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Question

When Jesus returns, will we be dead? Where are heaven and hell? Are they in space?

Answer

Thank you for asking a question about Jesus, heaven and hell. These are big questions, but I hope that this answer will help you to understand more about what God says on this topic. 

The Bible presents to us a process that we will go through to get to the day of judgment, and it will be slightly different for different kinds of people. Firstly, what happens to those people who die now? There is a parable that Jesus told that strongly indicates that when a person dies they go to one of two places - either a perfect place with Jesus, or a place of suffering apart from Him. This parable can be found in Luke 16:19-31 and it describes a rich man who had everything he could have wanted in this life who ends up in torment, and then a poor man named Lazarus, who the rich man wouldn’t help though he lay at his gate. This poor man is said to be carried to ‘Abraham’s side’ where he is comforted.

This idea of a place of comfort for those who trust in Jesus is backed up by Jesus' words to the thief dying on the cross next to Him in Luke 23:43 - "today you will be with me in paradise".

So this is the immediate destination of those who die in this world, and then afterwards there is the day of judgment. Revelation 20 says theses words:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:11-13)

The vision that John saw was of all those who had died being brought from death to stand before the great white throne on which God sits and judges everyone who has ever lived. There will be no escape for anyone, but the Bible says we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The verdict will then be clear - heaven or hell - we will all end up in one or the other depending on how we have responded to God in our lives. The Bible says that God will create a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ for those who have trusted Him, but for those who have rejected Jesus they will be separated from Him in hell forever.

The last part of this question then is what happens to those who do not die before Jesus returns - there will be some people who will still be alive on that day. It could even be us, but Jesus Himself said that not even He knows the day on which He is coming back, so we will never be sure until it actually happens. About those people, the Bible says this:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

This is what is known as the rapture, when all those remaining here on the earth are caught up together, taken to the great scene of judgment day and then for those who have trusted Jesus, they will be welcomed into heaven for ever. So, whether we die now or later, or are even still here when Jesus returns, all of us will end up in the same place - standing before God’s throne with our eternal fate depending on the next words that will come out of His mouth.

The matter of where heaven and hell are is debated by many people around the world, with a variety of ideas given. The answer to this question is that we don’t know where heaven and hell are, and even if we could know it would seem that it would be impossible for us to find them. As we’ve explained above, the place that we would now refer to as heaven and hell is a place where people are waiting for the day of judgment, and it is in a different realm to us - the spiritual realm. We as human beings are stuck in this physical realm unless God takes us out of it, and so heaven really is an impossible place for us to go unless Jesus takes us there.

The bible tells us that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, which may well be in some ways similar to this one - we will all have new bodies, though they will no longer be corruptible, but incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:54). He will also then finally condemn the devil, his fallen angels and all who have not trusted Him to hell following the day of judgment (Revelation 20:10-15). 

It is not for us to try and find the location of heaven and hell but what is important is for us to know how we can be certain of going to heaven when either we die or when Jesus comes back.

To know this we only have to look at some words that Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 14:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if 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. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-6)

Jesus Himself declares that the only way that we can get to heaven is through Him. We can’t get there by trying to live a good life like so many people think - the reality is we just can’t be good enough for the perfection in heaven. All of us are sinners and have fallen short of the perfect standard that God requires of us (Romans 3:23) - we are naturally deserving to be separated from God because of our built in selfishness and rejection of God.

However, though that is really bad news, the good news is that God hasn’t left us that way - that is exactly why Jesus came into the world. Though He was the Son of God, equal to God Himself He came as a human being just like us, and though He lived a perfect life here on earth, He chose to die the death that we deserve for our sin so that if we trust in Him we could be forgiven. There is no-one else who could take the punishment for us as no-one else is good enough, and only God could take the sin of the whole world upon Him. So this is our choice - either we can keep our own sin for ourselves, carry on living the way we are, and end up in hell. Or...

The only other option we have is to bring our sin to Jesus, trust Him that He’s done everything necessary for us to be forgiven and made clean, and then give ourselves to follow Him for the rest of our lives. This second option is the only way we can possibly go to be in heaven to be with God forever - only when we’ve been made clean can we enter into God’s perfection.

So all that remains for me to do is to ask where you stand in all this? It’s great to be curious about heaven and hell, and judgment and all these kinds of things, but it’s even greater to know that when it comes to that day you will be ready for it with nothing to fear - confident that God will welcome you as His child into heaven forever. If you want to know more about what Jesus has done for you please watch the video on the main part of our site: www.lookingforGod.com

In closing, I want to encourage you to get more involved with your local church. It would be good to speak to a Christian leader or another trusted church individual regarding your question. I know they would be delighted to further answer you as well as offer prayer and support as you continue your spiritual journey:
www.lookingforgod.com/churchfinder

Please use our Interactive Answer Matrix and feel free to ask another question. Our helpful staff are praying for you and waiting to try and answer to you from the Bible, and will be delighted to tell you more about Jesus Christ the Lord, the Saviour of the world. 
www.lookingforgod.com/your-questions

Here are some more Bible Verses for your further consideration:

  • Bible verse one
  • Bible verse two
  • Bible verse three

*All Scripture references are taken From The English Standard Version of the Holy Bible unless stated otherwise

*If anything in this answer affects you directly, then please feel free to call our confidential prayer line in the UK on 0845 4567729, where trained Christian volunteers will take your call and pray both for you and with you. If you are outside of the UK then you may submit your request for prayer on line at www.ucb.co.uk/prayerline


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