Where is Heaven and Hell?

July 29, 2020 by Rev. Jacques Nel

The answer to the question where is heaven and hell, is by no means obvious.

For the ancients, heaven was the abode of the gods above. The realm of the dead was somewhere below. The cosmos of the Hebrews was not so different from that of the other nations around them. In the Bible, the word hades, is used for the realm into which the dead descend. The dead, they know of nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Of a dead girl Jesus says that, she is not dead, she is sleeping (Matthew 9:24).

These somewhat benign descriptions of what happens when we die, should not be used to underplay the seriousness of death. Death is the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas). We should value life and not try to soften death's impact. When Jesus says, "the girl is sleeping," he is putting death in the right perspective. God has the power to raise her from the dead.

Horizon of Being

Death as the horizon of our existence in this world, should bring us to an evaluation of our lives. God is not morally neutral. People are destined to die once, after that comes the judgement (Hebrews 9:27). In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the Gehinnom Valley as a place one must avoid at all costs. This was a valley outside of the city walls of Jerusalem, where there was a rubbish dump and a fire always burning. At night, there one could hear the gnashing sound made by the teeth of scavenger animals. It is better to lose an eye or limb than to end up in Gehinnom, said Jesus (Matthew 5:30).

Jesus' listeners knew that he was speaking of something worse than death. He was speaking of not being right with God. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, we are warned of such a state of being that may happen after this life; of a chasm, that no one will be able to bridge. In the last book of the Bible, it is referred to as the second death, and we should leave it at that. The word Gehinnom is translated for us as the word hell. The word hell is loaded with our imaginings. I have no idea where or what hell is. Only don't fear death but of hell, please stay clear of that.

What about heaven?

Jesus ascended to heaven, but where heaven is, that is not immediately clear from the New Testament writings. What is above at the North Pole, is below when you get to the South Pole. The Universe looks the same in every direction. John saw visions of heaven on the island of Patmos. These images are loaded with symbolism, conveying truths about what heaven will be like.

A great multitude, from every tribe, nation, and language will be there. Heaven is a great golden city. If offers security, and fulfills our needs. It is a gift of God, not something that we can bring about. The New Jerusalem descends from above. It is the tree of life that gives its leaves twelve times a year. That is life forever, perfected as only God will be able to make it. It is an eternal Sabbath rest. God will make all things new. The whole of creation is groaning to be renewed (Romans 8), and on Patmos, John saw a new heaven and earth.

Will it be this sky and this world renewed, or some other world and sky? What will be the role of time and what is eternity? Is heaven then some other universe or dimension not known to us?

The resurrected Jesus was not bound by space or time or so it appeared to be. Paul says we will be raised with a spiritual body or soma pneumatikon, and that this flesh or sarks can not inherit eternal life. It is but a seed. What is to come, it is like the plant, and God will give it growth (1 Corinthians 15). Our individual identity will be preserved, but we will certainly be changed.

Trust God

Our focus should be on getting to heaven, and not so much where and what heaven is going to be. Trust God for the best outcome, and for now, do what God wants done on earth as it is in heaven. That just about summed it up for Jesus, who said "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43).

Jesus was hinting here at the hope, kept alive by God's people in exile. That hope was not in something that humans can bring about in this dispensation. Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake. Those who are wise will be like the brightness of the heavens, and those who led many to righteousness, will shine like the stars for ever and ever (Daniel 12:1-3).

It is a hope in what lies beyond the walls of this world. Daniel is connecting eternal life with being wise and ethical. Paul cautions us, "what God has prepared for those who love Him, no eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor has it entered into anyone's heart" (1 Corinthians 2:9). Put simply, what the power of God can do, we cannot now even begin to imagine it.

When the Sadducees doubted the resurrection from the dead, Jesus said to them, "you are in error, because you do not know the power of God" (Matthew 22:25-32). So, if then, the whole of creation is groaning, where is heaven? My advice is, fasten your seat belt for this ride. This is going to be unbeatable. For now, follow Jesus, and do the right things. If we died with Christ, we will be raised with Christ. That will get you there, and where that is, leave it to God.

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