As I grow older, the more I think about Heaven. I suppose this is a normal pattern among Christians as they age, and to humankind in general. All religions have some idea of Heaven although they vary widely. Many books, songs, and films have been produced about Heaven, but most fall short simply because they are the products of fallen humanity. Our God is a loving and gracious God, full of mercy and slow to anger, (Psalm 86:15; 145:9 NASB). He wants us to know about Heaven, so He tells us to seek those things that are above, not on things on earth (Col. 3:2 KJV). Why Heaven? Because our Christian citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20 KJV). In the Hall of Faith chapter, Hebrews 11, the writer gives a list of faithful saints; verses thirteen to sixteen explains why they did not receive God’s promises immediately, only afar off. Because they were just strangers and pilgrims on earth and they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
Everyone is aware of the current popularity of books that have flooded the market concerning individuals who have “died,” entered Heaven, and returned to write best- selling non-fiction accounts of what they saw. Even Christian publishers have joined the trend. Unfortunately, however, these accounts vary widely and are based on human imagination, dreams, and New Age occultism. Some have drifted into spiritualism, seances, and communicating with the dead despite God’s warning (Deut. 18:10-12 KJV).
In the light of these popular accounts of near-death experiences and the sad results in the lives of those who get involved in such practices, it would be most helpful to examine what God’s Word has to say on the subject. For example, consider the death of Lazarus who spent four days in the tomb, but nothing is said about visiting Heaven. The same could be said of the widow’s son in I Kings 17 and young Eutychus in Acts 20. Jesus brought them all back to life. Paul’s vision in II Cor. 12 records a brief glimpse into Paradise, but he was hampered by a thorn in his side to keep him humble therefore no particulars were given. Paul told the Corinthians not to go beyond what is written in Scripture (I Cor. 4:6 GW). The Bereans compared Paul’s teaching to the Scriptures to see if he was telling the truth according to Acts 17:11 NLT. That is good advice for Christians today.
Solomon asked the rhetorical question, who else but God has gone up to Heaven and come down (Prov. 30:4 NLT). The events in Heaven recorded in Scripture are visions and not near – death experiences such as recorded in today’s popular books. Besides, the visions in the Bible caused fear to the seer. Daniel’s vision sapped his strength (Dan. 10:8) NLT). The apostle John fell at his feet as though dead when he saw Christ in all His glory (Rev. 1:17 NLT). The most detailed account of Heaven is found in the book of Revelation where God’s judgments against a corrupt world are described, and His creation of a new Heaven and earth is explained
The figures vary, but biblical scholars say that “heavens” are mentioned between 500-700 times in the Bible. In the beginning, God created the “heavens” (plural) and the earth, which means there are several heavens three of them. First, there is the atmospheric heaven where birds fly (Gen. 1:20-21 NLT). Then there is the celestial heaven with the sun, moon, stars, and planets (Psalm 8:3 ESV). Finally, there is the third heaven where God, angels, and the saints live (II Cor. 12:2-4 ESV). John MacArthur says, “everything precious to us is in Heaven: God, Christians, our names, our inheritance, our citizenship, and our reward.”
David Jeremiah quotes John 14:1-3 to show that “Heaven is a place, not a state of mind, not a figment of our imagination, not a feeling, emotion, or thought. It is a country, a kingdom, and the Father’s House.” He goes on to say that Heaven is UP into the farthest sides of the North above the stars (Isaiah 14:13 KJV). It is also where Christ ascended according to Acts 1:10-11 and Eph. 4:10 NKJV.
Where do believers go at death? There are varying views on this question. Some groups teach that the soul sleeps unconsciously until Christ’s resurrection. But it is the body that sleeps. Our Roman Catholic friends believe that imperfect believers go to purgatory until they gain righteousness. Purgatory is not found in the Bible. My theology professor, Dr. Alva McClain, used to say that the only purgatory in the Bible was the cross of Christ where He purged our sins! Many evangelicals hold that after death the soul goes to Hades,
one section for the wicked and another for the righteous.
Still others including John MacArthur understand that believers at death go to Heaven. They cite Jesus’ words to the repentant thief that on that same day he would be with the Savior in Paradise which is the
same word as the third Heaven. Elijah was caught up into Heaven, and all the Old Testament saints went to Heaven at death. One thing for certain, we will know the answer, as that beloved old hymn says, “When We All Get to Heaven!”
Read more in Part 2 next Sunday, May 8, 2022.