Are these popular ideas

true or false? by Calvin Burrell


To many Christians, few themes are more precious than heaven, a topic in which fact and fiction are easily confused. Try to identify truth or myth in these four statements. The comments that follow each are our effort to help in the process. Read the Bible for the final Word.

Truth or myth?

Statement 1: Heaven is the eternal home of the faithful, promised in Scripture.

Comment: Jesus and His apostles seldom speak or write about heaven as the destiny of God's people. Neither is that sort of talk and teaching found in the Old Testament. The phrases go to heaven, going to heaven, or went to heaven may occur in a few paraphrases, but not in literal translations of Scripture. Instead, terms like kingdom of God, My Father's house, a city whose builder and maker is Cod, Zion, a place, with Christ, where I Am, before the throne, in His temple, and glory describe our eternal home — but rarely heaven. Thus, statement 1 is mostly myth.

Statement 2: Heaven is the wispy, far-away dreamland of popular imagination.

Comment: The Bible's gospel is not much about us going there, as three-year-old Colton Burpo claimed he did; it's more about heaven's Lord coming here. He came to earth once to live, die, and live again. And He's coming again to resurrect the dead and restore all created things. When this millennial restitution is complete, the Holy City will come down from heaven to the new earth, where God himself will live with His people forever. Statement 2 states a cultural truth, not scriptural fact.

Statement 3: Heaven is the intermediate state between death and resurrection.

Comment: The thought that people go to heaven or hell when they die weakens major Bible teachings about the future:

Resurrection of the dead. If popular belief about heaven and hell is correct, then a future resurrection is unnecessary, since the righteous dead already enjoy their eternal bliss and the wicked are now in torment.

Final judgment. If prevailing opinion is correct, then a future Day of Judgment is redundant. The destinies of the dead were already determined on the day they died.

Christ's return. If at their deaths the saved are raised to heaven and the lost are sent to hell,  then Jesus' second coming is evacuated of much of its force, and the moment of death replaces Christ's return as the "great day of the Lord."

Statement 3 raises issues and serious questions about its truth.

Statement 4: Heaven is our escape from great tribulation, via the rapture.

Comment: The hope of escape from a troubled earth to heaven can furnish many alibis for not doing all we should to improve earthly life here and now. Besides lacking firm Bible support, the pre-tribulation and mid-tribulation rapture theories exacerbate this no-fear blooper: The earth will soon burn, but we'll be gone! Statement 4 too is more myth than truth.

Quotes from N. T. Wright

in Surprised by Hope

For many millions of believing Christians in today's world, the second coming is part of a scenario in which the present world is doomed to destruction while the chosen few are snatched up to heaven (p. 120).

At no point in the gospels or Acts does anyone say anything remotely like, "Jesus has gone into heaven, so let's be sure we can follow him." They say, rather, "Jesus is in heaven, ruling the whole world, and he will one day return to make that rule complete" (p. 11 7).

Yes, there is a promised rest after the labors of this life, and the word heaven may be an appropriate, though vague, way of denoting where this rest takes place. But this time of rest is the prelude to something very different, which will emphatically involve earth as well. Earth — the renewed earth — is where the reign will take place, which is why the New Testament regularly speaks not of our going to be where Jesus is but of his coming to where we are. (p. 190).

"God's kingdom" and "kingdom of heaven" mean the same thing: the sovereign rule of God (that is, the rule of heaven, of the one who lives in heaven) ... (p. 201).

... the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit … are designed not to take us away from this earth but rather to make us agents of the transformation of this earth ... (p. 201).

To snatch saved souls away to a disembodied heaven would destroy the whole point. God is to become king of the whole world at last (p. 202).


The 700+ occurrences of heaven in the Authorized King James Bible present a variety of tones and overtones. "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Bible truth

Now that we've seen a little of what heaven isn't, let's reflect on what it is.

In the Bible's story, heaven is the firmament (i.e., air or space) — the part of God's total creation that's not earth (Genesis 1:1, 6-8). This firmament has two levels: the near-space and atmosphere around the earth, where birds and airplanes fly, and the outer space in which our solar system and all galaxies abide. In these heavens, God set the birds and the sun, moon, and stars He had made (vv. 14-20).

Further, heaven is God's throne (Matthew 5:34; Revelation 4:1, 2). Writing about himself, Paul tells of a man caught up to Paradise — the "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). What he saw there is not described, nor could he utter the inexpressible words he heard.

Not a physical location past outer space, this ultimate heaven is God's inner sanctum, a most holy place apart from the created space-and-time universe, a dimension of the eternal spirit Deity and His holy angels. That's what the Bible's heaven is! 

Bible Advocate - Nov/Dec 2014  -  a  publication  of  the  Church  of  God  Seventh  Day  -  Denver,  CO.  USA