Heaven in Christianity

Traditionally, heaven in Christianity is the location of the throne of God as well as the holy angels,[2][3] though this is in varying degrees considered metaphorical. In traditional Christianity, it is considered a state or condition of existence (rather than a particular place somewhere in the cosmos) of the supreme fulfillment of theosis in the beatific vision of the Godhead. In most forms of Christianity, heaven is also understood as the abode for the righteous dead in the afterlife, usually a temporary stage before the resurrection of the dead and the saints' return to the New Earth.

The resurrected Jesus is said to have ascended to heaven where he now sits at the Right Hand of God and will return to earth in the Second Coming. Various people have been said to have entered heaven while still alive, including Enoch, Elijah and Jesus himself, after his resurrection. According to Roman Catholic teaching, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also said to have been assumed into heaven and is titled the Queen of Heaven.

In the Christian Bible, concepts about the future "Kingdom of Heaven" are professed in several scriptural prophecies of the new (or renewed) Earth said to follow the resurrection of the dead—particularly the books of Isaiah and Revelation and other sources of Christian eschatology.

Heaven is therefore spoken of in rather different senses: as another dimension,[4] as the physical skies or upper cosmos, as the realm of divine perfection already in existence, or as the "coming world" at the return of Christ.


Some specific descriptions of this Kingdom as given in the canon of scripture include—(this list is by no means comprehensive):

Early Christian writing

The earliest of the Apostolic Fathers Clement of Rome does not mention entry into heaven after death but instead expresses belief in the Resurrection of the Dead after a period of "slumber"[5] at the Second Coming.[6]

A fragment from the early 2nd century of one of the lost volumes of Papias, a Christian bishop, expounds that "heaven" was separated into three distinct layers. He referred to the first as just "heaven", the second as "paradise", and the third as "the city". Papias taught that "there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce a hundredfold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold".[7]

According to some views, some Christians in the 1st century believed that the Kingdom of God was coming to earth within their own lifetimes.[3] They looked forward to a divine future on earth.[3] When the Kingdom of God did not arrive, according to this hypothesis, championed by Bart Ehrman (2006), Christians gradually refined their hopes so that they came to look forward to an immediate reward in heaven after death, rather than to a future divine kingdom on earth[3]—despite the churches' continuing to use the major creeds' statements of belief in a coming Resurrection Day and World to Come.

In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus (a Greek bishop) wrote that not all who are saved would merit an abode in heaven itself.[8]

Orthodox Christianity

Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Christ enthroned in heaven, surrounded by the ranks of angels and saints. At the bottom is Paradise with the Bosom of Abraham (left), and the Good Thief (right).

The teachings of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox communions regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God, are basically taken from scripture, and thus many elements of this belief are held in common with other scriptural faiths and denominations.

Eastern Orthodox cosmology

Eastern Orthodox cosmology perceives heaven as having different levels (John 14:2), the lowest of which is Paradise. At the time of creation, paradise touched the earth at the Garden of Eden. After the Fall of man, paradise was separated from the earth, and mankind forbidden entry, lest he partake of the Tree of Life and live eternally in a state of sinfulness (Genesis 3:22-24). At his death on the Cross, the Orthodox believe Jesus opened the door to Paradise to mankind again (Luke 23:43), and the Good Thief was the first to enter.

Various saints have had visions of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). The Orthodox concept of life in heaven is described in one of the prayers for the dead: "…a place of light, a place of green pasture, a place of repose, from whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing are fled away".[9]

However, in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, it is only God who has the final say on who enters heaven. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, heaven is part and parcel of deification (Theosis), the eternal sharing of the divine qualities through communion with the Triune God (reunion of Father and Son through love).

Roman Catholicism

See also: Keys of Heaven

The Catholic Church teaches that "heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness".[10] It holds that, "by his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has 'opened' heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ... Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ."[11] "In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God's will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with him 'they shall reign for ever and ever' (Rev 22:5)."[12] All of those who have made it to Heaven, recognized by the Church or not, are Saints or the Church Triumphant.

