Summary: 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?
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.