Heaven in Christianity

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The Ladder of Divine Ascent in Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai[1]

In Christianity, heaven is traditionally the location of the throne of God and the angels of God,[2][3] and in most forms of Christianity it is the abode of the righteous dead in the afterlife. In some Christian denominations it is understood as a temporary stage before the resurrection of the dead and the saints' return to the New Earth.

In the Book of Acts, the resurrected Jesus ascends to heaven where, as the Nicene Creed states, he now sits at the right hand of God and will return to earth in the Second Coming. According to Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox teaching, Mary, mother of Jesus, is said to have been assumed into heaven without the corruption of her earthly body; she is venerated as Queen of Heaven.

In the Christian Bible, concepts about Christian eschatology, the future "kingdom of heaven", and the resurrection of the dead are found, particularly in the book of Revelation and in 1 Corinthians 15.

Early Christianity[edit]

The 1st-century early Jewish-Christians, from whom Christianity developed as a Gentile religion, believed that the kingdom of God was coming to earth within their own lifetimes, and looked forward to a divine future on earth.[3] The earliest Christian writings on the topic are those by Paul, such as 1 Thessalonians 4–5, in which the dead are described as having fallen asleep. Paul says that the second coming will arrive without warning, like a "thief in the night," and that the sleeping faithful will be raised first, and then the living. Similarly, the earliest of the Apostolic Fathers, Pope Clement I, does not mention entry into heaven after death but instead expresses belief in the resurrection of the dead after a period of "slumber"[4] at the Second Coming.[5]

In the 2nd century AD, Irenaeus (a Greek bishop) quoted presbyters as saying that not all who are saved would merit an abode in heaven itself: "[T]hose who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy."[6]

Orthodox Christianity[edit]

Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Christ enthroned in heaven, surrounded by the ranks of angels and saints. At the bottom is paradise with the Bosom of Abraham (left), and the penitent thief (right).

Eastern Orthodox cosmology[edit]

Various saints have had visions of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2–4). The Orthodox concept of life in heaven is described in one of the prayers for the dead: "…a place of light, a place of green pasture, a place of repose, from whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing are fled away".[7] However, in the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, it is only God who has the final say on who enters heaven.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, heaven is the parcel of deification (theosis), meaning to acquire a divine nature and complete one's hypostasis via christlike behavior, due to Jesus having made human entry into heaven possible by his incarnation, hence evidence of one's divine nature is usually miracles akin to those of christ.[8][9]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

The Catholic Church teaches that "heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness".[10] In heaven one experiences the beatific vision.[11] The church holds that,

by his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has 'opened' heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ... Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.[12]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates several images of heaven found in the Bible:

This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the New Jerusalem, paradise: 'no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him'.[13]

Those Christians who die still imperfectly purified must, according to Catholic teaching, pass through a state of purification known as purgatory before entering heaven.[14]

According to the Council of Trent, one does not sin when doing "good works with a view to an eternal recompense."[15]

Catholic authors have speculated about the nature of the "secondary joy of heaven", that is Church teaching reflected in the Councils of Florence and of Trent. For God "will repay according to each one's deeds" (Romans 2:6 ): ... "the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6 ). Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins describes this joy as reflecting Christ to one another, each in our own personal way and to the extent that we have grown more Christlike in this life, for as Hopkins writes, "Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his, to the Father through the features of men's faces." God means to share even this divine joy with us, the joy of rejoicing in making others happy.[16]

Protestant Christianity[edit]

Some denominations teach that one enters heaven at the moment of death, while others teach that this occurs at a later time (the Last Judgment).[citation needed] Some Christians maintain that entry into Heaven awaits such time as "When the form of this world has passed away."[17]

Two related, and often blended, concepts of heaven in Christianity are better described as the "resurrection of the body" as contrasted with "the immortality of the soul". In the first, the soul does not enter heaven until the Last Judgment or the "end of time" when it (along with the body) is resurrected and judged. In the second concept, the soul goes to a heaven on another plane immediately after death. These two concepts are generally combined in the doctrine of the double judgment where the soul is judged once at death and goes to a temporary heaven, while awaiting a second and final judgment at the end of the world.[17]

Some teach that death itself is not a natural part of life, but was allowed to happen after Adam and Eve disobeyed God so that mankind would not live forever in a state of sin and thus a state of separation from God.[18][19][20]


Methodism teaches that heaven is a state where the faithful will spend eternal bliss with God:[21]

