A term used in the Holy Scriptures to indicate the sky overhead created by God (Gn. 1:1) and the dwelling place of God (Ps. 2:4; 11:4; 103:19; 123:1; 129:7-8).
The Jewish mystics adopted the concept of the plurality of heavens rising above one another: the first as the expanse of space surrounding the earth; the second as the firmament containing the sun, moon, and stars; and the third (or heaven of heavens) as the abode of God. The concept held by the Coptic Orthodox Church differs as far as the third heaven is concerned and is based on the teachings of Saint Paul, where he tells the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:2-4) of his vision and revelations: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Here the third heaven is paradise, the resting place of the souls of the righteous awaiting the day of judgment. Thus, heaven and paradise are quite distinct.
This view is supported by evidence from the New Testament. Heaven is the place from which Christ came down and to which He was raised. He said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, Son of Man, who is in heaven” (Jn. 3:13). Again, at His ascension, as the disciples were watching steadfastly into heaven as He was lifted up, “behold, two men stood beside them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven'” (Acts 1:10-11).
The Revelation to John (21:1-23) draws a symbolical representation of heaven. The new Jerusalem is a realm that knows no hunger or thirst, no scorching heat. “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:17). “There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever” (22:3-5).
Many of the early fathers described their impressions of heaven and the beatific vision; Clement of Rome (Epistola I ad Corinthios, PG 1, col. 218); Athenagoras of Athens (“Supplication for the Christians” 31, 1970); Irenaeus (Adversus omnes haereses, 1857, 1.10.1 and 4.20.5). The following excerpt from Saint Augustine deserves quotation in this respect:
How great will be that happiness . . . where there will be leisure for the praises of God, who shall be all in all! . . . There the reward of virtue shall be God Himself, the Author of virtue; and He promised Himself, than whom there can be nothing better or greater. . . . For thus too is that to be rightly understood which the Apostle says, “That God may be all in all.” He Himself will be the end of our desires. He shall be seen without end. He shall be loved without surfeit. He shall be praised without weariness. . . . There we shall rest and we shall behold, we shall behold and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise. This is what shall be in the end without end.
- Athenagoras of Athens. “Supplication for the Christians.” In The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1, ed. W. A. Jurgens. Collegeville, Minn., 1970.
- Augustine. “The City of God.” In The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3, ed. W. A. Jurgens. Collegeville, Minn., 1979. Baxter, R. The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. London, 1650.
- Simon, U. E. Heaven in the Christian Tradition. London, 1958. Smith, W. M. The Biblical Doctrine of Heaven. London, 1968.