The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. (Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:47, NRSV).
Jesus was from heaven? (Really? Where is that?)
Jesus gave a final blessing to his followers, apparently at Bethany: As he was doing this, he left and was taken up to heaven (Luke 24:51, CEV). This is similar to Acts 1:9,  though there concealing clouds are mentioned. (That the risen and transformed “second man” is taken to heaven seems to have troubled some people in older times - see marginal notes in Bibles.)

Perhaps many people in Judea (etc) believed the sky concealed God; that God was present just above the blue “bowl” we see. They (ordinary people) may have understood the earth to be flat. In our days we do not need a cosmonaut to tell us that “heaven” is not an address encountered in space. (A glance at the graphic illustrates the point.)

The model prayer given by Jesus starts this way:  Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy... (Matthew 6:9, NLT). That noun, “heaven”, is frequent, though the usages vary.
Literally the expression in Matthew 6:9 is “who (is) in the heavens”; that is, the noun is plural. Heaven is used sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural. Most translations render by “heaven”, instead of “heavens”. The expression surely tells that this Father is limitless; this Father hears all. The Father is supreme and unchallenged.

Although Luke’s Gospel has a variant prayer, Luke firmly indicates that, in Jesus, heaven was breaking into the “common era”. The birth of (extra-ordinarily conceived) Jesus was proclaimed before shepherds, who at first were afraid and needed reassurance: And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us”
(Luke 2:12-15, ESV). The messengers (angels) belonged to heaven; they returned to heaven (in each case the word is singular). God was in the highest; the angels had represented the Lord. An implication of the passage is that “heaven” is a word conveying the direct presence of God (the Lord).

(BTW: Christmas items may depict “angels” as robed, “winged” beings from “above”, in a hover attitude - artistic imagination, with some basis in imagery such as Ezekiel 1. A future post may consider angels.)

At the outset of his public life Jesus joined the throngs being baptised by his forerunner. In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven:
You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You!
[a] (Mark 1:9-11, HCSB). What exactly did “he” see when the heavens opened? No further information given. In this report the heavens (pl) seem to be visual (i.e., sky), with the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. As well, we are pointed to the presence of God who speaks directly from heaven (to his Son). A voice comes from somewhere. Or does it?

It is hardly surprising that this overwhelming event was prominent in the memory of Jesus’ public life and appears in all four Gospels. All mention “heaven(s)” and have the “like a dove” expression. Matthew 3: 13-17 matches Mark (see preceding), but has more content (conversation). Luke (below) is close to Mark and has the speech from heaven identically with Mark: Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son;[a] with you I am well pleased.”[b] (Luke 3:21-22, ESV). A different view of the moment comes from John 1:29-34, but like Luke, John refers to “heaven” (singular): And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him (John 1:32, NRSV).

Thus of the baptism event we have reports in different authors. The “heaven” word is also translated variously. Some note the plural form and the context to render as “sky” (e.g., CEV). Some simply use “heaven”, or “heavens”. The comparison to the descending dove suggests we are presented here with picture language. Apart from the river, and a guesstimation of the people, human art can not reliably depict the event, any more than the birth announcement.

The people of the Nazareth synagogue, as a whole, were disgruntled with their former familiar carpenter when he visited. Jesus had blunt words for them which they found infuriating. Part of what he said: “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land (Luke 4:25, NLT). The word “heaven” there is singular and obviously is used of the weather, the lack of rain (clouds), rather than of God. Some translations render simply as “no rain”. Jesus was saying that God had withheld rain from his own people. Not only that, God sent Elijah to help an outsider! 

There was a memorable day when Jesus fed crowds; all the Gospels mention there were 12 baskets of remains. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd (Luke 9:16, NRSV). Matthew, Mark and Luke identically tell of that looking up to heaven by Jesus. The use of the word echoes Luke’s earlier report of the arrival and return of God’s messengers from heaven. No doubt those present, and those hearing, realised Jesus was indicating his dependence on, and unity with, the Father, with God.

