This comprehensive study, featuring contributions from a wide range of evangelical scholars, explores the doctrine of heaven from a variety of angles.
About the Author
Christopher W. Morgan (PhD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary) is a professor of theology and the dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. He is the author or editor of over twenty books, including several volumes in the Theology in Community series.
Robert A. Peterson (PhD, Drew University) is a writer and theologian. He taught for many years at various theological seminaries and has written or edited over thirty books.
Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. is the author of several books, including the Preaching the Word commentary on Isaiah and Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, as well as a contributor to the ESV Study Bible. He and his wife, Jani, have four children.
Stephen J. Wellum (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Stephen lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, Karen, and they have five adult children.
Andreas J. Köstenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the director of the Center for Biblical Studies and research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a prolific author, distinguished evangelical scholar, and editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is the founder of Biblical Foundations, a ministry devoted to restoring the biblical foundations of the home and the church. Köstenberger and his wife have four children.
Gerald Bray (DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne) is research professor at Beeson Divinity School and director of research for the Latimer Trust. He is a prolific writer and has authored or edited numerous books, including The Doctrine of God, Biblical Interpretation, God Is Love, and God Has Spoken.
Ajith Fernando (ThM, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka after serving as the ministry's national director for thirty-five years. He and his wife, Nelun, are active in a church ministering primarily to the urban poor, and his ministry includes counseling and mentoring younger staff and pastors. He is the author of seventeen books published in twenty languages. Ajith lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with his wife, and they have two adult children and four grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
LEARNING ABOUT HEAVEN
ROBERT A. PETERSON
* * *
But, as it is written,
"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him" —
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. — 1 Corinthians 2:9–10
Paul's words are ironic. On one hand, he says that "what God has prepared for those who love him," what Paul calls "our glory" (in 1 Cor. 2:7), is beyond human knowing (v. 9). It is inaccessible to human senses; we cannot find it out. Moreover, "the heart of man" cannot even imagine its greatness. On the other hand, in the very next verse, the apostle affirms, "these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit" (v. 10).
So which is it, Paul? Is heaven beyond human imagining? Or is it revealed through the apostles in Scripture? The answer is yes! — it is both. On our own, we have no access to the divine. But God has stooped to reveal himself supremely in the apostles' preaching and writing of Scripture. Thus we can know what God has told us ahead of time about heaven.
The problem is that we human beings show an incorrigible tendency not to be satisfied with Holy Scripture. As a result we seek knowledge of "the other side" in the wrong places. This has been true throughout church history, as well as in our own day. We will briefly explore:
Tondal, an Irish knight who, about 1150, was given a guided tour of heaven in a dream;
The Adamites of the 1400s, who sought to bring heaven down to earth by their efforts;
Betty Eadie, whose out-of-the body experience in 1973 launched a best-selling book; and
The Heaven's Gate cult of the 1990s, which tried to go to heaven in a flying saucer.
Tondal: A Visit to Heaven in a Dream in 1150
This is the story of Tondal, an Irish knight who visited hell and heaven in a dream in 1150. The tale, originating in an Irish Benedictine monastery, influenced medieval literature and art. Tondal's guardian angel sought to sanctify the knight by leading his soul through hell's punishments. He suffers the terrible, physical pains of hell, including gross torments.
Tondal's soul also experiences sensual delights when he is taken to an earthly paradise with three exquisite walls made of silver, gold, and precious stones, respectively. Passing through the first wall of gleaming silver, he sees godly laypeople in shining white clothes singing praises to God as they long for Christ's return. The knight is overwhelmed by the delicious scents, sights, and sounds of heaven on earth. All pain and suffering are banished.
Next, the angel leads our knight through a second wall — of glimmering gold — where resplendent people sing sweet praises. Dressed in silk, they sit in golden chairs and are adorned with gleaming crowns. A hint of the tale's purpose is revealed: these people had sexual experience but were later purified through martyrdom or asceticism. The story extols monastic virginity.
Going deeper into the same beautiful land, Tondal sees people playing charming music amidst glorious surroundings. Who are they? They are the most obedient monks and nuns.
Tondal cannot enter, because the Holy Trinity is present and also because once a person has gone inside, he can no longer be separated from the communion of saints. Tondal is not dead and so must return to life and die in sanctity before he can enjoy the beatific vision. But the angel gives him a second reason: he cannot enter because he is not a virgin. Here in the inner monastic precincts of the golden land only perpetual virgins are allowed. ... He must stay outside, but even so he rejoices with all of his senses.
