Possessor of Heaven and Earth

Another theme that emerged as I looked up verses that used the word “heaven” was that God is the “Possessor of Heaven and Earth.” He created heaven and earth, as I wrote earlier, and He rules over heaven and earth with absolute power.

Genesis 14:19 is the first reference to God as “possessor of heaven and earth.”

19And he [Melchizedek] blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

Deuteronomy 10:14 says, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”

Similarly,  Nehemiah 9:6 says, “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host,the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

Jesus Christ addresses God as the Lord of heaven and earth in Matthew 11:25:

 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children

Paul acknowledges God’s sovereignty with the same title during his sermon recorded in Acts 17 (v. 24 is quoted here): The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man.”

Creator of Heaven and Earth

It has taken me longer than expected to look up all the Scripture passages that refer to heaven and to organize the information. I apologize for the delay, but I finally feel like I’m able to synthesize the info in my brain and figure out a way to express it. So here’s the first of several posts . . .

As I am sure you are well aware, the first occurrence of the word “heaven” is in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

The first and second chapters of Genesis describe how God created space, air, the clouds, sun, moon, stars, the earth, and every creature in the air and on the earth. Genesis 2:1-4 says,

1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created,in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

Many other Scripture passages describe God as the creator of heaven and earth, but here are only a few that stood out to me for various reasons.

I like this description of God building the heavens and earth like a master carpenter.

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Psalm 102:25)

These verses express God’s grandeur and power as the creator.

“O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.” (Isaiah 37:16)

“Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jeremiah 32:17)

It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.

16When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses. (Jeremiah 51:15-16)

Psalm 115:15-16 shows that God is the ruler over both heaven and earth, but He has given earth to mankind.

15May you be blessed by the LORD,
who made heaven and earth!

16The heavens are the LORD’s heavens,
but the earth he has given to the children of man.

The Psalms present beautiful and powerful pictures of God’s transcendence, His great authority and rule from His throne in heaven, as well as His immanence, His willingness to listen to the cries of His followers and His nearness to them during times of trouble. Psalm 121:2 is a good example of this connection.

My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

The following verses continue the same theme.

May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth! (Psalm 134:3)

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry. (Psalm 146:5-7)

8He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
9He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry. (Psalm 147:8-9)

In this sermon, Paul shows the Creator’s continued interaction with humanity and His care for His creation. The Lycaonians tried to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods, but Paul deflected the praise and pointed to the one, true God.

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men,of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:15-17)

And finally, I include this long section from Acts 17. Paul expertly connects writings from pagan poets to the scriptures and shows the immanence of the Creator God and a proper response to Him. This passage also shows two common reactions to these truths, mockery and belief.

22So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription,’To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth,does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead,some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33So Paul went out from their midst. 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:22-34)

Heaven: Word Studies

To be honest, this word study is taking me a lot longer than I expected! If I waited until I finished looking up all the verses and came up with an organized way of answering all my research questions, I wouldn’t write anything for a couple more weeks.

So here’s a bit about what I’ve found so far.

I was a little surprised to find that the word “heaven” appears 691 times in the King James Version (and 692 in the ESV); I knew this would be a big study, but I didn’t expect so many verses. For this part of the word study I’m primarily using the KJV, so I can use the Strong’s concordance.

As I began researching, I expected to find several words translated as heaven that don’t mean “the place where God dwells,” but mean something like “air” or “atmostphere,” and I was correct.

The following Hebrew words are translated as “heaven” in the KJV

  1. galgal  (translated as “wheel” [8x], “heaven” [1x], “rolling thing” [1x], “whirlwind” [1x]),
  2. shachaq (translated as “cloud” [11x], “sky” [7x], “heaven” [2x], small dust” [1x])
  3. shamayim (translated as “heaven” [398x], “air” [21x])
The Aramaic word shamayin is used in Ezra and Daniel and is translated as “heaven” 38x.
The following Greek words are used throughout the New Testament:
  1. basileia (translated as “kingdom of God” [71x], “kingdom of heaven” [32x], “kingdom” [20x], “Thy/Thine kingdom” [6x], “His kingdom” [6x], “the kingdom” [5x], “My kingdom” [4x])
  2. epouranios (translated as “heavenly” [16x], “celestial” [2x], “in heaven” [1x], “high” [1x])
  3. mesouranema (translated as “midst of heaven” [3x])
  4. ouranothen (translated as “from heaven” [2x])
  5. ouranos (translated as “heaven” [268x], “air” [10x], “sky” [5x])
So, now I’m looking through the 398 occurrences of the word heaven in the OT and the 268 occurrences in the NT. Actually, I’ve only made it through Job so far . . .
I promise a more interesting post later!

Heaven: Some Assumptions and Research Questions

As I mentioned in my first post about heaven, there are many differing views of heaven. Every organized religious group has a different concept of heaven, and it seems like every teacher or writer within those groups has a different view. I think this is because we have relatively little information about the afterlife in general and heaven in particular. We have to interpret Jesus’s teachings and the writings of those few people who have gone to heaven and returned (the Apostles John and Paul, for example).


