January 26, 2015

Heaven: From someone who’s been there

by Clint Archer

Claims of sight-seeing return trips to Heaven and Hell are still in vogue among publishers today. However, I swear A Visitor’s Guide to Hell (Sterling Ethos, NY, 2014) is not a book vying to join that growing club. Launching from Jesus’ teaching about the rich man in Hell and Lazarus in Heaven the book explores the biblical descriptions of the afterlife.VGTH

Frankly, I’m surprised that the claimants of these apparent short-term visits to Hell don’t bother conforming their descriptions to what we have revealed in the Bible. It would make their stories more credible. If you were going to lie about a trip to Paris surely you’d at least peruse a guidebook to check your details line up with reality? Anyway, here is a brief excerpt from the chapter on Heaven titled “Alternate destination.”

(The ellipses represent large chunks missing for the sake of brevity; and so you’ll buy the book!)

Been there done that

Unlike Hell, the road to Heaven is not strictly a one-way street. There have been three credible people in history who have seen glimpses of Heaven, and been allowed to talk about some of what they saw. In this chapter we will draw from what these eye-witnesses saw.

The Apostle Paul was granted the most privileged afterlife revelation of all, either bodily or in a vision. He said he was “caught up” to Heaven in an experience that was so vivid that it was indistinguishable from a real-life visit.

2 Cor 12:2-4 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

Regrettably, Paul was not permitted to tell of what he saw. So, no book deal and talk show appearances for the apostle.

Likewise, the resurrected people in the Bible, including Lazarus of Bethany, left no record of what they experienced.

Jesus obviously had a firsthand familiarity with Heaven. He, however, did not speak much about what Heaven was like. He was far more forthcoming about the nature of Hell. But Jesus did give hints about Heaven throughout his ministry.

The Apostle John, was privy to the most detailed vision of future prophecy, which he was uniquely permitted to describe in detail in his Book of Revelation.

Heaven is Busy

Satan has put some effort into making Heaven seem boring and unappealing. Randy Alcorn, the author of Heaven, tells of an English vicar asked by a colleague what he expected after death. He replied “Well, if it comes to that I suppose I shall enter into eternal bliss. But I really wish you wouldn’t bring up such depressing subjects.”

The quirky cartoonist, Gary Larson, has one comic that portrays a lonely saint plopped on a cloud with nothing to do. The caption reads, “I wish I’d brought a magazine.”

Alcorn writes,

“I find it ironic that many people stereotype life in Heaven as an interminable church service. Apparently, church attendance has become synonymous with boredom. Yet meeting God—when it truly happens—will be far more exhilarating than a great meal, a poker game, hunting, gardening, mountain climbing, or watching the Super Bowl. …Will we always be engaged in worship?… if we have a broad view of worship, then the answer is yes.”

The Bible describes our activity as governing, and our rewards as increased responsibility in God’s ever-expanding kingdom. René Pache described what we do as “centered more on activity and expansion, serving Christ and reigning with him…”

Alcorn shows from Scripture that Heaven may include an ever-expanding government, on-going exploration of the Universe, discovery of all the creatures and plants and landscapes that God has created for us to find and enjoy and share and marvel over. I picture the place as a “Star-Trek” meets “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Imagine being able to try any activity you desire, without the fear of being hurt or injured or killed. Imagine being really good at everything you try—both mentally and physically— without the limitations you acquired on earth (like arthritis, a bad back, blindness, or a low IQ). And imagine it was all free. Heaven is not just better than Hell, it’s better than anything or anywhere!

The Best part of Heaven

The most appealing part of Heaven, for those who love their Lord and Savior, is that Jesus himself will be there in all his glory.

Rev 21:3-4 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place 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.”

The best part of heaven is that we will see the face of the Lamb of God. You will see Jesus. And he will know you. And you will not be an enemy, with no need to be ashamed of your sin. You will be standing in his righteousness reflecting his glory. The question is: Is that what you want?

Pastor and author, John Piper, poses this provocative question:

If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the physical pleasures you ever tasted and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven if Christ was not there?”

If you are not excited about being with Jesus forever, that is an indication that you do not yet know him in a saving way. There are people who want to be assured they will escape Hell, but they have no real desire to be in Heaven.


Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • MR

    Thanks for the great post. I did a group study years ago on Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven.” It was great because it was the first time since God saved me out of the cult of Herbert Armstrong, to hear that “heaven,” God’s Kingdom would be on the new renewed earth. Sadly, many believers get their ideas of heaven and hell from Tom & Jerry cartoons. I could never adopt the harp plucking, cloud ridding view.

    • I concur!

    • Jason

      I don’t know. Cloud riding could be a blast depending on how fast the clouds can go.

    • James

      I too am a survivor of the HWA cult of 35 years. My brother in law is the major player in one of the splinter “wannabe” groups. Second time this week I’ve stumbled over the renewed earth concept by people who actually know what they are talking about.

  • Brent Johnson

    So glad for you and others dealing with this issue. One thing I notice about the heaven visits is how self focused they are so your point about the excitement of being with Jesus is one that needs to be shouted from the rooftop.

    • Very good observation.

  • 072591

    I am reminded of the old Twilight Zone episode “A Nice Place to Visit”. It’s about a man who dies and ends up in the afterlife where he gets everything he wants with ease. He soon gets bored of it and tells the angel, “If I gotta stay here another day, I’m gonna go nuts! Look, look. I don’t belong in heaven – see? I wanna go to the other place.”
    The response he gets? “This is the other place.”

  • 4Commencefiring4

    I’m aware that someday we will live under the universal rule of Christ, and most of us are distressed at the government we have, wishing that we could have a “christian government” now. But then, I wonder: would we like a Presbyterian one, a Baptist one, a Pentecostal one, a Catholic one, a Quaker one, a Methodist one….In fact, I don’t want any government run by the likes of me, any of my friends, or any of THEIR friends.

    I don’t know what Christ’s government will look like, but I have to trust it’s not going to be something embarrassing, burdensome, boring, strict, legalistic, or full of rattlesnakes. And if I hear the first strains of a CD from some contemporary “artist” being piped into heaven, there’s going to be trouble.

  • Pope of Geneva

    Those claimants that visited “hell” obviously never experienced “the pile thereof is fire and much wood”…

    “Moreover, as language cannot describe the severity of the divine vengeance on the reprobate, their pains and torments are figured to us by corporeal things, such as darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, inextinguishable fire, the ever-gnawing worm (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; Mark 9:43; Isa. 66:24). It is certain that by such modes of expression the Holy Spirit designed to impress all our senses with dread, as when it is said, “Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared: he has made it deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, does kindle it,” (Isa. 30:33).”

    Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), Book 3, Chapter 25, Section 12