Well, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas celebration. Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast. Our next question is complex and mysterious, but it comes in the form of a rather simple question. Where is heaven right now? It’s a question from Eleanor in London: “Hello, Pastor John! My kids want to know — and I don’t know how to explain the answer to this question: Where is heaven presently located? Are there any indications we have from Scripture?”
When we pray, “our Father who art in heaven,” we are implying that heaven, at least in one of its most common uses, is where God the Father is. Now, one of the most basic things we know, and kids know, about God is that he created everything that is not God.
Before creation there was no material universe. Given what we know now about space and time, we can say that before the creation of the material universe, the world, there was no space and no time. But it isn’t even Albert Einstein who causes us to know this.
Before the Ages
Three times the apostle Paul refers to God’s activity before the ages. For example, 1 Corinthians 2:7 reads, “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages.”
“We can say with confidence that where God dwells is not a geographic place that we could go to in a spaceship.”
Now ages is the biblical term for “seasons of time” as the biblical writers knew it. Before ages God was there. I think we can say with confidence that where God dwells is not a geographic place that we could go to in a spaceship, nor does it have spatial dimensions as we know them.
So if heaven is where God dwells, heaven is not technically a place in the sense that we usually think about places. Wherever God was when he created the universe — understanding that wherever is a very inexact and inappropriate use of the word — wherever he was, that’s where he is now. He is outside the universe in a dimension of reality that is perfectly suited to his own being and existence.
I think children can understand this. I mean, there are aspects of it that adults can’t understand, but I think children can get this. You don’t have to use the relativity theory in order to explain it. They understand that once there was nothing but God. Nothing. Nothing. No spatial dimension at all.
There was no up. There was no down. There was no sideways. There was no diagonal. The only reality was God. That’s the only reality there was. And we’re not pantheists. He wasn’t filling any thing. He was just God. This is the most boggling fact in the universe. God is outside the universe.
The fact that anything else exists is because God made it, which means it is not God. It is different from God, and he is outside it. He is distinct from everything he made. That’s where heaven is — that is, outside the created material universe as we know it.
That’s maybe why the Bible says at least eight times that God is exalted above the heavens. In other words, whatever is the highest heaven you can imagine — we might say galaxies, or as far as you can put that Hubble Telescope out there, to the edge of the universe — God is beyond that, above that, under that, over that, and outside that. That is the highest and true heaven — the above-all-created-material-universe heaven and the dwelling place of God.
God in the Flesh
However, there’s a catch that complicates things, right? At the very heart of Christianity is the teaching of the incarnation. The eternal Son of God, who is with God and was God for all eternity past, was not part of creation. He always was. He was not made.
“Heaven is outside the created material universe as we know it.”
Nevertheless, according to John 1:14, he was made flesh. The uncreated God took on a human nature and a material, physical body. Not only that, but he rose physically and materially from the dead. He was recognized by his friends. He was in his resurrection body. And to prove that he wasn’t a ghost, he ate fish in his resurrection body (Luke 24:43).
Then he ascended into heaven, and the angel told the disciples who watched him go up, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). And Jesus had already said, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
This means that Jesus, even though he has a body, is with God in heaven, which is outside the material universe. Now, how can that be? How can that be? If heaven is the place that is outside the created, material realm where God is, how can Jesus be at his right hand with a body?
Part of the answer may be what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:42–44: “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”
Hmm, a spiritual body? If there is a natural body, he says, there is a spiritual body. In other words, the resurrection body that we will have — because Jesus was the firstfruits of our resurrection — will be the same. So whatever was true of him is more or less true of us in our resurrection.
It’s not merely a natural, material, physical body. It is a body — there is some kind of continuity with the bodies we have here. But it’s different. It’s a spiritual body, and we do not know fully what a spiritual body is. A spiritual body transcends — goes beyond or is above — the ordinary experience of space.
You remember Jesus could just show up in unexpected ways after his resurrection. He seemed to pass right through walls. Yet he was not a ghost — he ate fish. So we don’t know what this is.
“Heaven is the place where God dwells and where the risen Christ sits at God’s right hand.”
So my conclusion is that heaven is the place where God dwells. It is also the place where the risen Christ dwells at God’s right hand. So Christ brings humanity — his own humanity, a created human nature — into the presence of God in a real, tangible way that exceeds all our ability to comprehend.
But the most important thing we can say about it, so far as our experience goes, is what Paul says in Philippians 1:23: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” In other words, when we die, we depart to be with Christ. And that is far better.
Heaven for us after death and before the resurrection is to be with Christ. It is a thousand times better than anything here. Then at our resurrection there will be a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness dwells, and heaven, the dwelling place of God, will come down (so to speak). In ways we cannot imagine, God will dwell among us and be our God.
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