Heaven is considered a state, a condition of existence, rather than a particular place somewhere in the cosmos. Pope John Paul II declared: "The 'heaven' or 'happiness' in which we will find ourselves is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit."[2] Those Christians who die still imperfectly purified must, according to Catholic teaching, pass through a state of purification known as purgatory before entering heaven.[13]

Pope Benedict XVI gave this explanation of what is meant by heaven:

We all experience that when people die they continue to exist, in a certain way, in the memory and heart of those who knew and loved them. We might say that a part of the person lives on in them but it resembles a "shadow" because this survival in the heart of their loved ones is destined to end. God, on the contrary, never passes away and we all exist by virtue of his love. We exist because he loves us, because he conceived of us and called us to life. We exist in God's thoughts and in God's love. We exist in the whole of our reality, not only in our "shadow". Our serenity, our hope and our peace are based precisely on this: in God, in his thoughts and in his love, it is not merely a "shadow" of ourselves that survives but rather we are preserved and ushered into eternity with the whole of our being in him, in his creator love. It is his Love that triumphs over death and gives us eternity and it is this love that we call "Heaven": God is so great that he also makes room for us. And Jesus the man, who at the same time is God, is the guarantee for us that the being-man and the being-God can exist and live, the one within the other, for eternity.[14]

According to Pope John Paul II, "The New Testament amplifies the idea of heaven in relation to the mystery of Christ. To show that the Redeemer's sacrifice acquires perfect and definitive value, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus "passed through the heavens" (Heb 4:14), and "entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself" (ibid., 9:24). Since believers are loved in a special way by the Father, they are raised with Christ and made citizens of heaven... After the course of our earthly life, participation in complete intimacy with the Father thus comes through our insertion into Christ's paschal mystery..."[2]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates several images of heaven found in the Bible: "This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: 'no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him'."[15]

The happiness of the union with God that is heaven is called the "beatific vision": "Because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man's immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in his heavenly glory 'the beatific vision'."[16]

Protestant Christianity

Some denominations teach that one enters heaven at the moment of death (2 Corinthians 5:6-8), while others teach that this occurs at a later time (the Last Judgment). Some Christians maintain that entry into Heaven awaits such time as "When the form of this world has passed away."[17]

Two related and often confused concepts of heaven in Christianity are better described as the "resurrection of the body" as contrasted with "the immortality of the soul". In the first, the soul does not enter heaven until the last judgement or the "end of time" when it (along with the body) is resurrected and judged. In the second concept, the soul goes to a heaven on another plane immediately after death. These two concepts are generally combined in the doctrine of the double judgement where the soul is judged once at death and goes to a temporary heaven, while awaiting a second and final judgement at the end of the world.[18]

Those who believe in the immortality of the soul generally conclude that the term Heaven is the realm in which God currently resides. Eternal life, by contrast, occurs in a renewed, unspoiled and perfect creation, which can be termed Heaven since God will choose to dwell there permanently with his people, as seen in Revelation 21:3. That there will no longer be any separation between God and man. The believers themselves will exist in incorruptible, resurrected and new bodies; there will be no sickness, no death and no tears.

Some teach that death itself is not a natural part of life, but was allowed to happen after Adam and Eve disobeyed God so that mankind would not live forever in a state of sin and thus a state of separation from God.[19][20][21]

Many evangelicals understand this future life to be divided into two distinct periods: first, the Millennial Reign of Christ (the one thousand years) on this earth, referred to in Revelation 20:1-10; secondly, the New Heaven and The New Earth, referred to in Revelation 21 and 22. This millennialism (or chiliasm) is a revival of a strong tradition in the Early Church that was dismissed by Augustine of Hippo and the Roman Catholic Church after him.

Not only will the believers spend eternity with God, they will also spend it with each other. Revelation describes a New Jerusalem which comes from Heaven to the New Earth, which is seen to be a symbolic reference to the people of God living in community with one another. "Heaven" will be the place where life will be lived to the full, in the way that the designer planned, each believer "loving the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their mind" and "loving their neighbour as themselves" (adapted from Matthew 22:37-38, the Great Commandment)—a place of great joy, without the negative aspects of current earthly life.

