Written by Jimmie Burroughs – e-Mail to a friend
The film “Heaven is for real” opened Easter weekend (2014) beating out Johnny Depp’s new film “Transcendence” at the box office. Is heaven a real place is a question on the minds of many this time of the year as the church across the world celebrates the resurrection of Christ?
How can a person ever really know for sure if heaven actually exists? That is a good question, but no different from many other questions concerning our existence on earth. Much that surrounds life on earth is not completely understood and can only be accepted by faith, including many things outside the religious realm. Heaven’s existence is also ultimately accepted by faith if at all.
Faith is not what some consider it to be. It is not blindly accepting a dogma because it is a popular belief. True faith has substance as well as substantial evidence. For example, when a credit card company accepts you, it is because the credit card company places its faith in you to pay on time. However, credit card companies do not operate on blind faith. They are careful to investigate your credit history. If you paid in the past, they believe that you will also pay in the future. Neither should we accept heaven’s existence on blind faith. Just as the credit card company takes care in investigating each applicant, so should we carefully investigate all the claims concerning heaven’s existence, beginning with the Bible. The Bible teaches that there is a heaven. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you [heaven] if it were not so I would have told you,” (John 14:6). You may be thinking, well that just brings up another question: How are we to know that the Bible is true? Once again, it is accepted by faith, not blind faith but faith that is well supported by evidence, by history, science, and fulfilled prophecy. (For more information on the inspiration of Scripture read “How we know the Bible is the word of God.”)
The easiest thing to do is just to say, without any serious investigation, well I just do not believe there is a heaven. Seriously, does that make it so, that there is no heaven, just because you decided to believe that there is not? It does not matter much what any of us believes. We can choose to believe most anything we please, even that which is proven untrue. What is true and what is false, is what really matters. The greatest proof that there is a heaven is based on whether Jesus was truly who He said He was. There are many false beliefs concerning Jesus. Here are some of the popular ones:
- He is just a legend
- He was just a man who believed that he was more.
- He lied about who he was.
- He was a deranged lunatic.
He was a legend: There are a number of problems, which come to mind about the conception that Jesus, as we know Him, is just a legend:
The reputable first century historians, Josephus, Tacitus, et al, the first century contemporaries of Christ, the disciples of Jesus, the family members of Jesus, and The Roman officials never disputed the miracles or supernatural feats of Jesus. Most certainly many would have spoken up if there had been any evidence that Jesus did not do the things the Bible ascribed to Him, such as the feeding of the five thousand from a few pieces of food to walking on water and raising the dead. The Pharisees tried relentlessly to prove Jesus a fake but never were able to do so. Had Jesus been a fake, there would have been a great uproar but there was nothing of the sort. Jesus has none of the characteristics of a legend.
Legends typically develop over a long period. The reputation of Jesus was formed primarily during His three-year public ministry and was solid within twenty years after His death. All the authors of the New Testament wrote shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ ascribing the miracles and the supernatural works to Him. The disciples unequivocally hailed Jesus as Master and Lord.
Ironically, at the crucifixion of Jesus most of His disciples scattered and hid in fear of also being slain. After they had witnessed the resurrected Lord, their attitude changed, and they became fearless witnesses of Jesus, risking their lives each day as they traveled and preached the gospel. In fact, most of the disciples finally were put to death for their stand for Christ. The disciples were ordinary men. They were intelligent, logical and had the same fears as we do. It would have been insane for them to be willing to lay their life down for a fake who presented a phony way of life supported by lies. They were convinced because they witnessed the miracles of Jesus; they saw Him alive after He was crucified and was buried. They saw him as He ascended into heaven and knew He was truly the Lord. The question is what kind of person would be willing to lay down their life for a fake. The answer is no one. The disciples were willing to lay down their life because their faith was well founded and proved. Here are some examples of the sacrifices they made:
The two people who were the less likely to have supported their belief in Christ by laying down their life was Paul and Jesus’ (half) brother James.
Paul: Paul, formerly Saul, was anti-Jesus before he met the Lord on the road to Damascus. He was a Jew but also a Roman citizen by birth. Saul of Tarsus was a Pharisee, a sect in Jerusalem, who strongly opposed Jesus. Saul swore to wipe out the newly formed Christian church called “the way.” He received letters from the high priest giving him the authority to arrest the followers of Jesus and bring them to prison. He was on his way to Damascus to carry out his intentions when he was struck down by a blinding light from heaven, brighter than the noonday sun. Only he, not his companions, saw the light and the vision of the resurrected Christ. Paul heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”(Acts 9:4, NIV). Paul asked whom it was that was speaking to him. Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do,” (Acts 9:5-6, NIV).
Paul was blinded. His companions, who heard the sound but not the voice or vision of Christ, led Paul to Damascus to a street called straight, to the house of Judas. For a period of three days, Paul was blind and did not eat or drink anything. During this time, Jesus appeared in a vision to Ananias and told him to go to Saul. Ananias was fearful because he knew the reputation of Saul how he had persecuted believers. Jesus assured Ananias that Saul was a chosen vessel to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles. Ananias obeyed and went to find Saul in the house of Judas and informed Saul that Jesus had sent him to restore his sight and that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit. He laid hands on Saul; the scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight, and his strength was returned. Saul remained with the disciples at Damascus for three days before returning to Jerusalem.
After this, Saul changed his name to Paul and commenced one of the greatest ministries of the New Testament. His faith in Jesus ultimately resulted in his martyrdom, in Rome, where he was decapitated. What a turn around for a person who hated Christians to a person who lay down his life for his faith in Jesus.
