I have a skeptical friend that recently posed the simple question, “what are Heaven and Hell like–are there biblical descriptions?” Although my friend and I have discussed such hard-hitting topics like slavery, sexuality, and the historicity of Jesus, this simple question has stumped me. I’ll take this as an opportunity to ask you what the simplest biblical definitions of heaven and hell are. Your responses are greatly appreciated!
Hello, @KFriske! Hope you are well. Good to hear from you!
This is actually a question I have been mulling over off and on for the last year or so, as I’ve wondered if my vision of heaven and hell have been shaped more by Western literature, philosophy, and culture than Scripture itself.
I will say that there are a number of threads on Connect addressing this topic from various angles, so I would encourage you to click the magnifying glass in the top right and run a search using topical keywords. I know Sean has written a number of responses that are very informative.
For myself, off the top of my head, one of the best pictures we get in Scripture of heaven is from Rev. 21-22, where we see it described in terms of a wedding banquet/feast/party. The heavens and earth will be renewed. God will dwell with us (Eden renewed). All nations will be present. There will be no more death, mourning, crying, pain; NO LONGER ANY CURSE; no longer any ‘night’ (darkness, fear, sadness, enemies) and ‘sea’ (chaos, disorder, confusion, the dark abyss), no impurity.
Another good question to ask is: Will there be a memory of the ‘old order of things’? (i.e. life on earth)
Things are a little more ambiguous when it comes to hell. Less detail is given, though final judgement (not necessarily hell itself) is described in terms of dread, fire, weeping, destruction, wrath, outer darkness, etc. As an aside, maybe thumb through the book of Matthew as it contains the heaviest record of Jesus speaking about judgement.
Thank you for your response! As I am new to RZIM Connect, I wasn’t aware of the search feature. That will greatly help in the future!! Your Biblical descriptions of heaven give me a good framework to base my response, thanks! As for hell, it will take some time. Thanks for giving me somewhere to start!
Here are some scripture quotations (from English Standard Version) that may help answer your questions. On all of these, context is important. So use these quotes as the beginning and take the time to explore the passages they come out of.
Heaven & The Kingdom
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.
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.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 15:51-54
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
1 Thessalonians 4:16
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.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
Hell & Damnation
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you 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.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
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. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
I can honestly answer your question about heaven and what is heaven like since I had a near death experience when I was young. Each person’s near death experience has specific things that are unique for them, but the general experience is usually the same.
When I was about 12/13 years old I was swimming in a local swimming pool practicing holding my breath as long as I possibly could. My older brother saw me in the water and decided to play an unfortunate trick on me. Noticing I was head first in the water with my feet up in the air, my brother decided to hold my head down as I came up for air. I remember desperately trying to remove his hand from my head without any success. I decided to calm down and not use any oxygen unnecessarily. Even with my stillness, my brother refused to let go of my head and kept applying pressure to keep me under the water. My chest began to hurt from the inside out. Then my brain began to have an intense pressure like it was going to explode. I have never felt pain like that before or since this accident. I remember asking God to take the pain away and INSTANTLY the pain was gone. But I found myself in complete and total darkness. My mind was working just fine on trying to analyze the situation. I tried to figure out my orientation in the space but I could not see my hands, my feet, nor any part of my body. COMPLETE DARKNESS. The Bible warns us about the darkness and I can tell you it is a lonely and depressing state of being. I called out to God and asked Him how do I get out of here. INSTANTLY a pin prick of light was visible to my lower right side. Now, things were different. What joy I had in seeing the light as small as it was. Now I had an orientation. A “here” and a “there”. I now had a goal, an objective. But I could not move. I could not see my feet nor could I feel any floor or wall. It was just space.
Adamant, that I was not going to stay in the darkness I began to try and figure out how to move to the light. Physical movement was out of the question. So I pleaded with God to show me how to get to the light. Nothing. I just stayed in the darkness looking at this tiny piece of light. I tried to form my words just perfectly so that I had the perfect prayer because perfectly worded prayers will get you what you want, right?? Wrong! I did not move one inch. So I kept trying to switch up the words of my prayer. Pleeeeease. Pretty Pleeeease. Nothing. The darkness was not going to beat me. I was going to the light and I was going to figure this out, no matter how long it took. (Oh ya…did I tell you…my mind was working just fine.) I finally became so exhausted with my prayer formation that I resigned to moving my prayer words from my mind creating the words to my heart creating the words. Whammo! I started to move to the light. And then I stopped. What? What happened? I repeated the words of the prayer again. No movement. I then went back to the feeling I had and prayed to God from my heart and I started to move to the light. I mid flight I started to laugh at the flying feeling I had and began to slow down. Oops! Back to concentrating on how much I loved God and wanted to see Him. The Bible mentions the darkness 166 times in the NIV and talks about the heart and its condition 532 times. It is the condition of our heart that draws God near to us, never what we do or say.
