There are two categories of people that refuse to believe eye witness reports of heaven.
One is the atheist-type who rejects any idea of an afterlife that includes heaven and God.
But, since atheists have very few standard beliefs and they suggest so many different afterlife possibilities it would take too long to consider their ideas.
We will save them and their concepts for another post.
The other category of individual who refuses to accept any eye witness reports of heaven is the conservative Christian. A few passages in the Bible seem to stand in the way so they approach the topic incredulously, intending to discredit the idea.
There are, of course, all kinds of so called death experience tales being pushed, many of which are strange and unusual to say the least but there are also reasons to expect temporary glimpses of heaven on the odd occasion.
Heaven is never given geographic coordinates but we know it isn’t far away. Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, so our last breath on earth is the doorway to heaven and the transition is instantaneous.
The after-life is so close we shouldn’t be surprised visions of heaven or hell overlap our last minuets in this world.
Rather than ignore the subject and leave it open for shady suggestions we should explore the topic thoroughly from a biblical perspective. A fair look at the key passages may clarify the issue.
2 Corinthians 12:4
To start with, Paul makes a statement in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, particularly verse 4, which some interpret to mean no visual descriptions of heaven are allowed. And traditionally, conservative Christians have been closed minded toward any descriptions of heaven because of this interpretation.
Most believe Paul is talking about his own death experience and his testimony is he:
…Heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
The question we need to ask is does this really constitute an absolute gag order on anyone reporting what they have seen during a temporary visit to heaven? A few observations might help clear the air:
- Paul said he “heard” things he was not permitted to tell. He wasn’t talking about what he saw visually but what he heard audibly. The restriction is aimed at revelation verbally conveyed not visual descriptions and it may have applied only to some of the things he heard not everything. Paul later said several things about heaven which may have been based on what he saw and heard during his visit to heaven.
- Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord substantiating the idea that out of body experiences are possible, (1 Corinthians 5:8). Maybe he learned that from his own DE’s.
- He also said in this life, we see through a glass darkly but later (in heaven) we will know as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). Confusion and insecurity in this life is replaced by clarity and confidence in heaven. And the idea of clarity is mirrored in the testimonies of those who have been to heaven and come back. Again, was Paul’s own experience the source of this understanding?
- Paul also said “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain” and he followed that statement by saying he was in a quandary between these two possibilities. He preferred heaven but he was convinced he had work to finish here (Philippians 1:21-24). This is exactly the sentiment expressed by other Christians who have been to heaven and back. How did Paul develop this overriding taste for heaven if not through his own DE’s?
- Additionally, it was Paul who provided such vivid descriptions of the physical transformation that will take place following the resurrection. Our bodies will be: spiritual, beautiful, powerful, imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15;35-540). Could his own visit to heaven have made this understanding obvious?
Maybe there were some things Paul wasn’t allowed to tell us but who is to say his concepts of heaven were not based on observations he made during his visits, which, according to him, he experienced more than once (2 Corinthians 11:23).
It is safe to say that no new revelations should be expected but if the reports do nothing more than verify the information we have then we have no reason to assume it cannot happen.
In fact, maybe we should expect it.
A second passage used to discredit any DE descriptions of heaven is Luke 16:19-31 in which Jesus relates the experience of three individuals: a beggar name Lazarus, an unnamed rich man and Abraham. The rich man died and went to hell. Lazarus died and went to paradise (bliss). Abraham was already there.
Long story short, after dying and finding himself in hell, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his living brother’s so they might avoid hell. Abraham denied this request saying that if the living will not listen to Moses and the Prophets (the Old Testament) they will not believe even if someone came back from the dead.
On the basis of this passage some suggest God will not allow anyone to report visits to heaven or hell following a death experience.
I would say otherwise for several reasons:
- Abraham denied this particular request but he said nothing to suggest it could never happen. This was still officially Old Testament. Since Paul reported having death-to-life experiences several times – and he was in the New Testament – we have to assume it can happen still.
Abraham was denying the request for a physical, out of the grave, resurrection. Lazarus died before the rich man so we can assume he was already in the grave and had been there long enough for decomposition to have started. This request involved more than a quick return to life before burial. This was a request for a full on resurrection.
Since Jesus physically rose from the grave not too long after this and there were several other resurrections which accompanied His, we have to assume that there are legitimate reasons God would allow “from-death-back-to-life experiences” especially if no burial was involved. We shouldn’t be surprised when it happens.
- Abraham suggested resurrection alone would not produce faith but that doesn’t constitute a denial of NDE’s. If a person has no knowledge of the Bible truth before hearing or seeing a resurrected person there would be no basis for saving faith. But Abraham was talking about “FAITH” being produced by a “RESURRECTION” not encouragement resulting from an NDE. Biblically there is no reason to believe NDE’s won’t happen and if they can’t be theologically eliminated there is no reason to think they can’t be encouraging to others.
In addition to these observations are the many testimonies of others who reported glimpses of heaven – or hell – as they stood at deaths door and this agrees with the New Testament record. Stephen, the first martyr, reported a vision of heaven opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father ready to receive him. He was being stoned to death at the time.
One book, Voices From the Edge of Eternity, includes testimonies from 242 individuals dating as far back as the first century AD. Eighty-five of these people are famous, some of them looking into heaven and others looking into hell. The best price for the book can be found at Amazon.
Not included in this book but relevant to the topic are the recent testimonies of two people, Don Piper in 90 Minutes in Heaven and Colton Burpo in Heaven is for Real. Their stories are similar but different in many ways and both agree with information about heaven in the Bible.
Get the books. Read them. Tell us what do you THINK!AboutIt.