One of the Bible doctrines that has a number of interpretations is the doctrine of “heaven.” A lot of good Bible students and writers have different ideas or interpretations of what heaven is like and they also differ in the final disposition of the present heaven and earth and of the coming down of the New Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem. I plan to tell you my understanding of the Scriptures concerning the “heavens.”
Scripture indicates there are three heavens. It’s logical there wouldn’t be a third heaven without a first and second. The “third heaven” is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:2. “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.”
Scripture alludes to but doesn’t describe the first and second heavens specifically. The first heaven apparently is the sky we can see, the air we breathe, and where the birds fly. Hosea 2:18. “And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground:”
The “second heaven” then, would be the space where the sun, moon, and stars are suspended. Genesis 1:16-17. “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.”
I’ve always enjoyed that phrase in Genesis 1:16 where it says “He made the stars also,” just as if it were a minor act or an afterthought for our omnipotent God. The firmament is an immense area, so large that man can only describe it’s size in “light years,” the distance light travels in one year. A recent issue of the National Geographic magazine had pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope that was overhauled last May to gain better performance. They showed a clear picture of what appeared to be a burning mass like a star calculated to be 13.1 billion light years distant. Light travels at the rate of 186,000 miles in one second, so it travels 5 quadrillion, 878 trillion, 630 billion miles in one year and the star in those pictures is 13.1 billion light years from earth. I did not punch those figures into a calculator for fear it would burn out its bearings trying to give the answer in miles.
If man’s mathematical calculations of space are reasonably correct, and the space shuttles have proven they are, at least as far as the moon, then I have no reason to doubt them. The second heaven where we see the stars, then, is beyond human comprehension in size and scope. That being the case, then how large must the “third heaven, which is evidently beyond that,” be?
The “third heaven” is where God dwells. Paul and John both wrote they were “caught up into heaven” and that would indicate it is located somewhere above the earth. God’s plan is to eventually populate the third heaven with the believers of all ages and to dwell there with them eternally. In John 14, Jesus called it “My Father’s house” and “a place prepared for you,” (the believer). In Hebrews 2:10, it’s called “glory.” “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory.”
In Genesis 2, God finished the creation of the heavens and the earth and rested. Later on in history, Isaiah was allowed to see into God’s heaven. Isaiah 6:1. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.”
In New Testament times, we read earlier that the apostle Paul was caught up to the third heaven and returned to earth but he was told not to reveal what he saw and heard.
The apostle John, however, visited heaven and evidently also returned to earth and wrote about what he saw and heard there. Revelation 4:1. “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
In Revelation chapters 21 and 22, the apostle John describes the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. Scripture tells us that it is going to be the eternal dwelling of all the saints but there are varying views as to where the saints of the church age will spend the Millennium. A lot of good Bible students have given this different interpretations. Some believe the saints of the Rapture will be on earth during the Millennium. J. Dwight Pentecost as well as Merrill Unger believe the New Jerusalem will be the eternal habitation of the resurrected saints during the Millennium. I agree with that interpretation.
There are other equally reputable writers that believe the church will be returned to earth at that time. There are scriptures that may be taken to mean either way. My greatest reason for believing the Raptured church will be in the New Jerusalem at that time is that the believers of this dispensation are saved from the penalty of sin, as well as from the presence of sin, and Scripture tells us there will be sin on earth during the Millennium.
My understanding is that the church, after it is Raptured, will live forever with Christ, (Who is omnipresent) in a sinless environment. The Old Testament saints, however, were promised they would live and reign with Christ (Who is omnipresent) on this earth for a 1000 years.
The New Jerusalem is a literal city with many different inhabitants. Hebrews 12:22-23. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23. to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24. to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.”
After the Millennium, God is going to judge the ungodly and destroy the present earth with fire. 2 Peter 3:7. “the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” From that point on, all the former inhabitants of the earth from all time will enter the eternal state, some to spend it in hell and others in heaven.
The inhabitants of the city, beside the Triune God, will be the “church,” called the “bride of Christ” or the “Lamb's wife,” also referred to here as “the general assembly and church of the first-born who are registered in heaven.”
The redeemed saints of the Old Testament time and of the tribulation will also be there. These are referred to as “the spirits of just men made perfect.”
There will also be an “innumerable company of angels.” These are God’s faithful angels; those who refused to follow Satan in his rebellion against God long before the present earth was inhabited by man.
In John 14:2-3, Jesus said He was going away to prepare a place and He would come again. He was going to prepare “a place” called the New Jerusalem.
