To many Christians, few themes are more precious than heaven, a topic in which fact and fiction are easily confused. Try to identify truth or myth in these four statements. The comments that follow each are our effort to help in the process. Read the Bible for the final Word.
Truth or myth?
Statement 1: Heaven is the eternal home of the faithful, promised in Scripture.
Comment: Jesus and His apostles seldom speak or write about heaven as the destiny of God’s people. Neither is that sort of talk and teaching found in the Old Testament. The phrases go to heaven, going to heaven, or went to heaven may occur in a few paraphrases, but not in literal translations of Scripture. Instead, terms like kingdom of God, My Father’s house, a city whose builder and maker is God, Zion, a place, with Christ, where I Am, before the throne, in His temple, and glory describe our eternal home — but rarely heaven. Thus, statement 1 is mostly myth.
Statement 2: Heaven is the wispy, far-away dreamland of popular imagination.
Comment: The Bible’s gospel is not much about us going there, as three-year-old Colton Burpo claimed he did; it’s more about heaven’s Lord coming here. He came to earth once to live, die, and live again. And He’s coming again to resurrect the dead and restore all created things. When this millennial restitution is complete, the Holy City will come down from heaven to the new earth, where God himself will live with His people forever. Statement 2 states a cultural truth, not scriptural fact.
Statement 3: Heaven is the intermediate state between death and resurrection.
Comment: The thought that people go to heaven or hell when they die weakens major Bible teachings about the future:
- Resurrection of the dead. If popular belief about heaven and hell is correct, then a future resurrection is unnecessary, since the righteous dead already enjoy their eternal bliss and the wicked are now in torment.
- Final judgment. If prevailing opinion is correct, then a future Day of Judgment is redundant. The destinies of the dead were already determined on the day they died.
- Christ’s return. If at their deaths the saved are raised to heaven and the lost are sent to hell, then Jesus’ second coming is evacuated of much of its force, and the moment of death replaces Christ’s return as the “great day of the Lord.”
Statement 3 raises issues and serious questions about its truth.
Statement 4: Heaven is our escape from great tribulation, via the rapture.
Comment: The hope of escape from a troubled earth to heaven can furnish many alibis for not doing all we should to improve earthly life here and now. Besides lacking firm Bible support, the pre-tribulation and mid-tribulation rapture theories exacerbate this no-fear blooper: The earth will soon burn, but we’ll be gone! Statement 4 too is more myth than truth.
Now that we’ve seen a little of what heaven isn’t, let’s reflect on what it is.
In the Bible’s story, heaven is the firmament (i.e., air or space) — the part of God’s total creation that’s not earth (Genesis 1:1, 6-8). This firmament has two levels: the near-space and atmosphere around the earth, where birds and airplanes fly, and the outer space in which our solar system and all galaxies abide. In these heavens, God set the birds and the sun, moon, and stars He had made (vv. 14-20).
Further, heaven is God’s throne (Matthew 5:34; Revelation 4:1, 2). Writing about himself, Paul tells of a man caught up to Paradise — the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). What he saw there is not described, nor could he utter the inexpressible words he heard.
Not a physical location past outer space, this ultimate heaven is God’s inner sanctum, a most holy place apart from the created space-and-time universe, a dimension of the eternal spirit Deity and His holy angels. That’s what the Bible’s heaven is!BA