2012-07-03 15:10


Which Heaven will you go to?

An examination of what the Bible actually says

by John Aldworth

No genuinely saved believer doubts that he or she will go to heaven at the end of this life. It is one of the first truths the Spirit impresses on our heart once we have received the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, knowing that he paid the price for our sin.In the troubles of this life Heaven is what we long and hope for: a place of calm and rest with our blessed Saviour; a habitat where sin and evil can never affect us again, an eternity of living with and learning ever more about God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Yet, strangely, few Christians have much idea of what heaven will be really like, despite being certain they will get there.  Now they don’t take seriously the cartoon images of saints sitting on clouds plucking harps. Nor do most believers imagine that “up there” they will be equipped with wings to fly like angels. However, ask most of us to describe the realm that will be our home for eternity and we draw a blank or fall back on the vivid scenes of the heaven as described in the Book of Revelation.

Out of great tribulation?

Now if indeed it’s the heaven in the Book of Revelation you’re going to, then it’s nice to picture one's self clothed in white, palm in hand, standing before the throne (Rev. 7:9).  Not so nice though to learn that to be in that company you must have come out of “great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14). That means you must have gone through the “great tribulation” (Matt. 24:21) where only those who “endure unto the end” (Matt. 24:13) are saved. And “enduring to the end” is not what you believed as gospel when you were saved is it? You believed that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3); you were told: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16: 31). No mention of going through the great tribulation, was there?

It might be great to join in the triumphant praise of elders and thousands of angels around the throne (Rev.5:11-12 and 5:8) but then again what that entails might not be so welcome. You see, far from being a place of peace, Revelation depicts heaven as a frighteningly active place. Lightnings flash, thunders roar from the throne, loud voices are heard (Rev. 4:5). An altar is opened and you hear the plaintive cries of un-avenged saints (Rev. 6:9). Angels pour out vials of wrath.

For sure, the Bible’s last book teaches that a great multitude have washed their clothes white in the blood of the lamb (Rev. 7:14) but that isn’t something you had to do when you got saved. You simply believed. The book says the multitude shall neither hunger nor thirst and that the Lamb shall feed them and lead them unto living fountains of waters. But read carefully and it’s clear all this actually describes a blessed state that will exist on earth not in heaven. It is on earth they will be “before the throne”; it is on earth they will serve God in his temple. The Lamb “which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them” … on earth. The proof is Rev. 21:1-4 where we learn God shall be with them when the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven. And if it’s coming down from heaven there’s only place where it can go to of course and that’s down to earth.

This after all is what the “Lord’s prayer” was all about. “Thy kingdom come … thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, it said. Remember?

Beasts with eyes in their behinds

Still think the Book of Revelation’s heaven is the one you’re going to? Then will you enjoy spending eternity close up with six-winged beasts with eyes in both their fronts and their behinds? There’s one like a lion, another a calf, a third an eagle while, disconcertingly, the fourth has the face of a man (Rev. 4:6-7). And “they rest not day or night” (Rev. 4:8).

Saints dreaming of a “sweet bye and bye” In the Revelation heaven are in for a shock. In Rev. 12:1-5 heaven becomes a maternity ward. A lady is paining to be delivered; then a great red dragon with seven crowned heads and ten horns roars in to eat the child as soon as it is born. Is this bliss with the Lord for evermore. No, it’s the stuff of nightmares. Thank God that in the ensuing angelic battle the dragon loses and is cast down to earth.

One thing’s for sure. You’d never get bored in this heaven; there’s far too much going on. And nothing stays the same. In Rev. 14:1-11, for example, there’s a voice of thunder, an angel harps on, and the redeemed learn a new song. Angels bring periodic news bulletins. One preaches the everlasting gospel, another pronounces the fall of Babylon, a third warns men on earth against worshipping the beast.

