4. What Is Heaven?
If you do a word study in the New Testament of the Greek word for heaven, "ouranos," writing out every verse with that word in it, seeking a definition from the context, you will not find any sort of a definition that would satisfy you, nor would you see anything that sounds like the Christian definition of "heaven." In fact, such a word study will leave you more not understanding what heaven is than we may have right now. So, if you are confused about heaven, you are much closer to a New Testament definition of heaven than those of your Christian friends who are convinced that they "see" it clearly.
4. What Is Heaven?
I received the following questions in an email.
Daniel, what is the meaning of believers who die and are said to be asleep or dead in Christ? Are they not awaiting the resurrection before those remaining waiting to see the redemption of their body in a moment, the twinkling of an eye? Those asleep in Christ, who have gone by way of the grave, their spirit is in heaven for the spirit returns to God who gave it. Is their spirit asleep in Christ?
I was told you enter that realm in the same degree of maturity you had attained while alive on earth to be perfected there. But what of Hebrews 4:13-17 that says spirits of just men made perfect? Who are these? The Christians I hear tell me when one dies they are in heaven already enjoying it all, as if the resurrection for them is already past, but that denies 1 Thes. 4:16 of the dead in Christ rising first. I hope this is not too confusing, it is for me. Can you shed some light on it?
A big problem for us as humans – and this is a given for finite, earthly minds – is that we compartmentalize God and we geographize the heavenly realms. Because I am in Texas and you are in Wisconsin, we are in different “locations” and far away from one another. Thus, we think of “God on His throne” as up there, over there, somewhere far away. At the same time, when we think of heaven versus earth we think of heaven in the form of a “physical” location, somewhere on the other side of Andromeda, maybe.
But we know that this manner of defining God and the heavenly realms cannot be so. So we must change how we think about these things when we read about them in Scripture.
First, God is omnipresent Spirit. Whatever He is, He is that fully in all places at all times. So “God’s throne” is not some location somewhere, rather, it is a symbol speaking of His authority, which, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth is given unto Me, therefore, you go.” We can see that this word Jesus speaks at the end of Matthew is identical in every way to “and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.” The authority of the universe belongs to Jesus, who extends it to us, as He lives in us.
If you do a word study in the New Testament of the Greek word for heaven, ouranos, writing out every verse with that word in it, seeking a definition from the context, you will not find any sort of a definition that would satisfy you, nor would you see anything that sounds like the Christian definition of “heaven.” In fact, such a word study will leave you more not understanding what heaven is than we may have right now. So, if you are confused about heaven, you are much closer to a New Testament definition of heaven than those of your Christian friends who are convinced that they “see” it clearly.
And so, I have drawn a definition of ‘heaven” over the years from many things God has taught me that is much more in agreement with what the New Testament actually teaches than the so-called “Christian” definition. My understanding of heaven is by no means complete.
Let me give you some for instance’s. First, we know that Jesus was in heaven while He walked the earth – that is the normal Christian life. Demons and the serpent have their dwelling in heaven. Jesus ascended far above all heavens, so that means He is not presently in heaven — ? You refer to those saints who are “with the Lord,” but does it actually say they are in heaven? We know that the Lord is above heaven. Hades, the place of the dead is in heaven. Heaven is unclean in God’s sight (Job) – and heaven is temporal, it is passing away. So “eternal” life cannot be talking about heaven.
You see, rather than deal with the confusion and complexity of the Biblical definitions of “heaven,” Christianity has developed through the imagination of great men, a simple, geographical definition that allows them a simple idea, and then they take their imaginative simple idea and impose it on everything in the Bible, whether it is talking about heaven or something entirely different. For instance, in John 3:16 Jesus says, “. . . shall not perish, but have aeonian life - the life of the age to come.” But Christians don’t read it that way, they read, “. . . shall not go to hell, but shall go to heaven when they die.” And so they are thinking of geographical locations, completely irrelevant to right here, right now, locations that can be known only at some distant point in the future.
