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What comes to mind when you hear the word heaven? Are there thoughts of glory, of joy, of intimate fellowship with Jesus? Indeed, we should have such thoughts, because we are told that God “sits in the heavens” (Psalm 2:4) and that the heavens have received Jesus (Acts 3:21) and that where He is, there we will be (John 14:3).
However, what if we make this word into a plural: heavens? The Hebrew word for “heaven” (SHAMÁYIM) is plural. Indeed, as we search the scriptures, we find that there is more than one “heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 148:4).
1. There is the heaven in which the birds fly (Deuteronomy 4:17—NKJV: “air”) and from which the rain comes down (Isaiah 55:10). This is the atmosphere, inner space.
2. There is the heaven in which the sun, moon, and stars are found (Genesis 1:14), or outer space.
3. There is the heaven in which God is enthroned in the presence of all His holy angels (Psalm 2:4; Matthew 18:10; 22:30; Isaiah 6). This is the highest heaven (Deuteronomy 10:14), the “third heaven,” which the apostle Paul equates with “paradise.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)
What a marvelous creation these heavens are. By them, the Creator contains the atmosphere, so that we can breathe and live. By them, the Creator contains the sun, moon, and stars, so that these can serve their functions, providing light for life and serving “for signs and seasons, and for days and years.” (Genesis 1:14) By them, the Creator makes His presence known to the whole world: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4) In them, the Creator sets His throne and rules over all of creation.
As marvelous as the heavens are, they will not last forever. Because of the vile rebellion of man, all of creation has been subjected to rot and ruin and death. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:22-23)
Yes, the day will come when the creation will be delivered into the glorious liberty of the children of God. That is the day when “you will see the Son of Man . . . coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62) Then, “all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll.” (Isaiah 34:4) “Like a cloak [the Lord] will change them, and they will be changed.” (Psalm 102:26) They “will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
It is sad that the marvelous creation of God must be melted down, but only in this way will our Lord fashion a “. . . new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13) We stare up into the heavens and find peace and joy in the gently drifting, fluffy clouds and the melodious songs of the birds. We marvel at the countless stars in the heavens. However, as we gaze into the new heavens, we will find infinitely greater peace and joy. Then, the sins which cloud our view in this world will be gone forever, having been washed away in the blood of the Creator of the heavens. Only righteousness will be found there, and we will see clearly all the wonders of God’s loving goodness, for we will be in the Paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). Hallelujah!
John Pfeiffer is retired from the pastoral and teaching ministry. He is a former president of Immanuel Lutheran College.