Are Heaven and Hell Real Places?
In the modern world, we are unaccustomed to talking about Hell as a real place, and if we speak about Heaven, we often assume that it is the default destiny of all human beings. However, if you do any kind of reading or studying of the Bible for long enough, the subjects of Heaven and Hell will appear often. What does the Bible say about Heaven and Hell?
First, it is important to distinguish “Heaven” from “heavens.” It can be difficult to determine which English translation to use as both use the Hebrew word “שָּׁמַיִם” (shamayim) with its Greek equivalent of “οὐρανός” (ouranos). The Hebrew word shamayim is always plural, so one must look at the context of the passages to decide which English translation to prefer. We usually translate shamayim as “heavens” in the plural to refer to the sky where birds fly or space where the stars are. When we translate it as heaven in the singular, it is the name for the place where God dwells (Deuteronomy 26:15) and where his throne is (1 Kings 22:19). Heaven is described as a place of everlasting life. In it, there is no evil or suffering (2 Timothy 4:18) and there is no death (Luke 20:36). Heaven is also where God hears and answers prayers (Nehemiah 9:27-28), as well as watches over us (Psalm 14:2). Furthermore, heaven is a place of eternal happiness and peace (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).
Likewise, there are multiple words translated as “Hell” which we need to differentiate. There are three words that are commonly rendered as “Hell” in the Bible. The first is שְׁאוֹל (Sheol), the second is ᾅδης (Hades), and the third is γέεννα (Gehenna).1 They are all words for the places of the dead. You may be familiar with the Greek god, Hades, who ruled over the Underworld; however, later the word came to refer to the underworld itself.2 “Sheol” is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek “Hades.” They both mean the temporary holding place of the dead until Judgment Day, when God will judge the wicked and save those who believe in him. Those who have no atonement for their sins will be judged for those sins and sent to a place of eternal darkness. This is what most people think of when they hear the word “Hell.” This word is what Yeshua used to describe the place of everlasting destruction and outer darkness in Matthew 10:28 and 22:13.
Now onto the question concerning whether Heaven and Hell are real places. The writers of the Bible spoke of Heaven and Hell as literal locations. Jesus believed that Heaven and Hell were real, and he spoke of them quite often. For example, Jesus had confrontations with a Jewish sect, called the Sadducees, that did not believe in an afterlife. Jesus told them that they were wrong (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27). Instead, Jesus and his followers agreed with other Jewish sects, such as the Pharisees and the Essenes, that Heaven and Hell were real destinations for human beings. This is the same view that we hold today.
Although the Bible speaks of Hell often, it also makes clear that God doesn’t want us to go to Hell. He wants to dwell with us eternally in Heaven because he loves us so much. A significant reason for Yeshua’s crucifixion was to give us a way to be eternally happy with God in Heaven. Yeshua spoke to his followers saying that there is no greater love than someone laying down his life for his friends (John 15:13). That is exactly what he did for us. Yeshua and his closest followers told us in the Bible that when we all die and are judged, we will either go to Heaven or to Hell. His followers have nothing to worry about because Yeshua has rescued us from the penalty of our sins, enabling us to live in Heaven forever. However, if we choose to reject Yeshua, he will not force us to be somewhere we don’t want to be. Instead, we will go to a place completely absent of God’s goodness and mercy, a place where we do not live in eternal happiness with him.
According to the Bible, Heaven and Hell are real places, as we will all come to know after we die. Through Yeshua’s offer to forgive our sins, we can be assured of our eternal life in Heaven. However, we need to accept his offer of mercy by placing our trust in him.