Do you know what the Bible teaches about heaven? Are you sure? Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in 'Paradise'. Jesus also talked a lot about the 'kingdom of heaven'. Is that Paradise? The apostle Paul mentioned a place called the 'third heaven'. And, of course, in Revelation a place called the 'new Jerusalem' is mentioned. Confused? Is this all the same place? How many heavens are there? In this short article I want to clear up any confusion you might have. If one does not know what these terms mean, the Bible can be very confusing.
Before the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ the saints of God went to a place called Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (Greek) when they died. They remained in this place until Christ was crucified and then he went down to Sheol to free them; after that they went to heaven.
At that time, Hades was divided into two sections. In Luke 16:19-31 we read of Abraham and a rich man having a conversation concerning a beggar named Lazarus. It seems that Lazarus was in a place of comfort and the rich man was in a place of torment.
So we can see from this scripture that Lazarus was in a place of comfort, but the rich man was in a place of torment and agony. Between the two was a great chasm. The word 'hell' in verse 23 is 'Hades'. Lazarus’s place of comfort is also called 'Paradise' in Luke 23:43 where Christ told a thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in Paradise"
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of heaven. He was referring to the physical kingdom he will set up on earth after the Great Tribulation and after the Second Coming. This is the same kingdom talked about throughout the Old Testament, the one the Jews have been expecting for many centuries.
Here are some examples of Jesus referring to that kingdom.
Matthew 4:17 - From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
Matthew 7:21 - "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 11:12 - From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
The purpose of this article does not demand I explain the above verses; they are just here to show you that Jesus repeatedly taught about the kingdom of heaven.
The Third Heaven
Paul spoke of the 'third heaven'. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. (2 Cor. 12:2)
The 'third heaven' is the dwelling place of God, Christ, and all the saints who have died in the past - and of course the first heaven is the clouds and the sky, the second heaven far beyond that would be where the planets and stars are, and then the third heaven is beyond that.
Presently any Christian who dies will immediately go to the third heaven, but after all things have been done that needs to happen with this world, and Satan has been defeated, and all the bad things are in the past, then the new Jerusalem will come down from heaven to earth and God will dwell on earth with us for all eternity.
The New Jerusalem
In Rev. 21:1-4 it says, 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."
God always has had a place for his saints to go after death. He has everything in place for his people. Presently every Christian who dies goes straight to heaven to be with God. Eventually the new Jerusalem will be the dwelling place of God and the saints. Do you want to go to heaven? All you have to do is put your faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for the remission of your sins, and accept Jesus as your savior. It's the best life insurance around.
(All scripture quotes from the NIV Bible.)