What Is Heaven and Where Is It?

What do you imagine when you think about heaven? Wings and halos? Sitting around on clouds? Playing harps? Pearly gates and streets of gold? Where is heaven anyway?

Is heaven the place we go to when we die?

The NIV Old Testament mentions ‘heaven’ or ‘heavens’ 346 times. The very first verse in the Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth. And in this sense, ‘the heavens’ simply means the sky above the earth and anything contained in it such as the sun, moon, and stars. It was also thought to be where dew and rain (and sometimes fire) came from. In Exodus, the Lord rained down manna from heaven.

Genesis 21 says that God called Hagar from heaven, and in the next chapter the messenger of the Lord called Abraham from heaven. Some passages say heaven is God’s holy dwelling place, that God hears from heaven, and that God is the God of heaven. Psalm 11 is the first to mention God’s heavenly throne, and other places mention God’s sanctuary in heaven. So heaven is understood to be where God is.

The NIV New Testament has 276 Mentions of ‘Heaven’

heaven

In the gospels, heaven was opened and Jesus saw the Spirit descending like a dove and heard a voice from heaven. Jesus speaks of our reward (or treasure) in heaven, our names being written in heaven, and of our Father being in heaven—most notably in the Lord’s Prayer. And he refers to angels in heaven. Metaphorically, Jesus said ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’. And he spoke of manna as ‘bread from heaven’.

When Stephen was killed he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ Paul refers to our heavenly dwelling—meaning our resurrection body. And he also mentions our citizenship in heaven—and then there is his reference to the mysterious ‘third heaven’.

Ephesians talks about the ‘heavenly realms’ where God seated Jesus at his right hand and then raised us up to be seated there in Jesus. There are rulers and authorities there and also spiritual forces of evil there. Hebrews talks of Jesus sitting down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven and calls Jesus the great high priest who has ascended into heaven.

All in all, these references are quite vague and give us very little understanding of what ‘heaven’ is like. In fact, many of the references may not speak of a specific place at all. No wonder the most familiar depictions of heaven involve wings, halos, clouds, and harps. Is this where we go when we die?

What Does the Book of Revelation Say about Heaven?

Surely the book of Revelation gives us detail about heaven—just think of the streets of gold and the gates of pearl. But, actually, this is not the case for two reasons. 1) Revelation is written as apocalyptic drama and most everything about it is symbolic; it does not predict the future nor describe literal details. 2) And even dispensationalists (who take Revelation very seriously) do not think Revelation describes heaven but rather the millennial (1000-year) kingdom.

Never-the-less, Revelation mentions ‘heaven’ 45 times. Like the Old Testament, John refers to the creator of the heavens and to rain coming from the heavens.

John indicates that he saw a door standing open in heaven and a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. Later, he saw a mighty angel coming down from heaven robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head, his face like the sun, and his legs like fiery pillars. Even later, he again saw heaven standing open and before him was a white horse and its rider called Faithful and True.

John says that “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.”

John ‘saw’ a lot of stuff!

John speaks repeatedly of hearing voices from heaven and of angels coming from heaven. He also heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters, or a loud peal of thunder, or harpists playing harps. The two witnesses, too, heard a voice from heaven saying “Come up here” after which they went up to heaven in a cloud.

Chapter 12 is especially interesting. “A great sign appeared in heaven: a [pregnant] woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” And then “another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.” After that, there was war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels in which the dragon and his angels lost their place in heaven, and the dragon was hurled down.

At the end of his story, John saw a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven, the first earth, and the sea had passed away. And, finally, he saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

So What Do We Learn about Heaven?

I would say ‘basically nothing!’ Other than ‘the heavens’ being the sky and ‘heaven’ being vaguely where God is, I don’t know anything about heaven from these passages. Do we go there when we die? That seems like a mere assumption or speculation. But what about the ‘kingdom of heaven’? I did not list those references here. What about the kingdom of God? How do heaven, the kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of God relate to each other?

We will talk about that next time. In the meantime—two questions: What are your thoughts on heaven? (and) Where do you think we go when we die?

Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.

Articles in this series: The Kingdom of God
What Is Heaven and Where Is It?
Heaven, the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of God
How Do We Become Part of the Kingdom of God?

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This entry was posted in book of Revelation, Jesus, Kingdom of God and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to What Is Heaven and Where Is It?

