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Christian, tell me why do you look forward to Heaven, anyway? I'm not particularly interested in living in the clouds, playing a harp, or sitting in an endless church service singing worship songs forever.

Because…Heaven will be everything that we love about life — beauty, fulfillment, activity, challenge, relationships — shared with the One who is the Source of it all.

The Bible doesn’t depict Heaven as a bunch of ghostly figures flitting from cloud to cloud, polishing their halos and playing their harps. Heaven is described as a country, a city, a real place, with trees and rivers and houses. People are described as enjoying a banquet, as traveling, as ruling, and as serving God productively. It’s going to be a busy, happy place.

To talk about Heaven, we need to distinguish exactly which Heaven we mean. There are more choices than you may realize.

Three Heavens

First, the Bible uses the word “heaven” — Hebrew šâmayim or shamayin, Greek ouranos — 437 times (in my NASB translation) . These words are usually translated as heaven or heavens, but sometimes also as sky or air. Depending on context, they can mean one of three places: the atmosphere where birds fly, outer space where the stars are, or the separate place where God lives. Genesis 1:6-8 describes God creating the “firmament” or “expanse” or “vault” (Hebrew râqîya) separating the “waters above” from the “waters below”, and calling that firmament “heaven”. In Genesis 26:4, God tells Isaac that He will multiply his descendants “as the stars of heaven“. In 1 Kings 8:27 and 2 Chronicles 6:18, Solomon would have been referring to both sky-heaven and space-heaven when he dedicated the temple by saying:

But will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built.

1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 6:18

There is a quote by Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev, often mis-attributed to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, that Gagarin “flew into space and didn’t see God.” No wonder: Space is the wrong heaven; it is only one of the “heavens” that God created 1. His own dwelling place is elsewhere.

God is referred to as “the God of Heaven” (examples are Nehemiah 1:5-6 and Psalm 136:26, among many others). He is said to “look down from Heaven” at men on Earth (Isaiah 63:15). In Matthew 5:34-35, Jesus says not to swear by Heaven, because it is God’s throne. Mark 16:19 speaks of the risen Christ ascending to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God. In John 6:38, Jesus says that He came down from Heaven, and in John 3:13, He says that “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” Paul describes a vision of a man being “caught up to the third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.

Two Heavens

Focussing on the third meaning, God’s-place Heaven, we find a second set of distinctions in Scripture. There is the current place where souls go when we die, and there is the future place being prepared for our eternal home. We’ll look at both.

Note: I am grateful to Randy Alcorn for his Biblical scholarship distinguishing these two heavens. Much of the information below is informed by his book, “Heaven“.

Immediately After Death

The Old Testament has 65 references to a place after death that is called “Sheol” in Hebrew. There are seven references to “Abaddon”, sometimes as a place of the dead and other times as the name of the angel in charge of that place. What I notice about these references is that, although Sheol is definitely not described as Paradise, neither is it described as punishment or torment. I read it more as a fairly neutral waiting area. It is also translated as “the grave” or “the depths”.

The LORD kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.

1 Samuel 2:6

Oh that You would hide me in Sheol,
That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You,
That You would set a limit for me and remember me!

Job 14:13

Can you discover the depths of God?
Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?
They are high as the heavens, what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol, what can you know?

Job 11:7-8

Naked is Sheol before Him,
And Abaddon has no covering.

Job 26:6 (describing God’s omnipotence)

The New Testament, written in Greek, uses the word Hades — borrowed from the Greek name for the god of the underworld — ten times as a synonym for Sheol. For instance, Peter’s sermon recorded in Acts 2 uses that word when quoting an Old Testament reference to Sheol (verse 27). But Jesus’ parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), describes the rich man’s torment as taking place in Hades, even though he is not at all in a neutral place! It’s not clear from the text exactly where Lazarus is “in Abraham’s bosom“: Another part of Hades or Sheol, or a different place entirely, even though the rich man could see it?

At other times, Jesus used a different word, geenna, to describe a place of punishment (Matthew 5:21-22, Matthew 10:28) 2). To the repentant thief on the cross, Jesus promised that “today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43) Again, are geenna and Paradise two parts of Sheol/Hades, or are they separate places?

As discussed in a previous article, those who have near-death experiences describe both positive and negative environments. Those track well with the Sheol/Hades/Hell/Paradise references above. However, they are not authoritative word from God, so they should be viewed with caution.

Since the Bible doesn’t speak very explicitly to the logistics of our destination after death but before the final Judgment, I won’t either!

Eternal Heaven

Generally, when we talk about Heaven, we are thinking of the final, permanent home where those redeemed by Jesus will live together with Him. For that place, we are given more detailed descriptions.