As I travelled to the light, the light was warm and inviting. I felt love almost instantly. I knew that the light was God-ELOHEIM. I knew that the light was God the father, God the son and God the holy spirit. I knew that the love coming from the light was my creator and that I belonged to the light. It was joyful and glorious. There was a sense of going home and a reconnection to truth and pure love. The amount of love grew exponentially as I travelled closer to the light and the closer I travelled to the light the faster I seemed to fly. I was calling out to God as I travelled to the light telling Him that He was wonderful. All I could do was praise Him with every cell of my being as I was travelling to Him. Praising Him was instinctive, like a non voluntary reflex in our human body. I felt peace and at home. Glorious.
As the light grew to about 6 feet in diameter I was turned to the right side of the “tunnel”. There I found myself in a room that was quite large and I knew that there were many others there like me but could not see them. Again I could not identify a ceiling, floor, or walls. It was just this grand space. I saw a man approach me and I thought this was my grandfather who had died just a couple years before. As the man came closer to me I realized it was not my grandfather, but I knew I knew him. I knew he was important and that I was assigned to his team. As I was desperate to remember his name, I began to have the sense that there were others there for me as well, but I did not see them. The gentleman told me that I need to return. I refused and he laughed at me. “No. No. You need to go back.” I can remember thinking (my mind was working just fine) “No. I am going to go to God”. So I told him “No”. He repeated his statement that I needed to go back because there was more for me to do. Again I refused. I was going to go to God and stay there because God is LOVE and I am going to LOVE. The man insisted that I needed to return and do more here on Earth. I threw a tantrum in front of him and shouted “NO. NO I AM NOT. I AM NOT GOING TO GO BACK THERE. THAT’S NOT LOVE. I AM GOING TO LOVE. I AM GOING TO GOD.” At this point he had had enough of me and my uncooperative behavior, and shouted “GO. GO BACK NOW”. I screamed “Noooooooooo” all the way back through the “tunnel” and into my body. My brother was long gone and out of the pool as I readjusted to my surroundings. My body was so HEAVY and so difficult to move. A lady jumped into the water and asked me if I was okay. I nodded coughing up water and moaning in deep muscular pain as I tried to move my body. She said that she was here to help me adjust back to earth and back into my body. Once I was breathing normally and moving my body, she told me she had to go. I nodded at her and as looked around the pool and at the lifeguard who was blowing his whistle at me, I noticed she was gone.
Does my story tell you the interior of heaven, no. I think we want to put earthly items in our God’s house. The problem with that is God’s house doesn’t need the earthly items. I know the book of Revelation talks about lampposts and a new Jerusalem. But these are earthly items for an earthly perspective. It will be grander than anything earth could even possibly offer. I know when I was travelling in the light, I no more cared about earth and earthly things because I had the source of all things in front of me. In Genesis 28 Jacob sees angels going up and down a ladder. Heaven is interactive WITH us. In Acts 7:55 Stephen saw the glory of God as I did in my experience. Phil 3:20 tells us about our citizenship is in heaven and that is exactly how I felt. John 8:12 Jesus spoke of being the light and whoever follows him shall never walk in darkness. THIS IS TRUTH. The darkness was desolate from what I experienced when I was there. I never want to go back to it. If I could not stand the darkness and had to cry out to God to show me how to get out, I can’t even imagine the desolation of hell.
I hope my story helps. It is kinda long for this forum, but I thought it might help you to understand that we keep putting an earthly definition on a GOD and kingdom that is so much grander than what we know and experience here on earth.
Many blessings to you,
Thank you for taking the time to reference all of these! Glad to have a basis for a more intense study on this topic.
WOW, thank you for sharing what God did through that whole experience! It was amazing to read. Keep on sharing!!