  1. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Thank you for this profound blog. My thoughts and actually experience: I ‘died’ once. My heart stopped for 12 seconds and I was very aware of the fact I was ‘closing down’ and all went very dark. I thought: ‘I am dying, what will happen to me? I know, I am going to be with God.’ With that, I felt something around me, as if I was carried and there was a deep peace. And then…. I thought about my husband and children and managed to ring the alarm bell. Anyway, I am NOT afraid to die now and I think when we die we go to God.
    And I believe the Kingdom of God is right here and now if we follow the Sermon on the Mount and love God and our neighbour. But that is really for next time, isn’t it?

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Charlotte. Wow! What an experience! I bet you will NEVER forget that.

      “I believe the Kingdom of God is right here and now if we follow the Sermon on the Mount and love God and our neighbour. But that is really for next time, isn’t it?”

      Well, you got me on that! But it will not be the immediate next article though we are headed in that direction.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim Seth says:

    On Ascension Day one year, the Rector thought is would be wonderful to release some helium balloons….. my grand daughter (aged about 3) unsurprisingly did not want to let her’s go. “why do I have to let it go?” a lady nearby suggested kindly that it was, “going up to heaven like our prayers.” This did not appease the disgruntled Ellie who took her ballon and badgered her mother with questions about what happened to balloons when you let them go. Some Youtube videos and a week later Ellie came back into church and asked the same lady quite matter-of-factly…. “when we die do we burst in the atmosphere like balloons do?”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t know much about Heaven, but I do know these things. First, Heaven is not the Kingdom of God. Second, Heaven is not a city with golden streets, etc. Third, the goal of the Christian life is not to get to ‘Heaven’. Fourth, whatever or wherever Heaven is, it is with God. It is life with the Eternal. Now, personally, I believe that God is renewing all things. I believe our forever home will be with God on this Earth. This Earth is our home, and it will be renewed and re-created. Maybe there is a place we go after we die while the Earth is being renewed, but I always imagined that as pure spiritual peace, maybe not even a physical existence, seeing as how our bodies haven’t been raised yet. Obviously, I also believe we will all be salted with fire, and so I believe an experience of God and of self will take place for everyone after death. It will feel like fire, more for some than others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theotherlestrangegirl says:

      Prog Mind, I like your idea that our true home will be on the renewed, restored Earth. I think that’s very interesting.

      It does make me wonder about the other planets though. Will they cease to exist? They don’t really need to be “renewed” in the way that Earth does because there hasn’t been generations of humans corrupting them for centuries. But that thought process is a bit too much for my mind to fathom.

      I do hope you’re right about the renewal of Earth, though. I am a person who loves the earth very much, and I put a lot of effort into environmentalism and being as green as possible. I can’t tell you how many Christians have told me that caring for the environment is a “hippie” thing to do and is “un-Christian.” That would be another perspective that boggles my mind. So the correct response is to treat the world that God gave us like a piece of trash that we can destroy as we please?

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Strange girl, will the other planets disappear or will we live on them? There are a lot of people to be resurrected. By the way, I don’t think earth-care is a ‘hippy’ thing or ‘un-Christian’.

        Like

      • If you are interested, John Eldredge (a universalist in the making, methinks) wrote a book called All Things New that is definitely worth your time. I don’t agree with all his eschatology or theology, but I definitely think he has caught on to a thread of renewal throughout the Bible that much of the modern church ignores.

        Liked by 1 person

      • doulos68 says:

        IMHO, caring for the environment is my Christian duty as scripture makes clear in Gen1:26, Gen 2:15, Deut 25:4, Ps 24:1 and Rev11:18, as well as others. My family and I have recycled everything we can (no pun intended 🙂 for over 10 years now. My career required world-wide travel for decades and I am sorry to report that from my observations and experiences, the U.S. is leading the way in this area. Many countries in Eastern Asia, South & Central America, and generally the most poverty stricken countries throughout the world not only do not recycle, they are ignorant of the concept as they are too preoccupied trying to survive and provide for their families. There simply is no incentive, not for individual citizens nor for the governments. Additionally, much of our condensed recyclables, especially plastic, is shipped overseas on huge container ships where it must meet certain purity standards (minimal amounts of gravel, liquid, moisture, presence of certain chemicals, etc., and when they don’t, the shipment is taken out to sea and dumped into the ocean. I believe we long ago surpassed the ability of the earth to sustain our ever-increasing population and the resultant pollution, yet I feel compelled to obey God and be a good steward by recycling and limiting my personal contribution to pollution. I have faith God will provide a new heaven and new earth, but I am not so sure that it will be this particular “earth”.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Doulos, I am afraid you might be right that we are past the point of really preserving the earth. Hopefully new technologies and policies can still make a difference, but we need to make it happen now.

