If God wants everyone to go to heaven, why doesn’t He make it clear how to get there?

This question was posed by one who does not believe god exists as an argument against the reality of God. If God really exists and really wants everyone to go to heaven, why is there so much confusion about how to get to heaven? If God is all powerful and infinitely wise, why doesn’t He tell everyone how to get to heaven? Among professing Christian churches there is disagreement about how to reach heaven. Some teach salvation is received by faith alone, some teach good works are required for salvation, others teach baptism is necessary and still others teach that salvation is dependent on attending the proper church. Beside the disagreements between Christian churches are the many different religions in the world that teach many different ways to heaven and present many different versions of heaven. If God really wants us all to go to heaven, why are there so many contradictory opinions about to how to get there? Wouldn’t a loving God make the way to heaven very clear?

This question may seem to be a strong argument against God. It is not much different from the old atheistic declaration, “If God exists, I want Him to prove it by striking me dead with lightning right now.” Arguments like this are breathtakingly arrogant. What reasonable person would expect the all powerful God to do what I want when I want Him to do it? More importantly, a thoughtful consideration of the Bible’s teaching leaves no doubt that God has made the message of the gospel very clear. Throughout all of human history God has been actively revealing Himself and the message of salvation to the world. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned God promised a Savior. As the human population expanded, the message of salvation continued to be preached. Noah’s massive building program was a platform to preach the truth about God. Later, after the flood, God called Abraham out for Himself to be the father of a nation which would be the centerpiece of the display of His power, glory and truth. Since the generation after Christ, the Bible has been the clear record of salvation declaring the gospel to all men. The problem has never been a lack of information, but a rejection of the truth.

The account of Cain and Abel gives a perfect example fo the problem. Both Cain and Abel almost certainly knew what God required of them. Cain rejected the truth about God and of what God wanted. He did not lack information, he rejected the truth he was told. Today, the confusion and disagreement among Christian churches stems from a willful misunderstanding of the truth. Man’s rejection of God and refusal to believe the gospel is not from lack of information. Men do not believe because they do not want to believe the truth. The Bible is not unclear. The message of salvation is declared with all plainness throughout the New Testament. Verses like Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”; Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”; and John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” state the gospel in crystal clear terms. God has made the message of salvation plain for any to understand. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

What is the rapture?

In recent years the rapture has been brought to popular attention through the Left Behind series of books and movies. The rapture is a doctrine that has caught the public’s attention time and time again since the mid-1800’s. Though some opponents claim the rapture is a recent theological development, church history reveals the rapture was believed and taught very early in the second century just decades after the death of John, the last living apostle.

The rapture is the event when Jesus resurrects the bodies of believers who have passed away and carries off the earth all living believers. The rapture is the next event of world history that has been foretold in Bible prophecy. When the rapture happens every Christian on the earth will suddenly be gone. Some teach that the rapture will take place in waves, with faithful Christians going up at the beginning and others at later times during the Tribulation depending on how faithful they have been. The Bible gives no hint of a partial rapture. In every place it discusses the catching away of Christians the promises includes all believers. None of God’s children will be left behind. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together”. All living believers will be caught up with the Lord when He comes for His church. This is indeed a great comfort to Christians.

Three passages in the New Testament speak of the rapture: John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15: and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Two of the three passages are intended to give comfort to Christians and the third encourages faithfulness in Christian service. As a result, many questions about the rapture cannot be answered from direct Biblical teaching, Those who think about the rapture make many deductions based on other Bible doctrines and logical reasoning. When describing the rapture, great care needs to be taken to separate deduction and speculation from Biblical teaching.

The Bible describes the rapture as taking place with the shout of an archangel and the sound of an angelic trumpet. Jesus will descend from heaven into the earth’s atmosphere, but He will not descend all the way to the earth. All believers, living and dead, will then ascend into the air to be united with Jesus. At the rapture, all the saved will be transformed. Their physical bodies will be replaced with glorified, spiritual bodies. The change will happen more quickly than the eye can see. The raptured saints will then be taken into heaven and begin to enjoy eternal joy with the Lord.

Will we know our loved ones in heaven?