John scarcely takes all that in before the Son of Man Himself appears sitting on a cloud with a golden crown and a sharp sickle in his hand. (By the way He’s the only person in Revelation who gets to sit on a cloud; the saints don’t, which begs the question as to where the saints there do sit or sleep, if indeed they do. Yet in 2 Thess. 1:7 we are told we will be at rest when the Lord is dealing out judgement on earth below!) Another angel wields a sickle and a third has power over fire. Seven other angels pour out the last plagues on earth while those saints victorious over the beast stand on the sea of glass mingled with fire and sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

Yes, it’s all happening in the Book of Revelation. Get ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb, which takes place on earth by the way, then brace for millions of human carcasses the Lord spreads on earth for the vultures. Is that the marriage feast? Sure, you might get some rest during the Lord’s 1000-year reign on earth but then oh, oh, the dragon is loosed again for a season. That in turn leads to the last judgement of Satan and unsaved sinners and creation of a new heaven and earth. In the grand finale the holy city, the New Jerusalem descends out of heaven down to earth. And so, if this is the heaven you’re going to, you end up back on earth anyway.

No rest at all up there?

Now let me ask: where are you in all of this? Come to that where am I? Psalm 199:89 says: “Forever, O Lord thy word is settled in heaven”, but it’s hard to see how any ordinary mortal could be settled in the heaven depicted in Revelation; it’s on the move too much. In fact the entire focus of the Revelation heaven is on earth and the Lord’s coming to rule and reign there. And in the first 13 chapters of Revelation only the souls bewailing their martyrdom are to “rest for a little season”. For the most part everybody else is busy it seems, because it is not until Rev. 14:13 a voice proclaims:

“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth….that they may rest from their labours” (Rev. 14:13).

Presumably nobody gets to rest prior to that announcement. Worse still, nowhere in Revelation is the heaven the book describes said to be our eternal home. Let’s face it, its not the way you and I have pictured heaven, is it? So have we got it all wrong? Should we forget about going to heaven at all? If not, how should we understand what the Bible says about heaven?

It is to provide the answer that this articlehas been written. So get your Bible and a notebook ready, then sit back and enjoy the ride. You’re about to embark on an exploration of understanding of what the Bible really teaches about heaven. It will relieve your fears and assure you there really is a blessed place of future happiness. It’s just that it’s not found in the last book of the Bible.

In the beginning

It’s good to begin at the beginning because that is always where God begins teaching us. In Gen. 1:1 we read that: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”. At least, that’s what it says in my King James Bible. Others say “heavens” but that’s wrong; it’s anticipating revelation. In Gen. 1:1 there is one heaven and one earth: it’s not until verse seven that God creates “… a firmament to divide the waters under the firmament from the waters above”, thus creating two additional heavens. As I understand it the heaven under the firmament comprises the air, clouds and sky as we know them, while the waters above the firmament constitute another, separate heaven.

That gives us two heavens, one that is earth’s sky with its clouds (Gen. 1:7) and a second called the firmament of heaven that comprises the starry reaches of space and the sun and moon (Gen. 1:14). Above or beyond that there must be a third heaven, because if the air and sky form one heaven and the firmament itself with the stars, sun and moon a second, then what of the “waters which were above the firmament” (Gen. 1:7)? Don’t they remain to form the third heaven, even if they were later emptied of the waters poured out in Noah’s flood?

Thankfully, we are not left in doubt. The Bible most certainly confirms there is a third heaven. In 2 Cor. 12:2 the Apostle Paul clearly speaks of being “caught up to the third heaven”. He also said that this man, which was clearly himself, was “caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.”

What about paradise?

Since the word “paradise” occurs only in two other places in scripture – Luke 23:43 and Rev. 2:7 – we would do well to understand what it means. Simply put it is “a place of future happiness” (Strong’s Concordance 3857). Now in paradise, as mentioned in Genesis and Revelation, there is found the Tree of Life, which is a type of Christ. It was there in the garden planted by God in Eden (Gen. 2:8-9) but by sin man lost the right to it. The Tree of Life is also stated to be “in the paradise of God” in Rev. 2:7 and is found again in the New Jerusalem come down to earth in Rev. 22: 2 and 14. Consistently, the right to eat of it is confined to those who keep the commandments of God.

