Preaching and Worship Resources about Heaven
In the three-tiered cosmology of the ancient world, heaven or "the heavens" referred literally to that which is above our heads in creation. Above the earth is the heavens, below the earth is the underworld. Above our heads are the sun, moon, and stars and all manner of good things, whereas the things below the earth are often associated with grim things such as Hades/Sheol and the realm of the dead. God is repeatedly declared in Scripture as being the creator of "the heavens and the earth," but already early in the Bible God's dwelling became associated with heaven, as in Genesis 21 and 22 when, first to Hagar and then to Abraham, an angel of God is depicted as calling out "from heaven." By the time you get to Psalms, "heaven" and "the heavens" sometimes refer literally to the sky above, but just as often "heaven" refers to the location of God's throne, the place from which God rules the cosmos. When people received visions of God (Isa. 6, Rev. 1 - 5), it is to the heavens and to God's heavenly throne room that they direct their gaze. In the New Testament, particularly in Matthew, the realm of God is referred to as "the kingdom of heaven" even as Jesus taught the disciples to pray to "Our Father in heaven" (Matt. 6:9). Also, Jesus' ascension as recorded in Acts 1 has long been conceived as Jesus' return to heaven, to a realm "above" us where he now sits at God's right hand. In popular parlance, "heaven" is often shorthand to refer to where we go after we die and where we will spend eternity with God, thus propagating the idea that our eternal dwelling will be in another realm decidedly unlike this present creation. However, the New Testament in particular promises the creation of a "new heaven and a new earth" even as Revelation 21 depicts the realm of God coming down from heaven to this creation, where the dwelling of God will be with humanity forever. In that sense "heaven" as the distinct dwelling of God and "earth" as our niche in creation will be merged into one as we dwell in a restored creation that will be full of the glory of God.
|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|