James: According to Scripture, James did not believe in Jesus: “For His brothers did not believe in Him,” (John 7:5). The Jewish Historian Josephus wrote that James was martyred in Jerusalem:
“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned….” Antiquities, Book 20, Chapter 9.
Let it be noted that Josephus did not claim to be a Christian. His work was to write Jewish history. His writings are extant history of the existence of Jesus as a historical person.
The reason James changed his mind about Jesus is that he saw Him after the resurrection: “Afterward He was seen by James….” (1Co 15:7). Seeing someone alive after seeing him crucified and buried can change a person’s view. It did James and he became a witness for Jesus, and that finally cost him his life.
Thomas: Perhaps you remember Thomas by his nickname “Doubting Thomas.” After the resurrection, Thomas doubted that Jesus was alive and said that he would not believe until he felt the nail scars in His hands. Jesus appeared unto the disciples when Thomas was present and let Thomas feel His nail scared hands. Thomas addressed Him as Lord and went forth a dedicated witness. Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and Margians. He suffered a cruel a painful death as a result of his faith in Christ. He was speared through in the four places in his body with pine spears; a red-hot iron plate was laid on his chest and he was burned alive at Calamene, a city in India, and was buried there.
Andrew: According to Hippolytus the historian, Andrew was crucified suspended on an olive tree at Patrae, Greece, a town of Achaia, and it was there he was buried.
Bartholomew: According to Hippolytus, Bartholomew was crucified upside down in Allanum, a town in what is the modern day Georgia, and there he was buried.
James, Son of Alphaeus: Hippolytus recorded that James was stoned to death and buried beside the temple in Jerusalem.
James, Son of Zebedee: According to Acts 12:2, James was killed by Herod with the sword. James was the brother of John, who wrote the gospel of John, the three epistles that bear his name and the book of Revelation. John is referred to as the disciple that Jesus loved.
John, brother of James and son of Zebedee: John apparently went through some persecution but escaped the cruel death that befell most of the disciples. According to Hippolytus, he died of old age in Ephesus after he had spent most of his latter life alone, exiled on the island of Domitian (Patmos).
Simon/Peter: Hippolytus wrote that Peter was crucified by order of Nero, Emperor of Rome. He was crucified upside down. It is said traditionally that Peter felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
Philip: Was also crucified upside down, according to Hippolytus, in Hierapolis and was buried there.
Many of Jesus disciples died cruel deaths for preaching the gospel. According to Pliny’s letters to Trajan, all Christians needed to do to escape a cruel torture and execution was to denounce their faith in Jesus, something they refused to do.
“Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.”
(A letter from Pliny to Trajan)
Why did the disciples of Jesus refuse to deny Him even if it meant their death? Was it just because they were brave or just plain stupid? Brave . . .? These same disciples ran and hid before the crucifixion for fear they also would be crucified. People are not willing to die for a lie or a phony. It is not in human nature that any sane person would give up his own life to uphold a belief known to be untrue. They saw something that convinced them so thoroughly that they were willing to die rather than denouncing their faith in Jesus. Contrarily, what they were willing to die for was telling about Jesus’ resurrection and the gospel of salvation through the death burial and resurrection of Jesus. They were willing to put their life on the line to tell others about the saving power of Jesus. It was they, not Jesus, which spread Christianity. It is because of the death burial and resurrection of Jesus and the willingness of His disciples to risk their life to preserve and spread that truth, that you and I can freely receive the good news of salvation and heaven.
No legend has had the impact that Jesus has had on the lives of millions who have experienced changed lives including some of the worlds wisest, most respected, and intelligent men and women.
He was just a man who believed that he was more: Did Jesus actually just think Himself to be God, not being aware that He was only a man, or did He know He was just a man but lied when he claimed to be God? It is ludicrous to think that Jesus would claim to be God knowing all the time He was merely a man. Not only did He claim to be God but He proved that He was God by His supernatural feats. No one had ever raised the dead until Jesus. No one in history had ever performed the miracles that Jesus performed. Nothing about the life of Jesus indicates that He was deceived about who He was or that He made up the whole thing. Quite to the contrary, His teachings to His disciples do not lend themselves to the babbling of liar or the teachings of an unsound person. They were filled with meaning and the evidence of a highly intelligent teacher.
He lied about who he was: Was Jesus a liar. How could He have possibly fooled His disciples into thinking He was the Son of God if He had no more power than they did. They believed because they witnessed His power each day. The old adage that you can fool part of the people part of the time but not all of the people all the time is true in the case of Jesus. He would have never been able to be with His disciples every day for a period of three years and fool them into thinking He was something He was not. The disciples saw when Jesus fed the multitude and raised the dead and healed the lepers. They knew he was genuine.
He was a deranged lunatic: Was Jesus a lunatic. There was nothing about the profile of Jesus that indicated that he was a lunatic. In fact, the life of Christ is opposite of that of a lunatic. The traits of a lunatic are egotism, dullness, Inability to understand and to love, inflexible, predictable, unstable, paranoia, schizophrenia, impulsive, unwise, and unbalanced. None of those characteristics fits Jesus. No lunatic could show the concern for others, teach the morals, or live with the purest character ever witnessed by man.
Jesus was whom He claimed to be by all indications from the Bible, from extant history, and under girded by the sacrificial life and death of His disciples. Therefore, we can conclude from that, that the heaven Jesus spoke of and promised is all He claimed it to be. Yes, heaven is a real place.
Are you sure that you are going to heaven when you die? If not, and you would like to know how to be sure, read “How to have a relationship with God.”
About the author: Jimmie Burroughs is a motivational speaker and author who has been involved in teaching Christian Personal Development for more than 30 years. There are hundreds of articles to help you on this website (Website Contents) in your personal growth.
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