Does heaven exist? If it does, what it is like and how can we get there? Even among Christians, there seems to be uncertainty about the answers to these questions. And a general lack of biblical teaching in the churches on the subject has aggravated those uncertainties.
Unsettled, perhaps, by the scepticism of science, the comforts of materialism, and the silliness of myths about haloes and harps, some church leaders today seem reluctant to speak about heaven. This reluctance was not shared by the founder of the Church.
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke a great deal about heaven, and what he had to say outweighs the consensus of popular opinion and the contentions of liberal theologians. When Jesus speaks, speculation ends. And what he spoke is accurately recorded in the Bible, in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Before proceeding, however, we should note that Jesus did not answer the question, “Does heaven exist?” For him, the question itself did not exist. He took the existence of heaven for granted. For him, heaven is fundamentally existent and real. The certainty of its existence is the basis for all that he said about it. Conversely, all that he said about it confirms the certainty of its existence.
Here, then, is some of what he said about heaven:
God the Father dwells in heaven. Jesus repeatedly spoke of God as “my/your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:11; 16:17). He taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven” (Mt 6:9). He refers to heaven as “the throne of God” (Mt 5:34), indicating that it is the place from which God reigns as “Lord of heaven and earth” (Lk 10:21).
Jesus came from heaven. He claimed emphatically, “I have come down from heaven” (Jn 6:38). Referring to himself by an ancient title, he said, “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man” (Jn 3:13). Shortly before his crucifixion, he asked his Father to restore to him the “glory which I had with you before the world was made” (Jn 17:5).
God’s will is perfectly realised in heaven. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Father, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6:10). Indicating that heaven is a place of innocence and trust, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me … for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14).
There are angels in heaven. Jesus referred on several occasions to “the angels in heaven” (Mk 13:32; Mt 22:30) and “the angels of heaven” (Mt 24:36). He claimed that the “angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10).
There will be humans in heaven. Referring to people of all nationalities, Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:11).
Heaven is immensely precious and all people should strive to enter it. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt 13:44). Emphasising again the immeasurable value of heaven and the wisdom of seeking it above all else, Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Mt 13:454-46).
Many people will not be permitted to enter heaven. Jesus warned, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). Again he warned, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 7:21).
The way to enter heaven is through Jesus himself. When Jesus insisted that we cannot enter heaven unless we are righteous and do the will of God the Father, he was directing us to trust in himself. For he alone has the righteousness we need to be fit for heaven, and God desires us to trust in him so that his righteousness can be credited to us in place of our sins. “For this is the will of my Father,” Jesus said, “that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:40). Again he said, “every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33).
There is delight in heaven when people are saved. Jesus said, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7; cf 15:10).
We can store up spiritual riches in heaven. Jesus said, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Mt 6:20). Faithfulness in the things Christ has given us to do, winning souls by witnessing for Christ, growing in Christlikeness—all such lovely godly things will last beyond this life: we will take them with us when we go from earth and we will find them there when we arrive in heaven.
There are rewards for faithfulness in heaven. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12; cf Lk 6:22-23). Christians who persevere in the face of persecution (and, by extension, Christians who persevere in the faith in other ways, too) will in some unexplained way be blessed beyond the astounding blessing of citizenship in heaven common to all Christians.
The only alternative to heaven is hell. To those who denied his power to save them and his authority to rule them, Jesus asked, “how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Mt 23:33). Unlike heaven, hell is a “place of torment” where “men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Lk 16:23; Mt 13:42). It is a place to be avoided at all cost: “if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Mt 18:8).
Jesus returned to heaven. In his prayer shortly before he suffered the torments of hell for us on the cross, Jesus declared confidently to his Father, “I am coming to you” (Jn 17:11, 13). Forty days after his resurrection, the disciples witnessed his ascension to heaven: “While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven” (Lk 24:51).
Jesus will come back to earth to gather his people into heaven. He told his disciples that he was going to get heaven ready for them. And he assured them, “when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:3).
Does heaven exist? Jesus confirmed that it does. In fact, he left heaven temporarily so that we could enter it permanently. No wonder the first words he preached were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 4:17).