Tondal comes to a huge tree with singing birds in its branches and sweet fruit dangling from its limbs. "Here are the cloistered virgins of both sexes who have never ceased praising and blessing the Lord. Each wears a golden crown and bears a golden scepter." The tree is the church; the virgins are its builders and defenders.
The angel leads the knight to the third and most glorious wall. This one is not made of silver or gold but is composed of gems, with gold for mortar! The precious stones are those of Revelation 21, including jasper, sapphire, emerald, onyx, beryl, and topaz (vv. 19–21). The tale's glorification of monastic virginity reaches its apex when Tondal climbs the wall and beholds the perpetual virgins among the nine orders of angels. The knight hears ineffable words before waking up from his dream. As a result of his journey, Tondal is full of wisdom and is converted.
Jeffrey Burton Russell is accurate: "In this vision of ascetic hierarchy, virgin monastic superiors are at the summit." This tale of a knight's journey to heaven on earth is propaganda for the monastic life in general and for monastic virginity in particular.
Sadly, our next specimen does not occur in a dream but in history. And its version of heaven on earth ends up being hellish, as we shall see.
The Adamites: Bringing Heaven Down to Earth in the 1420s and 1430s
Jan Hus (c. 1372–1415) was one of several Czech preachers who stirred up the people against the Bohemian higher clergy, which was largely German, very wealthy, and corrupt. Hus, a Roman Catholic priest and professor at the University of Prague, helped create a reform movement. He preached the Bible as the means to produce spiritual and moral change. He revised a Czech translation of the Scriptures to encourage the people to read the Word of God.
Hus challenged the pope's power and threatened the status quo in Bohemia. When Hus was ordered by the archbishop of Prague to stop preaching, he refused and left the city in 1412. Although he was given a promise of safe conduct to the Council of Constance in 1414, when he arrived he was arrested, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake.
"Hus was more dangerous dead than alive. A widespread movement named after him developed" — the Hussites. Though all were more extreme than Hus himself, they had a radical wing, the Taborites. The latter took their name from Mount Tabor, where Christ predicted his second coming, they taught. When the millennium did not come in February 1420, as they had predicted, they became revolutionary, viewing themselves as God's holy warriors. They gained many Bohemian adherents and fought their opponents with some success until suffering a devastating defeat in 1434.
But even the Taborites were not the most extreme Hussite group. That distinction belongs to the Adamites, also known as the Pikarts. This group taught many heresies.
The Pikarts vaguely embraced a pantheistic concept of God. Denying original sin and the existence of Satan, they believed that they were fully redeemed and good. The Adamites lived as if all prophecies had been fulfilled and the millennium had already begun. In the belief that they were like Christ, and as innocent as Adam and Eve in Paradise, they wore no clothes, even in cold weather. They engaged in sexual promiscuity, prohibiting marriage and holding that all men possessed all women in common. Owning no property themselves, they believed that they had the right to seize other people's possessions. Thus they attacked neighboring villages, taking whatever they wanted and ruthlessly killing the inhabitants. The Adamites' savage and lewd behavior proved so shocking that a Hussite army exterminated them.
If Tondal in a dream visited an earthly heaven especially for monastic virgins, and the Adamites believed they themselves had brought heaven down to earth, our next figure maintains she went to heaven and came back with astounding revelations from Jesus.
Betty J. Eadie: To Heaven and Back in 1973
"To The Light, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom I owe all that I have. He is the 'staff' that I lean on; without him I would fall." So reads the dedication to Betty Eadie's New York Times number-one best seller, Embraced by the Light, her first-person account of an extraordinary near-death experience. She has shared her message with countless people through television appearances and hundreds of talks.
So what was Betty's remarkable experience? She had gone to the hospital on November 18, 1973, for a partial hysterectomy at her doctor's advice. She had successful surgery in the morning and, as she tells the story, that night died and left her body for over four hours before returning to it. Wonderful things happened to her in the spirit world. Although she was prohibited from remembering all that happened in her out-of-the-body experience, she remembers it was so great she did not want to return to her body or beloved family.
