Editorial: The Realm of Heaven

So where exactly are we going? Prior to the Lord’s return, where does a believer go who has died? Scripture teaches that heaven is our destiny, but where is it and what is it like? Thankfully, we are not left to our imaginations nor to the hundreds of accounts written by people who allegedly went to heaven and returned. The apostle Paul actually describes a “heaven and back” incident in his own life but does so with great hesitancy and little information. In fact, rather than filling a hundred or more pages about what he saw, his focus was on what he heard. He doesn’t share anything he saw. He only “heard things,” and they were “things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2Co 12:4).1 And to go along with such a revelation, Paul received a thorn in the flesh (v7), not a million-dollar book deal!

But in this account, Paul does imply that at death we will arrive in the “third heaven” (2Co 12:2). The first heaven is aerial, the atmosphere where the birds fly (Jer 4:25). The second heaven is astral, where the stars are found (Isa 13:10). The third heaven is celestial, the dwelling place of God (Isa 63:15; Psa 33:13-14; 102:19). When Christ ascended to the Father’s right hand, He passed through the heavens (plural, indicating the first and the second; Heb 4:14 ESV), and entered into heaven itself (presumably the third), appearing “in the presence of God” (Heb 9:24; see also Mar 16:19; Luk 24:51; Act 1:9-11). Stephen saw the Lord Jesus there moments before his own death – he “gazed into heaven and saw … Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Act 7:55). Since Paul also tells us that at death we go to be “with Christ” (Php 1:23), it is clear that our destiny is indeed this third heaven, the dwelling place of God.

Paul also called this heaven “paradise” (2Co 12:13), the same word used by the Lord Jesus in His promise to the criminal crucified next to Him (Luk 23:43). Interestingly, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word “paradise” is used to describe the Garden of Eden (see Gen 2:8; Eze 28:13), the place where God and man enjoyed fellowship together. Our destiny after this life is to dwell with Christ (who is God) in sweet fellowship with Him in paradise.

In order for this fellowship to be possible, something must happen to us at death, for we are sinners. Hebrews 12:23 refers to “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” who dwell above in the heavenly Jerusalem. This implies that we too will be perfected in our spirits upon our arrival in heaven. At death, we will forever leave behind sin, temptation and failure.

There are other phrases used to describe our destiny, which are expounded in the articles to follow. But one more word will suffice for now – we are going “home.” Paul says that when we leave these bodies, we will be “home with the Lord” (2Co 5:8). And there’s no place like home. But there’s much more to our glorious future than this. It is our prayer that you will be blessed as you read the articles to follow in this special issue entitled “Heaven and Beyond.”

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the ESV.