Biblical uses of the word heaven have three different meanings: the sky, space, and God‘s home.
The use of heaven to refer to God’s home is the most commonly understood usage. One example is in Acts 3:21 where it says Jesus must remain in heaven for a time. Another example is that followers of Jesus will be with him in heaven (Ephesians 2:6). Heaven is a popular concept, however, to accept the existence of heaven, one must also acknowledge the possibility of hell, which is not as readily embraced.
Heaven, meaning sky is found in Genesis 8:2: “the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.”
An example of heaven, meaning space, can be found Genesis 15:5, where it says, “look now towards the heavens and count the stars.”
Last week we talked about Moses’ mistake of hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. He did this in disobedience to what God told him to do. The Bible calls this sin.
As a result of Moses’ mistake, that is his sin, he was only permitted to see the land God promised to give to the people, but he could not enter into it. This is a great illustration of the idea of following all the rules but one and then not getting into heaven because we’re not good enough.
We can’t earn our way into heaven, because just one “oops” removes that chance. Fortunately, the way to heaven is much easier; it’s called faith.
[Deuteronomy 32:51-52, Deuteronomy 34:4, James 2:10, and Ephesians 2:8-9]
Some people who follow Jesus have a future focus, greatly anticipating heaven. They endure the present while waiting for what is next.
Other people who follow Jesus have a present perspective, living boldly for today as his ambassadors to the world. The afterlife is almost an afterthought.
Which is it? Is our reward for following Jesus, now or later?
The answer is “Yes!”
Jesus said that his followers will receive a reward in the present and even more in the future; he promises us something for today and something for tomorrow.
The Bible says that what we give up for Jesus now, he will replace multiple times in our present life, with eternal life as a bonus later. When we follow Jesus, we get the best of both.
Since eternal life is result of following Jesus, what’s the alternative? Might “eternal death” be the opposite?
If eternal life starts immediately when we begin our journey with Jesus, does eternal death start as soon as someone rejects him?
If eternal life results in heaven, doesn’t eternal death result in hell?
Some opine that eternal death is merely physical death; when the bodies dies, that person is forever gone; their spirit does not live on; it dies too. Death is the end.
However, that’s not my understanding. You can’t have the promise of heaven without the possibility of hell.
For those who follow Jesus, eternal life begins here and now when they align with him. When their body dies, their spirit continues on, enjoying eternal life in heaven.
For those who don’t follow Jesus, eternal death begins here and now when they disregard him. When their body dies, their spirit continues on, suffering eternal death in hell.
[verses about eternal death in the Amplified Bible, the Message, and the New Living Bible]
The phrase “eternal life” occurs 42 times in the Bible. What exactly then is eternal life?
Some suggest eternal life is synonymous with heaven. If we believe in Jesus, we will go to heaven when we die. That is eternal life.
That’s a good start to our understanding of eternal life, but that’s not all there is to it; there’s more.
As I read the Bible, I see eternal life beginning now, here in this world. We learn this from the apostle John, whose references to eternal life are often present tense.
When we follow Jesus, eternal life begins immediately, right now, today. Eternal life begins here on earth through Jesus and continues into heaven when our physical bodies die.
If you follow Jesus, are you enjoying eternal life today?
[verses about eternal life in the NIV Bible, John 5:24, John 3:14-21, John 5:39-40, John 3:34-36]
The sixth word picture is God as our father and we as his children.
Although not everyone had a good biological father — in fact all human fathers make mistakes in raising their children — our spiritual father, God, is without fault, raising us out of perfect love and without error.
With God as our spiritual father, that is our father in heaven, we see him as being wise, loving, disciplining, and patient. Also, as our father there is the hope of us one day receiving an inheritance from him.
For us as God’s children, we are loved, cared for, given generous gifts, and protected. We are also heirs, looking forward to an inheritance that we will one day receive from him — eternal life for all who follow him.
Lastly, just as adult children have the potential for friendship with their earthly parents, we too, are poised to become a friend with our heavenly parent, God.
[See Romans 8:16-17, 1 John 3:1, 2 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Samuel 7:14]
The phrase “the Kingdom of God” is synonymous with “the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Some writers in the Bible simply prefer one over the other; it is not meant to designate two different concepts or kingdoms. (Mark and Luke used “Kingdom of God,” whereas Matthew used “Kingdom of heaven.”)
These phrases can perhaps be best understood by considering that Jesus desires to brings heaven’s rule to earth. Under his rule, there are benefits and responsibilities to his subjects — the church.
Jesus explains about the Kingdom of God/Heaven through parables:
How do these parables change your view of God and our relationship to him?
The Bible sometimes calls the followers of Jesus, aliens*. This seems like a strange and insulting label. An alien is someone who doesn’t belong, an outsider. In common usage, an alien is from another country, but jumping to the world of sci-fi, an alien is from another world or alternate existence.
Is this starting to come into focus? If we follow Jesus, we don’t belong here; we are just passing through to the home that awaits us in heaven.
We are indeed aliens — but do we act like it? Acting like aliens means we have a different focus, different goals, and different priorities. It means we are different and people should see that difference.
Are you an alien — or do you belong here?
* See Ephesians 2:19, Hebrews 11:13, and 1 Peter 2:11; some translations use words like exiles, migrants, strangers, and temporary residents. The Message uses the phrase, “this world is not your home.”
Most people correctly understand that God is love. They then reason that out of love, he will unquestionably accept them as they are, welcoming them into heaven when they die. This is an oversimplification of his love.
God is also just. His just nature requires that there be a punishment for the wrong things that we do.
If, out of love, God didn’t require punishment for wrongdoing, that would make him unjust. Lacking justice and being unfair is unloving. Therefore, he must punish wrong living. That punishment was taken on by Jesus (if we accept it); otherwise we must face the punishment ourselves.
So God’s just nature requires punishment, but his loving nature covers that punishment through Jesus.