Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve always been a Trekkie. From a young age I wanted to go boldly where no man had gone before, just as the crew aboard the Star Trek Enterprise did on my TV. Captain Kirk lived out some of my dreams as he landed on distant planets and flew past the countless stars in our massive universe. When I was in kindergarten, my parents, friends, and teachers knew I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. My parents took me to the U.S Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, more times than I can remember, and I actually liked the freeze-dried “Astronaut Ice Cream” that we bought with each visit.
Most people seem to have at least some curiosity about the universe. Today we call it outer space. In Paul’s day, they called it the “second heaven.” In their view, the first heaven was the atmosphere around the earth, the second heaven held the stars, and the third heaven served as the location of God’s dwelling.
When the biblical text says “heaven,” it might mean any of those three areas based on the context of the particular passage. We need to know which “heaven” the Bible describes as we read.
Usually when the Bible uses the plural of heaven, it is referring either to the atmosphere or outer space. When it is singular, it usually refers to the location of God’s dwelling. But that’s not always the case, especially when considering the differences between versions of the Bible.
Some Examples of the Word Heaven
Some of the newer versions of the Bible translate “heaven” as air, whereas the older versions and the New King James Version typically use the singular of the word “heaven.”
For example, Job 35:10-11 reads: “But no one says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?’” Air is the word of choice for the New International Version and the New Revised Standard, while the King James and New King James say “heaven.”
The second use of “heaven,” what we call outer space today, is translated in Genesis 1:14 as “expanse of the sky” by the New International Version, as “dome of the sky” by the New Revised Standard, as “firmament of the heaven” by the King James Version, and as “firmament of the heavens” by the New King James Version.
The third heaven, God’s dwelling, is most often translated as “heaven.” An example is 2 Chronicles 7:14, which reads: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Where is Heaven?
Who knows where heaven is? The Bible simply does not tell us, and the universe is much too vast for us to pinpoint an exact or even an approximate location.
I can assume, however, that heaven is somewhere in the universe because when Jesus left for heaven, he ascended. When we travel “up,” on earth we are really going “out.” Jesus went into outer space on his way to heaven. That’s about all we can presume concerning the present location of heaven, but as you’ll see in the next section, heaven will one day relocate.
It seems clear from the Bible that the future location of heaven will be on the new earth.
A New Earth?
When discussing the topic of heaven and the next life with Christians I’ve noticed that there are two topics that seem to get people thinking: the glorified human body and the new earth. When those two concepts click in someone’s head, their entire perspective of heaven and the next life often changes.
I recall a conversation about heaven with my uncle who is an avid golfer. He had seen some of my writings and told me that after reading them, he was looking forward to heaven. He, too, had previously held the eternal-church-service-of-the-bodiless view. As we talked, he said that a few days after he finished reading my earlier writings he began to realize the implications.
“It occurred to me that I will actually play golf again!” he said with excitement.
Because I also dearly love the game of golf, I felt emotion stir within me as he spoke. Golf means a lot to my family. My dad, uncle, cousin, brother, and a certain in-law have had many great memories playing golf together. Some of the deepest conversations and closest bonding I’ve ever experienced with them has happened while on the golf course. Also, as any golfer will tell you, there are certain shots and putts that when I remember them I smile or even break into laughter. The golfing experience to us is more than a game.
I grinned from ear to ear as we talked about being able to play again on the new earth. To him it meant that he would be able to swing a golf club with the power of the youthful body that had earned him a college scholarship. It meant that he could play without the pain of tendonitis or “golfer’s elbow.” That made him happy. I felt joy thinking that my dad could play again with his grandfather who introduced him to the game.
If that sounds shallow to you or doesn’t fit your picture of heaven, then perhaps I haven’t done a very good job so far in this book. When God created humans, he created the ideal place for them. If humans hadn’t violated God’s law, we would still be living in a worldwide Garden of Eden. After all, Eden was where God originally placed Adam; but Adam and Eve were told to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." So their stomping ground wasn’t limited just to the Garden of Eden. There may have been many other gardens around the earth. God meant the entire earth to be ours, good for growing food and for all the joys of living.
When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they fundamentally changed the paradise in which they lived.
Corrupted Humanity, Corrupted Earth
Sin brought many changes. For example, before the fall being naked wasn’t connected to sin. It was how God created the first humans and he required no covering of them. Yet after eating of the fruit, Adam hid from God. When God called to him, Adam answered, “‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’ And he [God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’” (Genesis 3:11).
Adam and Eve felt they had to cover their sinfulness whereas previously they were naked and unashamed. Before eating the fruit, they saw no difference between an uncovered hand, whose purposes included grasping food, and the parts of the body designed for them to "be fruitful and multiply." While sinless, no body part was shameful, nor did anything need to be covered.
Then they gained the knowledge of “good and evil.” Why did that make them feel their nakedness was something to hide?
Some believe that it was because they realized what lust was, and felt the need to cover up to prevent that. However, Adam and Eve were given to each other by God and feeling sexual desire for each other was not sinful or embarrassing. He made them male and female. I think it highly probable that they’d already been having sexual relations with each other before the fall because God told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:22). Do we really think that they ignored (thereby, disobeying) that command during their time together before the fall? Look at the context:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so. (Genesis 1:26-30)
I don’t recall hearing anyone question whether Adam and Eve ruled over all animal and plant life before the fall. The passage above told them to do so and we assume they did. Then why not assume that they also followed the command to “be fruitful and multiply”? God told Eve that, as a consequence of her sin, ”I will greatly increase your pain in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16).
