GOD'S CREATION 2: THE HEAVENS
--From James A. Scarborough, The Steppingstones (Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center, 1987) 75-82.
Long before Earth was created, Heaven already existed. Heaven was populated with multitudes of creatures we call angels. It was a place of boundless beauty and joy at a time when "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). This kingdom was ruled by Christ, Who referred to it when He said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). Christ's followers look forward to someday living in His heavenly kingdom and participating in its beauty and joy. Yet, we seem to know little or nothing about what to expect there.
For example, we are accustomed to the image of multitudes of winged angels, halos glowing brightly, playing their harps and singing hallelujah. The redeemed are pictured as dressed in white, walking on streets of gold, singing praises to God, and worshipping their Creator day and night. In short, we are presented with a Christmas card Heaven, in which the majority of humankind would feel quite out of place. Let us see what the Scriptures reveal about Heaven. But first we should ask, "Which Heaven are we talking about?" The Scriptures mention several.
Seven distinct and separate levels of heavens were part of the beliefs of the Hebrews, although there seems to have been no definite idea of the conditions in the various levels. Several different heavens, or dimensions of existence, are implied by the Christian Bibles of today. These Bibles contain numerous references to more than one Heaven. See Psalm 33:6, Deuteronomy 32:1, Genesis 2:1, and Matthew 4:17 where we find plural "heavens." God and Christ are sometimes reported as dwelling in the highest heaven (see Psalm 115:16 NIV) and at other times are said to reside above the highest heaven (see Ephesians 4:10, 1 Kings 8:27, 2 Chronicles 2:6).
The term "Heaven" is applied to the entire set of lower heavens and the highest heaven when no distinction is necessary. The existence of various, different heavens within Heaven is evident in a statement made by Christ as He neared physical death on the cross, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43 NIV). Paradise cannot be the high level usually thought of when we loosely use the word "Heaven," because Christ did not ascend to there until the Ascension, forty days later (see Acts 1:2-3). Another New Testament reference to multiple dimensions in Heaven is contained in Paul's experience in which he was taken up to the third heaven, but was not permitted to disclose what he had seen there (see 2 Cor 12:2-4). We clearly see that there are several heavens, although the details are lacking.
These heavens are all nearer to God than the Earth is, and are all under the jurisdiction of Christ, to Whom God gave all power and authority (see Matt 28:18). The conditions in these realms may therefore be assumed to be pleasant, indeed. Although the details are unclear, numerous clues are to be found in the Scriptures which reveal to us some aspects of the conditions in the heavens.
Paradise is referred to as the "garden of God" (Ezek 28:13; Rev 2:7), and thus cannot be a barren desert. We find that the heavens, indeed, have many features in common with this physical universe in which we live, and in particular with the planet Earth. The heavens contain dwelling places (see John 14:2-4), rivers, streams, fields, and cities (see Psa 46:4-5 and others). In other words, the heavens are somewhat like Earth, but without the flaws (see Isa 55:9).
Such a descriptions for the heavens was widely held among the early Jews and Christians, which means it was surely known by Jesus and the Apostles. The correctness of this description is apparently confirmed by the words of Christ, "If it were NOT so, I would have told you" (John 14:2) (em add). Yet, although we can expect to see many recognizable things upon our arrival in Paradise, there is surely much that will be new and wonderfully astonishing, for "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (1 Cor 2:9).
Another point of familiarity with Earth life is that the things in Heaven are composed of matter. This matter must behave according to the laws of nature in order that plants and structures exist. In fact, the existence of such forms indicate that the laws of electricity, chemistry, gravity, physics, and nature, in general, apply in the higher dimensions of existence just as they do on Earth. The mere Scriptural references to flowing water already imply as much. It is not surprising that it should be so. The laws of nature are laws of God. We are becoming familiar with some of these laws while on Earth during our preparation and training for life in the next realms. Earth life would be a poor school, indeed, if it did not prepare its pupils for the life they will find after graduation.
However, experience with God's laws of nature and the knowledge of how that aspect of reality behaves is not, in itself, sufficient preparation for living in bliss. We must also learn to live in harmony with others. This is part of our training on Earth, and is the major thrust of Christianity. Above all lessons, this one is the most important in our being prepared to live in harmony with the other citizens of Heaven. But what of these other citizens? What are they like?
