Is Heaven a Real Place?



Dr. John Hoole – December 7, 2014



When we talk about heaven, we are usually referring to the divine heaven, or 3rd heaven.  The first heaven is the atmosphere around the earth.  The second heaven is the starry skies, the celestial universe.  The third is where God is enthroned.  That will be the focus of the rest of our lesson.


In an earlier lesson, I mentioned more than a dozen questions that arise when seriously considering the subject of “heaven.”  Today, I would like to answer two of them.  The first is: Is Heaven a Real Place?  The second is: If Heaven is a real place, where is it located?


All that we have said already about the 3rd heaven seems to indicate that it is a real place.  When researching this topic on the Internet, I was surprised to find many who do not believe it is a real place.


Actually, when I put the word “heaven” in the search engine, most of the resulting 117 million web-sites have nothing to do with God’s residence.  I found a web site for:


                   •  Football Heaven

                   •  Computing Heaven

                   •  Harley Davidson Heaven

                   •  Guitar Heaven


Even a web-site called “Welcome to Heaven – above” sound like it might be about the real heaven.  But it provides information about satellites and the space shuttle.  No wonder people think heaven is not a real place where some go when they die.  Others believe that heaven is what you make of it during this life here on earth.  What does the Bible say?


Is heaven a real place?


Many people, including some theologians, can’t resist spiritualizing what the Bible teaches about Heaven.  Some people assume that Heaven is not so much an actual place as a state of being or a spiritual condition.


Pope John Paul II’s Wednesday audience of July 21, 1999 heard him say that Heaven is not a “physical place in the clouds, but a living personal relationship with the Trinity.”  And ever since many Catholics have begun to question, and even doubt, the existence of heaven.


One Catholic wrote into a web site, “Catholic Answers.”   “Recently, in our parish Bible-study class, the leader stated that heaven is not a place but is in our minds, and he quoted sections 2794-2796 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” "The inquirer continued, “I am deeply troubled by this concept.  If heaven is not a place, then why did Jesus ascend into heaven as he left his Apostles?  Why would he say that he was going to prepare a ‘place’ for them, if one did not exist?  Why does the Catechism say heaven is “a way of being?”


But that is not what Jesus said about it.  He spoke of His Father’s house as having many dwelling places in which he would prepare a place for us (John 14:2).


Jesus told the disciples, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3)Christ used tangible, earthly, spatial terms to describe Heaven.  The phrase “come back and take you” indicates movement and physical destinations.  If we reduce Heaven to something less than or other than a place, we strip Christ’s words of their meaning.


One of the best guidelines for biblical interpretation is a statement made by Dr. David L. Cooper.


"When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take very word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise."


This I believe is a very good rule of thumb for studying any part of the Bible.  Follow this maxim and your will find the Bible understandable.  I believe the Bible tells us that this heaven is as real as the first and second heavens.  It is not some imaginary dreamland that does not really exist.  There are at least 6 reason why I believe it is a literal place, and that it exists right now.


1.     Jesus called heaven “My Father’s house” and said He was going there to prepare a “place” for his people (John 14:1-3)


                  In this verse, Jesus twice describes heaven as being a “place.”


A moment ago, we read what Jesus said in John 14:2-3.  Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places … I go to prepare a place for you.  The word ‘place’ is singular, but ‘dwelling places’ is plural.  This suggests that Jesus has for each of us an individual dwelling that is a smaller part of the larger place.


The word dwelling place is cozy and intimate.  The term house can also be viewed as “estate.”  Either way, it suggests spaciousness.  That’s Heaven: a place both spacious and intimate.


Think of it!  The Carpenter of Nazareth promised us, his bride, that he was going to prepare a place for us and would one day come to take us there.  He has qualities that come in handy in building projects.  He is all-knowing and all-powerful.


Christ mentions a place, not some ethereal spiritual state.  Christ is speaking of himself as fully human, without any figurative meaning to his words.  He means that he is going, with all his human nature, away from this world and that he is going to prepare a place for us.  He fully has the intentions to come again with all the glorified human nature to receive us to Himself.


2.     Part of Heaven is described in detail as a literal place with walls, gates, rivers, trees and a street  (Revelation 21:9 – 22:5).