Everyone that has a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord on departing from this life, goes to be in felicity with Him, and will share the eternal glories of His everlasting Kingdom; the fuller rewards and the greater glories, being reserved until the final Judgment. Matt. 25:34, 46; John 14:2, 3; II Cor. 5:6, 8, 19; Phil. 1:23, 24 —Evangelical Methodist Church Discipline (¶24)[21]

Seventh-day Adventist[edit]

The Seventh-day Adventist understanding of heaven is:

  • That heaven is a place where God resides. Described in Revelation 11:12 "they went to Heaven, wrapped in a cloud.."
  • That God sent his son, Jesus Christ to earth to live as a human being (Matthew 2:10 birth of Jesus) who "perfectly exemplified the righteousness and love of God shown by His miracles He manifested God's power and was attested as God's promised Messiah. He suffered and died voluntarily on the cross for our sins and in our place, was raised from the dead, and ascended to minister in the heavenly sanctuary in our behalf."[22]
  • That Christ promises to return as saviour at which time he will resurrect the righteous dead and gather them along with the righteous living to heaven. The unrighteous will die at Christ's second coming.[23]
  • That after Christ's second coming there will exist a period of time known as the Millennium during which Christ and his righteous saints will reign and the unrighteous will be judged. At the close of the Millennium, Christ and his angels return to earth to resurrect the dead that remain, to issue the judgments and to forever rid the universe of sin and sinners.[24]
  • "On the new earth, in which righteousness dwells, God will provide an eternal home for the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, love, joy, and learning in His presence. For here God Himself will dwell with His people, and suffering and death will have passed away. The great controversy will be ended, and sin will be no more. All things, animate and inanimate, will declare that God is love; and He shall reign forever."[25] It is at this point that heaven is established on the new earth.

Other denominations[edit]


Christadelphians do not believe that anyone will go to heaven upon death. Instead, they believe that only Jesus went to Heaven and resides there alongside Jehovah. Christadelphians instead believe that following death, the soul enters a state of unconsciousness, and will stay that way until the Last Judgment, where those saved will be resurrected and the damned will be annihilated. The Kingdom of God will be established on Earth, starting in the land of Israel, and Jesus will rule over the kingdom for a millennium.[26][27][28]

Jehovah's Witnesses[edit]

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that heaven is the dwelling place of Jehovah and his spirit creatures. They believe that only 144,000 chosen faithful followers ("The Anointed") will be resurrected to heaven to rule with Christ over the majority of mankind who will live on Earth.[29]

Latter Day Saint movement[edit]

The view of heaven according to the Latter Day Saint movement is based on section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants as well as 1 Corinthians 15 in the King James Version of the Bible. The afterlife is divided first into two levels until the Last Judgment; afterwards it is divided into four levels, the upper three of which are referred to as "degrees of glory" that, for illustrative purposes, are compared to the brightness of heavenly bodies: the sun, moon, and stars.

Before the Last Judgment, spirits separated from their bodies at death go either to paradise or to spirit prison dependent on if they had been baptised and confirmed by the laying on of hands. Paradise is a place of rest while its inhabitants continue learning in preparation for the Last Judgment. Spirit prison is a place of learning for the wicked and unrepentant and those who were not baptised; however, missionary efforts done by spirits from paradise enable those in spirit prison to repent, accept the gospel and the atonement and receive baptism through the practice of baptism for the dead.[30]

After the resurrection and Last Judgment, people are sent to one of four levels:

