It’s no secret that when people talk about heaven, they don’t always refer to the same thing. Depending on their religious background, or lack thereof, heaven can be a city, a state of mind, a location or a condition of being—even a place where one is reunited with a deceased loved one. The Bible itself reflects this diversity in how it talks about the “heavens.” Does the Bible present a unified view of heaven, or not? What did Jesus think about heaven? Let’s find out.

The Heavenly Dimensions in Scripture

The Bible contains more than 10 different Hebrew words that are translated as “heaven.” These Hebrew words include:

  • The Sky (shamayim; e.g. Gen. 1:8; Ps. 19:1);
  • The Heavens (Shamayyim; e.g. Gen. 1:1, 8; Ps. 68:33);
  • The Heavenlies (Shamayyim; e.g. Eph. 1:20; Col. 1:16);
  • The Celestial Region (shamayyim; e.g. Ps. 19:1; Dan. 4:26);
  • The Sky (sha’mayim; e.g. Judges 5:4; Ps. 24:2; Job 26:7, 14; Prov. 30:4; Is. 40:26; Jer. 10:12, 13; Job 26:9);
  • The Heavens (Sha’mayyim; e.g. Genesis 1:8; Psalm 19:1);
  • Heaven Above (raqiya; e.g. Genesis 49:26; Deut. 3:24; Psalm 68:33);
  • Heaven Below (qeriya; e.g. Deut. 28:12; Psalm 68:33);
  • The Heavens from Above (raqiya mippurayim; e.g. Exodus 24:10; 1 Kings 22:19; Psalm 68:33; Revelation 6:14);
  • The Third Heaven (shamayyim ‘esreh; e.g. 2 Cor. 12:2);
  • The Heights Above, or the Height of Heaven (rakia; e.g. Deut. 4:19);
  • The Heavenly Table (shamayyim me’on; e.g. Gen. 1:8; Ps. 104:1)

As you can see, there is a wide variety of words used to refer to the “heavenly” things. I count more than 5 different categories. The three most popular ways of referring to heaven are in the third person singular (e.g. “heaven,” e.g. Matt. 5:16; “the heavenly places,” e.g. Eph. 1:3), in the second person plural (e.g. “the heavens,” e.g. Matt. 5:18; “the heavens, from above,” e.g. Rev. 6:14; “the heavenly table,” e.g. Gen. 1:8) and in the third person plural (e.g. “Heaven,” e.g. Matt. 5:34; “the Heavens,” e.g. Ps. 19:1).

So Which is It?

If we were to count up every reference to “heaven” in the Bible, it would total in the hundreds. There are so many references, it’s quite easy to get lost or confused. If the Bible actually presents a unified view of heaven, it certainly doesn’t do well in communicating it. A systematic study of the Bible’s uses of “heaven” is important for understanding what the Bible is saying and how our own ideas of heaven fit in. In order to make this discussion easier to grasp, I’ve divided the various views of heaven into three, broad categories. For each category, I’ll comment briefly about each one.

The Present Heaven

There are many verses and passages that refer to heaven as being already present. Examples include:

“Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! (Ps. 150:3 ESV)

…I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1 ESV)

The Lord shall reign forever and ever. (Exod. 15:18)

I looked, and there in front of each throne was a scroll with the name of each god on it. The living creatures and the elders bowed down and worshiped. (Rev. 7:9)

For you are my King, O Lord; you command triumphal chariots and horses. (Ps. 24:10)

Though many think of heaven as a place where God lives, these verses speak of God’s “heaven” as being right here and now. As one author puts it:

“(H)is throne is a heaven; i.e., the seat and centre of his government, is just as distinct from earth as heaven is, which means, that on his throne he rules the universe, (Lange on Gen. 1:1).”

This viewpoint makes sense in light of the biblical view that heaven is the abode of God’s presence. In other words, God’s heaven, while being identical with what we commonly call heaven, is also far greater. In fact, the heaven itself may be God’s throne. This is the view of many of the Old Testament Psalms such as Psalm 135:19-20.

The Future Heaven

There are many verses and passages that refer to heaven as being some future event or location. Examples include:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matt. 16:24-26)

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking (Luke 5:4-6)

And he will send an angel before you, and throw a tent around you, where you shall live. And if you pay attention to the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin on you this day, loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. (Deut. 25:9-11)

He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27)

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:12-15)

Therefore, we are always full of courage