In the last several years there have been books written and movies made by and about people who said they had been to heaven. Some of them said that they had died, went to heaven, were now alive and wanted to tell their story. Others aren’t sure if they died or not but they are sure that they were in heaven. Some of them even said that they saw Jesus or God. All of them said that they saw people that they knew, who had died. Some said that the saw people who they didn’t know but who knew them and their family. I even heard a preacher, whose name I will not mention here, say that he went to heaven although he had neither died or was near death. All of the stories although similar in that they describe heaven as peaceful they were very different in other details. I have often wondered about the legitimacy of their claims.
Now that I’m retired and have been able to spend some time thinking about many things that I have or had questions about I decided to look, not at what these people say about heaven but about what the Bible, which I believe to be the inspired, infallible, inerrant, Word of God, says about heaven.
I am making no judgements about the truth of these stories, in fact I will not single out any of them, because I do believe that most of them are the result of some extraordinary experience. This post is simply my search for answers.
What and Where is Heaven?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia -
Traditionally, Christianity has taught Heaven as the location of the throne of God as well as the holy angels, though this is in varying degrees considered metaphorical. In traditional Christianity, it is considered a state or condition of existence (rather than a particular place somewhere in the cosmos) of the supreme fulfillment of theosis in the beatific vision of the Godhead. In most forms of Christianity, heaven is also understood as the abode for the righteous dead in the afterlife, usually a temporary stage before the resurrection of the dead and the saints' return to the New Earth.
Heaven is therefore spoken of in rather different senses: as another dimension, as the physical skies or upper cosmos, as the realm of divine perfection already in existence, or as the "coming world" at the return of Christ.
Excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia (see the complete entry HERE) -
In the Holy Bible the term heaven denotes, in the first place, the blue firmament, or the region of the clouds that pass along the sky. Genesis 1:20, speaks of the birds "under the firmament of heaven". In other passages it denotes the region of the stars that shine in the sky. Furthermore heaven is spoken of as the dwelling of God; for, although God is omnipresent, He manifests Himself in a special manner in the light and grandeur of the firmament. Heaven also is the abode of the angels; for they are constantly with God and see His face. With God In heaven are likewise the souls of the just (2 Corinthians 5:1; Matthew 5:3, 12). In Ephesians 4:8 sq., we are told that Christ conducted to heaven the patriarchs who had been in limbo (limbus patrum). Thus the term heaven has come to designate both the happiness and the abode of just in the next life. The present article treats as heaven in this sense only.
Where is heaven, the dwelling of God and the blessed?
Some are of opinion that heaven is everywhere, as God is everywhere. According to this view the blessed can move about freely in every part of the universe, and still remain with God and see everywhere. Everywhere, too, they remain with Christ (in His sacred Humanity) and with the saints and the angels. For, according to the advocates of this opinion, the spatial distances of this world must no longer impede the mutual intercourse of blessed.
In general, however, theologians deem more appropriate that there should be a special and glorious abode, in which the blessed have their peculiar home and where they usually abide, even though they be free to go about in this world. For the surroundings in the midst of which the blessed have their dwelling must be in accordance with their happy state; and the internal union of charity which joins them in affection must find its outward expression in community of habitation. At the end of the world, the earth together with the celestial bodies will begloriously transformed into a part of the dwelling-place of the blessed (Revelation 21). Hence there seems to be no sufficient reason for attributing a metaphorical sense to those numerous utterances of the Bible which suggest a definite dwelling-place of the blessed. Theologians, therefore, generally hold that the heaven of the blessed is a special place with definite limits. Naturally, this place is held to exist, not within the earth, but, in accordance with the expressions of Scripture, without and beyond its limits. All further details regarding its locality are quite uncertain. The Church has decided nothing on this subject.
Excerpts from Holman Bible Dictionary -
The part of God's creation above the earth and the waters including “air” and “space” and serving as home for God and His heavenly creatures.
