Because of symbolic language and interpretation problems, the biblical doctrine of heaven is somewhat elusive. However, it may be said that the Bible presents heaven in three specific ways: as the abode of God and of angels (Isaiah 63:15; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 24:36), as the place of the saints' future inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), and as the dynamic spiritual invasion of earth by Jesus and His ministry. "Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 4:17, RSV).
In addition, and apart from the actual word "heaven," many concepts and images appear in the Bible in regard to the final destiny of God's people. It will be in the house of the Father (John 14:2), and there his servants shall see his face (Revelation 22:4). It will involve glory (1 Peter 5:1, 4, 10), paradise (Revelation 2:7), and rejoicing (Revelation 19:7). It is spoken of as a future city (Hebrews 13:14), a prepared kingdom (Matthew 25:34), and an eternal reign (Revelation 22:5).
Revelation 21:1-4 is a special case. While it is often cited as symbolic of the eternal home of God's people, it is also interpreted as the present church (Kepler), and as the temporary location of deceased saints prior to the resurrection (Ladd). The "new heaven and ... new earth" (Revised Standard Version) language of 21:1 may indicate that heaven will be established at least partially in a newly created or renewed earth.
The 16th century Anabaptists referred many times in their testimonies and writings to three New Testament passages that seem to deal with heaven. Portions of Revelation 6:9-11 are cited in Martyrs Mirror no fewer than 23 times; I Corinthians 2:9 is quoted 21 times, and Revelation 21:1-4 is cited, in whole or in part, 19 times. Menno Simons declared, "We shall ... sit down in the kingdom of God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob possessing that noble and pleasant land of endless eternal joy" (Menno, Writings, 348). Felix Manz, George Blaurock, Dirk Philips, Balthasar Hubmaier, Peter Riedemann, and Jakob Hutter all wrote in simple biblical language about the reality of heaven. For example, Felix Manz, in an admonition to the brethren, referred to "the heaven of eternal joys. . . ." (Martyrs Mirror, 415), and Dirk Philips wrote of "the eternal kingdom with God in heaven (Hebrews 4:9) to which the Lord Jesus Christ ascended, to prepare us a place (Dirk, Enchiridion, trans. Kolb, p. 336).
By contrast, Hans Denck quite possibly held that heaven is not to be considered as the literal eternal home of God's people, but as a present spiritual reality for the committed Christian.
The Mennonite confessions of faith consistently depict heaven as the literal future state of the redeemed. The Dordrecht Confession of 1632, recognized by the Mennonite Church (MC) as one of its official confessions, declares, "the good or pious shall ... be received by Christ into eternal life, where they shall receive that joy which 'eye hath not seen . . .' [and] where they shall reign and triumph with Christ forever and ever" (art. 18). The Mennonite Church Confession of Faith of 1963 speaks of "the eternal bliss of the world to come" art. 20.
The Cornelis Ris confession, a recognized confession of the General Conference Mennonite Church, describes heaven as "a life of eternal and heavenly bliss (Luke 15:7; Revelation 19:7), imperishable and unfading, which will be enjoyed under conditions of perfect delight . . ." (art. 35);. The General Conference Articles of Faith (1933) says that "the state of the blessed will be one of perfect joy and happiness and glory . . ." (art 14; Loewen, 111/109). And the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith (1975) states that "At death the righteous enter a state of rest in the presence of God, in fellowship with Christ and that they will be "with Him forever" (art. 16). The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite perspective (1995) states that "We look forward to the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, and a new Jerusalem, ..." (art. 24).
The Christian Fundamentals Articles of Faith (Mennonite Church, 1921) asserts that "heaven is the final abode of the righteous, where they will dwell in the fullness of joy forever and ever" (art. 18). The 18 articles of this 1921 "Fundamentals" declaration obviously came into being as a positive response to the 12 volumes of Fundamentals published between 1910 and 1915. However, in regard to the doctrine of heaven, there was no direct connection between the 1910-15 volumes and the 1921 articles, for the simple reason that the Fundamentals did not contain a treatise on heaven.
A number of 20th century Mennonite scholars have written on heaven. Gordon Kaufman refers to heaven as a symbol of the divine consummation of history. Paul Erb, David Ewert, Chester K. Lehman, Gerald Studer, and John C. Wenger use more literal or conventional language. A simple and beautiful statement is made by Paul Erb on the final page of The Alpha and the Omega: "The Christian has something beyond. He has Someone there, Someone he knows. He has a Lord and Saviour in heaven, who has given him life and hope.... This Saviour has promised that where He is we may be also" (p. 153).
Braght, Thieleman J. van. Bloody Theater : or, Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians Who Baptized Only Upon Confession of Faith, and Who Suffered and Died for the Testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, From the Time of Christ to the Year A.D. 1660. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1951.
Erb, Paul. Alpha and the Omega : a Restatement of the Christian Hope in Christ's Coming. Scottdale :, PA Herald Press.
Loewen, Howard John. One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God: Mennonite Confessions of Faith. Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1985.
Menno Simons, The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, c. 1496-1561, trans. Leonard Verduin, ed. J.C. Wenger. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956.
Philips, Dirk. Enchiridion, trans. A.B. Kolb. 1910.
Dordrecht Confession of Faith (Mennonite, 1632)
Mennonite Articles of Faith (Cornelis Ris, 1766)
Christian Fundamentals (Mennonite Church, 1921)
Mennonite Confession of Faith (Mennonite Church, 1963)
Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (Mennonite Church/General Conference Mennonite Church, 1995)
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 368. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Shenk, Stanley C. "Heaven." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 18 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/H438ME.html.
APA style: Shenk, Stanley C. (1989). Heaven. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/H438ME.html.