One question that weighs on the hearts of many who have lost ones who were very close to them is whether we will recognize those loved ones in heaven. The Bible does not specifically address this question, but it does offer some hints to help us answer this question. One such clue is from when Jesus was transfigured (Mark 9). When Peter, James and John saw a glimpse of Jesus’ glory they also saw two men standing with Him. These two men were Moses and Elijah. Though the disciples had never seen either of those men they recognized them for who they were. The text seems to indicate that they just knew, by some unknown means, who the men were. Though it is possible that Jesus later told the three men who was standing with Him and that part of the conversation was just not recorded for us. Another passage that gives some help in answering this question is Luke 16. Jesus recounts the tale of the rich man and Lazarus. After death, the rich man in hell was able to look across to heaven. He recognized Abraham, whom he had never known in life, and Lazarus whom he had seen in life. This passage is a pretty clear indication that though we will have been given glorified bodies Christians will still be able to recognize one another in eternity.

I do not think we will recognize one another because of similarities to our current physical appearance. In 1 Corinthians 15 we are told that the earthly body will be replaced with a glorified body. The glorified body will be free from the corruption of sin and delivered from all the infirmities of the earthly body. The glorified body will be as unlike the earthly body as a stalk of wheat is unlike the seed. Whatever the physical appearance will be, it seems that we will be able to identify one another in heaven.

Many who ask this question do so seeking comfort that they will be reunited with loved ones. The certainty of seeing loved ones again in heaven is very comforting, but the Biblical description of interactions in heaven all revolve around our relationship with God the Father and Jesus. The relationships between believers in eternity are going to be very different from our earthly ones. The joy of a spouse or beloved child will be replaced by much greater joys. The relationships will be unlike what they were in life, but that difference does not mean they will be inferior. The relationships in heaven will be greatly superior to any and all relationships on this earth. All believers will rejoice together in perfection, harmony and eternal praise to God.

Do babies that die go to heaven?

Few tragedies in life tear the heart as the death of a little child. A life cut off before it has even gotten past the beginning is a tragedy that leaves all involved in deep sorrow. Though the child was not able to live a full life, she may never have learned to walk or talk, yet the tiniest infant is an eternal being with an eternal soul. The eternal state of that soul is a matter of great importance.

Most people who believe in heaven and hell are inclined to think a baby that days is given a free trip to heaven because he has not had a chance to do anything wrong. This perspective is certainly appealing, but is it Biblical? When considering the eternal destiny of any person, be he infant or adult, sentiment and superstition have to be rejected. Only God can declare the eternal destiny of a person. Only God’s Word teaches what conditions must be met for one to go to heaven. To answer this difficult question all sentiment must be set aside and Scripture be allowed to speak for itself without interruption by the heart of men.

First, every person, is under the curse of sin from the moment of conception. David declares this in Psalm 51:5, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” From the moment human life springs into existence the spirit of man is in bondage to sin and separated from God. The infant, though limited in ability to express and understand sin, is not free of sin. The infant labors under the same curse that afflicts the adult. The curse of sin is why death is found among infants.

Second, God’s grace is extended to all who will believe. Salvation is by the grace of God, through faith in Him alone. The little child is not able to respond in faith to the message of salvation. The infant is not able understand the Word of God, feel his own weight of guilt, repent or trust Christ alone for salvation. However, the infant is not without hope.

Though the Bible is not definitive on this matter, several passages give hope. These passages give confidence that the little child is not condemned in his guilt but God in His grace holds the child in innocence because of the little one’s physical inability to believe and be saved. In Psalm 106 the children of the idolatrous and disobedient Israelites are said to be innocent. The book of Jeremiah describes the children of vicious, oppressive idol worshipers as innocents. In the gospels Jesus says, “Allow the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He seems to be saying that heaven is populated by little children. Not just those who receive Him with childlike faith, though He does say that elsewhere, but heaven is filled with children.

Though the Bible is not as clear on this matter as we would like two things are certain. God is good, always doing what is best in every situation and every life. Every child that is in heaven is in heaven because of the grace of God and the blood of Jesus. No child is free of sin and guilt. No child, however small, deserves to go to heaven. God’s goodness and grace exceed all human comprehension.

Are there different levels in heaven?

Many years ago I was given a booklet that claimed certain Christians would have positions of great benefit and joy in heaven. The rest of the saved would be in heaven, but would not have the joy of being always in the presence of God. Certain religious groups teach that only a select few will enjoy the New Jerusalem, while most will live in a new earth. Does the Bible teach that certain saints will have higher positions, better mansions, more importance or greater joy in heaven than others?

The Bible teaches of a time coming when Jesus will reign over the world from Jerusalem. Jesus’ earthly kingdom is not heaven or eternity. Jesus’ kingdom is an empire that will cover the earth and last for a thousand years. During His rule over the world, certain faithful disciples of Jesus will be given positions of leadership and responsibility in His kingdom. Some will be entrusted with greater positions of service in Jesus’ millennial kingdom. Jesus’ empire will never cease, but the thousand year kingdom will end with another rebellion from Satan and the total destruction of the universe as it currently exists. After the final destruction of the universe, God will create a new earth and new heaven. The new heaven and new earth are the places of eternal bliss most often described when one talks about heaven and eternal joys.