“Heaven” is not the goal to which we are heading. Those who have died in Christ are with Christ and they are happy and blessed. But they have not arrived at the end of their journey; they are still looking toward us to finish this thing. The end of the journey for all humans is the resurrection, when we receive an incorruptible physical body and then can live fully in heaven and earth with our eyes fully open to both realms.
“Earth” is a metaphor for all the physical parts of the universe, and so, technically, the stars, because they are physical, are part of the “earth” side of the universe, not the heavenly side. “Heaven” is a metaphor for the spiritual side of the universe, and so demons, though they go upon the physical earth, have their being in “heaven,” that is, they are not physical, they are spirits. Since we have a spirit as well, we are partly heavenly. Our spirit is in heaven, it can’t be “earthy,” because it is made of spirit – it is not made of matter.
Part of the problem of confusion lies in the transition between these two definitions of “heaven.” When I say, “We are as fully in heaven right now as we will ever be, we just can’t see it,” that makes perfect sense to me because I think only in the definitions of the heavenlies as they are given in the New Testament. The Christian idea of heaven does not enter my mind. More than that, every individual reference to ouranos in the New Testament fits my understanding. I don’t have to ignore any of them, as most Christians do.
At the same time, I will not use verses and symbols of the New Testament to define “heaven” unless the word ouranos is in that same context. This is where a lot of misunderstanding comes from. The “city foursquare” is so clearly talking about the Church of Jesus Christ – it says this is the bride, the Lamb’s wife, and it is “coming down from heaven,” which means that it is materializing out of the spiritual realms into the physical realms of earth. Not one statement in that passage has anything to do with defining “heaven.”
So, when the Scripture says that the Lord will “descend from heaven with the shout of the archangel.” We know that He is not “up there in the sky somewhere,” how could that be since He lives in our hearts? That statement “descend from heaven” is simply a metaphor for Jesus materializing into physical expresion out from His present spiritual expression. Both physical and spiritual are 100% real and tangible. They are simply two different forms of being. I even suspect they are the same substance, just at two different levels of frequency, if you want to be “scientific.”
Those who are with the Lord now have no physical expression or form of being. In fact, I suspect that you will find “Christians” at many different levels or “places” in the heavenly realms. But they are still humans, and humans were made by God at the juncture between heaven and earth. Therefore, they cannot be complete, nor consider themselves “saved,” until they receive once again a physical expression of being – that is, their resurrected bodies. Full salvation is the redemption of the body. So, I can even consider the fact that those who are with the Lord in heaven are not yet “saved,” not completely.
So, there is no contradiction between the belief that Christians continue in the heavens in the same state of knowing Christ in them and living in the reality of the Christ life, which they have come to here on earth and, at the same time, some, at least, having “spirits” that are made perfect. But those are still awaiting their bodies to be “made perfect.”
Now, you refer to the fact that we who are alive shall not precede those who have died – in the resurrection. Yet, at the same time, Hebrews says that “they without us cannot be made perfect.” Perfection, and the completion of the salvation of God is fulfilled in the earth and in this age; it is not fulfilled by any of those who have died. But, when God has accomplished the fulness of salvation inside of us who walk this earth now, He will grant to those who have died in Christ the first experience of the resurrected body, and then we will follow in the experience of our earthly body being swallowed up by life without passing into the grave. That “materializing” of the heavenly saints into their resurrected physical bodies is the New Jerusalem “descending from heaven.”
You see, humans alone, of all beings God created, are given both an earthly body and a heavenly body. We will forever live in both heaven and earth at the same time. We have an earthly, physical expression that can enjoy all the fruit of the earth, and we have a heavenly, spiritual expression that can enjoy all the fruit of heaven. Thus, we will be the image of God to all of His creation, to all the multitudes of physical beings He will yet create throughout all the physical side of the universe, and to all the multitudes of angelic beings He has, and will yet create through all the heavenly side of the universe. Jesus the Head, and we His body, His bride, His expression, His tender hands, His gentle wisdom.