It would seem that for this statement to have power, she would have had to already had children. Maybe that’s why when her first son was born, she said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man” (Genesis 4:1). Could it be that she had already brought forth women? The age-old question, “Where did Cain get his wife?” may well be answered by this insight. Female children may already have been born before the fall, so that after the fall Eve’s pain in delivery was “greatly increased.”
To me it doesn’t seem reasonable that Adam and Eve wanted to cover themselves because they suddenly discovered sexual desire.
Others have said that their shame and need to cover themselves came directly from the knowledge of good and evil they gained from the forbidden fruit. That new knowledge forced them to decide what was good and what was evil. They looked at their nakedness and decided there was something wrong with it.
That solution doesn’t make sense to me because they knew that God accepted their nudity. There is no sin in being nude with one’s mate. And if God seeing us naked is a sin, then we’re all doomed because God sees everything! “From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth” (Psalms 33:13-14).
The text provides the reason: they were ashamed and wanted to hide. Covering themselves was an act of trying to shield themselves from God seeing and knowing everything about them. From that point, humanity would be plagued by secrets, shame, and hiding—physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The point is that because of sin, Adam and Eve changed. They now feared the previous intimacy they had experienced with their Father. They knew evil now, and that knowledge led them to run from God rather than to him. Because they were the first and only humans, their changes affected all humanity that would spring from their loins.
Humans changed. God changed his relationship with them. Life changed to include sickness and death. Man no longer ruled the earth. He fell from supremacy to fear. The earth itself changed. All that was perfect was perfect no more.
God Destroyed the Earth
God destroyed the earth. You read that right. God destroyed the earth and then gave us a new earth. Read it for yourself in Genesis 6:11-13:
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood.’”
God sent a flood to destroy “both them and the earth.” However, God didn’t destroy “all people” or “the earth” in the way we might define the word “destroy.” God spared not just one man, but an entire family. He didn’t destroy the earth in the sense that it would never exist again. God purged and purified the earth of those that were not his.
The Apostle Peter reminds us of God’s destruction using the flood waters and tells us that God will use fire to destroy the earth to make the new earth that will exist in harmony with the new heaven:
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:3-7)
It’s quite possible that the coming destruction of the earth will be like the flood in that God will purify the earth of “ungodly men,” changing the earth without obliterating the earth. Peter writes that the flood destroyed the earth, yet we know that the earth itself was not done away with by the flood. In a real sense it was destroyed, but not in the sense of annihilation. If God wishes to completely destroy it and make an entirely new earth, that’s fine with me. However, many believe that rather than the earth being annihilated, it will be purified by fire just as it was once purified by water, as the passage above suggests. Destroying the earth by fire will be similar to the way God destroyed the earth by flood. What about the language about the stars, moon, and those types of things being done away with? God used similar language in reference to Babylon’s destruction (Isaiah 13) and of Edom’s destruction (Isaiah 34). Look at the word about Edom (the country established by Jacob’s brother Esau): “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree” (Isaiah 34:4). God destroyed Edom but the stars didn’t dissolve or the sky roll up in a literal way. The destruction was so complete that for Edom it was as if the universe was dissolved. I think it likely that the words of 2 Peter may be used similarly when it speaks of the present earth being “reserved for fire.”
God will purify the earth of sin before he sets up his throne on earth. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:31 that “this world in its present form is passing away.”
The things that glorify and please him will be given new form. It won’t be just our resurrection bodies that will be new and incorruptible; the earth will be made new and incorruptible as well. Consider Romans 8:19: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” Creation, not just humanity, waits eagerly to be restored to the original beauty and splendor that God intended. “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).
Liberation and annihilation usually don’t get listed together. To liberate is to set free. Creation anticipates its freedom from bondage and decay. According to this passage, creation shares a similar future as the children of God. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23). We, along with “the whole creation,” wait for “redemption.” We wait for “the redemption of our bodies.” Creation waits for the redemption of its original design.
It appears that on this same earth, we will reign with Christ. The earth will be renewed, purified, and resurrected just as will God’s people.
Perhaps the earth groans through its earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornados. The continents literally move beneath our feet and volcanoes erupt with furious heat. Not just the earth, but as things are now the whole creation moves inexorably toward destruction. Black holes vacuum the unimaginable. Stars collide. Entire galaxies crash into each other causing unthinkably massive explosions beyond our ability to grasp. Creation is indeed groaning!
We’re told that just as God raised Jesus from the dead and gave him a new, glorious body making him the second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:20-23), God will also raise our bodies, our earth, and our universe to the magnificent ideals of his original intent.
This next passage is extremely important to our study: “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:21). God will restore everything. We will live on a new earth that is the restoration of the first earth—the one before Adam and Eve sinned.
Once the earth is purified by fire, God will bring heaven and earth together. He will reign on his throne forever with his people and his creation. And God will grant us access to the Tree of Life once again. And everything will be good, as it was in the beginning.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:1-6)
To learn more about where Heaven is and what it will be like, purchase The True Heaven below.