Interestingly, Paul does not refer in 2 Cor. 12:1-4 to the Tree of Life. Instead he teaches that “being in Christ” is the necessary condition for a believer saved in this the current dispensation of the grace of God (Acts 20:24) to enter the third heaven or paradise. Notably, nobody in Genesis, Luke or Revelation is told they must be “in Christ” in order to enter paradise. Rather Adam was told to keep only one commandment in order to stay in paradise – not to eat of the wrong tree, the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

And in Luke 23:42-43 the thief on the cross says “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him, This day thou shalt be with me in paradise”. In all three cases the condition of entry is obeying the commandment. For Adam it was, don’t eat the forbidden fruit; for the thief it was “repent and believe the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17) - and he did just that, confessing his sin and believing that the kingdom of heaven was yet to come on earth. For those in Revelation the requirement is to do the commandments of God (Rev. 22:14).

Resurrection on earth?

Jesus clearly taught that paradise is linked to the “kingdom of heaven” on earth. In Matt. 7:21 he said: “Not everyone that saith Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father in heaven.” He told the Pharisees that when devils were cast out the kingdom of God had come upon them. Mark well where they were when it did; they were on earth. And it is on earth that the will of the heavenly Father is to be done, as clearly taught in the “Lord’s prayer” (Matt. 6:9-13).

This is so important to understand. You see the good news that the death and resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ opened a gateway to heaven was never taught by Him during his ministry on earth. And while resurrection is clearly taught in the Old Testament, nowhere there are believers told they will go to heaven. To the contrary, they believed, as Job did, that they would be resurrected back on earth in the Messiah’s 1000-year kingdom yet to come.  Just listen to the words that spring from his very heart:

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. Whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”  (Job 19:25-27).

Job wasn’t looking to go to heaven. He was, and still is, looking to be resurrected on earth and then on earth and in his own flesh to see God, his Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Just listen to Job’s great faith again as he voices it in Job 14:13-15:

“O that Thou wouldst hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that Thou wouldest appoint me a set time and remember me? If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call and I will answer Thee; Thou wilt have a desire to the work of thy hands

The appointed time

Clearly Job was appointed a set time for his resurrection to see the Lord stand upon the earth “at the latter day”. The thief on the cross also asked for an “appointed time”. “Remember me when Thou comest into thy kingdom,” he begged the dying Lord. Jesus answered: “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Now, mark well, the Lord did not come into his kingdom on the day of his death, nor at his resurrection. Fact is He will only come into his kingdom on earth at his second coming.

That is a day yet to come. It is the day of Job’s appointed time. It is the day when the Lord the Messiah will enter his kingdom on earth. It is the day when paradise will be on earth because it has come down to earth in the holy city, the New Jerusalem. It is specifically promised in Rev. 22:3-4 that “his servants” - and God called Job his servant – “shall see his face and his name shall be in their foreheads”.

Thankfully there is also “an appointed time”, for the appearing in heaven of believers redeemed in the current dispensation of the grace of God and the Mystery (Eph. 3:1-3). It is when:

“Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

Before we go on to explore this very different heavenly heaven that awaits grace-saved believers today we need to establish one more thing. It may come as a rude shock to many but we need to know that nowhere in his earthly ministry did Jesus the Messiah ever promise his followers they would go to heaven. Now granted, many consider that the Lord did offer a promise of heaven in John 14: 1-4. The passage reads:

“Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am ye may be also.”

But study the verse carefully. There is no mention of heaven at all. What’s more Jesus says He will come again, to earth that is, to receive his disciples unto Himself. Nor did Jesus preach to the believers a resurrection into heaven; rather he talked about resurrection into his kingdom on earth, as does the Old Testament.

He also talked about God being the God not of the dead but of the living – “I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Matt. 22:32), meaning that in God Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still alive more than 1500 years after their deaths. Where would they be alive, you ask? Why, they would be alive in spirit and in paradise, which Paul teaches us is in the third heaven. Paradise you see was in the “lower parts of the earth” (Eph.4:9) when the Lord and the thief on the cross went there, was taken “up on high” when our resurrected Lord “…ascended up on high (when) He led captivity captive.” (Eph. 4:8). This means that all the Old Testament saints and all those saved under the earthly gospel of Israel’s redemption are effectively “on hold” in paradise in the third heaven, waiting to come back down to earth in the New Jerusalem.

Note that while Paul he was in paradise he “heard unspeakable words, which is not lawful for any man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). Why couldn’t Paul tell us about paradise and the third heaven if that’s going to be our eternal home? Answer: Because that’s not where we are going and while it is a place some believers may go when they die, it is not the heavenly destination for saints quickened by God the Father in the dispensation of grace and the mystery.