You see, though this definition bears little relationship to the modern Christian definitions of the after life, it allows so many weird and cryptic things that God says in the New Testament to fit and make perfect sense to us. Those things are weird and shoved aside only by those who hold to the nonsensical imaginative definition that is so popular.
You say of those who have died, “their spirit is in heaven for the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Now that is combining metaphors. Your spirit and mine are as much in heaven as those who have died. What they have lost is their earthly expression. At the same time, our earthly expression, our physical body, still labors under the outworkings of the curse. “The spirit returning to God who gave it,” is an Old Testament expression, Solomon, I believe, which is God fitting eternal infinite reality into the language of limited, finite, temporal, and fallen man. Paul said that we, including the lost, live and move and have our being in God. So our spirit, and even our physical body, at all times has its being in God.
Yes, when Christians claim that those who are presently “in heaven” are enjoying the totality of full salvation, they are speaking out of the historical imaginative fantasy and not from what God says in the New Covenant. That is why I am more and more limiting myself to what God speaks in the New Testament and nothing else. If something else, including the Old Testament, helps me to understand better what God is speaking, great; I will make full use of it. But if it is not what God says in the New Testament, or if it is something quite at odds with what God says, which much of Christian theology is, then I have no use for it. I am bold enough to have no desire to be a “Christian.”
One significant problem that is found in Christian thinking, including in the thinking of those who are “deeper” in their understanding of Christ, is the devaluation of the earth. There is a huge desire to make the earthy and the physical body that enjoys the earth to be “low” and not part of God’s image. This idea, when taken too far, becomes gnosticism, drawing out of the spirit of anti-Christ that denies the revelation of Christ in the flesh. And it is this idea that John wrote specifically to oppose.
I do not share that way of thinking. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. — The meek shall inherit the earth. — The glory of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. — The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld Him. And so on.
When God created man in His “image,” that word, as it is used in the Old Testament is most often translated “idol.” It means a visible, earthly expression of an invisible spiritual being.
Although the goal of the believer is the resurrection, something else must come to its fulness and completion first, and that is the life of Jesus unveiled in my mortal FLESH, in my dying body. 2 Corinthians 4
The revelation of Christ is God manifest in the flesh. Human flesh is at the center of God’s focus and triumph in the gospel, a truth seen in a careful reading of Romans and Corinthians uncluttered by pressing theologies.
This earth is my inheritance and I will enjoy the earth in all of its fullness in my resurrected physical body. I will also enjoy heaven in all of its fullness in my spirit, that is in my spiritual body. Adam was made out of the union between God and dirt – perfect before sin entered the picture.
We are not spirits. We are living souls and we have both a spirit and a body. And such we will be forever – to reveal the nature and kindness of God in all physical realms and in all heavenly realms forever. In truth, the heart, the human heart, especially as it is seen in the most heart-filled man in the Bible, David, is more an expression of who God is than any part of our spirit or anything in heaven or the spiritual realms. And “heart” comes entirely out of the union of God and dirt.
I see only dimly, but any further “seeing” of the reality of the heavenly realms will come through what God speaks in the New Covenant as Jesus tells me what I am “looking at” as I am seated, right now, in heaven, in Him, upon His throne.
I want to be taught of the Lord, and I know that my present understanding must give way to a clearer understanding of truth on a regular basis. But I must hold any change of understanding to what God speaks to me through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that must come specifically through what God says in the New Testament. People’s ideas and Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic definitions of words cannot be my point of reference. What God is speaking within the terms of the Covenant I have signed with Him and He with me, revealed to me by the anointing which I have received from Him, can be my only reference point.
The same is true of you as well. Be taught by the Lord, not by me. Be taught from what the Holy Spirit makes life to you from the he New Testament.