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Heaven, the Saved and the Unsaved

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Heaven is the term used in the Bible to indicate the space where God and various spiritual beings reside. It also speaks of the area above the earth—the sky.

Major Concepts of Heaven from the Hebrew Bible

For the ancient Israelites, the cosmos consisted of Heaven, earth, and the lower waters (Exod 20:4). In the Hebrew Bible, Heaven is the location of the clouds, the atmosphere (Job 35:5), and the area across which the journey of the stars in their paths (Jer 8:2). Various passages state that the heavens were created by the Lord (Gen 1:1; Isa 45:12) and that they could be opened at His bidding to bring rain (Gen 7:12). The Israelites believed there was a vast body of water in the heavens that was the source of the rain (Jer 51:16; Psa 148:4). They thought there were vessels in Heaven for the storage of the rainwater (Deut 28:12; Job 38:37). The word "heaven" may come from an Akkadian phrase meaning "place of the waters" (Wright, Early History of Heaven, 55). However, it is also possible that the term originates from an Ancient Near Eastern root meaning a hollow and high place (Pennington, Heaven, and Earth, 39).

The word "heaven" in the Old Testament usually designates the place of God's habitation (Psa 14:2; 1 Kgs 8:30, 39). To differentiate between the visible Heaven and the dwelling place of God, biblical authors often referred to Yahweh's abode as the Heaven of heavens or the highest Heaven (Deut 10:14; 1 Kgs 8:27; Psa 148:4; Neh 9:6). Certain attributes of God—such as His justice—are said to exist in Heaven (e.g., Isa 34:5). God was not alone in the heavens—the celestial beings also inhabited it (Gen 28:12; 1 Kgs 22:19).

Some biblical authors provided physical descriptions of Heaven. Job 26:11 says that the heavens are secured by pillars. Genesis 8:2 speaks of the windows of Heaven, which can be fastened to restrain the rain. The poetic passages of the Bible which speak of Heaven

may not be literal descriptions.

It is evident from the previous readings; the Hebrew people actualized the concept of Heaven. Heaven denotes a place where God resides along with the heavenly hosts.

Development of the Concept of Heaven

In early Jewish thought, Heaven was a place solely for God and the heavenly hosts. Israel did not regard Heaven as a place a human would inhabit—except in extraordinary instances such as Elijah (2 Kgs 2:11). They believed the dead descended to the Underworld—Sheol (Gen 37:35; 42:38; 1 Kgs 13:31).

Exposure to Persian concepts during the exile likely influenced later Jewish thinking and writing about Heaven and the afterlife. The Iranian prophet Zoroaster (ca. 1400 bc) taught that after death, the soul would be judged and condemned to Hell or rewarded a place in Heaven (McDannell, Heaven: A History, 12). There emerged in Jewish thought (ca. 250 bc) the hope for the reunion of Israel in the heavenly dwelling place—in the renewal of all things (2 Macc 1:27–29; 2:7–8, 17–18; Tob 14:4–7).

The ability of human beings to rise from their earthly setting and enter Heaven is described in the documents. The community (ca. 150 bc—ad 68) believed that amid their worship on earth, they could also participate with the angelic worshipers in Heaven. These devout worshipers were purified by God's mercy to stand with the angels and sing praises to the Lord (1QH 11 19–23; 1QM 7 4–6). The community's conviction was that their present worship experience was similar to the worship experience they expected to enjoy in the future established kingdom of God (Newsom, Songs of the Sabbath, 889).

Israel's development of Heaven was influenced by Persian concepts, which for those of us who have studied extensively is not surprising, and it does not make the concept of Heaven any less knowing a people (Israel) weaved in other surrounding ideas into their thinking of

Heaven and other images in the scriptures.

Gospels and Acts

The Gospels and Acts of the Apostles reflect an understanding of Heaven similar to the Old Testament—with some advances in thought. The book of Acts retains the faith that God created the heavens (Acts 4:24; 14:15; 17:24). Heaven is still used to talk about the atmosphere and the dwelling place of the birds of the air (Matt 6:26). It was also the vast space in which the stars moved (Acts 2:19). The term "heaven" signifies the dwelling-place of God and the abode of the angelic hosts (Matt 18:10). It is also where the Son of God originates (John 3:13; 6:33).

