By Roland W. Keith
Every once in a while, a story appears about someone who has been pronounced clinically dead, only to be revived with a tale to tell about what they experienced on the “other side.” Usually I take those claims with a grain of salt; however, there is one such story I do take seriously. It is recorded in I Corinthians 12:2-4: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.” Paul did not know if the man was transported bodily, or still in his body having a vision, or if he was having what we would today call an “out-of-body” experience. But clearly, he trusted the man’s account of what he saw.
Most of us will never have such an experience, therefore we must study such claims and determine if the eyewitness accounts are trustworthy. Does the evidence support the claimant’s story? That is, by the way, the crux of the gospel, and all of Holy scripture. We live after the events and lives of those who made the claims. Jesus once said, “"Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). We have only the written word and those who deliver it to us to rely upon (Romans 10:14). Some claim that it is a fairy tale, or worse — a hoax perpetrated to mislead the gullible. However, both of those claims fail the test. Reality is easily separated from fairy tales and hoaxes are readily exposed with facts. On the other hand the gospel and the other New Testament documents withstood the intense scrutiny and testing of Jesus and His apostles and other disciples by competent authority even to the point of persecution and death; their accounts concurrently being tested by thousands of eyewitnesses and participants in countless events all designed and providentially supported by signs and wonders and recorded as evidence to be presented to all who are willing to listen. As I have written before, if the claims set forth by Jesus and His followers had been false Christianity would never have survived the first century.
Interestingly, we find the following caution delivered to the Sanhedrin by one of its most noted members, Gamaliel, during their examination of the apostles: “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5:38-40). This was sage advice. Many false Messiahs arose before and after Jesus all with the same results— their pretensions disproved and they and their followers either put to death are scattered in the winds. Only the assertions of Jesus and His followers have stood the test of time. As an old Navy Senior Chief, I would say the words of the New Testament are tried, tempered and true. So, what does Holy scripture have to tell us about Paradise?
For one thing it tells us that God’s people have long sought “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). It also tells us that in that country God has prepared a city for us to dwell in. Accordingly, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus said that He was the path to the Father (John 14:6), and that those who follow Him can rejoice in the fact that their names are written on the rolls in heaven, where the city of the living God and the tree of life await their arrival (Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:22-23; Revelation 2:7). Peter wrote that it is a place where righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:13). Paul said it is a place beyond our imagining (I Corinthians 2:9); a place reserved not for flesh and blood but for those who have put on the eternal likeness of our Lord and Savior (I Corinthians 15:50-57; Philippians 3:20-21).
When the gates of heaven are finally opened it will be a day of unsurpassed joy for those who are in Christ and unimaginable sadness for those who have rejected Him. Jesus said, “when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29). Paul described that day to his readers: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” ( II Thessalonians 1:5-10). Yet, for those of us heaven-bound I believe the bitter-sweetness of that day will be eternally washed away when we enter into the presence of the LORD.
Regarding the dead and those still alive when Jesus returns Paul wrote, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). What a strange and wonderful day that will be! I am sure that even those of us who are afraid of heights will find the experience most exhilarating!
I have often thought of that day. The day of judgment. I usually picture long lines of billions of people waiting in line to be judged, but in reality, it will probably be over in the blink of an eye. The next thing a I think about is what the first day in heaven will be like, or the first week. How long will it take for everything to sink in? One thing I do believe— it will never get old. Concerning what it will be like the Bible gives us only tantalizing glimpses. In Revelation John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (21:1-5).
I am convinced by the testimony of those eyewitnesses who were inspired by God to write what they experienced and saw. Heaven is real. It is a home made ready for those who have been made righteous by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 12:22-23; Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7). It is a place set apart for those who love the Lord and have remained faithful to Him; a habitation where the followers of Christ will be rewarded for their faithfulness, as Paul noted: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (II Timothy 4:7-8; Revelation 2:10; Matthew 10:22). It is a place of rest, purity and glory (Hebrews 4:9-11; Revelation 21:26-27). It is where we can spend life eternal with our Creator (Romans 6:23).
I am fortunate to have grown up in a Christian home. Yet, even with the advantage of having godly parents who set the example and an ideal childhood in a small town in West Texas, there were times in my life when I strayed away from the path I had been taught so well. I have heard it said that it is not easy being a Christian. I think it is. Jesus said His yoke was easy (Matthew 11:30). Its just that humans can find a way to make anything hard. Just look at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Or, the history of the Lord’s church. It is estimated that there are over 39,000 denominations worldwide. Most of those have come into existence over the centuries due to disagreements among various church members or groups who wanted to do things their own way. However, Jesus said there is only one way, only one church. Agreeing to disagree or separating because we disagree is not a path to unity. Nor is it a path to salvation. Paradise exists. We have briefly reviewed why we can believe in it, what it is like, and who will be there. On that last point I have one more thing to say. Sitting in a pew on Sunday guarantees nothing. Those who will one day reside in heaven will do so by the grace of God and their obedience to His word and will. I encourage everyone to study the Bible diligently and with an open-mind, and then ask yourself one question. Not what does the preacher say, or what did my parents believe, or what does my favorite teacher say. Ask yourself this: “Am I doing what God says I must do, and am I following His prescribed commandments faithfully?”
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.