The inhabitants of the heavens are usually called angels. The name "angel" calls up images of creatures bearing little resemblance to their Scriptural description. Indeed, the word "angel" conveys in itself no information whatever about the appearance of the creature. "Angel" is often defined as meaning "messenger," or, far better, "agent." The name describes the function of the creature, not the creature itself. In the same way, the words soldier, mother, and friend do not tell of the appearance of these people, nor even whether they are people, but describe their function and suggest their relationship to us. An angel is a creature who is functioning as an agent of God. God's agents are carrying out His instructions. But what is this creature? The angel is a spirit (see Heb 1:14 NIV) (em add).
Spirits are the inhabitants of the God's heavens, which form a vast multi-dimensional spirit world of God. God Himself is pure Spirit (see John 4:24). Christ, the image of God, is a Spirit. The angels are spirits, and we are spirits. None of these spirits fits the popular myth that a spirit is a shapeless, formless, intelligence having no body. The opposite is the case: spirits have bodies.
Spirit bodies are necessarily composed of a different condition of substance than fleshly bodies, since they are invisible to us in their usual condition. This different type of matter, this different condition of substance, is the same as that matter of which the aforementioned streams, plants, and structures of Heaven are composed. The bodies of the spirit beings are variously called "spiritual bodies" (see 1 Cor 15:40-44). The bodies of these spirits are every bit as real, solid, and visible to each other in their dimension as our bodies are to each other on Earth. Some of these spirits have been seen when they materialized on Earth.
Angelic appearances reported in the Scriptures show that these spirits walk, talk, eat, wear clothes, and generally resemble people in every way. So great is their resemblance to humans that the angels are sometimes referred to as men (Gen 18:1-15, 19:10-12, 32:24; Dan 9:21; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10). We are told that these Holy ones are sometimes among us, but that we mistake them for ordinary people: "Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13:1-2 NAS).
The Biblical description of angels has no resemblance to the usual conception of angels as pretty people with wings on their shoulders. This myth grew from the Biblical references to seraphim and cherubim. Seraphim are mentioned only in Isaiah in which we read of a vision he received (Isa 6:2-6). The seraphim were part of the vision, not claimed to be real beings. In any event, we have no further mention of seraphim in the Scriptures. On the other hand, cherubim are referred to on several occasions. Most of the verses involving cherubim describe statues of cherubim. Whereas the statues themselves have wings, it is not clear that the cherubim do. As we shall see in a later chapter, they do not. Thus, we conclude that angels are spirits having bodies resembling ours, with no wings.
The resemblance goes much deeper than external appearance. There must also be internal similarities. Humans can eat angel food (see Psa 78:24-25). Angels can eat human food, also, as the angels who materialized and visited with Abraham and Lot ate quite a variety of human foods (see Gen 18:1-22, 19:1-26). Even the Spirit, Christ, when He materialized from Heaven and appeared among the Apostles, ate fish. He had mentioned to them earlier that both food and wine exist in Heaven (see Psa 78:24-25; Mark 14:25). Since these spirits eat and drink, it follows that they must have internal organs of every necessary kind. It is as though these spirits of God's realms are more or less like flawless humans might be, if such existed. Yet angels are not flawless.
One shortcoming shared by both angels and man is that we both make mistakes (Job 4:18, 15:14). However good they may be, angels are not perfect. Nevertheless, they do display the most noble attributes. Among the virtues of angels, we find humility and gentleness displayed in their ministry to humans (see Matt 4:11; Heb 1:14). The angels are wise (see 2 Sam 14:20) and discerning of good and evil (see 2 Sam 14:17). They have extraordinary knowledge, but do not know everything. They do not know all the details of the plan of salvation, though they are especially interested in finding out (see 1 Pet 1:12). They worship and serve God (see Psa 148:2), as man is expected to do. The angels of the spirit world of God are, as one of them has said, our "fellow servants" (Rev 22:8-9). They excel in strength (see Psa 103:20), and will some day be sent to rescue God's elect (see Matt 24:31). At that time we shall also feel the great joy that they are capable of feeling (see Luke 15:10). Having examined the nature of angels, let us now turn our attention to their activities.
Angels perform many tasks in carrying out God's directives. They may be sent simply to bring messages, such as to the women at the tomb of Jesus (see Matt 28:5), or in response to prayer (see Dan 9:20-22). They may execute God's judgments (see 2 Sam 24:15-16; Acts 12:23). They may be sent to destroy, as in the destruction of Sodom (see Gen 19:13). Sometimes they are sent simply to bring instructions, as to Elijah (see 1 Kings 19:5-8), while on other occasions they bring protection and guidance (see Gen 24:7, 24:40; Psa 34:7).