The Bible does not give much information about what things will be like in heaven. What it does say does not give any indication that there are different levels in heaven. Sometime after death, God’s servants are rewarded for their faithfulness in service to Him. However, the Bible indicates that these rewards are not kept but are given back to Jesus as an act of worship recognizing that He alone is worthy to be praised. (Revelation 4: 10) In the eternally perfect universe, heaven, the Bible doesn’t say anything at all about certain people having positions of special privilege or rank. The clearest teachings in the Bible about the eternal state are found in Revelation 21 and 22. Describing the saved who inhabit heaven, Revelation 21 says, ” Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Revelation 22 says, “And his servants will serve Him, and they shall see His face.” It seems that in heaven those who are saved will have equal status as God’s servants and equal access into His presence. All will share equally in eternal bliss. None will be in greater joy and none will be closer to God than others. There will not be any low level Christians nor VIP saints in heaven.

Will those who worship Allah go to heaven?

Recent statistics show there are over 1.5 billion Muslims and approximately 1 billion Hindus in the world. Besides the two and a half billion people of the world’s second and third largest religions, there are hundreds of millions of other people who worship deities other than the God of the Bible. Many of these worshipers are devoted and serious about their religion. Many are good people who treat others with respect, contribute to their society and sincerely worship the god of their culture and heritage. Do Christians really believe these good, sincere people will be sent to hell because they don’t worship God the same as western Christians? Does the Bible teach sincere worshipers of other gods will go to hell?

These kinds of questions strike a chord deep in hearts. For good people to go to hell for not worshiping the right way or for not calling God by the right name seems patently unfair. The assumption of divine unfairness towards sincere worshipers of other religions reveals wrong ideas about salvation, heaven and hell. The question reveals a belief that one gets to heaven by worship, devotion, good behavior and sincerity.

The Biblical explanation of who goes to heaven has nothing to do with sincerity, goodness or practicing the proper religious rituals. The Bible gives specific examples of sincere, religious men who worshiped and did good but who were nonetheless condemned. Nicodemus was a good man who had great respect for Jesus and who sincerely worshiped God. Jesus told Nicodemus he was lacking something very important and could not enter heaven without it. In the book of Titus, we are told that salvation is “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” (Titus 3:5)

What Nicodemus lacked is what every man needs. Jesus said, “”Except a man be born again can, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Only those who are born again by believing Jesus is God the Son and their personal Savior will enter into heaven. Going to heaven is not a matter of sincere worship. Going to heaven is a matter of turning to Jesus for forgiveness and trusting only in Him to remove one’s guilt and its consequences. The issue is not an issue of devotion or sincerity. The issue is a matter of reliance.

Those who sincerely worship Allah have no more chance of entering heaven by their devotion than those who sincerely worship Jesus have by their faithful church attendance. Those who worship Allah cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge Jesus is God and Savior and ask Him to forgive their sin. Those who worship Vishnu cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge Jesus is the only God and Savior and trust Him alone to forgive their sin. Those who worship their ancestors cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge Jesus alone is God and is the only one able to wash away the stain of sin. Those who worship Jesus cannot go to heaven until they acknowledge He is God and Savior and rely only on Him for forgiveness of sin. Worship (in the sense of religious ritual and devotion) is never a means to salvation, no matter who is being worshiped.

What is the resurrection?

Some time in the future there will be a restoration to life and judgment of every person who has ever lived. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” All men will one day be resurrected to be judged by God.

First there will be a resurrection for the saved. That resurrection takes place during the rapture, an event made popular recently in the Left Behind series of books and movies. The Bible reveals to us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that the dead bodies of the saved will be restored to life and taken up to meet Jesus. The saved who are still alive at the time of the rapture will then be taken up to meet Jesus.

Those who have been raptured will be taken into heaven and judged by Christ for how they have served Him. As His servants, they will answer to Him for how they have used what He has given them and how they have worked for His kingdom. This judgment is not a judgment of sin, for the believers sin has been taken away. This judgment is a judgment of stewardship, in which the believer is rewarded or rebuked depending on the faithfulness of his service for Christ.