  • The celestial kingdom is the highest level, with its power and glory comparable to the sun. Here, faithful and valiant disciples of Christ who accepted the fullness of his gospel and kept their covenants with Him through following the prophets of their dispensation are reunited with their families and with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit for all eternity. Those who would have accepted the gospel with all their hearts had they been given the opportunity in life (as judged by Christ and God the Father) are also saved in the celestial kingdom. Latter-Day Saint movements do not espouse the concept of original sin, but believe children to be innocent through the atonement. Therefore, all children who die before the age of accountability inherit this glory. Men and women who have entered into celestial marriage are eligible, under the tutelage of God the Father, to eventually become gods and goddesses as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.
  • The terrestrial kingdom's power and glory is comparable to that of the moon, and is reserved for those who understood and rejected the full gospel in life but lived good lives; those who did accept the gospel but failed to keep their covenants through continuing the process of faith, repentance, and service to others; those who "died without law" (D & C 76:72) but accepted the full gospel and repented after death due to the missionary efforts undertaken in spirit prison. God the Father does not come into the terrestrial kingdom, but Jesus Christ visits them and the Holy Spirit is given to them.
  • The telestial kingdom is comparable to the glory of the stars. Those placed in the telestial kingdom suffered the pains of Hell after death because they were liars, murderers, adulterers, whoremongers, etc. They are eventually rescued from Hell by being redeemed through the power of the atonement at the end of the Millennium. Despite its far lesser condition in eternity, the telestial kingdom is described as being more comfortable than Earth in its current state. Suffering is a result of a full knowledge of the sins and choices which have permanently separated a person from the utter joy that comes from being in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, though they have the Holy Spirit to be with them.
  • The Outer darkness is the lowest level and has no glory whatsoever. It is reserved for Satan, his angels, and those who have committed the unpardonable sin. This is the lowest state possible in the eternities, and one that very few people born in this world attain, since the unpardonable sin requires that a person know with a perfect knowledge that the gospel is true and then reject it and fight defiantly against God. The only known son of perdition is Cain, but it is generally acknowledged that there are probably more scattered through the ages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Festival icons for the Christian year by John Baggley 2000 ISBN 0-88141-201-5 pages 83-84 [1]
  2. ^ "21 July 1999 | John Paul II". www.vatican.va. Retrieved 2020-04-29.
  3. ^ a b Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-530013-0
  4. ^ 1 Clement 26:2: "For he saith in a certain place, And thou shalt raise me up, and I will give thanks unto thee; and again: I slumbered and slept; I arose up because thou art with me."
  5. ^ E. C. Dewick, Tutor and Dean of St. Aidan's College, Birkenhead, and Teacher in Ecclesiastical History in the University of Liverpool. Primitive Christian Eschatology: The Hulsean Prize Essay for 1908. 2007 reprint, p. 339 "resurrection is 'that which shall be hereafter'; and neither salvation nor resurrection will be accomplished till the Lord has come again".
  6. ^ Irenaeus of Lyons; Book 5, 36:1
  7. ^ Book for Commemoration of the Living and the Dead, trans. Father Lawrence (Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY), p. 77.
  8. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Against Heresies (St. Irenaeus)". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2023-11-23.
  9. ^ Butler, Michael E (1994-01-01). "Hypostatic union and Monotheletism: The dyothelite christology of St. Maximus the Confessor". ETD Collection for Fordham University: 1–294.
  10. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1024
  11. ^ CCC 1023
  12. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1026
  13. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1027
  14. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1030
  15. ^ Council of Trent, Canon XXXI
  16. ^ Zupez, SJ, John (January 2020). "Our Good Deeds Follow Us: A Reflection on the Secondary Joy of Heaven". Emmanuel. 126: 4–6.
  17. ^ a b JPII
  18. ^ Moody, D.L. Heaven. Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84685-812-3.
  19. ^ Bunyan, John. The Strait Gate: Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84685-671-6.
  20. ^ Bunyan, John. No Way to Heaven but By Jesus Christ Liskeard, Cornwall: Diggory Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84685-780-5.
  21. ^ a b Evangelical Methodist Church Discipline. Evangelical Methodist Church Conference. 15 July 2017. p. 17.
  22. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, "Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 4: The Son". Archived from the original on 2006-03-10.
  23. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 26: Death and Resurrection {{Webarchive|url=https://web.archive.org/web/20060310104717/http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html
  24. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 27: Millennium and the End of Sin Archived 2006-03-10 at the Wayback Machine, 2006
  25. ^ General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Adventist Fundamental Beliefs, Fundamental Belief # 28: New Earth Archived 2006-03-10 at the Wayback Machine, 2006
  26. ^ Wilson, Sheila. The End of the World: Horror Story—or Bible Hope?. Birmingham, UK: CMPA.
  27. ^ Scott, Malcolm. Christ is Coming Again!. Hyderabad: Printland Publishers. ISBN 81-87409-34-7.
  28. ^ After Death – What?. Birmingham, UK: CMPA.
  29. ^ Reasoning From The Scriptures. Watchtower. 1989.
  30. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 128:18, standard works, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Further reading[edit]

  • Gary Scott Smith, Heaven in the American Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988; 2nd ed. 2001.
  • Bernhard Lang, Meeting in Heaven: Modernising the Christian Afterlife, 1600-2000. Frankfurt: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011.
  • Liguori, Alphonus (1868). "Chapter XXIX. Of Heaven" . Preparation For Death. Rivingtons.
  • Liguori, Alphonus (1882). "Sermon XVI: On Heaven." . Sermons for all the Sundays in the year. Dublin.
  • Randy C. Alcorn, Heaven, Wheaton, Tyndale House, 2004.
  • Jerry L. Walls, Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy, Oxford, Oxford University, 2002.

External links[edit]