Wednesday, October 9, 2013
What did “Heaven” Mean to Jesus?
What did “Heaven” mean to Jesus -- “store up treasures in Heaven” or “kingdom of Heaven”? Before we learn what it meant to him, let’s consider what it means to millions of Bible readers today. The place we will begin our study is the BHC Bible Study Tools Section on our website. Be sure to bookmark it and use it in all your Bible studies too.
The first tool we will use is a dictionary to look up the word “heaven.” The first entry is:
The abode of God, the angels, and the spirits of the righteous after death; the place or state of existence of the blessed after the mortal life.
If this is what “heaven” means, then the picture it creates in the reader’s mind is:
(1) “store up your treasures in the abode of God, the angels, and the spirits of the righteous after death.”
(2) “the kingdom of the abode of God, the angels, and the spirits of the righteous after death.”
You may be surprised to discover that Jesus wasn’t talking about a place when he used “Heaven.” As far as what would happen after the “Great Day of Judgment” he said:
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to life eternal.” [i]
Do not mistakenly assume that “to life eternal” means “go to Heaven.” Long before the time of Jesus until today, ShAMAYIM (Hebrew word translated “Heaven”) was used as a very common euphemism[ii] in the Jewish culture for ELOHIYM (God) or YAHWEH (the sacred name of God). It was used to avoid breaking the commandment of “taking the name of ELOHIYM in vain,[iii] Common euphemisms for “God” are: ShAMAYIM (Heaven), HaShem (the Name), the Holy One, the Almighty, and many more.
Another BHC Bible Study Tool – the Jewish Encyclopedia – provides important cultural clues for what words meant to Jesus. When Jesus said, "malkut shamayim" (kingdom of Heaven), his Jewish audience knew it was an expression of the "sovereignty of YAHWEH" that would become a reality in the Messianic age when -- “YAHWEH will reign as the sole King on earth.” Make sure to understand that the focus is “on the earth” -- not in “Heaven.”
When you see the phrase “kingdom of God” in the New Testament -- instead of “kingdom of Heaven” -- it is probably a good clue that the author was either not writing to a Jewish audience or was not familiar with the Jewish culture – or both.
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[i] Matthew 25:46
[ii] A euphemism is the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/euphemism