          How does God provide a renewed earth? Most likely as God does many things–through us.

          Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Prog, you seem to have some very specific ideas about the afterlife! They sound good to me.

      “First, Heaven is not the Kingdom of God. Second, Heaven is not a city with golden streets, etc. Third, the goal of the Christian life is not to get to ‘Heaven’. Fourth, whatever or wherever Heaven is, it is with God.” I like these and you also anticipate me! I will state as early as next post that Heaven is not the kingdom of God.

      I also think that our eternal home is planetary–not in the clouds somewhere. But I am curious: the Earth is very crowded now; will there be room for all the people who will be resurrected?

      Like

      • That is one thing I have always wondered myself. Your comment about the other planets has the gears running in my head, though. I would also point out that overcrowding wouldn’t mean the same thing in a perfect world. I would also say that the populations throughout history haven’t been nearly as much as they are now, only in the millions, not billions. So, it makes me feel like there aren’t as many people that need to share this world with us as we might think.

        Liked by 1 person

    • This is much the same as my view on Heaven. Are you Orthodox?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. newtonfinn says:

    Like you, Tim, I can find precious little in scripture about the nature of the afterlife in what will apparently be (what I hope and pray will be) a gloriously renewed, redeemed, and transfigured creation, where, according to Isaiah, the lion will lie down with the lamb; which Jesus, on the cross, simply calls “paradise.” I believe that the best we can glean from scripture about eternal life in heaven are these kinds of images and intimations, and I believe that there is a reason for this vagueness. It compels us to concentrate on this life we are living in this world, which is the subject about which Jesus had by far the most to tell us. The amorphous description of the hereafter focuses us on following Jesus, as best we can, and trusting in God to take it from there when our earthly journey ends. Charlotte’s NDE is a beautiful illustration of what I’m trying, far more clumsily, to say. Thus, it is not the nature of the afterlife that has bedeviled me over the years, but rather the related subject of the nature of the Kingdom of God/Heaven that Jesus invites us to enter in THIS life, as an anticipation of or participation in the next. I find it strange that as I approach the end of my earthly journey, I have come to (been given?) a completely new and undoubtedly controversial understanding of what Jesus meant when he prayed for this Kingdom to come (God’s will to be done) ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN. I look forward to sharing my new, controversial thoughts–and probably having to defend them in the Christian spirit that pervades JWOB–when Tim puts the topic of the Kingdom directly on the table.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “I believe that the best we can glean from scripture about eternal life in heaven are these kinds of images and intimations, and I believe that there is a reason for this vagueness. It compels us to concentrate on this life we are living in this world, which is the subject about which Jesus had by far the most to tell us.”

      Newton, I agree with you that all we have to go on are images and intimations. And you make a good point that perhaps it is to cause us to focus on the life we are living here. Some believers, unfortunately, want to escape ‘here’ and so spend their energy trying to earn a spot ‘there’.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lily Pierce says:

    Great post; I’m interested to read the next installment. I don’t believe that eternity is a far-off place to which we fly after we die; I believe that God will bring heaven to earth and make all things new. I assume Christians who have died are awaiting that day with God and Jesus in heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Lily, I agree! I also, “believe that God will bring heaven to earth and make all things new.” You remind me of a song we used to sing in my old fundamentalist church:

      I’ll fly away, oh glory; I’ll fly away
      When I die hallelujah by-and-by
      I’ll fly away
      (Sung with vigor)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dennis Wade says:

    “John saw a lot of things” . . . . best description of the book of Revelations yet!