Be sure of one thing though; there is indeed a heaven or heavenly place that is our eternal home. In Phil. 3:20 the Apostle Paul clearly states that “our conversation is in heaven from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body…” Importantly, in Greek the word conversation also means citizenship.  If we have been saved through the Lord’s death burial and resurrection and are found in Him, then God has already filled out our citizenship papers and made an eternal reservation in the highest heavenlies. Alleluia!

Nevertheless, for many the big question remains: Which heaven do believers go to today? Is it the paradise Jesus and the thief went to on the day of their deaths and which will one day find its fulfillment in the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth? Is it the heaven portrayed by John the Revelator or is it another heaven altogether?

Far above the heavens

I would argue that if you are saved by grace – and there’s no other way to get saved in this the dispensation of the grace of God and the revelation of the mystery (Eph. 3:2-5) – then God has predestined you to a place far above all heavens where Christ Jesus sits at the right hand of God the Father. Already, believers who understand their position in Christ know that they are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3) and that they have been:

“… quickened together with Christ, raised up together  and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 2:6).

So just where are those heavenly places? Eph. 1:20-21 teaches us that when God by his mighty power raised Christ from the dead He:

“… set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this world but also in that which is to come.”

Dear friends, this is the heaven God is calling us to, not a lower heaven where battle royal is raging among principalities and powers over control of the earth. We, in the heavenly places far above the heavens, are above all of that. Seated in and with Christ in heavenly places we can rest and smile at the turmoil below.

The Apostle Paul promised the persecuted Thessalonian believers “rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”. You know, it’s hard to imagine being at rest in John the Revelator’s heaven because that’s where the angelic battles actually take place. Read Rev. 12:7:

“And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels.”

Now being in a no holds barred battlefield isn’t my idea of heavenly blessings and rest in the Lord from labours here below. But perhaps it’s yours.  Meantime I believe I have something better. It is together with other saints to be:

“…made (by God the Father) to sit together in heavenly places in Christ, that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7).

And there’s not a word about battling principalities and powers up there. Ruling over them with Christ, yes; fighting hand to hand with them, no.

Not all heavenly places are the same

Now not all heavenly places are the same. Some of them are occupied by mighty angelic powers, others comprise the realm of the saints that sleep in Christ. Still others, it would appear, are the sphere of God’s activities in governing the earth, such as the heaven depicted in Revelation.

But however many heavens there are Eph. 4:10 is adamant that Christ Jesus (who descended first into the lower parts of the earth) “is the same also that ascended far above all heavens, that He might fill all things”. And in Phil. 2:8-11 we learn that because Christ became obedient unto death, “… God hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above very name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth.”

Now God’s purpose in taking us grace-saved saints up into the heavenlies is explained in Eph. 3:10. It is “to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God”. Evidently, there heavenly places, or places in heaven, that are occupied by principalities and powers, but the heavenly places saints saved under the Mystery are and will be seated in is far above realms occupied by angels. His purpose is also that we might “rule and reign with Christ”.

Remember that popular Pentecostal song about the Lord which began, “We put you in the highest place”? You could rightly take that song to mean that each believer should give Christ the first priority, the highest place in their lives. Or you could wrongly think, as apparently many do, that the Christ is “lifted up”, or put in the highest place by Pentecostal style worship.

Certainly many worship leaders believe they are lifting Christ up by noise, power and emotional intensity of their music. I have heard several such musicians say that “Jesus feeds on our praises” and that “our worship lifts Him higher”. Actually it’s blasphemy to suggest human exertion of any sort of any kind could ever “lift Jesus higher”. It took God the Father Himself – not any mortal human being – to raise Jesus Christ from death and hell and when He did so it was the mightiest exertion ever of his mighty power (read Eph. 1:19-21).

Only God Himself could set Christ “at his own right hand in the heavenly places far above all power, and might and dominion and every name that is named not only in this world but also in that which is to come. Beat-driven, emotion soaked “praise and worship” couldn’t resurrect a flea.