At death her spirit was pulled up and out of her body as if by a magnet. Her immediate feeling was one of great freedom, as her new body was weightless. She traveled great distances instantly and at will. She passed through a tunnel of dense blackness, aware that other people and animals were there. Though some lingered there, she went quickly until she saw a pinpoint of light in the distance. Racing toward the light, she saw the figure of a man standing in it, bathed in light more brilliant than any she had ever seen. She was literally embraced by the light, who was Jesus, "the Son of God, though he himself was also a God." His presence overwhelmed her with unconditional love. Unlike what her childhood training by Roman Catholic nuns and Protestant Sunday school teachers had led her to believe, Jesus had no judgment for her but only great love, even as the purpose of his mission in coming into the world was to teach love.
While outside her body in heaven, Jesus taught her many things through direct impartation of knowledge. The result? She learned the equivalent of volumes instantly. She learned that all human beings had existed long before their births as spirit beings in heaven. She learned that all religions of the world are necessary so the preexistent souls who have been born into bodies might grow spiritually. She openly shares her conclusions:
Having received this knowledge, I knew that we have no right to criticize any church or religion in any way. They are all precious and important in his [God's] sight. Very special people with important missions have been placed in all countries, in all religions, in every station of life, that they might touch others. There is a fullness of the gospel, but most people will not attain it here.
She learned that all human beings have been endowed with free will by God, who would never override that freedom. She learned that God loves every human being with unconditional love and uses our experiences in life and after death to take away our fear. As a result, we will live with him forever as spirit beings with godlike qualities. All human beings are good and finally will be saved, though those who are too earthbound will have to linger in purgatory while they are healed by the light. "But eventually, they learn to move on to accept the greater warmth and security of God."
Though much of her heavenly knowledge was lost when she returned to her body, she distinctly remembered this:
I traveled to many other worlds — earths like our own but more glorious, and always filled with loving, intelligent people. We are all God's children and he has filled the immensity of space for us. ... I saw galaxies and traveled to them with ease and almost instantaneous speed, visiting their worlds and meeting more children of our God, all of them our spiritual brothers and sisters. And all this was a remembering, a reawakening. I knew that I had been to these places before.
How was visiting these planets in other galaxies "a remembering, a reawakening"? And when had she "been to these places before"? The answer is, in her life as a preexistent soul, ages before she was born with a body. All of this, she claims, was directly communicated to her by Jesus in heaven. Who is Jesus, according to Betty Eadie's revelations? He is "the Son of God, though he himself was also a God." Contrary to her Protestant upbringing, God the Father and Jesus were not "one being," but "Jesus was a separate being from God." She learned Jesus was "a perfect man."
The ultimate hope of Christians is based on Christ's death and resurrection and centers on the resurrection of the body and life with the Trinity and all other believers on a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). Contrary to this, Betty sees no need for Christ to make atonement, regards "the earth ... [as] only a temporary place for our schooling," and regards returning to her body as "abhorrent." Her hope centers on being released from the prison house of the body at death and returning to the spiritual state she had as a preexistent spirit being in a spirit world.
At least eight times Mrs. Eadie appeals to the Word of God. Sadly, she does not interpret the Bible in context even one time! Her view of heaven, purportedly gained directly from the less-than-divine Christ, contradicts Scripture in numerous places and squares much better with Mormonism. I do not feel a need to be able to explain exactly what happened to her in her near-death experience. But I am confident we should appeal to the Word of God and no one's experience, including Betty Eadie's, in matters pertaining to God and heaven.
We have learned of Tondal's dream visit to paradise on earth, the Adamites' failed attempt to bring heaven down to earth, and Betty Eadie's claim that Jesus taught her much in an out-of-the-body experience. Next we explore a modern cult that claims to have gone to heaven in a flying saucer.
The Heaven's Gate Cult: To Heaven in a UFO in 1997
The world was shocked in March 1997 when thirty-nine members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide in Southern California by ingesting lethal drugs. But if people had known the history of the group's leaders — Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles — they would not have been surprised at all.
Applewhite and Nettles went by various names: Bo and Peep, Pig and Sow, and Do and Ti. And the groups they founded over the years had various names too: the Human Individual Metamorphosis, the UFO People, and finally, Heaven's Gate. Convinced they were the two witnesses of Revelation 12, Applewhite and Nettles proclaimed a flying-saucer gospel formany years. Although the details of their message changed over the years, one theme remained constant: the two leaders had come to earth in a spaceship on a mission with an important message: "Only escape from our planet, doomed by pollution and decay, [can] save the human race."