As God's dwelling place, heaven is not a divine haven where God can isolate Himself from earth. It is the divine workplace, where He sends blessings to His people (Deuteronomy 26:15; Isaiah 63:15 ) and punishment on His enemies (Psalm 2:4; Psalm 11:4-7 ). Heaven is a channel of communication between God and humans (Genesis 28:12; 2 Samuel 22:10; Nehemiah 9:13; Psalm 144:5 ).
The Old Testament speaks of heaven to show the sovereignty of the Creator God and yet of the divine desire to communicate with and provide for the human creature. It holds out the tantalizing examples of men who left earth and were taken up to heaven (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11 ).
New Testament In the New Testament, the primary Greek word translated “heaven” describes heaven as being above the earth, although no New Testament passage gives complete instructions regarding the location or geography of heaven. Other than Paul's reference to the three heavens (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 ), the New Testament writers spoke of only one heaven.
The New Testament affirms that God created heaven (Acts 4:24 ), that heaven and earth stand under God's lordship (Matthew 11:25 ), and that heaven is the dwelling place of God (Matthew 6:9 ).
According to Jewish tradition and teaching there are three heavens.
Genesis 1:6-8 (NKJV)6 Then God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters."7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
Psalm 19:1 (NKJV)1 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.
The Celestial Heavens
The celestial heavens refers to the solar system, outer space, the place of the sun, moon, and stars.
Deuteronomy 17:2-5 (NKJV)2 "If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the LORD your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing His covenant,3 who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded,4 and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination has been committed in Israel,5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones. (bold mine)
Matthew 24:29 (NKJV)29 "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
The Heaven of Heavens (Third Heaven)
The throne of God is is the third heaven.
Deuteronomy 10:14 (NKJV)14 Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it.
1 Kings 8:27 (NKJV)27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!
2 Corinthians 12:2 (NKJV)2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
Sometimes heaven is called or referred to as paradise.
This was Jesus’ message to the church at Ephesus.
Revelation 2:7 (NKJV) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." '
If this is the Paradise of God it should be obvious that God is there. We said earlier in the post that the third heaven is the abode of God, He’s there. So I believe the the Paradise of the Bible and Heaven are one in the same.
The Hebrew word for Paradise is “pardes”. It’s a borrowed Persian word that means “park” or “garden”.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Persian loanword for "an area enclosed by a wall" or "garden." Its three uses in the Hebrew Bible ( Neh 2:8 ; Eccl 2:5 ; Sol 4:13 ) retain this meaning. The Septuagint uses the Greek paradeisos [paravdeiso"] for the garden of Eden in Genesis (called the "garden of God" in Isa 51:3 ; and Ezek 28:13 ).
Boiling it All Down
That’s a lot of information to try and absorb about what heaven is and where it is so let me try to boil it down for the purposes of this post:
- Heaven is the blue firmament, or the region of the clouds that pass along the sky. The part of God's creation above the earth and the waters including “air” and “space”;
- Heaven is the dwelling place of God and His angels;
- The place where the soul/spirits of the righteous (Christians) until the return of Jesus to the earth and the resurrection
Do Christians Go to Heaven When They Die?
Stephen went to heaven when he died.
Acts 7:55-60 (NKJV)55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,56 and said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord;58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
When Stephen was dying he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He expected to enter the presence of Jesus in a conscious state. Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and since the “abode” of God is heaven that’s where Jesus is seated.
Mark 16:19 (NKJV) So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.
Romans 8:34 (NKJV) Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
We often quote these scriptures when a loved one dies;
2 Corinthians 5:8 (NLT) Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.
Philippians 1:23 (NLT) I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.
To be absent from the body is to die. At death in order to be with the Lord our spirit or soul moves from the physical body to it’s temporary abode, with the Lord, until it returns to the body at resurrection.
John 6:44 (NKJV)44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:54 (NKJV)54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For a saved person that temporary place is with the Lord. For an unsaved person it is a place of torment, eternally separated from God or hell. This takes place immediately there is no intermediate step.
Jesus told the story of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man. When Lazarus died he was immediately and consciously in Abraham’s bosom (Paradise) and comforted. When the rich man died, he was immediately and consciously in torment.