All that to state a couple of basic assumptions as I study this topic. First, I don’t think that my study/conclusions will be the final word on the topic. I’ll be adding my ideas to the many others already published. Even within historic, orthodox Christianity there are different views about heaven. Second, I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible word of God and I plan to base my study on the word of God. However, I’ll also look at historic confessions of faith, sermons, books, songs, and poetry for added insight.

Research Questions

Here are some of the questions I have as I begin this study:

  1. How is heaven described in the Bible?
  2. What was the Old Testament view of heaven?
  3. Did the Old Testament concept of heaven change with added Scripture?
  4. How did (or did) the view of heaven change in the New Testament?
  5. What were Jesus Christ’s teachings about heaven?
  6. What were the Apostles’ teachings about heaven?
  7. Is it right to present heaven as the final goal of salvation?
  8. Similarly, is it right to ask “If you died today, do you know for sure you would go to heaven?” [Author’s note: My WordPress editor tells me that the phrase “know for sure” is redundant. I know that, but I consistently hear people phrase the question that way. Just last night I heard a preacher ask this question, so I deliberately wrote it that way.]
  9. Will we have bodies in heaven?
  10. Is there an intermediate state between life on earth and eternal life in heaven?
  11. How does my view of heaven affect my everyday life?
  12. On what basis do I accept or deny someone’s teaching about heaven?

Your Questions

What are some questions you have about heaven?


I’ve thought a lot about heaven lately, partly because of our book club’s study of The Five People You Meet in Heaven and partly because Dr. Watson, the Minister of Education I worked under for 6 years in Guam, entered into eternity last week. Whenever someone I know passes away, heaven seems much more real.

I decided to do some more research about what the Bible says about heaven. Recently, some long-accepted beliefs of mine have been challenged and sometimes I found that I was holding to ideas that were not in Scripture, so I wanted to investigate what the Bible has to say about heaven and try to look at the Scriptures with a fresh perspective.

Now, when people talk about heaven, they’re not always referring to the same thing. They may use the same term, but they explain it in different ways. A quick Google search shows that

  1. Ancient Egyptians believed “departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven. Their heart would finally be weighed with the feather of truth, and if the sins weighed it down their heart was devoured.”
  2. Maria Shriver believes heaven is “a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk… If you’re good throughout your life, then you get to go [there]… When your life is finished here on earth, God sends angels down to take you heaven to be with him.”
  3. Notre Dame’s Jesuit Biblical Scholar John McKenzie says, “The traditional views of heaven and hell are about 95% mythology.”
  4. Barbara Walters says, “Heaven is a place where you are happy.”
  5. According to researchers at Baylor University, “U.S. adults [were polled] about who (and how many) will get into heaven, 54% of respondents said at least half of average Americans will make it through the Pearly Gates.”
  6. “Everyone is going to hell according to someone’s religion.”

I clicked on six links and found six different views. I suspect I could keep clicking on links and only find differing perspectives.

I thought this video segment was really interesting. Stephen Colbert interviews Lisa Miller, Newsweek’s religion editor and author of Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. They discuss the many views of heaven and which ones they think are the best. I think it’s interesting that Lisa credits Dante with the best heaven and says the Jews “invented” heaven.

I couldn’t embed the video, so here is the link: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/310027/june-02-2010/lisa-miller

Well, this post became a long introduction to the topic of heaven. I plan to write several posts that look at Scripture passages that refer to heaven and to share some quotes, essays, and songs that I’ve read about heaven.

What are some views of heaven you’ve heard others describe? How would you describe heaven?

Thanks: A Word Study

I realized on Thursday that I’ve never studied out the words “thanks” or “thanksgiving,” so I decided to do a word study to find out what the Bible says about giving thanks. (All quotations are from the ESV.) I haven’t studied many of these passages in depth, so this is just a general survey. Here’s a rough outline of what I’ve learned.

General commands to give thanks

Replace evil speaking with giving thanks

Ephesians 5:3-5

3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Instead of being anxious, pray and give thanks.

Philippians 4:5-7

5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Be thankful.

Colossians 3:14-16

14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Pray and give thanks.

Colossians 4:2

2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving

See also Thessalonians 5:17-19.

Pray and give thanks for those in authority over you.

1 Timothy 2:1-2

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Remain faithful and continually give thanks.

Colossians 2:6-7

6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Not giving thanks is a sin.

Romans 1:20-22

20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

Continue reading

Christmas Meditations: Rose Imagery

Two Christmas songs, one old (“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”) and one new (“Rose of Bethlehem”) use imagery of Christ as a rose. When I was in college, I sang Joseph Martin’s Christmas cantata The White Rose with my church choir, and the narration and songs explore this imagery beautifully. (There are four videos that show another church’s production of the cantata; as you can guess, if you know anything about my church, we did not have ballerinas perform in our church! If I remember correctly, the narration was changed to make the Christmas story and gospel more clear.)