One statement unique in Luke has the word “heaven” in its plural form: Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20, ESV). Some of the less prominent translations validly render the expression as “in the heavens”. Not sky-writing, nor a register! In the same context in Luke, and also in Matthew, we have an occurrence of the singular "heaven" noun in a prayer of Jesus: At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; (Matthew 11:25, NRSV). The Father rules all, “heaven and earth”; nothing is excluded. In time Jesus further explained.

As described in post “Kingdom”, Jesus set the priorities for his followers. “But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:31-33, HCSB). They have a great future, as the guardians and staff of the kingdom (the Father’s, or, God’s), and can put away totally secure wealth in heaven (literally, “the heavens”). Sell all?

Matthew included a report on this priority for living: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT). The follower can lay up in heaven (literally, “a heaven”). How is the storing up to be done: “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God[e] above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need (Matthew 6:31-33, NLT). That command I included in the “kingdom” post. Perhaps it sounds like bank accounts should be emptied and properties disposed of in favour of the Kingdom? Sell all? The follower is to live a life of penury? Hardly what the Carpenter advocated. The rest of the Bible message (especially Paul) puts that to rest. Anyway, assuming all the wealth is accessible, how exactly is it to be stored in heaven? Despite what may be suggested, heaven has no branches here. Luke’s version certainly accords with God’s concern for the poor. (Which poor?) All followers are responsible and accountable - to God. (An alarming example of wealth use and misuse comes in Acts chapter 5.)

Heaven does have work to be done: He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me" (Matthew 25:33-36, CEV).  In the “end-times” description (see the chapter), the king who is doing the separating of sheep from goats, and rewarding, is Jesus.

Matthew records these challenging words: Even though you are evil, you know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11, NIRV). From Luke’s comparable saying note this singular noun use:  Even though you are evil, you know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more will your Father who is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:23, NIRV). Four (little known) translations reproduce Matthew’s plural by “in the heavens”. It is noticeable that much of the two sayings use identical wording. The differences include the number of the word “heaven”, and Luke has “Holy Spirit” where Matthew has good things/gifts (literally “goods”).

Jesus gave his followers firm direction for truth in speech. No sliding away under accepted “oath-taking” procedures. As part of that we have his admonitions from Matthew: But I tell you not to swear by anything when you make a promise! Heaven is God’s throne, so don’t swear by heaven. The earth is God’s footstool, so don’t swear by the earth. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, so don’t swear by it (Matthew 5:34-35, CEV). Close to the end of Jesus’ time a similar admonition: To swear by heaven is the same as swearing by God’s throne and by the one who sits on that throne (Matthew 23:22, CEV). Whilst for us there may be no oath issue, we gain incidental information on heaven itself, set in distinction from the earth and closely identified with God. (In both of the citations the word is singular.)

Many of the “kingdom” sayings in Matthew include “heaven”: I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11, HCSB). The “heaven” expression here literally is “of the heavens”. This kingdom is a topic in a previous post. The former outsiders will share in the kingdom.

Following his resurrection Jesus gave a clear command under "heaven's imprint", a command which is always relevant. They saw him and worshiped him, but some of them doubted. Jesus came to them and said: I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth! Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world (Matthew 28:17-20, CEV).  He can impose such a task and his work has such power because he holds all authority, in heaven and on earth. Those are powerful words with a very big claim - the biggest. Heaven's work is unfinished and continues under Jesus' commands. Outsiders become insiders. Jesus himself is in it. As a group they received this instruction. No "Robinson Crusoe" believers. (I do not mean here to endorse all activities under some kind of label of kingdom, or,  heaven; each follower has personal responsibility. Working together makes a difference.)

There was an earnest young man given this challenge: Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21, NRSV). Mark literally has “a heaven”. Matthew (19:21) and Luke (18:22) also contain this pericope. Their wordings are very similar; the weight of text favours “heavens” (plural; no article). Heavenly (future) wealth is common to all the synoptics. (The passage forms part of my “kingdom” post.)

John records words from Jesus which were unacceptable to his critics: For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:38-40, NLT). The chapter gives a fuller glimpse of the struggle of the day - how could this ordinary man be out of heaven?   