We can’t lift Jesus higher

Now, if we can’t even begin to “lift Jesus higher”, as one chorus puts it, still less can we hope to raise ourselves to the highest place in the heavenlies. Thankfully, however, we don’t have to. If we are truly saved through Christ’s death and resurrection and come to love and understand our Father’s latest and greatest message to us through Paul’s prison epistles, we will find God has already placed us there. Eph. 2:6 plainly declares that already God:

“…hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”.

We appropriate this lofty spiritual position simply by believing God has already accomplished it. But why would He do so, you might ask? One reason, already stated, is that:

“…to the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10).  

But another reason is that in lifting us up to the highest place with Christ, the Father simply wants to bless us. How wonderful that Eph. 2:7 tells us that his purpose has determined that:

“…in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).

Now that sounds more like the heaven you and I might want to go.

Ruling and reigning with Christ

However, there is yet a third purpose for God raising us up with Christ Jesus to join Him in his highest throne room. It is that rule and reign with his Son over the heavens beneath and all the principalities and powers that occupy them. In 2 Tim. 2:11-13 we are given three important “faithful sayings”. They are:

             If we be dead with Him we shall also live with Him.

            If we suffer we shall reign with Him.

If we believe not yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself.

Firstly, we must die to the notion we have any life other than that the life of Christ. Paul called this process “being made conformable unto his death” (Phil. 3:10). Secondly, if we suffer for the truth of the revelation of Mystery of Christ and our being made members of the church “which is his body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23), then we qualify to rule and reign with Him. Thirdly, we should know that if we choose not to believe such wonderful truths, He will remain faithful though we do not.

Our suffering down here, Paul tells us, is really only a “…light affliction, which is but for a moment (and which) worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). That glory is to be with Christ and be part of Christ’s reign from glory in the highest heavenlies. It is also to be glorified with Christ. Col. 3:3-5 tells us that we are “dead” and that “our life is hid with Christ in God”. The good news is that “…When Christ who is our life shall appear then ye shall also appear with Him in glory”. This is why the Apostle Paul urges those “risen with Christ” (Col. 3:1) and experiencing the fellowship of the Mystery (Eph. 3:9) to:

“….seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth”.

Compare this prospect of a heavenly life and home with and in Christ at the right hand of God with the picture of heaven set out in Revelation. No one in the latter heaven could be told “do not set your affection on things on earth” because the whole Book of Revelation is about God’s dealings with the earth. Everything done in the unfolding story affects earth and, as said before, the grand ending brings that heaven down to earth in the form of the holy city, the New Jerusalem.

The three heavens of the Bible

It should be clear by now that there at least three heavens, or three separate “heavenly places” found in scripture. The first heaven is the air and sky which mantles the earth. Here Satan is master because he is the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) and the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:6). He blinds the minds of men to the gospel. The second heaven is that of the sun, moon and stars in space where the angels dwell and where the throne room of the heavenly kingdom over earth, where Christ rules and overrules events here below, will be found in time to come. This is the heaven described in the Book of Revelation, which tells how the Father and Son and a redeemed company of saints will come down to rule on earth in the New Jerusalem. It is the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying “And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3, Acts 3:25). Please note, it is on earth that they are blessed, not in heaven. The third heaven is that “highest place” where Christ sits and one day will be revealed in his full glory. It is defined in Eph.20-22 as the place where God has set Christ:

“…at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come. And hath put all things under his feet and given Him to be the head over all things to the church … which is his body …”

This is the place of Christ’s glory. It is the place of his future “heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). It is where He will appear in his full glory and us with Him (Col. 3:3). Timothy was charged by the Apostle Paul to “keep this commandment” – that is, to flee unrighteousness and follow after righteousness and godliness (1 Tim. 6:11-12)

“….until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ which, in his times, He shall shew … who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light known, which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” (1 Tim. 6:15-16).

Thus it is the place of Christ’s kingdom where, as the Man who has become the great God and King through his death and resurrection, He will:

“…judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his Kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:1).

I don’t know about you, but this is the heaven that by God’s grace I hope to go to. As to how to reach it, I can only join the Apostle Paul in:

“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

And I do so because I believe his word through the Apostle Paul that when He appears in glory in that highest, heavenly place, high above all heavens, that we, grace-saved saints, shall also appear in glory with Him.