Anyway, I was wondering if Christ is referred to as a rose in Scripture and/or where this rose imagery came from. I’m making the connections here because I haven’t found any research linking these, but this is what I’ve learned. I’ve organized the ideas in chronological order.

1) Song of Solomon 2:1 (960-931 B.C.) – “I am a rose of Sharon, and a lily of the valleys” (ESV). Some have interpreted this verse to refer to Christ–possibly influenced by songs discussed later–but that is an error. The speaker of this verse is the Shulammite woman and you’d have to go through some pretty fancy hermeneutical footwork to make this verse apply to Christ. There are no verses that call Jesus the “Rose of Sharon.” (Rabbit trail: The song “Lily of the Valley” [Charles W. Fry, 1881] also incorrectly connects this verse to Christ.)

2) “The Legend of the Rose” (unknown date [post-Christ’s birth, pre-16th century]) is a story about a shepherdess who had no gift to bring to the Christ Child. An angel turned her tears into a white rose that she gave to Christ.

3) “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”
This German carol (“Es ist ein Ros ent sprungen”) was a work in progress over several hundred years and may have been inspired by “The Legend of the Rose.” The first two stanzas were written in German in the late 16th century. They were translated into English by Theodore Baker in 1894. Friedrich Layritz wrote verses 3-4 and they were translated by Harriet Reynolds Krauth in 1875. Verse 5 was translated or written by John C. Mattes in 1914 (cyberhymnal). 

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!

4) “Gesu Bambino” was written by Pietro Alessandro Yon in 1917. I’ve always loved this song; I especially like the “ah’s” and the quotation from “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

When blossoms flowered ‘mid 
The snows upon a winter night 
Was born the Child the Christmas Rose, 
The King of Love and Light 
The angels sang, the shepherds sang, 
The grateful earth rejoiced
And at His blessed birth the stars 
Their exultation voiced. 
O come let us adore Him, 
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him, 
Christ the Lord. 
Again the heart with rapture glows 
To greet the holy night 
That gave the world it’s Christmas Rose, 
It’s king of Love and Light 
Let ev’ry voice acclaim His name, 
The grateful chorus swell 
From paradise to earth He came 
That we with Him might dwell 
O come let us adore him, 
O come let us adore Him, 
O come let us adore Him, 
Christ the Lord. 
Ah! O come let us adore Him 
Ah! O come let us adore Him 
Ah! Adore Him, Christ, the Lord. 
5) “Jesus, Rose of Sharon” was written in 1922 by Ida Guirey.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, bloom within my heart;
Beauties of Thy truth and holiness impart,
That where’er I go my life may shed abroad
Fragrance of the knowledge of the love of God.

Jesus, blessed Jesus, Rose of Sharon,
Bloom in radiance
And in love within my heart.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, sweeter far to see
Than the fairest flow’rs of earth could ever be,
Fill my life completely, adding more each day
Of Thy grace divine and purity, I pray.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, balm for ev’ry ill,
May Thy tender mercy’s healing power distil
For afflicted souls of weary burdened men,
Giving needy mortals health and hope again.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, bloom forevermore;
Be Thy glory seen on earth from shore to shore,
Till the nations own Thy sov’reignty complete,
Lay their honors down and worship at Thy feet.

6) Joseph Martin’s The Winter Rose (2000). The video can be seen here. The following are the lyrics for the title song.

In the silence of the winter, 
While stars shown high above, 
God sent from heaven’s garden, 
A rose to show His love. 

It opened in the dark of night, 
While the world was fast asleep. 
So perfect was its beauty, 
It made the heavens weep. 

The angels paused to wonder, 
Upon that winsome sight. 
And kings and shepherds gathered 
To worship in its light. 

They all breathed in its beauty, 
A precious sweet perfume. 
And in the bleak midwinter 
The Rose began to bloom. 

O let us now remember 
When God put on the thorn. 
And Love restored the garden 
And the Winter Rose was born. 

Oh, Love restored the garden 
And the Winter Rose was born.

7) Selah’s “Rose of Bethlehem” was released on October 29, 2002. It was written by Lowell Alexander in 1992.
There’s a Rose in Bethlehem
With a beauty quite divine
Perfect in this world of sin
On this silent holy night

There’s a fragrance much like hope
That it sends upon the wind
Reaching out to every soul
From a lowly manger’s crib

Oh, Rose of Bethlehem
How lovely, pure, and sweet
Born to glorify the Father
Born to wear the thorns for me

There’s a Rose in Bethlehem
Colored red like mercy’s blood
Tis the flower of our faith
Tis the blossom of God’s love 

Though its bloom is fresh with youth
Surely what will be He knows
For a tear of morning dew 
Is rolling down the Rose

Conclusion: While the imagery is appropriate and can be used beautifully to communicate truths about Christ, the image of Christ as a rose is not rooted in Scripture (pun intended). I have no objections to these poems/songs, but the imagery seems to be based either on a misinterpretation of Scripture or an early legend.