Is Heaven A Real Place?

5 min read

What comes to mind when you think of Heaven? Perhaps you imagine a timeless state of being as we float along soft, wispy clouds with harps playing in the background. Maybe you take a more practical approach and look for heaven here and now, in small acts of kindness and displays of love.

The biblical presentation of heaven is not as simplistic as this. It is intentionally described in such a way as to draw the reader in. The authors of the Bible want you to wrestle with the definition of heaven and the implications of this new reality. They want you to see the world in a new way that produces hope. They wrote to share a vision of the future that Jesus Christ had secured.

Perhaps the first and most important question we should ask is simply: is Heaven real? To answer that, we must consider three things that inform our faith and theology:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason

Heaven and Scripture

First, scripture, which is the primary source of our belief and theology. God has spoken to us through the words of scripture. The Bible is his self-revelation. Every word is authoritative and true. So, if you want to verify the reality of heaven, start with the Bible.

Heaven is mentioned throughout scripture. The understanding of what it is develops as the story of scripture unfolds. We see how God is understood to dwell with his people first in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:3) and, later, the Temple. Yet the concept of heaven is prominent in Jewish thinking. Their worldview included a place called Sheol, the abode of the dead. There were different parts to Sheol, one of which was known as Abraham’s Bosom. This was the place to which the righteous departed.

Later, the New Testament authors further developed our understanding of heaven. For example, the apostle Paul writes that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21). The author of Hebrews, speaking about the righteous who departed this life before Jesus came, says that “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16). Scripture has spoken of heaven as a real place, which in turn has real implications for our lives.

Jesus on Heaven

But it is Jesus who directly addresses the reality of Heaven. He preaches and proclaims the coming Kingdom of God, a real place, which is slowly taking hold in our world. He likens it to mustard seed, small and seemingly insignificant, before it becomes a mighty tree (Matthew 13:31–32). Elsewhere, he says that it is like yeast mixed into flour, which is worked all through the dough (Matthew 13:33). But perhaps his most obvious reference to Heaven is found in his words to the thief dying on a cross alongside him. As the thief begs for mercy from Jesus, he tells him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43).

If Jesus taught that something is real, it is something we can accept and believe in.

Heaven and Tradition

Second, tradition. I’m not talking about long held practices. What I mean by tradition is the historical, accepted position of the Church on theological matters. Has the Church historically believed Heaven to be real? Without a doubt! This is clearly addressed in the earliest creeds, which affirmed fundamental Christian doctrine. The apostle’s creed, for instance, confesses that:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

creator of heaven and earth…

And speaking of Jesus, it affirms:

On the third day he rose again;

he ascended into heaven,

he is seated at the right hand of the Father…

Likewise, a later, more comprehensive creed – called the Athanasian Creed – says this about Jesus:

he ascended to heaven;

he is seated at the Father’s right hand…

The earliest Christians affirmed that Heaven is real, a place created by God and to which Jesus returned. The creeds do not get stuck in specifics but create a healthy framework through which you can explore the practicalities of your faith. For two thousand years, the Church has proclaimed the reality of Heaven, and so should we!

Heaven and Reason

Third, reason. This is the application of our minds to our faith. It is reasonable to accept the reality of heaven because we have experienced a taste of it. When Jesus began his ministry, he proclaimed in Mark 1:15:

“‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus taught and modelled a new way of living that showed us what this kingdom looks like. He inaugurated it by proclaiming the kingdom and making it possible for all of us to enter into it by having faith in him. In fact, Jesus grants us new life through His death and resurrection. It’s here and now, but not yet fully realised. One day, it will be! Revelation 22 and 23 paint a beautiful, compelling picture of the realisation of heaven on earth. Until then, we live as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), knowing that our home is in the heavenly kingdom of God but finding ourselves in this broken, fallen world.

Scripture instructs us to establish this kingdom in our neighbourhoods, communities, towns, and cities, as the Holy Spirit empowers us to do so, as we journey towards our final destination. When we live by the Spirit and produce his fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:16–26), we express the Kingdom of Heaven to which we now belong.

Our scriptures, our traditions, and our reason make it clear that heaven is a very real place. Our task is to seek the truth of what that means for us and, more importantly, how this knowledge influences the way in which we live our lives.

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