If it were only an imaginary location or a higher level of consciousness, why use these kinds of descriptive word about it.  We are given distances and heights, which certainly favor a literal, physical place.  These details about our eternal home cannot be said of a state of mind.  It can only be said of a real, literal place.  We are told, in Hebrews 11:10, that Abraham looked for a city that had foundations.  That certainly pictures something solid.


3.      Jesus taught that heaven is the present abode or dwelling place of God (Matthew 10:32-33).


Someone might argue that since God is omnipresent, He is everywhere, therefore, His dwelling place is really everywhere, not just one place.


Matthew 5:16   NKJV


16     Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven


The phrase, “Father in Heaven,” sure seems to say that God has a location where He lives.  That phrase is used by Christ 13 times in reference to His Father.  And there are 5 other Passages where Jesus says, “my Father who is in Heaven.”


Heaven is indeed a real place.  Isaiah 66:1 (NKJV) tells us:


1.  Thus says the Lord: "Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool.”


This is quoted by Matthew.


Matthew 5:34-35 NKJV


34     But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne;

35     nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.


4.      Paul visited the third heaven where God dwells  (2 Corinthians 12:2)


In this Passage, Paul say he saw and heard things that he was not at liberty to tell.  Seeing and hearing does not occur in a place that is not literal.


2 Corinthians 12:2-3 NKJV


2       I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago — whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows — such a one was caught up to the third heaven.

3       And I know such a man — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — 


Paul tells us that when he went into the 3rd heaven, he didn’t know if he went in his body on not.  The idea that he thought he might have had a body in Heaven is significant.  He certainly did not dismiss it as a possibility.  If heaven is only a figurative state of being and not physical, the apostle Paul wouldn’t have thought the possibility of having a physical body while he was there.  If heaven was not a real physical place, he would not have wondered about his body.


5.      Our citizenship is in heaven  (Philippians 3:20-21).


Philippians 3:20  (NIV)


20     But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,


It would not make sense to have our citizenship in the sky or outer space or some imaginary place.  This Passage also says our Savior is going to leave this place and return to take His bride.  Jesus is not coming back from an imaginary place.


We should not be surprised when Scripture speaks of Heaven in tangible and material ways.  Nor should we feel it is necessary to take such references figuratively.  I think the great preacher Charles Spurgeon said it correctly in a sermon he preached on May 25, 1879.


“After the Resurrection, you must remember, we shall need a place to live in – a literal, material place of residence.  For these bodies of ours will be alive and well as our spirits, and they will need a world to live in.”


6.      For the saints, Heaven is called a city and our heavenly homeland. (Hebrews 11:16).


In Hebrews 11, the writer says that Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham were looking for a country.  And in Verse 16, it says: ….they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.


Here Heaven is called both a country and a city.  Heaven most assuredly is a real place.  After Jesus was raised from the dead He went to heaven. The Bible says: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).


Likewise, we will have resurrected physical bodies in heaven, and we are citizens of the city God has prepared for us.  We will also have resurrected bodies like Christ’s following His resurrection.


Philippians 3:20-21 NKJV


20     For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

21     who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.


The Word of God promises the Second Coming of Christ.  Acts 1:11, which we read a moment ago, says He is coming in the same manner as he went up to heaven.  He left physically and visibly – He will return the same – physically and visibly.  And in Revelation 1:7, we are told that when He comes, every eye will see Him.  That sure sound physical to me.


Here is another biblical example to think about.  The apostle John writes in the Revelation, and describes the throne room of God as being filled with smoke from the glory of God.


Revelation 15:8 NKJV


8       The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed.


Is this a figurative temple with figurative smoke?  Or is there an actual fire creating literal smoke in a real building?  We are told there are scrolls in Heaven, elders who have faces, martyrs who wear clothes, and even people with “palm branches in their hands.


Revelation 7:9 NKJV


9       After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,


There are also musical instruments in the present Heaven (Revelation 8:6).  We also find horses coming into and out of Heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Revelation 19:14).  We are also told an eagle flies overhead in Heaven (Revelation 4:7)Perhaps some of these objects are merely symbolic, with no corresponding physical reality.  But is that true of all of them?


