Examples include Matthew 6:10, Mark 11:30, John 3:13, John 14:1-3, Acts 1:11, Acts 7:55-56, 2 Corinthians 12:2, Ephesians 4:10, Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 4:1, and Revelation 21.1-4.

i.     The chief priests, scribes, and elders of Israel knew that heaven was God’s residence (Mark 11:27-31).

ii.    Jesus told Nicodemus that he had come from heaven (John 3:13).

iii.   Jesus told his disciples that he would soon go to heaven and while there prepare heavenly homes for each of them (John 14:1-3).

iv.   Angels instructed the disciples that Jesus was ascending into heaven and would return to earth from heaven in the future (Acts 1:10-11) See also Hebrews 9:24.

v.    The Holy Spirit was sent from Heaven (1 Peter 1:12)

vi.   Stephen was granted sight into heaven and there he saw the glory of God and the resurrected Christ (Acts 7:55-56).

vii.  Paul temporarily went to the third heaven after he was stoned at Lystra (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 with Acts 14:19-20). It was so overwhelmingly sacred that Paul was not allowed to reveal anything about it.

viii.Church age believers have their names enrolled in heaven. Hebrews 12:23. That is another way of saying they are citizens of heaven and their heritage and birthright are located in heaven (Philippians 3:20). They also have God’s inheritance for them reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:4).

4.    What direction is heaven? John 3:12-13 and Acts 1:9-11 indicate that heaven is vertical or up from the surface of the earth. If we say that this is only language of accommodation to man’s understanding, then we have no basis for understanding heaven as a specific place.

a.    Hebrews 4:14 and 12:23 are other Scriptures that give a place dimension to the location of heaven.

b.    Even the hymn in 1 Timothy 3:16 has “taken up in glory,” which in context does have a special or vertical meaning.

5.    God uses the first and second heaven to teach lessons.

a.    To reveal himself to his creation (Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:19-29);

b.    To demonstrate his greatness (1 Kings 8:27)

c.    To confirm his promise that he will never again destroy he entire earth by flood (Genesis 9:12-16);

d.    To illustrate and confirm his promises (Genesis 22:17; Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:10);

e.    To miraculously intervene in human history and on mankind’s behalf. For example,

i.     To provide manna (Exodus 16:4)

ii.    To stop the sun to aid Israel (Joshua 10:12-13)

iii.   to judge by fire (1 Kings 18:38-39)

iv.   to accept a sacrifice by fire (1 Chronicles 21:26)

v.    to identify the birthplace of Christ (Luke 2:9)

vi.   to teach a divine truth (Acts 11:9)

vii.  to speak to Paul (Acts 9:3-5)

f.     Jesus, the son of God, will return to earth from the third heaven (Acts 1:11).

6.    “Throne” is associated with heaven in a number of verses. Throne is used 176 times in the English Bible. It is often used for God’s ruling authority and ruling power.

a.     Psalm 11:4 says that God’s throne is in heaven. Psalm 103:19 says God has established his throne in the heavens. Psalm 45:6; 47:8; 93:2; and 103:19 teach us that God’s throne is eternal, and it is in the heavens.

b.    Isaiah 6:1; 9:7; 66:1 teaches that God’s throne is both local and is all of heaven. Matthew 5:34 and Acts 7:49 uses figurative language to say all of heaven is under his control Heaven is throne. Hebrews 12:2 speaks of a specific place.

c.    Daniel 7:9 pictures an actual throne with God the Father sitting on it. Revelation 3:21 pictures and actual throne for both God the Father and God the son. Revelation 7:9-17 also speak of God throne as an actual throne in time and space.

7.    We conclude that heaven and God’s throne go together. The main point is that heaven is the capital of God’s eternal kingdom—all creation that recognizes his authority. Heaven is God’s seat of authority and rule. It is a specific place and also refers to all creation surrounding the earth. God’s throne in heaven is the specific local place for God’s ruling right and power. To illustrate, we can think of Washington DC, the seat of the most powerful nation in the world, as the third heaven. The United States and all the other nations can be thought of as all of God’s creation, including the first and second heavens. In Washington DC there is the White House and the Oval Office. These can be thought of as like God’s throne. God rules all his creation from his throne. Believers will eventually live in his capital with him and his son, Jesus Christ. But there will always be the throne, the seat of his authority and power.

8.    Heaven and believers: so what?

a.    Church age believers are citizens of heaven right now. Heaven is every church age believers’ geographical destiny and future home. As such we eagerly anticipate our Lord’s return from heaven to change us, to give us resurrection bodies, and to qualify us to live in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21).

b.    While Jesus is now in heaven, he is preparing heavenly houses for believers (John 14:1-3). Heaven therefore, has substance. We will have physical resurrection bodies, homes in which to live, and activities to do.

c.    Furthermore, since Lord is now in heaven (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; Ephesians 4:4), every believer goes directly to be with him in heaven at physical death. This was Paul’s confidence (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Every believer can look forward to being clothed by God, each with his own heavenly resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15:47-50; 2 Corinthians 5:1).

d.    For heavenly living now in our physical bodies on earth, God has blessed church age believers with spiritual blessings in the heavenlies—from heaven and heaven like (Ephesians 1:3).

e.    Faithful believers will reign with Christ, presumably in heaven (2 Timothy 2:12).

f.     Heaven in the eternal state will be free from sin, suffering, unhappiness, and fear (Revelation 21:1-4).

g.    Heaven contains the safety deposit box that holds each believer’s eternal inheritance (1 Peter 1:4).

9.    The bottom line:

a.    Heaven is our future home. Be glad about that. We can anticipate great things in the near future and these will last forever.

b.    Who gets to live in heaven forever? Only those who have trusted God’s Son, the Messiah and our Savior for eternal life are qualified to live in heaven (John 3:16-18; John 14:1-6; John 20:31).