    Too many Christians sit around waiting to escape this life for some vague “home in the sky”. I know Jesus told us not to try to bring the Kingdom of God about by political means, but we ARE meant to live as if the kingdom did exist here right now by our words and actions. There is a lot of mystery on this topic, and too many are neglecting the Christian actions they could be doing now. I think we need to remember that although Jesus said not to be of this world, He also said to be IN the world, fully engaged in living by the values of His Kingdom right here and right now. THAT is what He said we will be judged by, and not by some belief in a “heaven” somewhere. God has promised to look after us when death comes, so we really don’t need to put any thought into where we will go. But we do need to put a lot of thought into how we live while we are here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Dennis, dispensationalism is all about the rapture (escape) and God’s destruction of the earth–not saving the earth. I agree with you that we are to continue to bring the kingdom here on earth, though not by political means as you said. And, Yes, we need “fully engaged in living by the values of His Kingdom right here and right now.”

      By the way, I had a computer problem and lost the link to your blog. Can you re-share the link? Thanks.

      Like

      • Dennis Wade says:

        I took the blog down because for now I felt like it wasn’t really saying what I wanted it to say, and also because I’m still working out what it is I do want to say.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dennis Wade says:

        By the way, I had to look up “dispensationalism” because I’m not a Biblical scholar and didn’t really understand the term. It seems to me that it’s another one of those things we can choose to take either literally or as a metaphor. Maybe we can take the re-newing of the earth like we do our new birth in Christ: the earth becomes new through our becoming a new creature that lives by new values. Actually, this way of looking at it can help us to avoid the “sitting around waiting for God to make it all new for us”.

        More and more, I think God’s Kingdom is not so much what God is going to do, but by what we choose to do. I don’t have the clear ideas of it all yet, but I think our choices and our actions now are what determines the coming of the kingdom, and that it is not something that happens on some set date in the future.

        In other words, we are the ones who choose to be “saved”, and in the same way, we are the ones who choose whether The “new earth” and the “new city” come about.
        Anyway, this is the way it is appearing to me more and more. It makes me realize how important my words and actions really are. Do we want the Kingdom or not?

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          “More and more, I think God’s Kingdom is not so much what God is going to do, but by what we choose to do. I don’t have the clear ideas of it all yet, but I think our choices and our actions now are what determines the coming of the kingdom, and that it is not something that happens on some set date in the future.”

          Dennis, I don’t think any of us have a ‘clear idea of it all.’ Now there are some who THINK they have a clear idea–dispensationalists. And you can just think of dispensationalists as those who emphasize the rapture. Same folks. Often they even set dates.

          Like

    • doulos68 says:

      Enjoyed reading your post, especially “being IN the world but not OF the world.” My recent study of the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount made it clear to me that the Kingdom of God is here and now, surely not as it will one day be, but nonetheless, joy and the peace of God is available to us today.
      Blessings,
      Doulos

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Cheryel Lemley-McRoy says:

    For doulis68: I was surprised when I learned that the two “own”s in John 1: 11, were two different words in the original language. If it were completely translated, it would read more like, He came unto all his own creation, but his own mankind received him not. To me that meant that creation had the sentience to recognize and receive him. The winds and the waves obeyed him. The rocks would have cried out. Unridden donkeys. Creation groans. Are these clues?
    Christians say if you received Jesus you are saved. Creation received Jesus. Is Creation “saved”? Just because man is not smart enough to measure the consciousness of Creation doesn’t mean it has none.
    The next verse says God gave those who received Jesus the power to be children of God. Does that mean my dog is a child of God? If that were true would people treat animals differently?
    We were put in the Garden to “husband” it, care for and nurture. We’ve done a poor job of that.
    It’s comforting to know that there are people like you working to truly care for Creation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Very interesting reflections, Cheryel.

      Like

    • doulos68 says:

      Cheryel, I am not yet ready to ascribe consciousness to animals in the same capacity and we do in humans. However, the more I learn about the uncanny, if not supernatural, abilities of certain animals (dogs sensing the onset of their owner’s seizure), the more I am inclined to believe they may be far more advanced than we imagine.
      Blessings,
      Doulos

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Charlotte Robertson says:

    One of the most amazing things is that Jesus, after his resurrection, was not recognised at first. He was a new creation. Call me a dreamer, but I had a dream in which my brother, who had died some months earlier (he was 78) appeared all young and actually glowing. I had to look twice before I realised it was him. Now, exactly WHERE this is? Are there parallel universes?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Charlotte, your dream of your brother must have been very exciting! And your question about parallel Universes is intriguing. But I think, for now, all these questions about heaven, where we go, and what it will be like are all areas of pure speculation–enjoyable to think about but not leading to any substantial conclusions.

