I've received so many emails with questions this week that today I'm going to answer them 'en masse'. Yet for all the emails, the questions really just revolved around 3 subjects, which means there is a huge need to know in the body of Christ in these areas.
1) What about heaven/hell experiences of people who have gone and returned?
When I shared last week about Christians going straight to heaven, I received many emails back asking about people who claim to have died and come back, or were shown hell or heaven. The questions include everything from are these experiences real, to what about their claims of what they saw?
The first question about whether people can go to heaven and return is seen in scripture. The whole of The Revelation from chapter 4 to the end is about the apostle John who was caught up to heaven and shown events in the last days of this age and beyond, returning from heaven safe and sound to tell the story.
In II Corinthians 12: 1-10 Paul talks about being 'caught up into Paradise' (I'll explain below), Paradise being a New Testament term for a part of heaven. So the answer is yes, it is possible for people to have visions and even be caught up in the Spirit to heaven and return. And I know several people who claim to have been taken to hell, most all the credible ones I know had the experience before believing in Jesus.
What about the things they claim to see? The experiences people have mentioned to me include several African women who claim to have been to hell and saw women who wore jewelry in hell for that offense, and a Nigerian man who claimed to see non-tithers in hell. Those who have been to heaven claim, in the case of a 4 year old boy, that everyone in heaven has wings and the Father is about 30 feet tall (10 meters). Who and what to believe?
Spiritual experiences have to be communicated through our flawed minds - we aren't perfect - and that means people who aren't grounded in the Word nor mature in the faith or life can allow culture, religion, immaturity of age, and other factors to influence the understanding and telling of an experience. Many who don't know the Word and some who aren't pure in heart relate these experiences within those shortcomings.
Nigeria and much of African Christian culture is currently being swept up in the Prosperity gospel that had its hold over the US in the 1980's and 1990's. A holiness movement is part of that as well with great debate going on about women and their hair and jewelry and proper clothing to wear.
So it should come as no surprise that some from there who claim to have been to hell, say they saw non-tithers and women who wore jewelry there - if they truly did see hell, they either consciously or subconsciously God only knows, twisted the experiences to their cultural expectations.
They don't know Paul's instructions not to braid hair nor display costly pearls and jewelry in I Timothy 2:9 was a reference to Roman styles at the time. Roman women showed off their wealth and status by braiding their hair and piling it high on their heads, if wealthy enough they added braided wigs, interlacing hair and clothes with pearls and jewels.
All Paul said was not to show off wealth but to dress modestly - but the culture of Nigerian/African holiness lifts the verse out of context to teach it immoral to wear jewelry, and if/when these women have an experience, they add in claiming to have seen women in hell for the offense of braiding hair and wearing jewelry. Then people easily influenced by spiritual experiences leave the Word or don't gain understanding of the Word and Spirit to believe these errors.
The little boy who's experiences are told in the great little book, Heaven is for Real, was only 4 years old when he went to heaven. Again, it should therefore come as no surprise he said everyone in heaven has wings (they don't) or that the Father God seemed 30 feet tall (He isn't) - he was a 4 year old and the telling of all of his experience took place over a period of years. I'm 6'6" tall and I've had little kids look at me like I was 30' tall, but if a child says in a book the Father is 30' tall, pretty soon sister so and so will claim she went to heaven and saw the Father 30' tall as well - such is human tendency for error and attention grabbing.
It is therefore the balance of Word and Spirit through people of upright character that you are looking for in a person who claims to have had experiences in heaven or hell, with angels or demons.
2) Where does our heavenly body come from?
Several expressed relief that there is no such thing as 'soul sleep' nor purgatory, and that the Word says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The NT uses 'sleep' of the righteous dead to indicate a temporary condition, as Jesus used of Jairus' daughter in Mark 5:39whom He raised from the dead.
Unfortunately some have taken its use out of context and culture of the day to build false doctrine around it.
But what part(s) of us go to heaven and how do we get a new body?
First understand heaven and hell. There used to be 2 holding compartments in the earth, in the spirit realm. (Not someplace geologists can drill down to in the natural, but in the spirit realm inside the earth is the location nonetheless)
2 holding places in the earth
Luke 16:19-31 illustrates these 2 places in the story of the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. The evil rich man went to hell, and across a great chasm from him was the beggar Lazarus with Abraham in the place called Abraham's bosom, or Paradise as it was also known at the time.