The word "heaven" is found in the New Testament most frequently in Matthew (84 times). The author of Matthew repeatedly contrasts "heaven" and "earth." Heaven is where treasures are to be accumulated—not on earth (Matt 6:19–20). The follower of Jesus should call no one on earth his father—he has but one Father in Heaven (Matt 23:9). The Christian prayer is for the kingdom of the Father in Heaven to come—and manifest itself on earth (Matt 6:9, 10). Jesus' message in Matthew is described as a contrast between Heaven and earth—showing the superiority of Heaven (Pennington, Heaven, and Earth, 210). But Heaven and earth will not always stand in contrast. The goal of God's redemptive plan in Jesus is not the removal of the earth in the sense of being replaced with a kingdom in Heaven but is instead the renewal of all things so the earthly realms will resemble the heavenly pattern (Matt 6:9–10; 19:28; Pennington, Heaven and Earth, 210).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus consoles his disciples about his departure by telling them, "In my Father's house, there are many dwelling places" (John 14:2 ESV). There are two ways this passage has been understood: the words "Father's house" may be a reference to Heaven (e.g., Morris, The Gospel, 567), or one can take Jesus' statement as a metaphor for community, congregation, household, or group of people (e.g., Hos 1:4; Heb 3:6; see Aalen, " 'Reign' and 'House,'" 228). The phrase "many dwelling places" focuses on the idea that there is unlimited space for all in Heaven rather than on the size of the structure. If this is Jesus' intention, then the nuance of the phrase is more relational—the disciples and God reside together in a family relationship.

In John 14:2–3, Jesus also tells his disciples that He will prepare a place for them. In keeping with the metaphorical sense of Jesus' statement, the preparation likely refers to spiritual preparation. A person dwelling with God is only made possible by the spiritual preparation made by Christ on the cross (Carson, The Gospel, 489).[1]

A primary focus of salvation in the New Testament is deliverance from sin and God's eschatological punishment of sinners (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:77; Acts 2:40; Rom. 5:9; cf. 1 Thess. 1:10). This salvation is not just a release from anxiety concerning God's final retribution, but also involves participation in the life of the age to come. Therefore, in the Synoptic Gospels, "salvation" can represent participation in the eschatological kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus (Matt. 19:25; Luke 8:12; 19:9–10). Because it is directed toward both the eschatological future and the presence of the kingdom brought by Christ, salvation is, at the same time, a single experience that is already in the past for Christians (1 Cor. 15:2; Eph. 2:5), a process Christians are undergoing in the present (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 1:18; Phil. 2:12), and a future experience (Rom. 5:9–10; 13:11; 1 Cor. 5:5; cf. Phil. 3:20); the single term stands for all phases of what God has brought in Christ. The preaching of the gospel is how this salvation is brought to the world (Acts 13:26, 47; 16:17; Rom. 1:16; 10:13–15; Eph. 1:13).[2]

The New Testament continued the concept of Heaven when Jesus spoke of going before us and preparing a place for us in Heaven. But, while we are here on earth, those who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, we have dual citizenship on earth and in Heaven because salvation is at the same time a single experience that is already, according to the author, both an eschatological future and presence of the kingdom brought by Jesus Christ.

Eternal death—The miserable fate of the wicked in Hell (Matt. 25:46; Mark 3:29; Heb. 6:2; 2 Thess. 1:9; Matt. 18:8; 25:41; Jude 1:7). The Scripture as clearly teaches the unending duration of the penal sufferings of the lost as the "everlasting life," the "eternal life" of the righteous. The exact Greek words in the New Testament (aion, aionios, aidios) are used to express (1) the eternal existence of God (1 Tim. 1:17; Rom. 1:20; 16:26); (2) of Christ (Rev. 1:18); (3) of the Holy Ghost (Heb. 9:14); and (4) the eternal duration of the sufferings of the lost (Matt. 25:46; Jude 1:6).

Their condition after casting off the mortal body is spoken of in these expressive words: "Fire that shall not be quenched" (Mark 9:45, 46), "fire unquenchable" (Luke 3:17), "the worm that never dies," the "bottomless pit" (Rev. 9:1), "the smoke of their torment ascending up forever and ever" (Rev. 14:10, 11).

The idea that the "second death" (Rev. 20:14) is, in the case of the wicked, their absolute destruction, their annihilation, has not the slightest support from Scripture, which always represents their future as one of conscious suffering enduring forever.

The supposition that God will ultimately secure the repentance and restoration of all sinners is equally unscriptural. There is not the slightest trace in all the Scriptures of any such restoration. Sufferings of themselves do not tend to purify the soul from sin or impart spiritual life. The atoning death of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit are the only means of divine appointment for bringing men to repentance. Now in the case of them that perish, these means have been rejected, and "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Heb. 10:26, 27).[3]

Those who reject Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, not believing that He died for our sins according to the scriptures and He was resurrected on the third day to live forever in Heaven until such time He returns to rapture the church, those of us who have not confessed Him as your Lord and Savior, and most importantly living for Him according to the scriptures have already been condemned to Hell.

This blog may appear to be academic, which it is, but prayerfully it provides the reader with enough information to make an intelligent decision to live for Jesus Christ. These three subjects of Heaven, salvation in Jesus Christ, and the unsaved were the first topics chosen to share with you. May God bless everyone who will take the time to read this blog.

[1] Seal, David. 2016. “Heaven.” In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. [2] Myers, Allen C. 1987. In The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 905. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. [3] Easton, M. G. 1893. In Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature, 239. New York: Harper & Brothers.

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