I had a seminary professor who would often say, “We misunderstand heaven—we think of our salvation as a one-way ticket to heaven, and that earth is only a bus stop. But heaven is actually the bus stop!”
In other words, we often see heaven as our final destination as believers. But that’s not what Scripture teaches us. And as Gospel Coalition contributor Mike Wittmer notes in his recent trending piece, 4 Reasons to Stop Obsessing about Heaven, a right view of heaven is important, especially with the many claims out there of people going to heaven and back. Most recently is Alex Malarkey, the boy at the center of the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, who has reportedly recanted his story, saying that he did not go to heaven after all.
With all this speculation and obsession with heaven, here are the four things that Mike Wittmer wants Christians to understand:
1. We were never supposed to go to heaven. If Adam and Eve had never sinned, “God would have cut to the end of the story and come down to live permanently with us (Rev. 21:1–3),” writes Mike. “What happens when people die? Their bodies and souls are unnaturally torn apart; their bodies stay here while their souls go to either heaven or hell.” The separation of soul and body is not how God will leave us—therefore heaven cannot be our permanent home, where those Christians who have died now dwell as souls without bodies.
2. Scripture says little about heaven. “The Bible tells of one person who went to heaven and back,” Mike writes. “He claimed he ‘heard inexpressible things’ that he was ‘not permitted to tell’ (2 Cor. 12:2–4). This leaves me skeptical about those heavenly pilgrims who tell all, especially when there is money involved.”
3. Heaven is not the goal. “Heaven is not where the Bible ends, notes Mike. “Isaiah, Peter, and John all promise that our final destiny is a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev. 21:1; cf. Isa. 65:17; 2 Pet. 3:13).” We often miss the implication of the “new heaven and new earth.” To this, Mike says:
In John 14:1–3, Jesus promises to “go and prepare a place” for us. Too many Christians stop there and miss that John later completes this thought. In Revelation 21:1–3, John sees that place, “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” so that “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.” Jesus does temporarily take us to be with him. But in the end, Jesus comes to earth to live with us. He is Immanuel, “which means ‘God with us’” (Matt. 1:23). Let’s stop reading that name backwards.
4. Fixation on heaven can forfeit the gospel. The great miracle of the gospel is not simply that Jesus died for our sins, but that he rose again. Mike notes an alarming statistic—“It’s no accident that in our heaven-obsessed culture, nearly half of “born again” Christians don’t believe their bodies will rise again.” How can this be? Mike writes, “As Paul told the overly spiritual Corinthians, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (1 Cor. 15:13–14).”
In light of all of this, we must take claims about people going to heaven and back with a healthy dose of skepticism. Christianity.com contributor Tim Challies has written about this “heaven tourism,” and how Christians should respond to these claims. “Faith will be strengthened by reading the Bible and believing it. Faith will be weakened by reading the Bible and believing it only after reading 90 Minutes in Heaven. You can serve any Christian by directing him to the Bible and helping him to see that we are called to believe God on the basis of what he says in his Word, not on the basis of another person's experience.”
Another resource for anyone interested in learning more about heaven and the biblical new earth is Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. As noted in a Crosswalk review of the book, one of the things Alcorn does effectively is “bring clarity to some biblical concepts that may have been left fuzzy in our minds – the Biblical New Earth, God's restoration of earth to its original and intended state, and the intermediate state where the deceased reside until that restoration.”
As my professor said, heaven isn’t our final destination—it’s the first stop on the way to a renewed heaven and earth. And Mike Wittmer agrees, “As great as it is to be a disembodied soul in heaven with Jesus, there’s something even better: enjoying Jesus as a whole person on earth, where resurrected bodies are meant to live. So praise God that those who die in Christ go to heaven. And praise God even more that they’re on the first leg of a round-trip journey.”
What do you think about heaven? Let us know in the comments section!
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.