This Sunday we will gather outside (weather permitting) to worship the Lord at 10am. As a part of our corporate worship, I plan to preach a message on Heaven. It is the hope of and the promise for every Christian. The Bible has quite a bit to say about where and how we will spend eternity. It says it will look and feel different than this place, but will also bear some resemblances (2 Peter 3:10-13). These resemblances will be mostly physical; the differences will be moral or spiritual (Isaiah 60: 9-11, 65:21; Revelation 21). Perhaps the thing that is most confusing for many Christians is that Heaven will actually be on earth. Not the earth as we currently know it, but a renewed, transformed, and restored earth (Revelation 21:1-4).
Heaven has been a popular topic recently. Even secular media outlets and for-profit corporations have taken advantage of its popularity. I am afraid this has confused and misled many people, including many Christians. Books such as 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper and Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo have sold millions of copies. You may have seen or heard that Burpo’s book, based on the testimony of his son, was recently made into a widely released movie. My fear is that many people are reading these books, looking for hope, inspiration, and answers, when they should be looking to God and reading His Word. This is especially troubling when books like this directly contradict the Bible.
My purpose in warning you about these types of books is not to dash hope or discourage you, in fact, it is exactly the opposite, it is to give you real hope and assurance of a glorious future through faith in Jesus Christ, based on the testimony of God’s Word. The reason we should not trust books and testimonies such as these is twofold. First, they are suspicious at best. Secondly, we can be certain of the authority of Scripture and it is there we should look to be assured and educated on the reality of Heaven.
One commonality to each of these types of books seems to be a person experiencing a death-like state, believing they have visited Heaven (or in at least one instance, Hell), and then being miraculously brought back to this life so they can tell their story. This is not how the Bible says God handles life. Hebrews 9:27 says it is appointed for man to die once, after that comes the judgment. The only time Scripture indicates that a person is drawn up to see Heaven is the Apostle Paul and God forbids him from speaking about it (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). The reason is not to offer proof, but to validate his claim as a minister of the true Gospel. Paul was a man whom God called in a special way for a unique purpose, namely to plant the first churches and author much of the New Testament. For anyone else,author Tim Challies writes, “To allow a man (or a boy) to experience heaven and then to bring him back would not be grace but cruelty.”
I want you to know the truth about Heaven. I want you to be assured of its existence. More than anything, I want you to experience the joy of life with God forever through faith in Jesus Christ. For that reason, as your pastor, I must warn you of the dangers of looking to anything but the Bible for the truth about Heaven. I will do my best to spend a few minutes telling you what it says this coming Sunday. I hope you will be there. It will be a great day. Do not forget to bring your lawn chair (some will be provided if you forget) and plan to stay after church for lunch.
Tim Challies is a prominent writer and blogger, specializing in biblical discernment and book reviews. A collection of links to his reviews of several of these books—he calls it “Heaven tourism”—can be found on this webpage: http://www.challies.com/recommendations/heaven-tourism. If you would like to read about Heaven, I would recommend the following books to you:
The Glory of Heaven by John MacArthur
Heaven by Randy Alcorn
Heaven is a Place on Earth by Michael Wittmer
For the sake of His name,