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Heaven - A Dictionary Of Christ And The Gospels

HEAVEN (οὐρανός, sing, and plur.; in Mt. plur. chiefly, and always in ὁ πατὴρ ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, and ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν).

Three uses of the word may be classified, omitting parallel passages—

(a) Cosmological.

‘Heaven and earth’ as constituting the entire Universe: as in the phrases ‘till heaven and earth pass away’ (Mat 5:18; Mat 24:35, Luk 16:17); ‘Lord of heaven and earth’ (Mat 11:25). Heaven is ‘the firmament,’ where are fixed the stars and ‘the powers’ (Mat 24:29), the sky (Mat 16:2 Authorized Version ), the air (Mat 6:26; Mat 8:20; Mat 13:32, Luk 8:5, Authorized Version in each), the treasury of the clouds (Mat 24:30; Mat 26:64), the winds (Mat 24:31), the lightning (Luk 17:24), the rain (Luk 4:25); and from whence are signs and portents (Mat 24:30, Luk 21:11)

(b) The abode of God and angels.

Heaven is ‘the throne of God’ (Mat 5:34; Mat 23:22, cf. ‘Our Father which art in heaven,’ Mat 6:8; ‘your Father … in heaven,’ Mat 5:16; Mat 5:45; Mat 6:1; Mat 7:11; Mat 18:14; Mat 23:9; ‘My Father … in heaven,’ Mat 7:21; Mat 10:32-33; Mat 12:50; Mat 16:17; Mat 18:10; Mat 18:19; Mat 18:22 also ‘Heavenly (οὑρανιος) Father, Mat 5:46 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885, Mat 6:14; Mat 6:26; Mat 6:32; Mat 15:13; Mat 18:35 (ἐπουρανιος)). Angels come from Heaven (Mat 28:2, Luk 22:43, cf. Mat 26:53), and return to Heaven (Luk 2:15), and are ‘the heavenly host’ (Luk 2:13), beholding God (Mat 18:10, cf. Luk 15:10), and doing perfectly His will (Mat 6:10).

(c) As a synonym for ‘God.’

The use of ‘Heaven’ for ‘God’ is put beyond question by Luk 15:16; Luk 15:21, where ‘sinned against heaven’ can only mean ‘against God.’ There are other uses only less certain—thus ‘from heaven or from men’ (Mat 21:25) is clearly ‘from God or from men’ (cf. Act 5:38 f.); so also ‘given him from heaven’ (Joh 3:27) must be ‘from God.’ But the most striking instance of this use of ‘Heaven’ as a synonym for ‘God’ is in the phrase ‘the Kingdom of Heaven,’ almost uniformly in Mt. for ‘the Kingdom of God’ of Mk. and Lk., and this in exactly parallel passages. It is quite possible to make a distinction between these titles, but it seems hest to accept them as synonymous.* [Note: See Schürer, HJP ii. ii. 171; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, i. 371 n.; Dalman, Words of Jesus, p. 93; Bruce, Expos. Gr. Test. on Mat 3:2 n., cf. also his Kingdom of God, p. 58, where a distinction is suggested; also Beyschlag, NT Theol., Eng. tr. i. 42, where identity of meaning is granted, but ‘a mere paraphrase for God’ denied; and Stevens, Theol. of the NT, p. 27 f.: ‘interchangeably in Mt,’ but ‘of Heaven’ denotes ‘origin and attributes.’]

Admitting the use of this metonymy, there can be no objection to its use in other instances where a clear meaning follows. Thus, ‘bound, loosed in heaven’ (Mat 16:19; Mat 18:18) = ‘of God’; ‘The keys of the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat 16:19) = the authority of God; ‘names written in heaven’ (Luk 10:20) = acceptance with God, cf. Exo 32:32. The demand for ‘a sign from heaven’ (Mat 16:1, Luk 11:16), while it may refer to the expectation of some visible wonder out of the sky, has ultimate reference to some direct act of God. Anything ‘from heaven’ is an act of God, cf. the judgment upon the cities of the Plain (Luk 17:29), also the request of the disciples (Luk 9:54). Even the phrase ‘treasure in heaven’ has its exact equivalent in ‘rich toward God’ (Luk 12:21). Additional instances of the use of periphrasis are seen in ‘joy in the presence of the angels of God’ (Luk 15:10) for the joy of God; confess ‘before the angels of God’ (Luk 12:8, cf. Mat 10:32); power ‘from on High’ (Luk 24:49); Dayspring ‘from on High’ (Luk 1:78); ‘from above’ (Joh 19:11); ‘in thy sight’ (Mat 11:26); ‘the Most High’ (Luk 1:32; Luk 1:76; Luk 6:35, cf. Mar 5:7).

The transition from Heaven as the abode of God to ‘Heaven’ as a synonym for ‘God’ is illustrated in the custom of uplifting the eyes to Heaven when God is addressed. The thought of the Temple as the dwelling-place of God led to the habit in prayer of turning the face towards Jerusalem and towards the Temple (see 1Ki 8:44; 1Ki 8:48, Dan 6:10, Psa 28:2; Psa 138:2). With the higher faith of God’s transcendence, as One dwelling in the Heaven of Heavens, came the custom of lifting up the eyes to the Heavens (Psa 123:1). The publican ‘would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven’ (Luk 18:13, cf. Ezr 9:6). So in prayer, Jesus ‘lifted up his eyes’ (Joh 11:41), ‘to heaven’ (Joh 17:1); ‘looking up to heaven’ (Mat 14:19, Mar 7:34). There are several passages which present difficulty, but whatever conclusion may he come to as to the objective occurrences in the opening of the heavens (Mat 3:16), and the voice ‘out of the heavens’ (Mat 3:17, Joh 12:28), or ‘out of the cloud’ (Mat 17:5), the subjective experience is the vital matter, the attestation to Jesus of His commission from and fellowship with God.

