What do you think of when you hear the words Heaven and Hell? Some associate clouds with clouds and boredom with Heaven and fire and pitchfork wielding jailers when they think of Hell. But what does the Bible teach? That is what we will answer with this post.
What is Heaven and Hell?
The Bible uses the word Heaven in at least two different ways. Heaven can refer to the physical reality of any place beyond the earth. So, the sky and atmosphere and even space are all referred to in the Bible as the Heavens.
Heaven can also mean the spiritual reality where the Creator dwells. Heaven is the dwelling place of God. It is the latter sense that will be the focus of this article.
Heaven is the place where God dwells and where God’s people will dwell for eternity with him. It called different things in the Bible, such as the highest Heaven (1 Kings 8:27) or the Heavens (Amos 9:6). In the New Testament, Paul referred to Heaven as the things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1). Hebrews refers to Heaven as a city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).
Hell also has more than one meaning in the Bible. Hell (and some of the Hebrew and Greek words from which the English word is translated) can simply mean the grave and the word is used as a euphemism for death, especially in the Old Testament.
Hell also refers to the abode after death for all people who die in their sins. It is part of God’s righteous judgement against sin. And that is the Hell this post will discuss.
Hell is described as outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:30). It is a place of God’s punishment and wrath (John 3:36). The final Hell is called second death, or the eternal lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). This is where all people, from all ages, who die in enmity against God will suffer forever.
Who Goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell?
Who goes to Heaven?
The short answer is that all those who are righteous go to Heaven. A longer answer is needed, though, because the Bible also teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10). So, who then goes to
Heaven? Those who have been made righteous by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. All those who trust in Christ are made righteous by grace through faith alone (Romans 4:3), on the basis of Jesus’ propitiation (1 John 2:2).
Paul wrote that his righteousness came from God on the basis of faith (Philippians 3:10). And he was therefore confident that when he would die, he would go to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23) and receive the imperishable crown.
All those, and only those, whose names are written in the “Book of Life” will go to Heaven. (Revelation 21:27). Those whose names are in that book are there because of God’s grace. They are made righteous through faith on the basis of the work of Christ.
Who goes to Hell?
Everyone else – everyone not included in the categories above – will go to Hell following their death on earth. This is true for all who are unrighteous; those whose names are not written in the Book of Life – all people who perish without faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that the final destiny of all such people is eternal death. They, sadly, will go to Hell.
What is Heaven and Hell like?
What is Heaven like?
Heaven is described as being with Christ where we see and enjoy the glory of God. It is the place where God himself will be the light. It is a place where there will be no more pain and suffering, no more tears (Revelation 21:4), and no more death.
Paul described Heaven as the glory that is to be revealed in us. He taught that Heaven is so much better than our present experience that our suffering is not worth comparing (Romans 8:18) with the glory that Heaven will reveal. As difficult as it is for us to imagine, we can know that it is far better than anything we experience in this life.
What is Hell like?
Hell is the opposite of Heaven. If Heaven is being with Christ, Hell is being separated from God forever. Jesus said there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and calls it outer darkness. Many passages describe Hell as a place of fire, where the heat is unrelenting. Whether this is literal fire or the best, most comprehendible way to describe the ultimate suffering of Hell, is not clear. We know from the Scriptures that Hell is horrible, dark, lonely, unrelenting and hopeless.
Where is Heaven and Hell?
Where is Heaven?
We don’t know where Heaven. Revelation describes the eternal abode of those who die in Christ as the new Heaven and the new earth, so in the future, at least, Heaven could be a perfect remake of everything we know here. There is much about Heaven, including its “location”, that we do not understand.
Where is Hell?
In the same way, we don’t know where Hell is. Throughout history, many have concluded that Hell is in the center of the earth, in part because the Bible uses downward directional words to describe where Hell is (see Luke 10:15, for example).
But we do not really know. Many aspects of Hell remain a mystery yet to be revealed. We only know that we really don’t want to go there, wherever it is!
Who Rules Heaven?
Heaven is ruled by God. The Bible calls Christ the one who sits at the right hand of the Father, and the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Thus, Heaven is ruled by the triune God who created the Heavens and the earth and who will create the new Heaven and the new earth.
Who Rules Hell?
There is a common misconception that Hell is ruled by a pitchfork wielding Satan. But in Matthew 25:41, Jesus taught that Hell was prepared “for the devil and his angels”. Thus, Hell is as much a punishment for Satan as it is for everyone else who will be sentenced to go there. So, who rules Hell? We see the answer in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 2:10 Paul wrote that every knee in Heaven and on earth and “under the earth” will bow to Jesus. Under the earth is likely a reference to Hell. Thus, Hell is a place of torment and separation from Christ, but it is still under God’s absolute sovereign authority.
Heaven and Hell in the Old Testament
Heaven in the Old Testament
The Old Testament doesn’t say much about Heaven. So little, in fact, that some say that Heaven is not a New Testament concept. Yet there are references to Heaven as a place for those who
die (or otherwise leave this life) in friendship with God. In Genesis 5:24, for example, God took Enoch to be with himself. And in 2 Kings 2:11, God took Elijah to Heaven.
Hell in the Old Testament
The Hebrew word often translated Hell is Sheol, and it does sometimes refer to the “realm of the dead” (see Job 7:9, for example). Sheol usually it is more generally a reference to death and the grave. The concept of Hell as a final place of torment is revealed in a much fuller way in the New Testament.
Heaven and Hell in the New Testament
The most revealing picture of Heaven and Hell in the New Testament is the story that Jesus told about Lazarus and a rich man. See Luke 16:19-31. Jesus tells it as if it is a true story, not a parable.
In this life, Lazarus was poor and in bad health and desired the crumbs that fell from a very rich man’s table. They both died and Lazarus goes “to Abraham’s side”; i.e., Heaven, while the rich man finds himself in Hades; that is, Hell.
From this story, we learn much about Heaven and Hell, at least as it was during Jesus’ day. Heaven was full of comfort, while Hell was miserable and without relief. To demonstrate the extent of torment, Jesus said that the rich man desired a single drop of water for his tongue in order to find some relief from his anguish.
We also see from this story that both Heaven and Hell are final locations – there is no way to go from one to the other. Abraham told the rich man, “Between us [Heaven] and you [Hell] a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” (Luke 16:26) The point is clear: those who go to Hell when they die are there forever. And those who go to Heaven when they die are there forever.
Am I going to Heaven or Hell?
So, what can we tell from the Scriptures about Heaven and Hell? Heaven is wonderful and forever and full of joy and glory. And the only way we gain entrance is through the grace of God in Christ. We must trust Jesus and be made righteous by him. In Heaven, we will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever.
And Hell is hot and hopeless and is the destiny of all who die in their sins. God’s judgement, his wrath, on sin is poured out for eternity on the devil and his angels, and all people who sin against God and do not trust in Christ in this life. It’s a serious matter, worth considering. Where will you spend eternity?