This is one of our favorite questions. As with many of the questions we have answered during our current series, it is one we have all tried to answer. It fascinates us to wonder what heaven might look like, or where it is located.
Revelation 21 certainly paints a beautiful picture of heaven. John describes his vision of a city, New Jerusalem, that is as glorious as anything we could imagine. It is wondrous to think of a place where there is no pain or tears, and a city where the streets are paved with gold.
Even though we have a wonderful image of New Jerusalem, we can’t help but picture what heaven might look like. We imagine a heaven where we can enjoy many of the things we love, and there is some truth to that. Artists have painted wonderful interpretations of what heaven might look like. However, I tend to cringe at ones that have us in the clouds playing a harp. I cannot find anything that is “heaven” about playing a harp for the rest of eternity. Musicians have sung about where heaven might be or what it looks like. According to some popular songs, heaven has a “stairway” that leads us to a place where all the “streets have no name,” but is a place we can make here “on earth.”
We can be forgiven that dreaming about heaven takes up so much of our time. There are many reasons why we dream about heaven. There is a sentimental reason. We want to know where our loved ones are and where God is. There is a personal reason. We want to know what to expect when we make it to heaven. Finally, there is the issue of trust. In this dark world that we live in, we wonder if Christ’s words about making a place for us in the Father’s house are true.
The question about heaven’s location is deep. It is also difficult to answer. Today’s question is difficult because the Bible does not focus on what some of us might consider an important question of faith. The Bible spends little time trying to determine where heaven is located. What Scripture does tell us about heaven is deep and meaningful for us. For today, we want to examine what Scripture tells us about heaven, which will help us to answer our main question. By the end of our time together, perhaps we will come to a deeper understanding of what heaven is.
To understand heaven, we need to look at how it is discussed in both the Old and New Testament. Writers of the Old and New Testament use Hebrew and Greek words for heaven that are quite similar. The Hebrew word for heaven is shamayim, while the Greek work is ouranos. Both words have two main uses. The first usage focuses on the sky or the stars. It is used to describe the cosmos and what is above us. The other usage speaks of the place where the gods live. It is God’s home. A couple of passages describe this, especially in the Old Testament. First, Isaiah 63:15 speaks of God looking down from heaven to see creation. The other is Daniel 2:37, where the prophet writes of our God being the God of heaven.
Heaven was seen as God’s creation. It was included in what God created when God created the universe. This carries forward to a view that saw the heavens as something like a canopy that was spread out by God. Isaiah 40:22 speaks of God spreading out the heavens like a curtain. It takes over the vastness of the universe.
What can we take from this understanding of heaven? When the writers of the Old and New Testament wrote of heaven, it is clear they saw heaven as God’s home. Heaven is where God resides. It is a place God has dominion over, just as God has dominion over the earth.
Jesus carries forward this idea of heaven, especially in our passage from John 14:1-7. In a conversation with the Disciples during the Last Supper, Jesus tells them he is about to leave them. He does so by telling them that he was going to the “Father’s house.” This isn’t the first time the phrase is used in John’s gospel. In John 2:16 the phrase was used to describe the Temple. In both passages, Jesus connects the Father’s presence with his house. In John 2:16, the Father’s presence was found in the Temple, while in John 14:2 it is in reference to the place where Jesus is going to and where he will make room for his followers. This idea of the location of God’s presence is central to our understanding of heaven.
So, where is heaven? This is where it is a little tricky. When we ask this question, we are wanting a physical location. We want to be able to unfold the map of the universe and place a dot at heaven’s location. It is impossible to do that. That is because God exits outside our experiences with space and time. The way we experience physical space and time is not how God experiences it. He transcends it, or, in other words, rises above space and time. While we are bound to the limitations of space and time, God is not. Heaven’s existence is beyond the physical limitations of this world.
However, this doesn’t mean we cannot make a statement about where we can find heaven. Heaven is can be found where the “glorified body” of our Lord, Jesus Christ is. In other words, where Jesus is there you will also find heaven. The very nature of heaven is to be in the “presence” of God. It is to be with the Father, through faith in the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not need to be caught up in the idea of a placement of heaven, but to merely to experience that heaven is where God is.
Because heaven is where God is, this suggests heaven has a dual nature. There is the heaven we experience now, while we anticipate the heaven that will come.
If heaven is where the presence of God is located, then heaven is a reality we can experience here on Earth. We can experience heaven by doing the Father’s will. Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 12. When told that his mother and brothers wanted to speak to him, Jesus responded by saying that those who are his family members were those who did the Father’s will in heaven. Obedience to the Father’s will is central to experiencing heaven today. We can get a taste heaven by experiencing the presence of Christ in our lives and allowing that presence to guide us to being obedient to the Father’s will.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us hope that we can experience heaven today. Because Jesus lives, we can live in Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, I admit, this is difficult for us. We can experience all the pains and evils of this world. It can be a struggle to experience God’s presence walking with us through these difficult times or even guiding us to a deeper relationship. We must let the Holy Spirit be our guide in opening our eyes to the God’s presence. There is never a day that we are alone and, because of this, there is never a day that we are unable to experience heaven on earth.
There is also the heaven we are awaiting in expectation to experience. This is the heaven that we yearn for and is the heaven that is promised to us in Revelation 21. This is the New Jerusalem that will come when Christ returns. It is the place where life wins, that death is unknown. It is the “abode of believers,” where we will be live with the glorious physical presence of our Lord.
That should alert us to the fact that the eternal heaven is a physical place. Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 15 our bodies will experience a physical resurrection. Our bodies will be resurrected and we will physically experience heaven. Notice as well in Revelation 21 that New Jerusalem will come down to earth. The heavenly home of God will come down and find its existence here on Earth as was intended in God’s original creation. Earth is where our eternal home will be as New Jerusalem will come to rest here.
How does one experience heaven both now and eternally? As we said, heaven is experienced by experiencing the presence of Christ. There is only one way to experience it and that is through faith in Christ. This is the message Jesus shares with his disciples, and to us. There is only one way to the Father’s home, to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ. Heaven is not accessible by being a good person. You cannot enter the Father’s house by being born into the right family. You cannot enter heaven by saying the right things. The only way to experience heaven, both here and in the life to come, is by accepting the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and desiring to live according to the Father’s will.
The world would have us believe that there are multiple roads, which all lead us to the same place. However, we must be gracefully clear that there is only one way to heaven. The road to heaven is narrow. It is road that has as its path faith in Jesus Christ. To experience heaven, we must accept Jesus Christ and be willing to grow in our relationship with Christ each day.
Heaven truly “isn’t too far away” because our Lord’s living presence is here. The day will come when we will experience the fullness of heaven when we are in the physical presence of our Lord. This is something we can cling to. Heaven is the reward for faithful obedience in following Jesus Christ.
My hope is this: I pray that we will all experience heaven. We can only do so by accepting God’s grace, desire to live in obedience with the Father, and anticipate the day to come when heaven will be here on Earth. If you’ve not made that acceptance of faith, today is a great day to do so. If you’ve been lackluster in your faith or have only been halfhearted in your walk with Christ, today is a great day to recommit yourself to being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
Let the words of our closing hymn be true for us today: When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!