There are two good reasons to do a focused Bible study on heaven. First, because the history of how Christians have understood heaven has been written by several and this history reveals that Christians have both invented plenty and have failed to interact adequately with the Bible. For, this I recommend McDannell and Lang, Heaven: A HIstory. The second reason is because Tom Wright, in Surprised by Hope, has suggested that heaven is not a place we go to eternally after we die. Instead, at the resurrection we will enter into the new heavens and the new earth. So, here goes …
Before I say another word, this: Matthew has tons of references to the “kingdom of heaven” and that Jewish expression means “kingdom of God, who dwells in the heavens.” What this helps us with is simple: heaven is where God dwells. Out of reverence, Jews frequently substituted expressions for God and in this case “heaven” means “God’s dwelling place.” So, this expression doesn’t tell us that kingdom is heaven. That’s not the point. And what I have chosen to do is focus on Mark’s Gospel; there are so many NT references I can’t dwell on each one. So, I’ll get this going by looking at the first four references to heaven in Mark. Here they are: they can be combined to make one general point.
Mark 1:9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ?You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.?
Mark 4:30 Again he said, ?What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air [heaven] can perch in its shade.?
Mark 6:39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
Mark 8:11 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. 12 He sighed deeply and said, ?Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.?
First, heaven is up.
Second, heaven is the skies.
Third, heaven is where God is and where God dwells, which is not to say God isn’t omnipresent and present on earth, but heaven is where God dwells. Thus, a sign from heaven is a sign from God, who dwells in the heavens.
Fourth, it is the place from which God speaks and from which God makes his move when God becomes manifest on earth.