Is heaven an actual place? Is there a literal location for hell? Can we know for certain where heaven and hell really are from the Bible? I believe we can.
Where is Heaven?
My first thought is that heaven is any place where God is and hell is anyplace where God is absent. People loosely use the term, “this is heaven” when they taste delicious foods or have an enjoyable experience, but can anything really compare to what heaven will actually be like? I believe that heaven can not thoroughly be explained, even by the Scriptures, for it must be too wonderful for words and it must be too indescribable to relate to by word pictures. Many people have images of us going to heaven and floating on a cloud and playing harps while chubby little cherub angels fly around us. This is nothing like the heaven that is described in the Bible and to know what and where heaven is, we must rely on the Word of God and not in human imagination.
The Bible actually talks about three heavens. The first heaven is where the birds fly and the clouds reside. The second heaven is where the sun, the moon, and the stars abide. But the third heaven is where the very throne of God resides and where Jesus presently sits at the right hand of the Father. Heaven is a real place and there are angels there who all day, and all night, 24/7 declare, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory“(Isaiah 6:3). When Isaiah got a glimpse of heaven, he fell to the ground and felt that he would be struck dead. In Isaiah 6:1-5 he reveals an amazing look that he had at the throne of heaven, “I saw the Lord. high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ,“holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
These amazing Holy Angels praise God without ceasing. In Revelation we see that, “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come“ (Rev 4:8). Heaven is very real or the Bible is wrong, which we know that it is not.
The New Jerusalem
Is it true that heaven will come down to earth? Again, remember that heaven is any place that God is present. That’s what makes heaven, heaven. And God’s presence must be heaven anywhere that He is. In Revelation 21:1-7 we read about this New Jerusalem:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Here we read that the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven and this is the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven which Jesus spoke of. Jesus said that “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). Jesus said that heaven was as a place and that He would come back to take us with Him to be where He is. So heaven is a real place and that place is where we will be and where Jesus will be with us. At least it will be for those who have placed their trust in Him.
Further, “It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:12-14). So this New Jerusalem has walls, gates, and it is called a city. This is no cloud floating, harp playing place, but an actual, literal location with real, tangible things in it.
And heaven is huge! How big? This “city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement” (Rev 21:16-17). This is an immense city that Bible scholar’s estimate will span about 1,300 square miles wide, 1,300 square miles long and 1,300 square miles high. The square footage is in the billions! This city has foundations, walls, gates, streets, and a temple but the temple is God Himself (Rev 21:22).
Where is Hell?
In the first place, hell is separation from God and for all time. That in itself makes it hell. Since God is light and the absence of God is darkness, then hell must be more than just a mental state of mind and it must be a place of utter darkness as Jesus said that it will be a place of “outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12). The absence of God is the absence of light and the weeping will be tears of regret for eternity for not having believed in Jesus. The gnashing of teeth will be anger for being in hell as the religious leaders often gnashed there teeth in anger over Jesus. To Lazarus, heaven was very real just as the rich man knew that hell was a literal place. In the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus spoke about hell being a place where no one could escape from. The story is recorded in Luke 16:19-31:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham, ’he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
We note that it is a place of unending torment, that the rich man couldn’t return to warn others in his family, that “those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us”, so that the rich man could not cross over to Lazarus nor could Lazarus cross over to where the rich man was, that the rich man was thirsty; this means that he had his senses all in tact. He knew about his unsaved family, he was in torment from flames, he could not quench his unquenchable thirst, and that his lost family only had the Bible to know how to be saved (Moses and the prophets). There is no mistaking that this place was quite real to the rich man. The rich man didn’t go to hell because he was rich or because he didn’t take care of the beggar Lazarus, but that he didn’t believe “Moses and the prophets” or the message of salvation found in the Bible.
We really don’t know exactly where hell is but we do know that it is a real place and a place of unending torment. Does it really matter where it is since we know that it is a place? You will notice that the rich man was by himself too. It is not like you see pictured where the Devil is poking people with a pitchfork or where there will be others gathered together with each other but it will be utter aloneness. It will be sheer torment – both physical and mental – as you remember that the rich man had all of his memories still active of his family and of Lazarus. Those who will be in hell will live with eternal regret that they failed to trust in Jesus, that they ignored all of those who tried to share their faith with them, and they will be forever separated from God with no second chance. Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven. Thirteen percent of all of Jesus’ sayings were about a hell fire.
Where Are You Going?
Now that we know that heaven and hell are real places, where do you think you will end up? If you were to die tonight or if Christ would return today, do you know for sure where you would go? If you are not sure at this very moment, it is still not too late. God told Ezekiel to “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ because God has said” (Ezk 33:11). We know from Scripture that God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:4). Please remember that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). So my advice to you is to “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Act 3:19). Why? “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lam 3:33). God doesn’t send anyone to hell. People send themselves there by their rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Decide today for tonight or tomorrow, if you were to die, or if Christ would return, you would be lost forever. No one has any guarantee that they will live beyond tonight or tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. When you die or when Jesus returns, He will either be your Judge or your Savior (Rev 20). Decide right now because, “now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation“(2 Cor. 6:2).
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