Jesus spoke for “little ones”; in the presence of God they have high priority. “See that you don’t look down on one of these little ones. Here is what I tell you. Their angels in heaven are always with my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 18:10, NIRV). Literally, “in heavens”; the term is plural and without article. The point is the concern God, the mighty and limitless one, has for the little ones; not a concrete location where matters are weighed and decided.

There were severe words for those who refused to receive him. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades (Luke 10:15, ESV). Jesus’ words characterise their independent pride as leading to grim consequence, the opposite of their imagined prominence and bright future. (“Hades”? The place of the dead.)

Consider joy in heaven (literally, “the heaven”): Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:7, NRSV). The focus here is on the response of “heaven” to human acceptance of Jesus.

The end times were part of Jesus’ message, including: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mark 13:31-32, ESV). The word evidently is used here in two different ways; and so some translate the first as “the sky and the earth”. The heaven of the angels can hardly be passing away. We are looking at matters beyond human imagination.

In the increasingly severe disputes towards the end of Jesus’ day, he put a question to his opponents: Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? Answer Me” (Mark 11:30, HCSB).  They declined an answer, apparently on the grounds of potential uproar. In Mark’s report (as in in Matthew and Luke) we can note Jesus setting God (and God’s word) above and distinct from the works of human beings. The alternative sources are God (heaven) or human activity. That is an important distinction, a vital one. We also have that call to make. (Literally the word is “a heaven”, but there is no doubt we read it as “heaven”.)

I find that the Gospels do not focus on some hypothetical location in space where God can be found. God is not merged with God’s creation. God is God, and all else that is, owes its existence to God.

The NT has more on “heaven”; a lot of graphic mention comes in the challenging final book, Revelation. From what may be the first written record remaining we have from Paul: For the people of those regions[a] report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, NRSV). We get a glimpse of the Apostle and his hearers and what they understood about what had happened to the believers who had died whilst they waited. There is a kind of “no disadvantage” policy for them (and for us). They waited (we wait) for the Son from heaven. Later in the document: For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.[g] For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died[h] will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words ( I Thessalonians 4: 14-18, NLT).  A voice, a trumpet, a catching up, a permanent place; all impacting - the whole earth! Surely Paul uses picture language to convey something beyond imagining. It is significant that the Jesus who returns is, in fact, the "Lord".

Where did Paul get all that amazing knowledge? Primarily it is essential to allow for the work of God, who is not muzzled. God's Holy Spirit spoke God's words through the prophets. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be the guide (John 16:12-15).  From a human viewpoint (this is only speculation) I could compare, with what Paul says, Jesus' "end times" teaching in the last week prior to his execution (eg, Matthew 24, 25). It would also be possible to compare the OT examples (eg, Daniel).  Similar questions arise regarding the book, Revelation. (There however, we have assertion of Apostolic authority. Jesus taught the Apostles and/or disciples many things after his resurrection.)

The final mention of heaven in the pages of the accepted Bible comes from the vision in that final book, Revelation: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone ..... And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”... (21:1, 5, NLT). There are many mentions of heaven in the book, even of a war!  So, ultimately, all things are made new.  Nothing left of the old - why would that be, do you think?

The OT has many examples of the use of the word. For example: The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship (Psalm 19:1, NLT).

An argument recorded at the time of re-building in Jerusalem has this: Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven is the one who will give us success, and we his servants are going to start building; but you have no share or claim or historic right in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:20, NRSV).” The expression occurs many times and may stress that God alone is God. Furthermore, before Jesus’ day people were familiar with use of the word “heaven” to indirectly substitute for the words “God”, or, “LORD”. In the inter-testamental literature we read, for example: It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven (1 Maccabees 3:19, NRSV).

Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from the Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (HCSB) are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Scripture quotations marked (NIRV) are taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL READER'S VERSION®.Copyright © 1996, 1998 Biblica. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of Biblica.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I retain in the publishers' text the references () to footnotes where they occur. You can check them out by viewing the text on-line. Often they are the same in different translations.
Note: Bible text sourced through Biblegateway.com or/and BlueLetterBible.org.    

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