Eventually, the believer will enter into a perfect eternity in the New Heaven and New Earth. This perfect eternity has nothing to do with floating around on clouds and playing harps. The Bible tells us almost nothing about this eternity. What we do know comes from Revelation 21 and 22. For the believer, eternity will be completely free from all sin, sorrow and suffering. All who are saved will live on this earth in faithful service to God, glorifying and enjoying Him forever.

Long after the believer’s resurrection will be the resurrection of the unsaved. Just before God wipes out this universe He will bring before His throne for judgment all who have died without trusting Jesus. Revelation 20:11-15 gives a terrifying picture of this event. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

All the unsaved will stand before God and be judged for their disobedience to His Word. Because they have not believed in Jesus, God finalizes their condemnation. This judgment is not a second chance at salvation, but is the final official declaration of their guilt before God. All those who have not believed Jesus for salvation, Satan and all the demons will be condemned and sent into the Lake of Fire forever. In the lake of fire they will suffer for eternity, paying the penalty of their rebellion against God.

The resurrection of the saved is a resurrection to life and eternal joy. The resurrection of the unsaved is a resurrection to death and eternal suffering. None have to endure the eternal suffering of the Lake of Fire. When He died on the cross, Jesus paid the consequences and suffering of sin. He extends salvation to all who will turn to Him and trust only Him for forgiveness of guilt and cleansing from sin. God promises eternal life to all who believe Jesus to salvation.

What Happens After Death?

The question of what happens to a person after death is a matter of great importance. If there is some sort of existence after death, we do very well to understand as much about it as possible. We are wise to learn what it is like, if there is a place of reward or  punishment, joy or sorrow.

Opinions about the afterlife cover a broad spectrum of ideas. Some believe nothing happens after death. The body is placed in the ground and the person no longer exists anywhere in the physical or spiritual universe. Some believe the spirit of the person is reborn in the body of another creature to atone for wrongs done in previous lives. After many such reincarnations the spirit is finally able to be peacefully united with the universe. Some believe the spirits of good people go to heaven and the spirits of bad people go to hell. The list could go on and on. Truly many questions exist about the afterlife.

The first and most important thing to consider is that no one has died and returned to life to tell us what things are like on the other side. Yes, people have had visions or dreams in which they claim to have seen heaven, hell or the spirit world. Whatever your opinion of their claims, one thing is certain, they did not die and return to life again. Beyond that, even if someone did claim to die and return from the dead to tell us what it is like, there would be no way to prove his claims.

Capturing evidence of the afterlife is impossible. The issue of understanding what happens after death begins with recognizing you are going to have to believe someone’s view of the afterlife. Will you believe the Vikings and their visions of Valhalla? Will you believe Buddhist or Hindu concepts of Nirvana? Will you believe the Muslim ideas of Paradise? Will you believe the Atheist’s idea of death as final? Will you believe the Christian teachings of Heaven? One’s understanding of what happens after death is a matter of faith. You must decide who you are going to believe. I invite you to believe the information that comes directly from the One who created man, who has died and returned to life, who created Heaven and Hell and who has told us what happens to those who die. The Bible is the only reliable source of information about what happens after death.

The Bible teaches that man is a living soul. When God created man He breathed into man the “breath of life and man became a living soul.”(Genesis 2:7)  God formed man out of the dirt, but He gave to man something else, something that was not from dirt but directly from God. He gave to man a spirit, a soul, which does not crumble away or cease to exist but lasts forever. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” So the first thing we need to know is that death does not end our existence. Our body returns to dust, but our soul returns to the God who created it.

At death, God deals with the soul of man according to his relationship with Christ. John 3:18 says “He that believeth on (Jesus) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Before we die our fate is already decided based upon whether or not we have believed in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

At death the soul goes immediately into heaven or hell. In Luke 16 Jesus tells about two men, one rich the other a beggar. These two men died and one went immediately into heaven and the other directly into hell. We know this was immediate because the man in hell prayed that someone would go tell his brothers lest they also come to hell. The entered immediately into a place of punishment or blessing, without long delay, a time of sleep, limbo or purgatory.

The deciding factor in where the soul goes is if you have turned to Christ for salvation. This issue is not decided based upon whether you have been good, gone to church faithfully, been baptized, confirmed or prayed over. The decision is made by you. If you believe Jesus is God the Son who became a man, died on the cross to forgive your sin, rose from the dead three days later and if you have confessed Jesus as God trusting in only Him to remove your guilt God declares you will have eternal life in His presence. If you trust Jesus for salvation you will enter into heaven and live forever in joy. If you do not, you will enter into hell and be forever separated from God in sorrow and suffering.