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All of the monotheistic faith traditions (Jewish, Christian, and Islam) have a concept of the meaning of the term heaven. For some it is just the sky, for other traditions there is more theological insight placed on the term. A nonmonotheistic tradition such as Hinduism also has an idea of the afterlife, Moksha. One's understanding of the meaning of heaven is often reflective of one's stage of religious and spiritual development. Young children often see heaven as a physical place whereas others, more mature in thought, recognize heaven as a symbolic place.
In the Jewish sacred texts (the Old Testament) there is no clear evidence of belief in heaven, as a place of bliss or reward. The meaning of heaven is more a place in the cosmology. Heaven refers to the sky or the vault that seems to appear to arch over the earth. Generally, heaven is seen as a place reserved for God, i.e., a sanctuary. It is also the place of God's throne. But no place can contain God. The physical place of heaven serves as merely a symbol for the Divine transcendence. Later Jewish writings, or intertestament literature, develop the concept of heaven into a many tiered or leveled place, filled with spirits, and nine levels of angels. It is in the Christian sacred texts (the New Testament) that the idea of heaven becomes a place of eternal bliss, where God's faithful people find their reward. Heaven is from where Jesus the Christ comes down from and, after his resurrection, ascends back to sit at God's right hand. The Christian scriptures continue to see heaven as a place of final reward, the Kingdom of God. Paul, in his writings, calls all believers "citizens of heaven" in Philippians 3:20. But with further reflection the early Christian community moves from a concept of heaven as a place to a concept that is more about the quality of human life in its full maturity and oneness in the presence of God.
The early church had a profound belief in eternal life thanks to Jesus' resurrection. This concept of eternal life became the idea of the beatific vision, that of beholding the Divine presence. The most recent statement from one Christian group, the Roman Catholic Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a statement in 1979, "The Letter on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology." The conclusions are very guarded in regards to heaven. The letter affirms the foundational belief in the resurrection of the body, the continuation of the human self after physical death, and the ultimate reward for the just that will one day be with the Christ. Then it warns against arbitrary imaginative representations since neither sacred scripture, sacred tradition, nor theology provide sufficient light for a proper picture of life after death. This beatific vision, the full union of the human person with God, has been written about in literature and in elaborate paintings. Dante's Divine Comedy, the epic Italian poem, traces all the various levels of hell, purgatory, and heaven. Michelangelo's The Last Judgment also shows the various stages of those in torment and those believers arising to heavenly reward. The great Christian theologian Augustine prayed that "Our hearts are restless, oh God, until they rest in Thee."
The fulfillment symbolized by the idea of heaven does not mean the disappearance of the material world but its total transformation. Heaven is becoming one with God. There will be no trace of selfishness; we will cling to nothing of our own. Heaven for many in the Christian tradition is neither mythological nor simply the satisfaction of all human longings. Heaven is the goal of human existence, to be one with God. Heaven or the beatific vision is the full union of the human person with God and so also with one another in God.
For Muslims, the different heavens mentioned in the Holy Qur'an represent degrees of spirituality or domains. These levels are assigned to the different Holy Prophets. The origin of the concept of heaven is the planets that are visible to the naked eye. The "seventh heaven" marks the end of supra-formal creation and, in the symbolism of the seven directions of space, is in the center. The Holy Qur'an depicts the heavens as being cleft apart at the end of the world (82:1) or being rolled up like a scroll (21:24). The sky is the place where physical reality joins metaphysical reality. The sundering of the sky or the heaven is the eruption of the Divine into the created. This is also seen as the apocalyptic trumpet call of primordial sound. The dwellers of heaven for the Muslims are those who are being rewarded for leading a good life.
Hinduism, a polytheistic religious tradition, is all about conduct and not so much about beliefs or creeds. Moksha should not be seen as the Hindu version of heaven. Moksha is the final emancipation from rebirthing into many lives. Moksha is the breaking through and escaping forever from the impermanence that is the inescapable feature of mundane human existence. Moksha is sometimes confused with heaven because Hindus strive to become one with the Ultimate Reality.
How one thinks about and understands the concept of heaven reflects one's developmental trajectory. Ideally, at the end of life, one makes peace with one's life on earth and is ready to transcend to the divine kingdom.