If we know that the New Jerusalem will be physically on the New Earth, and we also know that it is in the present Heaven, does that not suggest the New Jerusalem is currently physical?  Why wouldn’t it?


A story I heard many years ago would be appropriate at this time.  The story is told of an old missionary named Samuel Morrison, who, after 25 years in Africa, was returning to the United States to die.


As it so happened, he traveled home on the same ocean liner that brought President Teddy Roosevelt back from a hunting expedition.  When the great ship pulled into the New York harbor, the dock where it was to tie up was jammed with what looked like the entire population of New York City.  Bands were playing, banners were waving, choirs of children were singing.  Multicolored balloons were floating in the air.  Flashbulbs were popping and newsreel cameras were poised.


Mr. Roosevelt stepped down the gangplank to thunderous cheers and applause, showered with confetti and ticker tape.  If the crowd had not be restrained by ropes, they would have mobbed the president.


At the same time, Samuel Morrison quietly walked off the boat.  No one was there to greet him.  He slipped through the crowd alone and unnoticed.  Because of the crowd of people to welcome the president, he couldn’t even find a cab. In his heart, he began to complain, “Lord, the president has been in Africa for 3 weeks, killing animals and the whole world turns out to welcome him home!  I give 25 years of my life in Africa, serving You, and no one has greeted me or even knows I’m here.  In the quietness of his heart, a gentle, loving voice whispered, ”But, my dear child, you are not home, yet!”


Home.  Heaven is a real place, and it is our true home.  One day, in heaven, the saints of God will eat the real fruit, and drink real water, in real, physical, resurrected bodies.  Our feet will walk upon those streets of gold.  Our hands will touch the cheeks of our loved ones.  Our arms will embrace our loved ones again.


I believe heaven is a real literal place, as material, as physical, as literal as Seattle or San Salvador.  But all the cities of the world today are mere villages when compared to the New Jerusalem.


The location of Heaven


Now that we understand that the Bible tells us Heaven is a real place.  The question that naturally arises out of that questions is, “If heaven is real, where is it.”








Over the last few weeks, we have learned that Heaven is the abode of God.  And though He is everywhere at all times, the very unique place of His residence is Heaven.  Everything that is precious to us is in Heaven.  God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are there, along with the Angels.  All the saints of the Old and New Testaments are there.  Our name is written there, our reward is there, our treasure is there.


If the question, “Where is Heaven,” were asked of a small child at our church, the answer probably would come back in the form of a finger pointing up.  And maybe they would say, “Up there!”  To almost everyone, Heaven is “up.”  As adults, we might be prone to give a little more complex answer, but what the child says does have some biblical backing.


In Acts 1:9, when Jesus ascended to glory, it says “While they beheld, he was taken UP.”  Heaven is real and is not a figment of our imagination.  And Heaven is up.


Paul reminded us that when Jesus came to earth, He descended.  And when He left earth, He ascended  (Ephesians 4:8-10)When God contemplates His creatures, He looks down (Psalm 53:2).  And when man contemplates his God, he looks up  (Psalm 121:2).


2 Kings 2:11  (NIV)  reads:


11     As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.


When the people built the tower of Babel, God said, “Let us go down” (Genesis 11:7)God spoke to Moses that He (God) “would come down to deliver them…” (Exodus 3:8)Isaiah prayed, “Oh that You would rend the heavens, that You would come down…” (Isa. 64:1).


The apostle Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 12:2   (NKJV)


2       I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago -- whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows -- such a one was caught up to the third heaven.


In the book of Revelation, at the beginning of chapter 4, John is told "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."  And when the New Jerusalem is ready for occupancy, it will come down from Heaven (Revelation 21:2).


When Satan rebelled against God, what did he say.  Isaiah 14:13  (NAS) says, “I will ascend (go up) to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…”


So the Bible, over and over again, states that Heaven is “UP!”  But someone might want to ask, “up from where?”         If we say it is in the direction at right angles with the earth’s surface, “up” would be different at every point on the earth.  “Up” from China is not the same direction as “up” from the United States.  And if you say it is “up” from Jerusalem, the direction will be different in a few minutes, because of the earth’s rotation.


