What Is Heaven Like?
[Content provided by Keep Believing Ministries.]
"Heaven is a place, just as much a place as is New York or Chicago." Charles Ferguson Ball
Everyone wants to know about heaven and everyone wants to go there. Recent polls suggest that nearly 80% of all Americans believe there is a place called heaven. I find that statistic encouraging because it tells me that even in this skeptical age there is something deep inside the human heart that cries out, "There's got to be something more. Something more than the pain and suffering of this life. Something more than 70 or 80 years on planet earth. Something more than being born, living, dying, and then being buried in the ground. Sometimes we talk about a "God-shaped vacuum" inside the human heart. I believe there is also a "heaven-shaped vacuum," a sense that we were made for something more than this life. We were made to live forever somewhere. In a real sense we were made for heaven.
There is another fascinating statistic I should mention. Not only do most Americans believe in heaven, most people expect to go there when they die. If you took a microphone to the streets of Chicago and asked, "Do you think you will go to heaven when you die?" the vast majority of people would answer, "I hope so," or "I think so," or perhaps "I think I've got a good chance. Not very many people would say they aren't going to heaven. Perhaps one modest point is in order. Whenever you talk about living forever somewhere, it would help to know for sure where you are going. After all, if you're wrong about heaven, you're going to be wrong for a long, long time.
With that as background, I turn now to consider some of the most frequently-asked questions about heaven. But before I jump in, I should make one preliminary point. The only things we can know for certain about heaven are the things revealed in the Bible. Everything else is just speculation and hearsay. The Bible tells us everything we need to know and I believe it also tells us everything we can know for certain about heaven.
I. Where is heaven?
There are three things I can tell you in answer to this question. The most important fact is that heaven is a real place. Listen to the words of Jesus on the night before he was crucified:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And 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 14:1-3).
Twice in three verses Jesus calls heaven a place. He means that heaven ("my Father's house") is a real place, as real as New York, London or Chicago. The place called heaven is just as real as the place you call home. It's a real place filled with real people, which is why the Bible sometimes compares heaven to a mansion with many rooms (John 14:1-3) and sometimes to an enormous city teeming with people (Revelation 21-22).
The Bible also tells us that heaven is the dwelling place of God. His throne is there, the angels are there, and the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven. Philippians 3:20 says very plainly that "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ." That's why Jesus told the thief on the Cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Third (and I find this fact fascinating), the Bible hints that heaven is not as far away as we might think. Because heaven is a real place, we sometimes think it must be outside our present universe - which would mean that it is billions and billions of light years away. However, it's very clear that the early Christians understood that they would pass immediately from this life into the presence of Christ in heaven. How can that be possible if heaven is beyond the farthest galaxy? Hebrews 12:22-24 tells us something amazing about what the gospel has done for us:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The writer is here comparing Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion. Under the old covenant no one could come near God except under very strict conditions. That's why the mountain shook with thunder and lightning. [Note: three times the writer of Hebrews uses a Greek word that means "to come near" or "to approach closely.] But now in Christ we have been brought near to heavenly realities. Think of what he is saying:
- We're not that far from heaven.
- We're not that far from the angels.
- We're not that far from our loved ones in heaven.
- We're not that far from God.
- We're not that far from Jesus himself.
Heaven is a real place, it's where Jesus is right now, and it's not far away from us.
II. What is heaven like?