It is this which is symbolically represented in ‘Ye shall see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man’ (Joh 1:51). Here, in a figure, the mediatorship of Jesus is declared. His revelation of God to man and intercession for man with God. The striking saying, ‘No man hath ascended into heaven but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven’ (Joh 3:13), has additional difficulty. The weight of MS authority is against the last clause, and the words may have been added as a gloss after the Ascension. If, with the Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 , we retain them as the words of Jesus, they must he taken as qualifying the preceding utterance, which then becomes a declaration of His perfect fellowship with God (cf. Joh 1:18) rather than as a reference to Heaven as a place. The ‘heavenly things’ (Joh 3:12) are without doubt the things of God, the new revelation of His grace in Jesus Christ.

In what has been said above there is little that is distinctively Christian. The threefold use of the word ‘Heaven’ is common alike to the OT and Jewish thought of the time. But after this preliminary study we ought to be in a better position to consider the characteristic teaching of Jesus and the Christian faith.

1. The Kingdom of God finds its perfect realization in a future state, a world above and beyond earth, the Kingdom in Heaven. This is the reiterated lesson alike of parable and of direct discourse. All the judgment parables, where separation between the righteous and the wicked is declared, clearly teach a future inheritance of bliss or of woe. So the parables of the Tares (Mat 13:37 f.), the Virgins (Mat 25:1 f.), the Talents (Mat 25:14 f.), and the Unjust Steward (Luk 16:1 f., where under the figure of ‘eternal tents’ the future Canaan is ‘the past idealized’). In accommodation to Jewish thought and hope, the reward is ‘to sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven’ (Mat 8:11, Luk 13:28), a hope which reaches beyond the life of earth. The final consummation must be where Jesus Himself is, and He, who came from heaven (Joh 3:13; Joh 3:31; Joh 6:33; Joh 6:38; Joh 6:41 f.), was ‘received up into heaven’ (Mar 16:19, Luk 24:51, Joh 20:17. The MS uncertainty here in Mk. And Lk. does not affect the argument, which has the testimony of the Apostolic writings). This is the final reward of the faithful, the inheritance of the Kingdom prepared before the foundation of the world (Mat 25:34; Mat 26:29, Joh 14:1 f.).

2. The nature of Heaven.—As the life of the Kingdom is fundamentally ethical (Mat 5:20; Mat 7:21), so is the nature of Heaven itself. It is the fulness of the eternal life, which in the Fourth Gospel is the synonym of the Kingdom. Then it is, and there, that ‘the righteous shine forth as the sun’ (Mat 13:43), a glory certainly of character whatever else may be implied. There, too, is the perfect vision of God (Mat 5:8).

It cannot be doubted that Jesus meant to localize the thought of Heaven. The sharp contrast between Heaven and earth (Mat 6:19-21) can have no other meaning. In His teaching God is no mere all-pervading Spirit, lost in negative infinitude. God, as transcendent, immanent, infinite, alone, does not satisfy His revelation of ‘the Father in heaven.’ That name implies that in some world beyond there is a supreme manifestation of His Presence,—a Father’s House, an enduring Holy of Holies. This, for Christian faith, is the Glory of Christ (Joh 17:5), and to be with Him where He is and to behold His glory is the hope set before us in the gospel (Joh 17:24).

What the activities of Heaven may be is told only in part. They that are accounted worthy to attain to that world ‘are as angels’ (Mar 12:25, Luk 20:36), and the ministry of angels enters into the Gospel story. The faithful are to be ‘set over many things,’ and to ‘enter into the joy’ of their Lord (Mat 25:21; Mat 25:23), which, in the light of the gospel, can only mean higher service.

As to when this inheritance is entered upon, very different conclusions are drawn even from the words of Jesus. The question is considered, for the most part, from the standpoint of retribution. So far as the reward is considered, it may be said definitely that the doctrine of an Intermediate State finds no support in Christ’s gospel. The ‘farewell discourses’ of the Fourth Gospel would lose all their force by the introduction of this doctrine. So for Christian faith the highest hope of Heaven finds its confident expression in the words of St. Paul: ‘absent from the body … at home with the Lord’ (2Co 5:8).

Literature.—This is chiefly of a devotional or sermonic character, but the authors referred to above should be consulted; also Salmond, Christian Doctrine of Immortality; and Alger, Doctrine of a Future Life. On the general subject, which lies outside the scope of the present article, and especially for the Jewish conceptions of Heaven, see the works on Biblical Theology; Morfill-Charles, Book of the Secrets of Enoch; art. ‘Heaven’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible .

W. H. Dyson.

Consult other dictionaries:

Heaven - American Tract Society Bible Dictionary

Heaven - Dictionary of the Apostolic Church

Heaven - Theological Dictionary

Heaven - New Catholic Dictionary

Heaven - Catholic Encyclopedia

Heaven - Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Heaven - Easton's Bible Dictionary

Heaven - Synonyms of the Old Testament

Heaven - Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Heaven - Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Heaven - Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Heaven - The Poor Man’s Concordance and Dictionary to the Sacred Scriptures

Heaven - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Heaven - Popular Cyclopedia Biblical Literature

Heaven - Concise Bible Dictionary

Heaven - Nave's Topical Bible

Heaven - People's Dictionary of the Bible

Heaven - Smith's Bible Dictionary

Heaven - A Symbolical Dictionary

Heaven - Thompson Chain-Reference Bible

Heaven - Biblical and Theological Dictionary

Heaven - Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types

A Dictionary Of Christ And The Gospels