The Apostle Paul said in,[22] "Paradise is located in the Third Heaven." Paul was taken there by the power of God and Paul was not allowed to speak about the things that he saw in Paradise. The third heaven is another universe, the third universe and that's where Paradise is located-beyond our heaven, our universe.

Seventh-day Adventist

The Seventh-day Adventist understanding of heaven is based on biblical writings which set out the following:

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that heaven is the dwelling place of Jehovah God and his spirit creatures. Rather than the traditional view that all Christians go to heaven, they believe that only 144,000 chosen faithful followers will be resurrected to heaven to rule with Christ over the majority of mankind who will live on Earth.[27] M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopaedia (1891, Vol. IV, p. 122) comments: "In Isa. Ixv, 17, a new heaven and a new earth signify a new government, new kingdom, new people." The primary purpose of Jesus' illustration of the "ten virgins" (Mt 25:1-12) is to teach. It is evident that Jesus was speaking about spiritual virginity, remaining separate from the world, doctrinally pure. (Re 14:4; compare 1 Co 11:2) Of specific interest is that the foolish virgins are avoided deliberately, even though they thought they were keeping themselves morally and doctrinally pure. (Mt 7:21-23; 25:12) New Jerusalem is believed to be the final abode of souls redeemed by Christ, and an ideal earthly community. According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary—Revelation 3:12; 21:2 (1985); also compare with Psalms 45:16; Isaiah 32:1.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The view of heaven according to the Latter Day Saint movement is based on Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants as well as 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 in the King James version of the Bible. The afterlife is divided first into two levels until the Last Judgement; afterwards it is divided into four levels, the upper three of which are referred to as "degrees of glory" that, for illustrative purposes, are compared to the brightness of heavenly bodies: the sun, moon, and stars.

Before the Last Judgment, spirits separated from their bodies at death go either to Paradise or to Spirit Prison dependent on if they had been baptised and confirmed by the laying on of hands. Paradise is a place of rest while its inhabitants continue learning in preparation for the Last Judgement. Spirit Prison is a place of learning for the wicked and unrepentant and those who were not baptised; however, missionary efforts done by spirits from Paradise enable those in Spirit Prison to repent, accept the Gospel and the atonement and receive baptism through the practice of baptism for the dead.[28]

After the resurrection and Last Judgement, people are sent to one of four levels:


Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) wrote extensively on the life after death and claimed to have traveled widely in Heaven and Hell.[29] He said his information was received as revelation from Jesus Christ.[30]

Swedenborg states that all angels and evil spirits, as the inhabitants of Hell are generally termed, were once people in the physical world.[31][32] Angels are not gods.[33] Furthermore, far from being ghostly, the people in Heaven and Hell appear to each other as real as we do to each other in this world.[34] Indeed, Swedenborg saw cases where the spirits involved thought they were still in the physical world.[35]

People do not go directly to Heaven or Hell. After death, they first go to what is termed the World of Spirits,[36] halfway between Heaven and Hell. In the World of Spirits everyone goes through a three-stage process [37] that ends with their choosing, in free will, to go to Heaven or Hell to eternity. This free-will-choice-based system works because an evil person cannot stand the company in heaven, nor can a good person stand the company in hell.[38]

Angels, Swedenborg says, are male and female in every respect, just like we are here. Marriage between husband and wife is a central and "very good"[39] component of creation.[40] The quality of the relationship between husband and wife starts out the same in the spiritual world as it was at their death in this world. Thus, an angel couple in true spiritual love will live literally happily ever after, to eternity in heaven, according to Swedenborg, although contrary to the teachings of Paul's Epistles.[41] A couple in which one or both partners lacks such love will initially live together after death and then separate and find new compatible partners. A person who loved the ideal of spiritual marriage but never found a partner in this world will find one there. Finally, as might be expected, an evil spirit receives no such partner.[42]

All children who die go directly to heaven, where they are raised by angel mothers.[43]

