What is heaven like?
by William Wright
Mar 30, 2013 | 2295 views | 0 0 comments | 90 90 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Before he lost his bout with cancer, Apple founder Steve Jobs said, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.” People of various faiths have distinct views of heaven and what goes on there.

For example, Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “There is no humor in heaven” and “If I cannot smoke cigars in heaven, I shall not go.” Martin Luther, who inspired the Protestant Reformation, reportedly said, “If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.”

Some people claim there are streets in heaven paved with gold, that it is a place flowing with milk and honey. Others expect to fish, golf and even explore carnal knowledge with many virgins in heaven.

On that note, I believe 18th century Irish cleric Jonathan Swift took a wise position. He said, “What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not do, we are told expressly.”

Interestingly, only one person has ever claimed to come from heaven — Jesus Christ. At John 6:38 he said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”

For those who believe Jesus had a prehuman existence, his word is gospel when it comes to insight into heaven and all who live there. Or is it?

For example, while people of various faiths believe all good people go to heaven when they die, Jesus stated at John 3:13 that “No one has gone up to heaven except the Son of Man, who came down from there.” — Contemporary English Version.

This statement would not have surprised Jesus’ Jewish listeners who faithfully adhered to their ancient Hebrew teachings before the nation adopted the pagan beliefs of the Gentiles.

In his article “The Old Testament view of life after death,” Dr. Alexander Desmond, a lecturer in Semitic Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland, states, “The after-life, if one can call it that, consisted of a silent existence in Sheol, the realm of the dead, where both righteous and wicked shared a common fate, isolated for eternity from God and the living.

“After the Exile (from Babylon) the Hebrew view of the after-life underwent various transformations due to the influence of other ideas.

“According to J. Jeremias, three significant changes occurred: (a) the concept of resurrection gave rise to the idea that the dead would not remain in Sheol forever. (b) Greek and Persian views on retribution after death resulted in the division of the underworld into different compartments for the righteous and the wicked; (c) the Greek concept of immortality led to the idea that the righteous went directly to heaven whereas the wicked descended to Sheol, which consequently was perceived as a place of punishment.”

These pagan beliefs were rejected by Jesus, who explained the true condition of the dead at John 11:11-25. He explained earlier the only way anyone could enter into the kingdom of heaven at John 3:1-16. Nowhere in the Bible is any purgatory mentioned.

But what about the account of the prophets Elijah and Elisha at 2 Kings 2:11? “Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” — New King James Version.

Many people view this as proof that good people entered heaven even before Jesus died for their sins. Others believe Jesus’ words that “No one has gone up to heaven” before he did. Is this a contradiction?

No. At 1 Kings 8:27 the Bible speaks of both “heaven and the heaven of heavens.” Which do you suppose Almighty God lives in? Our physical universe is also called “heaven” in the Bible.

For example, one psalmist wrote: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” — Psalm 8:3-4.

Which “heaven” do you think Elijah ascended to? The fact that he later wrote a scathing letter to evil King Jehoram in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 indicates he was merely transferred to another area and continued in his assignment as a prophet.

This view would support the words of 1 Corinthians 15:50, that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”

Was Elijah’s ascension into heaven similar to an airplane disappearing into the sky but not entering the spirit realm, “the heaven of heavens”? You decide.

I believe in heaven. I also believe Jesus’ death and resurrection opened the way for others to go to heaven. As Colossians 1:18 says, he is “firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.” — Common English Bible.

Humans don’t decide who goes to heaven — God does. Those who make it are privileged indeed. What about the rest? Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life...”

*For a copy of The Little White Book of Light featuring more than 100 Wright Way columns, visit barnesandnoble.com, booksamillion.com and amazon.com.