WHERE IS HEAVEN
WHERE IS HEAVEN based on Rev. 21:1-8
By Glenn Pease
The City Bank of Binghamton, New York, sent flowers to the management of their new branch, on the opening of their new facility. Unfortunately, the card accompanying the flowers read, "Deepest Sympathy." The florist who made the mistake, called later to apologize for the mixup. What really worried him, he said, is the message meant for the bank was sent to a funeral, and it read, "Congratulations on your new location."
This message would really be quite fitting, for the fact is, death does change our location. The question is, where is the new location? Where is heaven and hell? Many feel they are right here on earth, and not somewhere above and below. This conviction is not totally without merit, for the future does begin with the now and the here. Jesus is the door to heaven, but unless we have walked through that door in time, we will not be able to enter it after death. So, it is true, heaven begins now in time, and not after we die. The essence of heaven is the presence of God, and that begins as a present experience. Likewise, those who are without hope and without God in the world are already bearing some of the burdens of hell. Heaven on earth, and hell on earth, are real experiences, but the fact is, when the body dies the soul departs and returns to God. The question is, just where is God and His dwelling place located?
The question gets complicated because of the nature of God. He is omnipresent, and if heaven is where God is, and God is everywhere, then heaven is everywhere, and we are right back where we started. But it is not Biblically accurate to say heaven is everywhere, for the Bible refers to heaven as a distinct place. In the Lord's prayer heaven is used twice. Our Father who art in heaven--that is in distinction from our father on earth. God is everywhere, and everywhere is heaven if you are God, but we are not, and so we need to distinguish between our realm and God's realm. Everywhere can become a heavenly place, for God's presence can fill it, as He did in the Old Testament temple. You can be in a prison, and be in a heavenly place, as you sense the presence of God, like Peter did.
There is no escaping, however, the clear distinction between the earthly and the heavenly. Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you, and He ascended to the right hand of the Father. And the second reference in the Lord's Prayer says, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Heaven is where God is uniquely present; where His will is done perfectly; where Jesus Christ reigns, and prepares to receive all who die in faith. When we die we can't go everywhere, for that would be to become equal with God. We have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is what we are trying to pinpoint.
The first thing we need to do is recognize that the Bible refers to three heavens, each of which is clearly distinct from the others. Paul was caught up into the third heaven. This implies there are at least two others. First, there is the atmospheric heaven. This is the realm in which the senses reign. You can see this heaven. It is the clouds and sky. It is that heaven in which the birds fly, and where the weather is produced. It is that heaven closest to the earth.
The second is the astronomical heaven. This is the realm in which the stars reign. The eye of man can still penetrate this realm, and with the aid of the telescope, see that it is enormous beyond comprehension. It is a vast heaven, but it is not the dwelling place of God. There is a popular theory that heaven can be located in this sphere of the universe. It is the theory that heaven is in the North. The Bible basis for this is in Is. 14:12-13. "How are you fallen from heaven, O Day Star, Son of Dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven, above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far North." In Ezekiel chapter one, the vision of the heavenly creatures come out of the North. Job 26:7 says, "He stretches out the North over the empty place and hangs the earth upon nothing."
Jack MacArthur, who promotes this theory points out that North is the same direction from every point on the earth's surface. Up is North from everywhere on the planet. It is also the magnetic pole toward which all compasses point. Why? Many believe it is because the North, of the astronomical heaven, is the actual location of God and His dwelling place. In the empty place in the North, is a huge black hole where the gravity is so great, even the light of stars cannot escape it. Could this be heaven? It is not impossible, but as we move on to the third heaven, we will see why this theory is not likely. The third view will show how this, and all other views, will be encompassed within it.
The third heaven is the ascension heaven. This is the realm in which the Son reigns. This is where the saints go when they leave the body. The other two heavens can be studied by science, but this one can be known only by revelation. Some feel you just keep going past the second heaven millions of light years out, and you run into the third heaven. The theory of heaven in the North is part of this idea. The weakness of this view is that it does not fit the revelation we have in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 7:56 Stephen, as he is about to be stoned, gazes into heaven and says, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." The most powerful telescope cannot see to the furthest galaxy, let alone, beyond the second heaven into the third. If Stephen could, with the naked eye, see the glory of God, and the Son at His side, then we are forced to think of heaven in other than spacial terms. In other words, we need to see heaven as being in a different dimension, and not far out beyond astronomical space.
Jesus said He would never leave us, but be with us always. If heaven is in another dimension, then it is easy to see how this can be, for heaven then, is really no distance away at all, for it is not in space. It is in a dimension that exists right along side our dimension of time and space, and, therefore, always near. If man invented a space ship to go to the stars, those who went would be no nearer heaven than those on earth, but they would be no further, either, for the dimension of God's presence is everywhere.
This is not the same as saying everywhere is heaven. This earth is not heaven, nor is anywhere else in the universe of space, heaven. Yet everywhere one is, he is near heaven, for the dimension of heaven is only a revelation away. That is, God can do for anyone what He did for Stephen. He may be at the North pole, or on the moon, or some far off galaxy, and God could open His eyes to see Jesus standing by His side in heavenly glory. Heaven is everywhere, and yet it is nowhere. It is nowhere, in the sense that you can locate it in space, and draw a map to get to it. Yet, it is everywhere, in that it is in a dimension that encompasses all of space, and, therefore, it is present wherever you are.
When the Bible refers to the third heaven being above all heavens, it is not referring to it as being spatially above them, but rather as being superior to them, and encompassing them. Paul in Eph.4:10 says, "He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things." You would think that rising above all the heavens would take you so far out that you would no longer be in touch with the rest of the universe. Paul says just the opposite is the case. By ascending to the highest heaven, Jesus really came into touch with all of time and space, and is now everywhere present. He is in a dimension where he escapes all the limitations of time and space.