An angel, in carrying out his or her mission as a ministering spirit, may apparently be given charge of groups of believers. In Revelation, messages are addressed to "the angel of each of the seven churches," or "to the Spirit of the seven churches," depending on the translation we read (see Rev 2 and 3). The relationship of the spirit (angel) to its church seems to be comparable to that of a parent to the children, or of a pastor to his flock.
The great diversity of activities implies some degree of organization in the spirit-world. In the spirit realm, God and Christ are at the top of the celestial chain of command. Further down, there are various degrees of rank and authority. For example, we read of angels, archangels, herald angels, princes, powers, authorities, thrones, dominions, and principalities. All of these exist among the spirits, though not all of them are necessarily in Heaven. The Scriptures give no details of the organizational structure past this.
In summary, we find in the Scriptures a great many similarities between angels and men. It is intended that, upon our arrival in the next dimension, we will be prepared to live in harmony, for it is said that man shall then be equal to the angels (see Luke 20:36). We have been made "a little lower than the angels" (Psa 8:5), in the same manner in which Christ Himself was also "made . . . for a little while lower than the angels" (Heb 2:6-9 NAS) during His earthly incarnation. Our future equality with the angels of Heaven apparently extends to the task of judgment, as "the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all" (Jude 14-15), and "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Cor 6:2). However, it is written elsewhere: "when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him" (Matt 25:31 NAS). There is apparently some connection between His saints, the believers in Him, and the angels. They have much in common.
The major differences between man and angel seem to be that we are in flesh on Earth, instead of in spirit bodies in Heaven, and that all mankind bears the stigma of "original sin" (1 John 1:8 and others) which the Holy angels do not carry. The distinction between man and angel seems to be more of quality, or degree of spiritual purity, than one of species. We may well be puzzled over the close relationship the angels have with us, why they show so great a love for us, and why they so willingly aid and guard us along life's pathway (see Psa 91:11). Why do they show such delight when we show signs of improvement in our thought and behavior (see Luke 15:10)? "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psa 8:4). Let us leave this question for a later chapter and turn our attention to the revolt in Heaven.
It would seem out of reason that trouble of any serious kind could have occurred in God's domain, but it did. This was possible because God does not force His will on His creatures, but allows them to accept or reject His ways at their discretion and to learn by harvesting the results of their choices. Free will, the volition to choose according to their own tastes, was given to all of the angels. Whenever such freedom of choice exists, the possibility for error also exists. The heavenly spirits were capable of making errors in judgment (see Job 4:18; 15:15). With freedom of action, and the possibility of making mistakes, the angels had the chance of being led into great evil. As ages passed, evil did, in fact, result. Greed and arrogance grew in certain of the angels, led by the one we call Lucifer, or Satan (the adversary). Revolt broke out in Heaven as Satan and his dupes attempted to overthrow Christ, the One Whom God had annointed and given all authority. "And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation" (Jude 6). By their desire to rule rather than be ruled, Satan and his followers committed the fatal error of rebellion against Christ.
Christ had already prepared His forces, Michael's legions, for such a contingency. "And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon [Satan], and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven" (Rev 12:7-8 NIV) (em add). Jesus recalled the great Fall with the words, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18). One-third of the angels of Heaven sided with Lucifer in the revolt against Christ (Rev 12:4). In that tragic day, a third part of all the angels were cast out of Heaven into lower regions created for their exile. "God did not spare even the fallen angels, but drove them down into hell, into the caverns of darkness, where they will be kept until they turn their hearts to God again" (2 Pet 2:4 GNT). These spirits were no longer to be found in the heavens. Until such time as the rebels should repent of their ways, they were to be "fettered in darkness with unbreakable chains, until the coming of that great day on which they will experience a change of heart (Jude 6 GNT). Cut off from Heaven, out of contact with their friends, their families, and their God, these exiled angels were referred to as "the dead."
The "dead" were exiled from Heaven at the time of the Fall, a time which must have preceded the creation of man. To see this, we have only to notice that when Adam and Eve were led by Satan to disobey, Satan was at that time already evil and not a part of God's forces. Therefore, the angels, both good and evil, existed long before material creation, and the revolt itself had occurred and its outcome established before man and woman were placed on Earth.
The revolt was a time of anguish in the dimensions called Heaven. A great portion of the spirits were exiled into Hell, where they were powerless to escape. As a result of their freely made choice of how to live, they were given a place of their own where they could live with others of like mind and experience the results of their erroneous ways of thinking.