“Jesus Said” Is Not Always
Colton Burpo and his book, Heaven is for Real, have caused a huge public stir and responses have been both positive and negative.
Some atheist and agnostic types – particularly of the academic kind – have attacked not just Colton but also those who believe his story. It hackles them that so many can be so light headed.
Others have been uncertain how to assess Colton’s testimony. They don’t question the idea of heaven or the possibility of a pre-death visit but are uncertain how to assess a report like this and, therefore, reticent on the issue.
Add to that any apparent Bible reason to question the validity of his experience and doubts abound. One verse which seems to suggest Colton’s report can’t be genuine is John 3:13. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus and He says:
No one has ever gone (ascended) into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.
Wow, right from the mouth of Jesus – “No one has ever gone into heaven.” Seems like a deal killer but a closer inspection clears things up.
Time Sensitive Statement
Jesus’ remark was a ‘tween’ statement. He was speaking from an Old Testament perspective which would shortly give way to a New Testament one.
People who died in the Old Testament went to one of two places, paradise or a place of torment, and these two places were close. You could say they were adjacent.
As per the story of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the people in these locations were so close they could see and speak to each other. It was one location but two compartments.
Where was this place?
Well, referring to His burial, Jesus said He would spend three days in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40) and later, while hanging on the cross, He assured the thief next to Him that he would be with Jesus in paradise that very day (Luke 23:43).
It was Jesus reference to the “heart of the earth” that lead many to believe this paradise-hell was located in the bowels of the earth.
Obviously, any place below the surface of the earth is not what we associate with the idea of heaven. Heaven is where God’s throne is and it is above and beyond planet earth not in it. David referred to earth as God’s footstool so heaven couldn’t be below that.
Therefore, those in paradise were in a sort of “heaven” – hence the name paradise – but it wasn’t “THE” heaven, otherwise known as the presence of God.
Likewise, those in the place of torment were in a sort of “hell” but again, it was not the place referred to in Revelation as the bottomless pit. It isn’t the final destination of unbelievers.
So, when Jesus rose from the dead He left paradise – the bowels of the earth – and when He ascended, 40 days after the resurrection, He returned to the presence of God the Father – the actual heaven.
Since Paul said, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” we believe Jesus transported those in paradise – or paradise in whole – with Him when He ascended. Therefore, He was the first to go into heaven and others have since followed.
Revelation refers to saints in heaven and there are 24 who sit on seats around God’s throne (4:4).
Even Paul’s near death experience and visit to heaven happened after the ascension so we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens again.
Bottom line? Old Testament saints went to paradise, a place of bliss, and were later ushered into God’s presence when Jesus ascended into heaven.
Jesus’ Ascension Followed His Resurrection Not His Death
Jesus wasn’t only the first to ascend into heaven, He was also the first to be resurrected. Yes, others were resurrected but all of them eventually died again. They didn’t receive a new body and they didn’t go to heaven.
The people in heaven now, although recognizable, are disembodied souls. After death, their souls went to heaven and the bodies were left behind. Their transformation won’t be final until their bodies are resurrected and reunited with their souls.
So, Jesus is not only the first Person to ascend into the presence of God, He is the first to go after resurrection, with a new body.
Nothing Jesus said gives us any reason to doubt Colton’s visit to heaven. As Colton says, heaven is for real, and we should enjoy the thought.
The good thing about reports of this nature, however, is questions are being asked and the Bible is being consulted. Believers and unbelievers alike can’t remain quiet and it makes for some interesting conversations.
For a review of “Heaven is for Real” go here.
Find some discussion questions for your study group here.
For a list of similarities and differences between “Heaven is for Real” and “90 Minutes in Heaven” go here.
For a look at what academics are saying go here.
Tell us what you THINK!AboutIt
Companion books are:
90 Minutes in Heaven is a true life story that covers 15 years of Don Piper’s life and is best described as a tragedy with an unusual twist. We know what is happening in Don’s life now and where his journey eventually ends. What is surprising is the beginning.
A great companion book is “The Shack,” a fictional story of one man’s experience with tragedy and God’s compassionate response. The book is theological in a very down to earth way.
These are books to read more than once and discuss with family and friends.