[Scriptural references and extended details are in the links throughout the post.]
What is heaven like? And where is it, anyway? Nearly everyone who believes in God has asked these questions at some point in their lives. The answers they’re normally given, unfortunately, are generally vague guesses or assumptions, or simply statements saying “we can’t know for sure.” The truth is, however, that Scripture actually answers these questions for us, and the answer is so simple that I can actually show you heaven right now. How? By telling you to look up at the sky.
You see, when the word heaven (or the phrase “the heavens”) is used in Scripture, it simply refers to everything “above” the Earth, including our sky and atmosphere, where the birds and clouds are, but more importantly, to outer space where the sun and the moon and other heavenly bodies are — “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth,” so there are only two overall “places” one can be: on Earth, or in the heavens, and if one is in the sky or in outer space, they’re not on Earth, which only leaves heaven for them to be in. And if heaven wasn’t a reference to that which is up above the ground we stand on, after Jesus ascended up into heaven, the disciples couldn’t have been gazing up into heaven as the angels said they were.
Most people, of course, think of heaven as a place the righteous dead go to, but you won’t find any Scripture that tells you the dead go there (the truth is, only the living can go to heaven, at least in a conscious state, and those in the body of Christ will go there at the Snatching Away). That said, it isn’t a place you’d want to go right now in your current body either (aside from a short trip there in a plane or a space shuttle), at least not without either a space suit or a vivified (immortal) body that could survive and thrive out there. It also isn’t the perfect, sinless place most people think it is, at least not now (the devil and his angels haven’t been cast out of the heavens yet, for one thing, and many celestials there still haven’t been reconciled to God yet either), although it will be pretty great for the body of Christ when we have our new bodies that can enjoy it out there with our Lord as we fulfill our impending ministry to the celestials there.
Of course, some of you are probably now wondering what the “third heaven” is a reference to, or the reference to the “highest heaven” in other passages. The first one is likely simply a reference to the third heaven in time rather than in space, and the highest heavens is a figure of speech that generally refers to the farthest reaches of outer space (although it’s possible to also use it figuratively of the highest ranking of governments among the celestial beings in the heavens), so when Scripture says that the highest heavens can’t contain God, it’s simply telling us that God ultimately transcends the physical universe.
This, of course, raises the question of where people got the idea that the dead go to a place called heaven from in the first place. There are a few reasons for this, but the main two are verses that refer to God being in heaven, as well as a misunderstanding of the passage where Jesus tells the thief on the cross that he’d be with Him in paradise.
Since we know that the body of Christ will go to the heavens, and also that people will be living with God in the New Jerusalem, most Christians have assumed that these references must be talking about a place the dead go, not realizing that these things both take place within the physical universe (the body of Christ goes to the heavens to complete a ministry there, but not until after they’ve been resurrected from the dead and/or vivified, and the New Jerusalem descends from the heavens/outer space to the New Earth rather than being a place anyone who is dead goes to).
That said, yes, God indeed is in heaven. He has a throne room (which can also be referred to figuratively as “heaven”) and a throne somewhere out there in outer space, probably in the New Jerusalem while it waits to descend to the New Earth, and it also seems likely that He manifests a part of Himself in some sort of form out there that the celestials can perceive, but He also transcends the universe at the same time. As far as the second misunderstanding goes, I’m not going to get into all the details here, but paradise is a reference to a future state of the earth where the tree of life will be, not a reference to an ethereal afterlife dimension that ghosts live in, and most people misunderstand the punctuation in that passage, not realizing Jesus wasn’t saying it would happen on that day. Simply put, Christian assumptions about the immortality of the soul (which is a concept that contradicts Scripture, but that’s a whole other topic) forced them to have to figure out where the supposedly conscious dead souls went, and it made sense to have them go to where God was, and since God was said to be in heaven, they decided that must mean heaven is a realm where the dead go rather than outer space as Scripture tells us it is.
This all means, by the way, that it’s also time to rethink the term “the kingdom of heaven,” or “the kingdom of the heavens” (which is simply a reference to the future kingdom coming from the heavens to Earth, specifically to Israel), since this might actually be better translated as “the kingdom of outer space,” or perhaps simply “the kingdom above/the kingdom from above.”