Luke 16:22-24 (NLT)22 “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried,23 and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.24 “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’
I ask this question because of the stories, books, and movies by and about individuals who said they had near death experiences or, in some cases actually died, and went to heaven and are now telling their story of what they saw and experienced.
Let me say that I do believe that most of these people had a legitimate experience that they could describe in no other way than to believe that they were in heaven. However in order to answer the question I have to look at scripture and compare their experiences to those of others in scripture. I believe that heaven which is so important that it is mentioned 782 times in the King James Version of the Bible and would have great detail about it by those who the Bible says have been there.
John 3:13 (NKJV)13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
No man had so passed to heaven and returned again to earth; but there was One then speaking with him who had been in heaven with God, and could tell him its eternal truths. He had that knowledge which a man could obtain only by ascending to heaven, and He came down from heaven with it. - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And no man hath ascended into heaven,.... Though Enoch and Elias had, yet not by their own power, nor in the sense our Lord designs; whose meaning is, that no man had, or could go up to heaven, to bring from thence the knowledge of divine and heavenly things; in which sense the phrase is used in Deuteronomy 30:12, and which may be illustrated by John 1:18; - Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
I was also unable to find any record that provided any great detail about heaven. There were four people who wrote about having visions of heaven Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John. These visions were not the result of death or near-death experiences.
There were two from the Old Testament, Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Isaiah 6:1-4 (NKJV)1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.3 And one cried to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!"4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
Ezekiel 1:1 (NKJV)1 Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
The two from the New Testament were from Paul and John.
What About Paul?
2 Corinthians 12:1-2 (NKJV)1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows--such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
First of all Paul waited 14 years to even mention it. The reality of the experience was unclear even to him, since he didn’t know whether his body and soul were caught up to the third heaven or whether his soul temporarily went out of his body
He didn’t give any sensational, detailed description of what he saw or experienced. He only mentioned what he heard and he said that he couldn’t even repeat that. He said that he couldn’t repeat it because it was illegal for him to do it.
2 Corinthians 12:3-4 (NKJV)3 And I know such a man--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows--4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
What About John?
John’s experience was definitely a vision. He never asserted that he was in heaven.
Revelation 4:1 (NKJV)1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this."
John was told to write the things that he saw and they were certainly not the kinds of things that our modern visitors to heaven have revealed of their visits.
Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John gave only sparse details of what they saw other than the glory of God. They also mentioned their own fear and shame in the presence of such glory. There were no details of people or other sights as the accounts we get from the accounts of the books that have been published or the movies that have been released. The stories that we read about or see in the movies include things like picnics, games, juvenile attractions, familiar faces, odd conversations, etc.
It is, right and beneficial for Christians to fix their hearts on heaven.
Colossians 3:1-2 (NKJV)1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV)16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Philippians 3:20 (NKJV)20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Hebrews 11:13-16 (NKJV)13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
We should not try to figure out what heaven is like beyond what has been revealed in scripture. If what God has given us in His Word you can rely on it as being the only reliable knowledge about heaven available to us. That is what we should fix our minds on not on the dreams speculations, dreams, or visions of other human minds.
But no matter how much they might obsess over what heaven is like, people who fill their heads with a lot of fantastic or delusional ideas from others’ near-death experiences have not truly set their minds on things above. If the inerrant biblical truth God has given us is the only reliable knowledge about heaven we have access to (and it is), then that is what should grip our hearts and minds, not the dreams and speculations of human minds.
The Bible tells us a lot about heaven (and hell), but we are told to not add our own ideas or conclusions based on things we have been taught or imagined, or hoped, to what God as revealed in His Word.
Deuteronomy 4:2 (NKJV) You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.
Revelation 22:18-19 (NKJV)18 For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book;19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
One Last Thing
1 Corinthians 2:9-16 (NKJV)9 But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God
God has already given us much information on what heaven will be like and he asks us to walk by faith. It will be without tears, sorrow or pain; no disease or death, without wrong, injustice, fraud, and sin. It will be pure and holy; a place free from evil.