Could it be that “UP,” when it is mentioned in the Bible, is really indicating a particular direction?”  Maybe Isaiah gives us a clue in his description of the fall of Lucifer.  A moment ago, I read part of Isaiah 14:13, which quotes Lucifer saying, “I will ascend (go up) to Heaven….”  Let’s now read the whole verse.


Isaiah 14:13 NKJV


13     For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north;


Notice that last phrase in this verse.  He is describing where he will be when he ascends into heaven.  “On the farthest sides of the north.”


Some have taken verses like this, as well as others, and concluded that Heaven is in the northern skies.  It is true, that no matter where you are on earth, north will always be up.


Some have gained support for this view from findings in astronomy.  These claim astronomers have discovered only one area where space appears to be empty, in the region around and belong the North Star - Polaris.


Others who take this position of heaven also point to Job 26:7 NKJV.


         7       He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.


For additional biblical evidence to support their position, they point to Psalm 75


Psalm 75:5-7   NKJV


5       Do not lift up your horn on high; Do not speak with a stiff neck.'"

6       For exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south.

7       But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another.


It is interesting to note that “north” is not mentioned.  And those holding this view of where Heaven is located reason that if “exaltation” does not originate from the east, west or south, then it can only come from the north.  And since it is God that is the One who gives blessing, this verse, they believe, teaches that His throne must be located somewhere in the north.


So, one view of Heaven is that it is located somewhere in the far northern reaches of the universe.  This view holds that Heaven is up, beyond the atmosphere, the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the ionosphere, and the exosphere.  It is beyond the Van Allen radiation belt and beyond interplanetary space.


There are, however, other theories about its location.  Some would suggest that we might travel all the way to the edge of the universe and still not find Heaven.  They would propose that heaven exists in a different dimension that we do today.  Quantum physicists claim that there are many parallel dimensions.    Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36)The adherents of this idea say “maybe that statement means far more than we think.”


In 2 Kings 6, we find Elisha and his servant in the city of Dothan.  The King of Syria, who is making war against Israel, is told that Elisha is telling the King of Israel every move the Syrians make.  So they surround the place where Elisha is staying, and when his servant looked out early in the morning and saw the Syrians he was fearful of what might happen to them.  In 2 Kings 6:16, the prophet Isaiah says to his servant, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”


2 Kings 6:17  (NIV)  reads:


17     And Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.


This tells us that the armies of God were invisible to the natural eye.  They were in another dimension, which could only be seen by human eyes when God altered their ability to see.


Many people in the Bible saw heaven when God allowed them to see into the other dimension.  In Ezekiel 1:1, the prophet tells us that he was among the exiles at the River Chebar.  He says that while he was there, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.”  The earthly heavens were removed for a moment where he was, and he saw into heaven.  Similar things happened to others, like Micaiah (2 Chron. 18:18) and Stephen (Acts 7:56).  They saw heaven, but they saw it in another dimension.


So this opinion about the location of Heaven believes it is not really very far from any of us.  But it is in another dimensions, that keeps us from seeing it with normal human eyes.


The question “where is Heaven?” is one that cannot be easily answered with the information we have.  But, being unable to identify its location does not at all take away from its reality.




Heaven is not people floating on a cloud playing a harp as is popularly thought.  Heaven is a real place more real than earth.  Heaven is not the discontinuation of this life, but the continuance of this life as it was meant to be.


Heaven is the continuation and development of your talents and abilities to their fullest potential.  There is labor in heaven, but it is a perfect joy, not a drudgery and evil competitiveness that we experience here on earth.  The Psalmist wrote about being in the presence of God in heaven.  Psalm 16:11 says, In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”


Heaven is fullness of joy and pleasures forever.  God’s nature is love, joy and peace all the time, continuously forever.  The Bible tells us that when you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are made one spirit with Christ.


When Jesus comes, some believers will be living and their bodies will be changed.  Others who have died will have their bodies come out of the grave and transformed,  All these believers, who now have renewed physical bodies will live for eternity in a real, physical place prepared by our Lord.