According to Bo and Peep, salvation involves moving outside the earth's atmosphere to the kingdom of God, which they conceived of as a physical place. Those who are saved will be "beamed up by a flying saucer and transformed into a higher level, that of resurrected people." In the 1970s and 1980s the two leaders traveled in the western United States, seeking converts who would abandon families, friends, and employment to prepare for their ascent to space.
By the 1990s the message of the UFO cult evidenced a more dramatic and apocalyptic tone. In 1985 Nettles had "left her human vehicle." By 1987 the practice of castration had been introduced. In the early 1990s the group believed that the lift-off might take place in the next two years. They even took out an advertisement in USA Today stating that "the Earth's present civilization is about to be recycled — spaded under." They were making their final bid for recruits. As they awaited the end, along came the Hale-Bopp comet. For most people it was a celestial wonder. But to the Heaven's Gate group it signaled the end. The tail of Hale-Bopp, they believed, concealed the UFO that would lift them up. But to be beamed up to the next level they had to leave their human containers. And this they did by swallowing a dose of lethal drugs.
The knight Tondal explored an earthly monastic paradise in a dream; the Adamites tried unsuccessfully to create heaven on earth; Betty Eadie claimed to have died, been "embraced by the Light," and returned back to tell about it; the Heaven's Gate cult tried to go to heaven in a UFO.
What do these four very different stories have in common? Actually, a number of things. They testify to the fact that human beings are inherently religious and made to worship God but sadly have a tendency to put things in God's place. Why do stories like these exist? What drives them is a deep inner longing for God. With Tondal the knight, humans long to dwell in bliss. The Adamites' misguided hope for heaven on earth is a dim reflection of a true biblical hope for that very thing, though it will not come by human effort but divine. In spite of Betty Eadie's very wrong theology, regarding Jesus as the focus of heaven is right. And although the Heaven's Gate's end was tragic folly, the desire to connect heaven and earth is God-given and will be realized in heaven's coming down to earth (Rev. 21:10).
Sadly, humans also have a tendency to put things in God's place. Curiously, though I did not see it at first, all four stories have a subtext of sexuality gone awry, whether Tondal's tale's putting monastic virginity above married life, the Adamites' lewd behavior, Betty Eadie's downplaying of the physical body, or Heaven's Gate's castration.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Heaven"
Copyright © 2014 Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations 11
Series Preface 13
1 Learning about Heaven Robert A. Peterson 19
2 Heaven in the Old Testament Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. 43
3 Heaven in the Synoptic Gospels and Acts Jonathan T. Pennington 63
4 Heaven in Paul's Letters Stephen J. Wellum 83
5 Heaven in the General Epistles Jon Laansma 111
6 Heaven in John's Gospel and Revelation Andreas J. Köstenberger 139
7 Pictures of Heaven Robert A. Peterson 159
8 The History of Heaven Gerald Bray 185
9 Angels and Heaven Stephen F. Noll 203
10 Heaven for Persecuted Saints Ajith Fernando 223
11 The Hope of Heaven David B. Calhoun 243
Selected Bibliography 263
Name Index 267
Subject Index 271
Scripture Index 275
What People are Saying About This
“I do not know another series quite like Theology in Community. Each volume is grounded in both the Old and New Testaments, and then goes on to wrestle with the way the chosen theme has been developed in history, shaped the lives of men and women, and fits in the scheme of confessionally strong Christian theology. The volumes are characterized by rigor and reverence and, better yet, they remain accessible to all serious readers. If we are to pursue more than unintegrated biblical data, but what Paul calls ‘the pattern of sound teaching,’ this is an excellent place to begin.”
D. A. Carson, Emeritus Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; Cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
“This distinguished series brings together some of the best theological work in the evangelical church on the greatest themes of the Christian faith. Each volume stretches the mind and anchors the soul. A treasury of devout scholarship not to be missed!”
Timothy George, Research Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture
“Robert Peterson and Chris Morgan have put together an elegant and edifying series of books for the Theology in Community series. This series tackles some big and juicy topics on theology, ranging from kingdom to suffering to sin to glory. They have recruited some of the best theological thinkers in the world to explain what it means to have a lsquo;faith seeking understandingrsquo; in our contemporary age. The volumes are full of solid teaching in biblical, historical, systematic, and practical theologies and contain a wealth of immense learning. A valuable resource for any thinking Christian.”
Michael F. Bird, Academic Dean and Lecturer in Theology, Ridley College, Melbourne