Where Exactly Are Heaven And Hell?

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This is an interesting question that has been asked thousands, perhaps millions of times throughout the centuries. Most people on the planet today believe in some sort of afterlife that ends with either punishment or reward. As a believer in Christ I find it interesting that there are over 200 different Christian denominations in the United States, each with their own set of doctrines and practices. And there are nearly 4,000 different religions in the world today. When you ask this question, you’ll definitely get mixed responses. I’ll try and answer it from a Christian perspective.

Which way is up?

When the Bible speaks of heaven it almost always referrers to it as up. The book of John tells us that Jesus came down from heaven, and after his crucifixion he ascended back up into heaven. Likewise, when speaking of hell, the Bible implies that it is down. Matt 11:23 says, “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will be brought down to Hades!” For first century believers up and down were pretty easy. For those of us alive in the 21st century it becomes a bit more complicated. Down in Hong Kong does not point to the same absolute position as down in Chicago, or New York, or Moscow. One could make the argument that all points on the surface of the earth point to the center of the earth. Some have even suggested that the lake of fire spoken of in Revelation is the center of our molten earth.

We can make things more complicated when we try and identify where heaven is. If we used the same cities mentioned above and point to the sky instead of the ground, we would see that they do not point toward the same absolute position either. They sometimes point in opposite directions. We could add a layer of complexity by saying that the earth is always rotating and pointing at a different point in the sky. Likewise, the earth orbits the sun, the sun orbits the center of the galaxy, and the Milky Way Galaxy is moving through space, so which way is up? One difficulty in pinpointing the physical locations of heaven or hell might be that they are not physical places. We do know that angels and demons are spiritual beings, so maybe heaven and hell are both spiritual destinations. The Bible is unclear about the location or nature of either.

A Better Question.

Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions? Instead of trying to figure out where these places are, we should try to figure out how we can gain entrance into Heaven. What I’m about to tell you is not popular, but it’s Biblical. There are many wrong ideas about how to get to Heaven. Some think God will weigh our deeds on his heavenly scales, and if our good outweighs our bad we get to enter. Others believe we must accomplish a specific set of actions. If they mark all the items off their spiritual to-do list they would be allowed in. But our entrance into heaven is not based on any good that we do.

Others take a different approach and say that everybody gets to enter heaven. They would say that hell is for fallen angels, and this world is the testing grounds for humans. They say we endure enough hardships in this life to pay for any shortcomings we have, and that God will forgive all. Daniel 12:1-2 tells us a different story. It speaks of a resurrection in the last days that everyone will participate in. It says some will awake to everlasting life. Others will awake to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Jesus spoke of these eternal destinations also. He said in Matthew 25 that some will go away into eternal punishment, but others to eternal life. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus Jesus said that Lazarus was being comforted in the afterlife, but the rich man was being tormented.

How To Get There

The most important question you can ever ask is how do I get to Heaven. A person may live 70-80 years, but that’s nothing compared to eternity. Both Jesus in the New Testament and Daniel in the Old Testament said Heaven and Hell are eternal places. Eternity is a difficult concept to grasp. Think of a tiny sparrow that lives on the West Coast. The little guy would pick up a grain of sand and hop all the way across the United States to the East Coast to drop it off. He would then hop all the way back to grab another. How long would it take for this little bird to move all the sands on all the beaches from one side of our country to the other? It’s unfathomable! But that would only be the beginning of eternity.

There is a simple roadmap described in the Bible that will take you from where you are to this eternal Heaven. The first step is to realize that Jesus Christ it the only way. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” You must accept that Jesus is the only solution to our human problem. The Bible says if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” The Bible tells us that we are saved by God’s grace through Faith in Christ. That’s it!

Pretty simple right? But what about good works? The book of James in the Bible tells us that faith without works is dead. As a believer we should be driven by our love for God to do good, but there is no amount of good that will purchase our salvation. Think of your closest relationship. Wouldn’t you intentionally do things to make your friend happy? You would also avoid the things that angered them. If we truly love God, we will desire to do good and avoid doing evil.

General terms used in the bible to describe the afterlife.

  • Heaven – A spiritual place where the presence of God resides. (John 6:38)
  • New Jerusalem – A city described in the book of Revelation that comes from heaven to earth.
  • Hell – an English word to describe the eternal place of the ungodly.
  • Sheol – Old Testament word for underworld, grave, hell, pit.
    • Both a place for the righteous and unrighteous after death.
    • Gen 37:35 – Jacob speaks of going there
  • Hades – New Testament equivalent of Sheol – grave, death, hell, the nether world, the realm of the dead.
  • Abaddon – means destruction. It’s similar to Sheol, but is seen as the unbeliever’s side of Sheol where the rich man was.
  • The Pit – used in the same way as Abaddon.
  • The Abyss (bottomless pit)
    • Mostly used in Revelation
    • This is where the legion of demons that Jesus cast out didn’t want to go.
    • This is always used in reference to demon’s eternal home. (The fallen angel’s side of Sheol)
  • Tartarus – Greek – unseen world.
    • used once in the New Testament (2 Pet 2:4).
    • This is always used in reference to demon’s eternal home. (The fallen angel’s side of Sheol)
  • Gehenna – place of punishment. Found in the Valley of Hinnom. Ancient evil kings practiced human sacrifice.
  • Lake of Fire – Only found in Revelation, and is the final abode of all unsaved humans, fallen angels, and Satan.
  • Abraham’s Bosom – Before the death of Jesus, this was the godly side of Sheol/Hades
  • Paradise
    • Before the death of Jesus, this was the godly side of Sheol/Hades.
    • After the resurrection of Jesus, this is seen as upwards in the Third Heaven (2 Cor 12:4)