You may be relieved to know that I only find one mention of harps in any of those descriptions. 😁 That is in a huge praise-and-worship event recorded in Revelation 5 when the Lamb, the Son of God, is acknowledged for His victory. That event actually happens early in the end-times/rapture/tribulation process, though. It is not necessarily a description of every day of eternity for every person there.

A better starting point for a description of the final permanent Heaven is in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new 3 heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4

A City

Revelation 21 continues on into chapter 22 with a description of that city.

  • It’s huge, a perfect cube measuring 1500 miles 4 in each dimension. That would span across the U.S. from New York west almost to Denver, and south to Jamaica, and vertically to the outer layer of our atmosphere. The protective wall around it measures about 72 yards thick, 3/4’s of a football field.
  • It’s beautiful, with foundations of precious gems, gates of pearl, and streets of transparent gold 5.
  • It’s a blend of both Jewish and Christian history, with gates named for the tribes of Israel and foundations named for the apostles.
  • It’s glorious, always illuminated by the presence of God.
  • It’s alive, with a river of the water of life coming from the throne of God, spanned by the tree of life bearing multiple kinds of fruit whose leaves are “for the healing of nations”.

Are these descriptions meant to be taken literally? I suppose they could all be metaphors or illustrations of something else. But read for yourself, and see if it doesn’t seem like an actual description of a real place that John saw in his vision. If it seems too much to be possible, remember: This is a city built by the God who created the universe, brought by Him to a newly-restored Earth where no trace of sin’s damage remains.

A World

The city is not alone, however. “The nations” come and go from it, bringing their glory and honor to God (Revelation 21:24-26, Isaiah 2:2-3, Isaiah 60:1-3, Micah 4:1-2, Zechariah 8:20-22 6). Those nations must come from somewhere, right? It seems that the city will be the capital and centerpiece of a vibrant, busy world.

What will people be doing? They will be using all the skills and interests that God built into them as ways to love and praise Him. At least some will be leaders, governing as God’s stewards (Revelation 22:5, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Revelation 5:9-10, Luke 22:28-29).

The famous line from Micah 4:3, “They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks“, suggests that there will be a need for such tools (with no need for weapons!). Agriculture, at least, will be taking place. But this could be extrapolated to all sorts of human activity.

Even in our fallen world, human curiosity and creativity have resulted in a myriad of technological and cultural wonders. Doesn’t it make sense that a redeemed creation would be full of new art, music, buildings, and machines? We could research and invent to our heart’s delight, with no concern about the work being hijacked by evil. We could work together, or even compete in sports, with no sense of bitter rivalry and no thought of anyone cheating. We love to explore the world now, learning about the mountain heights and the ocean depths. Imagine the wonder of exploring the universe together with God! 7

This is the place He has prepared just for us (John 14:1-3). He’s going to enjoy showing it off. Like anyone who plans and gives a special gift, He will be pleased to see it being appreciated. Now, due to our fallen, sinful nature, we have a tendency to enjoy the gifts while ignoring the Giver. In contrast, Heaven will be a place where each act of enjoying the gift will also be an act of worship. We will never again leave God out of the process.


Revelation 19 describes “the marriage supper of the Lamb”. In a parable, Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a banquet (Luke 14:15-24). He said at the Last Supper, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) It follows that Jesus will share a meal with us when we get to Heaven. If the tree of life yields fruit (Revelation 22:1-2), then eating must be a thing. I expect many meals together with loved ones … including Jesus!


Most important of all, “the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them“. In the Garden of Eden, God visited with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). In the final Heaven, He won’t simply visit us, or allow us to come to Him. He will live there, in the midst of us. We will be surrounded by His presence constantly. We will quit saying “heaven and earth”, because they will be one and the same. That’s something to look forward to!

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
  Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
  Than when we first begun.

Amazing Grace

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. Although the wonders of space certainly show God’s handiwork! (Psalm 19:1)
  2. I’ll discuss more of Jesus’ teaching on Hell in a future article.
  3. BTW, that word “new” is the Greek “kainos“. It means new as in “fresh”, and has the connotation more of “renewed” rather than “replaced”.
  4. 12,000 stadia, each 600 feet or 1/8 mile
  5. Even today, we have examples of transparent gold. The visors of space-suit helmets used on the moon were coated with a thin layer of gold to protect against infrared radiation. Similar visors can be purchased commercially. If we can manage it, I’m sure God can!
  6. For that matter, check out the entire chapter of Isaiah 60. It is all about the future glory of Jerusalem, in a way that won’t happen until the New Earth when we have “the LORD for an everlasting light“.
  7. I’ve always said that I would be a professional student if only someone would pay the salary. 😄 I look forward to an eternity of learning about God’s creation…and learning directly from Him!

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture reference links go to, which defaults to another good translation, the New International Version (NIV).  The site has 20 or more translations available for reference.