At the close of the Millennium, Satan will be loosed to fight one last battle against Christ. God will destroy all the unfaithful on earth and Satan and his followers will be condemned to the “lake of fire” for eternity. The heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire and the unsaved of all time will be judged at the Great White Throne of God where all verdicts will be “guilty.” At that time, the believers of all time will enter the New Heaven and the New Earth where the New Jerusalem is and dwell forever with God in the eternal state.
The description of the heavenly city is magnificent, and it’s where the believer will spend eternity with Jesus. The apostle John was an eyewitness to heaven. He described some of the beautiful things there; some so beautiful that we can’t fully realize just how wonderful it’s going to be until we see and experience it for ourselves.
Revelation 21:1-5 “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This earth, the heavens, and the sea will all have passed away and John compares the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to the beautiful sight of “a bride adorned for her husband.”
Verse 3. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” At one time, to “tabernacle” with someone meant to dwell with them. Here, the phrase “tabernacle of God is with men” is the holy city where God will dwell with redeemed mankind.
Verse 4. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” 5. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
There are times on earth when something hurts us so bad that we get to the place where we can no longer cry, but in heaven, there will be no more to cry about, no pain, no death, no sorrow when we’re in God’s presence. God will do away with all those things.
Verses 9-27, give us a description of the New Jerusalem in all its glory. 9. “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." 10. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11. having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. 12. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13. three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. 14. Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 15. And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. 16. The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.”
Twelve thousand furlongs is approximately 1500 miles. The New Jerusalem appears to be in the form of a cube 1500 miles long, 1500 miles wide, and 1500 miles high. To give you an idea of its size, if you put the northwest corner of the city in Fargo, ND, the southwest corner would be somewhere near San Antonio, TX, the southeast corner near Miami, FL, and the northeast corner would be in New York City, NY, and it would cover 2 1/4 million square miles.
It’s also 1500 miles high. I have no idea what the internal arrangement is but in a enclosure of that size there would be plenty of space for a sky and atmosphere similar to our world and wonderful accommodations for billions of saints.
John continues, in verse 17, with the description of the wall that evidently surrounds the city.
Verse 17. “Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.” (144 cubits would be about 216 feet high.) 18. “The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.”
It would be impossible to calculate the immense wealth of the gems in that beautiful wall in earthly terms, let alone the price of twelve pearls of immense size and paving of gold so pure it appears transparent. Just remember, “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the wealth in every mine.”
Verse 22. “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” When the tabernacle or the temple was on earth, God dwelt inside the veil in the holy of holys, hidden from man’s sight. There will be no need for a temple in the holy city. The Triune God will be there in all His glory, shining brighter than the sun, for all to see.
Verse 23. “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” There will be no light bills, no power outages, and no standby generators in heaven. As we grow older on this earth, it seems we need more light in almost every situation but our glorious Lord Jesus will be all the light we need when we get to heaven.
Verse 24. “And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. 25. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). 26. And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.”
There will be many Gentiles in heaven, called “the nations,” who will honor and glorify God. There’ll be no false religions, no false gods, no Allah, no Budda, no atheists. The saints of all the nations will come willingly to the New Jerusalem to rejoice and pay honor to God.
Verse 27. “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life.”
In chapter 22, John gives a further description of what is awaiting us in heaven.
Revelation 22:1-5. “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. 4. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. 5. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.”
This passage mentions several things that were in the Garden of Eden. God doesn’t create impure things so the rivers connected with the Garden of Eden were surely pure and clear as crystal. There was an abundance of fruit trees for Adam and Eve to choose from in the Garden. If you like fresh fruit, and who doesn’t, you’ll be happy in heaven where there will be a different fresh fruit each month.
I don’t know exactly what the leaves of the trees will heal, they may be symbolic like the olive leaf the dove brought back to the ark when Noah tested to see if God’s wrath was completed on the earth after the flood. Or, if you read it to be “for the health of the nations,” it may be that the fruit from the tree of life and the water from the river of life contribute to the endless existence of our bodies in good health for eternity.
Verses three and four tell us the curse will be completely removed. Everything and everybody will live in complete harmony with each other and with God, with no sickness or sorrow nor pain. The Lamb, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, will be there and we shall see Him face to face and we’ll wear His name proudly on our foreheads as a symbol of our loyalty to Him.
Most of the bad things people do in this world are done in the dark. There will be no night in heaven, there’ll be no need for the sun or a flashlight or auxiliary light of any kind because “the Lord God gives them light.” (verse 5)
And, best of all,
the sinner who places his trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection
can be assured his sins are forgiven
and he will see his Redeemer
face to face in heaven for eternity.
This picture of the heavenly city in Revelation 22 tells us what heaven will be like for the believer and it brings to a close the book that reveals the glorious future for the redeemed of the ages.