Heaven is organized into groups, called societies, bound by common affections.[44] The societies range in size from small to large, like towns and cities here. An entire angelic society sometimes appears in the form of an angel, such as Michael and Gabriel.[45] Thus, for instance, Gabriel is not an archangel, but a society in heaven whose ministry is teaching from the Word. One of the people they taught was Mary in the annunciation.[46]

All in heaven speak the same language, which they know instinctively without learning it.[47]

Angels have power[48] from God. In fact, a single angel can command hundreds of thousands of evil spirits.[49]

There is no time or space as we know it in heaven.[50] Location and movement are determined by mental state. If, for instance, you think about seeing a friend, that friend appears.[51] Neither of you has physically moved, but you have changed your state of mind relative to whatever or whoever you wish to see.


  1. Festival icons for the Christian year by John Baggley 2000 ISBN 0-88141-201-5 pages 83-84
  2. 1 2 3 Audience Talk, 21 July 1999
  3. 1 2 3 4 Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-530013-0
  4. http://angelart-gallery.com/heaven.html
  5. 1 Clement "26:2 For he saith in a certain place, And thou shalt raise me up, and I will give thanks unto thee; and again: I slumbered and slept; I arose up because thou art with me."
  6. E. C. Dewick, Tutor and Dean of St. Aidan's College, Birkenhead, and Teacher in Ecclesiastical History in the University of Liverpool. Primitive Christian Eschatology: The Hulsean Prize Essay for 1908 2007 reprint Page 339 "resurrection is 'that which shall be hereafter' ; and neither salvation nor resurrection will be accomplished till the Lord has come again"
  7. Papias, fragments, 5:1
  8. Irenaeus of Lyons; Book 5, 36:1
  9. Book for Commemoration of the Living and the Dead, trans. Father Lawrence (Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY), p. 77.
  10. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1024
  11. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1026
  12. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1029
  13. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030
  14. Homily by Pope Benedict XVI on 16 August 2010
  15. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1027
  16. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1028
  17. JPII
  18. " JPII
  19. Moody, D.L. Heaven. Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84685-812-3.
  20. Bunyan, John. The Strait Gate: Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84685-671-6.
  21. Bunyan, John. No Way to Heaven but By Jesus Christ Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84685-780-5.
  22. NKJ Bible, 2Cor12vs2-4
  23. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 4: The Son, 2006
  24. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 26: Death and Resurrection, 2006
  25. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 27: Millennium and the End of Sin, 2006
  26. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 28: New Earth, 2006
  27. Reasoning From The Scriptures. Watchtower. 1989.
  28. Doctrine and Covenants 128:18, Standard Works, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  29. Swedenborg, E Heaven and its Wonders and Hell. From Things Heard and Seen (Swedenborg Foundation, 1946).
  30. Swedenborg, E The True Christian Religion, Containing the Universal Theology of The New Church Foretold by the Lord in Daniel 7; 13, 14; and in Revelation 21:1,2 (Swedenborg Foundation, 1946 #779)
  31. Earths in the Universe #30
  32. Heaven and Hell #311
  33. Rev. 22:8, 9
  34. Heaven and Hell#28, 73ff.
  35. Swedenborg, E.Wisdom's Delight in Marriage ("Conjugial")Love: Followed by Insanity’s Pleasure in Promiscuous Love(Swedenborg society 1953 #31)
  36. Heaven and Hell #421
  37. Heaven and Hell #485
  38. Heaven and Hell#421ff.
  39. Genesis 1:31
  40. Genesis 1:27, 2:18, 24, Mark 10:9, Matt. 19:5-6
  41. See Review: Jesus and Paul on the eternity of marriage
  42. Marriage Love#32,33, 45-50
  43. Heaven and Hell #332
  44. Heaven and Hell #41ff
  45. Heaven and Hell#52
  46. Apocalypse Revealed" #548
  47. Heaven and Hell #234
  48. Heaven and Hell #28
  49. Heaven and Hell #229
  50. Heaven and Hell #162, 191
  51. Heaven and Hell #92

Further reading

External links

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