He could not be everywhere in the flesh, even after the resurrection. Only when he ascended to the third heaven could he be an omnipresent Savior. When you call on Christ to forgive, or to guide, your prayers do not have to travel for light years to get to Him. He hears you as you speak, for He is present at all times, even though He is at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Heaven is never more than a thought away. The distance to heaven is not measured in miles or light years, but in degrees of awareness. Stephen was filled with the Spirit, and granted the ability to be aware of heavens nearness. Many saints, on their death beds, have this same awareness. They see Jesus, or some loved one who has gone on before them. They hear heavenly music and see light that is unearthly. All of this is easy to understand when we see that heaven is near in another dimension. God can pull the curtain open at any time and let us see that dimension.
This explains how we can be surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses, and how the saints in heaven can know what is happening on earth. If God grants them the awareness, they can see anything in time, just as those in time can see anything in heaven. Jesus said the rich man in hell could see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. A great gulf was fixed so there was no crossing, but he could see heaven from hell, because God opened the curtain. Stephen saw heaven from earth, and so no matter where you are in the universe, you can see heaven if God opens up that dimension, which is everywhere.
A place in space is either near or far to any other place in space, but a place in non-space is capable of being both near or far, depending upon the state of mind of the one relating to that place. The saved are ever near heaven, but the lost are ever far from it. But, if they repent and trust in Jesus as Savior, they can be near heaven without having traveled an inch. Heaven is as near as our relationship to the King of heaven.
When Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus on the Mt. of Transfiguration, they did no have to travel through billions of miles of space to get there. They were watching the life of Jesus as it transpired, from their place in heaven. They knew what was going on in his life, and that he was heading for the cross, because they were in the presence of God, which is the perfect place to see all that is going on in the dimension of time. The disciples did not understand what Jesus was facing, but they did, and they were able to comfort Jesus. Jesus knew he was being watched from another dimension and this was a positive motivation to keep on the track he knew was the will of his Father.
A lot of things make sense when we see heaven is another dimension. For example, the new heaven and the new earth. The new heaven does not mean God is going to scrap His perfect dwelling. This is a reference to the atmospheric and astronomical heaven. The whole material universe is stained by sin and is incompatible with God's perfection. It has to be made new so that it can be incorporated into the third heaven of God's presence.
The ultimate goal of Christ is to redeem the entire creation of God, which means the earth, and the other two heavens. Paul says in Eph.1:9, "For He has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth." Jesus is, Himself, the perfect uniting of the earthly and heavenly. He is flesh and spirit--God and man. Heaven in it's final state will literally be everywhere, for everywhere will be incorporated into heaven. The solar system, the milky way, and all the astronomical heaven will be a part of the eternal home of the saints. That black hole in the North, and every other part of God's creation will be a part of the eternal heaven.
It makes a difference how you phrase your question. If you ask, where is heaven? The answer is, in another dimension. But if you ask, where will heaven be? The answer is everywhere, for all that is will be a part of heaven, with Jesus as the Lord of all. The only part of reality that will be left out will be hell. That will be in another dimension separated from heaven.
The value of seeing that heaven is in another dimension that is even near, is that it helps us set our affections on things above. They are not light years away, but as near as breathing. Heaven is not long distance, but only a prayer away. Flying in a space ship for years will not get you any closer to heaven, but doing God's will on earth as it is in heaven will get you closer by the minute. There is heaven on earth to some degree, as we live in fellowship with the Lord of heaven. One day, this earth will be a part of heaven.Anthony Hoekema, from the reformed tradition writes, "From Rev.21:3 we learn that the dwelling place of God will no longer be away from the earth but on the earth. Since where God dwells, there heaven is, we conclude that in the life to come heaven and earth will no longer be separated, as they are now, but will be merged. Believers will therefore continue to be in heaven as they continue to live on the new earth." Some see the earth as the wedding present of Christ to His Bride, the Church. He won it back from the control of Satan, and He gives it to those who lost it. The meek will inherit the earth, and they will reign on earth with Christ. Heaven will be right here.
Since, however, it is just in another dimension, it is already right here. Imagine a totally deaf person who has been deaf from birth. They do not comprehend sound. It is all around them, but they never experience it. It is foreign to their experience and senses. If everyone they knew was also deaf they would have every reason to doubt that sound existed. It would be real and ever present but in a dimension for which they had no sense to detect it. So, we live with heaven all about us, but we have no sense to detect it, and so we are unaware of it's presence. God gives some a peek into that dimension, but most must wait until they receive their new bodies, which will have the senses needed to see the glory of heaven everywhere.
It is considered a self-evident truth that you can't be in two places at the same time. But the Bible says this is not so. The Christian, by being in Christ, is both in time and in the heavenly realm of eternity. Paul in Eph.2:6 says, "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus." We go to heaven when we die, because heaven has come to us before we die, in Christ. Our Head is already in heaven, and so, in one sense so are we. Jesus is the essence of heaven. The poet put it--
Christ is the heart of heaven
It's fullness and it's bliss;
The center of the heavenly throng.
The object of the ransomed's song,
Is Jesus in the midst.
If Christ is in you, and you are in Christ, you have a dual address, and one of them is heaven. Where is heaven? It is everywhere where Christ is, and if He is in your heart, heaven is also there. Thus, there is more than one answer to the question, where is heaven? The primary answer, however, is, it is in another dimension where God dwells, which is right next to the dimension where we live. Heaven is our neighbor, and thus, God is ever near. We need to call on Him more often to sense that we are never far from heaven.