      I wish we knew more but we don’t. But one day I think we will–when we arrive.

      Like

  9. theotherlestrangegirl says:

    I have to admit that I’m slightly bummed at the thought of heaven, simply because there is no marriage and my relationship with my husband will be no more. I don’t believe it will be bad or anything, of course, but that knowledge still saddens me to some extent.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Strange Girl, why would there be marriage in the afterlife? It is an earthly arrangement. But I see no reason why strong relationships will not continue. There are a number of them I look forward to picking up there–my wife (and soulmate), special relatives, close friends. Perhaps even pets. Who knows?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I used to be bummed by the same thing, but I realized two things: 1. I will be closer to my wife and children than I ever could possibly be in this life. Being husband and wife doesn’t always mean you will be close. 2. It doesn’t mean you are brainwashed. In other words, you should still remember your earthly time and life, but everything will be redeemed and renewed so that it isn’t sorrowful. I realized that my relationships in this life are a pale reflection of what is to come.

      Liked by 2 people

      • theotherlestrangegirl says:

        Prog Mind, what a great way to look at it! I like your mentioning that we won’t be “brainwashed” of our earthly lives–we should still remember them. The good, anyway. What happens to the bad? I’m not sure.

        As for closeness, I am also a person who strongly believes that, along with my family, I will be reunited with my pets as well. I have no idea how that would work, but I can’t imagine such a perfect place with no animals or pets. I believe that, whether heaven is in the sky or on a renewed earth, all of God’s creatures (not just humans) will be able to live in peace and harmony.

        Liked by 2 people

    • newtonfinn says:

      Strangegirl, I feel the same way about the love of my earthly life. The thought of losing that bond of intimacy and shared experience with my wife is sad beyond words. But like Tim and Prog have said in their own ways, I’m certain that no such loss is involved in the afterlife. My little saying or meme about heaven–what sums it all up for me and is really all I need to know–is that “nothing good is lost.” The institution of marriage, in the earthly sense, has aspects or connotations of ownership and property. In Jesus’ day, it also provided an expedient way to protect widows, who were quickly married to a deceased husband’s brother to ensure continuing economic support. Earthly things like ownership and property and economic support would seem to be non-issues in heaven, while bonds of love and intimacy and devotion would certainly be preserved and strengthened and deepened…if (as I like to put it) “nothing good is lost.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • theotherlestrangegirl says:

        Newton, I agree that no loss is involved.

        Marriage is, like you say, nothing more than an institution based around taxes and ownership and the like, but there is still a pang of sadness when I think about not being married anymore. I believe it will be better in heaven, it’s just hard to imagine that right now.

        Liked by 2 people

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        “Nothing good is lost.” Newton, I like that!

        Like

  10. Georges says:

    I was listening to Kane Brown’s “Heaven” while driving my kids around yesterday and the chorus had me thinking about how much of my upbringing was focused on a heaven out there, somewhere, that we were supposed to long for. The bigger problem I think is that in the process we were also indirectly (sometimes directly) taught that this world is just a sad and broken place we can’t wait to leave behind. It is only in the last few years that I’ve begun putting the “God renewing all things” principle at the centre of my understanding of the gospel and this life. God has put alot of love in creating and redeeming this world and the trajectory from Genesis to Revelation, although quite rocky in the middle, seems to indicate that this world as we know is the heaven God will renew.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Georges, I had the same experience. In my church circles ‘heaven’ was an escape from this broken world, and we never thought of earth-care or a future restoration. We just waited for the rapture to take us away before the entire world was destroyed. Of course, I think quite differently now.

      Liked by 1 person

    • theotherlestrangegirl says:

      Georges, I love the idea of earthly renewal. This is a new concept to me as well. Back when I suffered heavily from depression (and when I thought that God was an angry god who hated us and the world–no wonder I was depressed), I used to fantasize about going to heaven and leaving Earth behind forever, never to be seen or thought of again.

      Now, not only do I believe that God loves the world, but it doesn’t make sense for me to think that He’s just going to destroy it one day and be done with it.

      Do you know the song “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood? It’s about earth being our temporary dwelling, and it used to make me tear up. Now, though, I wonder if the earth really is so temporary.

      Liked by 1 person

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