Traveling to Heaven?
We know that some decades ago, Americans first landed on the moon. This unprecedented feat will go down in the history books as a first. Since then, there has been talk of traveling to Mars as well.
I must admit that before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, I personally thought that this would never be done. After all, I had read the words of the Psalmist: The heavens are the heavens of the LORD, but the earth He has given to the sons of men (115:16). Would God tolerate humankind leaving earth and venturing into space? I keenly listened to my radio as this event unfolded and eventually had to admit that God had allowed this extraterrestrial visit to the moon!
But what should we say about purported trips from the earth to heaven of a different kind? We know that Paul the apostle had some sort of mysterious trip to Gods heavenly abode, as he described in 2 Corinthians:
I know a man in Christ [apparently Paul himself] who fourteen years agowhether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knowssuch a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a manwhether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knowswas caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (vv. 2-4).
We notice that Paul was not sure whether he had traveled in the body or in his spirit alone. Further, we notice that Paul calls the place of his visit the third heaven or Paradise. We also notice that when He was there, Paul heard inexpressible words which he was not permitted to share with anyone. We know of no one else who may have had a similar experience. Further, we know nothing about what he experienced during those four days of death.
In the last number of years, weve learned of various men and women who claim that God has permitted them to go to heaven and then return to earth to talk about it! For some reason, they think that they have the permission or even duty to tell other people about their experience even though Paul (Himself an apostle) was forbidden to share what he heard on his trip to Paradise. Doesnt this strike you as oddor even preposterous?
Just today, I was in a Christian book store that displayed a new book entitled, My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How it Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman (and Lorilee Craker). I didnt read the book nor did I purchase it. But the outside back cover has this to say:
On April 28, 2006, as he lay in his hospital bed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, visions of celestial beauty were the last thing on Marv Besteman’s mind. He had just had surgery to remove a rare pancreatic tumor. It was after visiting hours and his family had left for the day. Alone and racked with pain, Marv tossed and turned, wanting more than anything else to simply sleep and escape the misery and discomfort for a while. The retired banker, father, and grandfather had no idea he was about to get a short reprieve in the form of an experience he never could have imagined. (amazon.com/ My-Journey- Heaven-What- Changed/dp/0800721225/ ref=sr_1_1?s= books&ie=UTF8&qid =140565281 1&sr=1- 1&keywords= my+journey+to +heaven).
With this background, the description continued:
In My Journey to Heaven, Marv Bestman shares the story of his experience of heaven with astounding detail. Readers will hear of his encounters with angels who accompanied him to the gate, his conversation (argument, really) with St. Peter, and his recognition of friends and family members who touched his life. His story offers peace, comfort, and encouragement to those who have lost loved ones and gives security and solace to those who are grieving, dying, or wonder about the afterlife. Marv believed God sent him back to earth to fulfill this mission of comfort and reminds readers that God has work for each of us to do before he calls us to be with him in heaven. Secure in his belief that his book was the fulfillment of his own mission, Marv returned to heaven in January 2012.
Does anything here raise questions in your mind? Apparently, Bestman tells, in detail, the nature of heaven and what he saw in this glorious place! We wonder whether he saw winged angels? Elsewhere on this website, we point out that Biblical (real) angels appeared as males, without wings, and without halos. Is this what Bestman saw? Did he really speak to Peter the apostle? Did he actually return to earth after such a visit? In view of Gods not permitting Paul to say anything about his own trip there, we question how Bestman was given orders to return to earth with a message.
Another popular book (and now, a movie) of recent years was written about a four-year-old boy who claims to have gone to heaven. Here is the Amazon summary:
A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven.
Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear.
Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us.
Told by the father, but often in Colton’s own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle. (amazon.com/Heaven -Real-Little- Astounding-Story /dp/0849946158).
When we read stories like these ones, we must face them with a lot of skepticism if we want to be true to Gods written Word. In this case, can we really believe the account of a little pre-school youngster (as told by his father) about his trip to heaven? Supposedly, the child slowly revealed bits of this story over the years to his preacher-father. We do know that children a prone to read fantasy and think in terms of fantasy, while historical truth is difficult for them to fully grasp. With a fathers help and prodding, we can imagine that a book like this can finally be written. One reviewer read the book and offered these points about the contents:
In brief, the book purports to tell of a 4 year old’s journey to heaven during a surgical procedure for a severe ruptured appendix. Following the procedure, and over a period of months and years, Colton, Todd’s son, gradually “revealed” bits and pieces of his alleged journey to heaven. Here’s what he “discovered” and/or “experienced” on his journey:
– angels sang to him while he was in hospital
– he was sitting on Jesus’ lap while he was in heaven
– while in heaven, he saw his father praying in a small room in the hospital and his mother in a different room talking on the phone and praying
– he met John the Baptist in heaven
– Jesus has a rainbow coloured horse and wears a golden crown with a pink diamond
– he was given “homework” to do in heaven while he was being cared for by his deceased grandfather – Pop
– everyone in heaven has wings and flies around from place to place – except for Jesus who who levitates up and down like an elevator
– everyone in heaven has a light above their heads (Todd Burpo interprets this in the book as a halo)
– God is `really, really big’ and is so big he holds the world in his hands
– Jesus sits at the right hand of God, Gabriel sits on God’s left, and the Holy Spirit is “kind of blue” and sits somewhere in the vicinity of the other three.
