There and Back Again

Near-Death Stories

By Beth Hyduke

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So what about the accounts in the Bible of people who saw heaven and reported on what they'd seen? If no one except Jesus has gone up to heaven and come down to tell the tale, how is it that the Apostle John gives such a detailed account in the book of Revelation? The answer is that John's account of heaven was a prophetic vision, not a near-death experience or a case of a dead person physically going to the heaven or hell and coming back. John clarifies that he was in the Spirit when he experienced a divine vision (Revelation 1:10). When this occurred, he was alive and fully conscious. The purpose of the vision was not to describe heaven, or to attempt to prove that heaven is real, or to make the bestseller list, but to inform of upcoming events that would take place in the end times.

Interestingly, John was not the only person to be blessed with a prophetic vision of heaven. Although visions are very rare in the Bible, there were four authors who had prophetic visions of heaven — Isaiah and Ezekiel who were both prophets and Paul and John who were both apostles. Phil Johnson says in his article "the Burpo-Malarky Doctrine":
All the biblical writers who saw heaven and described their visions give comparatively sparse details, but they agree perfectly (Isaiah 6:1-4, Ezekiel 1 & 10, Revelation 4-6.) They don't agree with the [bestseller] versions of heaven. Both their intonation and the details they highlight are markedly different. The biblical authors are all fixated on God's glory, which defines heaven and illuminates everything there. They are overwhelmed, chagrined, petrified, and put to silence by the sheer majesty of God's holiness. Notably missing from all the biblical accounts are the frivolous features and juvenile attractions that seem to dominate every account of heaven currently on the bestseller lists.
Incidentally, clandestine or titillating details about what heaven will be like is not what is in view in the 2 Corinthians 2:9 passage, but rather, the passage is speaking of true spiritual wisdom. In contrast to worldly wisdom which even fails to perceive the greatness of divine salvation (2 Corinthians 2:6-8), those who love God have access to His blessings, and are both illumined and convicted by the Holy Spirit working through God's Word. About this John Piper writes:
The manual [the Bible] is one of a kind. The Communists had their Manifesto. The Maoists had their Little Red Books. The Muslims have their Koran. But only the Bible contains the writings taught not by human wisdom but by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:13). Only the Bible reveals "what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him." The Christian manual of operation is unique because it reveals "the things of the Spirit of God" — things from God that man can't find out on his own, things that are often very foreign to our way of thinking…
I hope that this has helped to clarify what the God-authored Bible teaches about heaven and the afterlife in contrast to all the man-authored bestsellers on the shelves of Christian bookstores. There will always be detractors denying, undermining, and challenging the truth of the Bible, and it's often very lucrative and monetarily profitable to do so, but God vouches that His Word is true, inerrant, infallible, holy, pure, trustworthy, living, and effective (John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Hebrews 4:12), that it will stand forever (Isaiah 40:8), and that it will achieve all its purposes (Isaiah 55:11).

May God richly bless and illuminate you as you seek Him in His Word!

Image Credit: Matthias Zepper; "Himmelstreppe/Stairway to heaven"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Christian-Life  |  Controversial-Issues  |  Eternity-Forever  |  False-Teaching  |  Reviews-Critiques

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Published 1-11-2016