Abraham told the rich man those in hell could not cross over to Paradise, nor could they in Paradise cross over to hell to help them. These two compartments in the earth, hell and Paradise/Abraham's bosom, existed across from each other up until the cross.
Paradise is where the righteous dead went until their sins were paid for, hell was the holding place for the unrighteous. This is why Jesus told the repentant man on the cross, 'Today you will be with me in Paradise'. Jewish tradition says Paradise was a park-like place with trees and grass and water and hills. (Luke 23:41)
"When He ascended up on high He led captive a host of captives, and He received (and gave) gifts to and for mankind. Now this expression, that He ascended, means that He first descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is the One who also ascended far above all..." Ephesians 4:8-9
Notice when Jesus died He descended to the lower parts, plural, in the earth - Paradise and hell. Peter tells us among other things He announced to the people of Noah's day essentially, that He was the True Ark. The word often translated 'preach' in that passage isn't preach at all, but 'to announce as a herald' - no invitation, just an announcement. I Peter 3:18-22
When the Lord had just risen from the dead and Mary was clinging to Him, He told her: "Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father..." But later that evening He appeared to the disciples. John 20:17
So why did He tell Mary He needed to ascend, only to return later that day to have a meal with them? As Ephesians 4:8 says, He led those once captive by their sins, now captive to Himself. Jesus led the whole population of Paradise and Paradise itself up to heaven because He had paid for their sins. There now remains only 1 holding place in the earth, hell.
Hebrews 9:11-12, 14, 23-24 reveals at His resurrection Christ entered into heaven itself to present His sacrifice to the Father, that the Judge could declare the sin of the world paid. Then that evening He went down to appear to the disciples, as He did off and on over the next 40 days until His ascension.
This is why Paul said in II Corinthians 12:4 that he was caught 'up' into Paradise - ever since the resurrection, Paradise has been up in heaven - and that friends, is they how and why Christians now go directly to heaven when they die. Paradise was taken captive by Christ and carried there - amazing!
3) So what part of a person is in heaven, and where does my glorified body come from?
We are made up of 3 parts operating in a trinity. Paul said in I Thessalonians 5:23 - I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless until you meet the Lord. Best case scenario is the we are moved from the Life in our spirit outward to our soul (mind) which is being renewed, and then to our obedient body - flowing spirit to soul to body. (This flow of spirit-soul-body is exactly in the likeness of God: He flows from the Father through the Spirit to the body. This is why we pray to the Father, the answer comes via the Spirit, to us the body. Spirit-soul-body.)
David noted in Psalm 51:6: "You desire truth in the inward parts; in the hidden part you have put wisdom."
The inwards 'parts' are our spirit and soul. The 'hidden' part is our spirit. No one can divide the spirit and soul, for the soul flows from the spirit. Your spirit and soul make you, you.
The only One who can divide between soul and spirit is the Living Person of the Word of God, who is likened to a Living 2-edge sword in Hebrews 4:12-13: "The Word of God is a living 2 edged sword, able to divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and critiques the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And all things are open and naked before Him with whom we have to do." (The heart being our spirit/soul, with various scriptures emphasizing either spirit or soul or both depending on the author's point when using the word 'heart')
So when your earth body dies, your spirit and soul go to heaven. You look like you, talk like you - this earth body is more like a suit of clothes you take off to get to heaven. Paul said in I Corinthians 15:35-49 that this earth body will be changed to heavenly material - but what of those whose body has returned to dust?
Matter never ceases to exist, it only changes form. The camp fire wood you burned 25 years ago still exists in the form of ashes that became part of the earth, smoke that became part of the atmosphere and most likely then part of rain that has since washed into the ocean, and so on. I still remember the day my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Land, grossed us out by telling us this fact and illustrating it by saying we may have breathed in the dust of the body of Julius Caesar or that of dinosaurs.
How the Father gathers and transforms the remains of millions of bodies over the centuries into heavenly material for their glorified bodies, or whether He skips that and gives us all bodies made of heavenly material from elsewhere, we don't know. But we do know what the Word says, that we will one day have a body made of eternal material, and for this we groan, waiting to be clothed upon from on high. (Romans 8:19-23)
Returning to the subject next week. Until then, blessings!
www.cwowi.org and email at firstname.lastname@example.org