– the gates of heave are made of gold and pearls
– after Colton’s return to earth, he became obsessed with rainbows because of the incredible number of colours he saw in heaven
– at times, following his return from heaven, Colton saw `power shot down from heaven’ while his dad was preaching
there are swords and bows and arrows in heaven that the angels use to keep Satan out of heaven
the weaponry described above will apparently be used in a coming battle that destroys the world – and Colton’s dad will be fighting in that battle
– the final battle will be against actual dragons and monsters while the women and children stand and watch the men fighting them
– he meets `a sister’ in heaven – who was lost through miscarriage by the mother years before – and which the parents claim they never spoke to Colton about
– he claimed to see Satan in heaven but wouldn’t say what he looked like
– and he described what Jesus looked like, comparing people’s ideas of Jesus in their artworks as not right, until he was shown a painting of Christ by Akiane Kramarik which he said got the picture of Jesus right
There are a few more “revelations” in the book, but these are the essential ones. And all this was discovered in 3 minutes in heaven!
Since I havent read the book, I cant vouch for the accuracy of this critique; but if there is something to this, we can see that the book is filled with problems and concerns.
Sitting in Jesus lap? A rainbow-colored horse? Everyone has wingsangels and humans alike? People have halos? Gabriel sits to Gods left? Ancient weapons in heaven? Jesus depicted as some modern art-work? Another criticized the depiction of Jesus since He is supposedly whitewhereas Jesus was a Palestinian Jew of the first century. (Yet we admit that He did have a glorified body and it may be very different from His earthly body.)
I once attended a huge meeting in a large convention center where a leading Prosperity teacher had invited a visiting speaker who described his visit to heaven. What spectacular and fantastic narrative he gavemuch to the delight of the gullible Word of Faith audience! But this is the kind of substance that people crave! Many would rather believe a little four-year-old boy or an attention-seeking preacher than they would rather find the truth of heaven in Scripture!
We would offer a few points here:
1. Paul the apostle was not permitted to say what he heard and saw in the third heaven or Paradise (2 Corinthians 12:2-5). Why would a contemporary traveler be permitted to offer such explanations? Could there be a profit motive here (for those who like to write books about their experience)?
2. As far as we know, Paul was the only one in history who had such an encounter in heaven. Are we to believe that God is offering such a heavenly trip to many people today?
3. How do we explain the many Biblical inconsistencies in the descriptions of those who claim to have experienced a heavenly vision or trip? Have they not read their Bible? Or do they expect us to believe them over the truth of Gods Word?
4. The Word of God and the Gospel are meant to produce and stimulate faith (Romans 1:16; 10:17). Why does the human heart crave for something beyond Gods truthful words? And why would we choose to believe these modern-day preachers and teachers and authors?
5. If we were to examine the writers and speakers carefully, without doubt we would discover that some (or perhaps all) of them are not even saved! In other words, they may have invited Jesus into their heart or gone through some religious ceremony and thereby assume that they have been born again. But in light of Gods Word, we surely would discover that most (or even all) of them have not truly repented of their sins and placed their faith in Christ alone for their salvation and been immersed in water and the Spirit to be born again of God.
6. If we were to examine the lives and beliefs of these authors and speakers, we would surely find many inconsistencies between them. And what of the churches or denominations to which they belong and support? Would we find many or all of them to be in deep compromise with the world and with Biblical truth?
We would encourage you to go back to the Bible and find the truth of heaven and hell described on its pages. We know that Gods Word is accurate and this is the truth that is saving. As for these various contemporary erroneous depictions of heaven, let others flee to them. We can find our comfort and security in what we know is trueand not in the fantastic fantasy of overactive imaginations of little boys and adults!
Could it be that Satan is using these modern books to his own diabolical ends? Could it be that he knows many of them dont stress the absolute need to die to self and repent of sins, as well as demonstrate ones repentant faith in the meaningful act of baptism? Could it be that he wants people to be content and comforted in their sin and theological deception?
Lets go to Gods Word and there find consolation in its promise of eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. On this we will relynow and forever (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 12:2-5; Philippians 1:21-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Peter 3:7-13; Revelation 2:7, 10-11; 7:13-17; 21:1-22:20).