Visions of heaven and the theology of glory

If one were to look at the best selling books among professed Christians over the past decade, they would see one theme repeated in many of the books and that is visions of heaven. What are we to make of these accounts that have turned their authors into celebrities and spawned multimillion dollar movie deals. Whether our natural tendency is to be critical or accepting our natural tendency must be tempered by biblical testimony. To address these we will answer the following questions, are these works authoritative, are they necessary, do they contribute or detract from the truth of the Bible.

The first question when confronted with something like this is, what authority, if any, does it have. We as Christians are people of the Book. All of these authors share in the fact that they profess to be sharing from personal experience. Personal experience is a good thing, the truths of Christianity are meant to be experienced in the life of a believer. However experience does not define truth or reality. Peter an eyewitness to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ gives us a grid from which to base our understanding of authority in regards to revelation and experience. In 2 Peter 1:16-20 he gives testimony to his experience of being an eyewitness to the transfiguration of Christ. . He says that he was an eyewitness and heard  the voice, “borne from heaven.” What Peter says next is even more remarkable, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention to as to a lamp shining in  a dark place…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit( 2 Peter 1:19-21.)” In the Christian life Scripture is to have authority, from it we are to interpret our experience and not the other way around. Given the nature of the nature of these so-called eyewitness experiences of heaven, we cannot give to them the authority we give to the Bible.

Do we need eyewitness testimony of heaven to win the world to the gospel? Another way to ask that question would be to ask, is the Bible enough? In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of two men,a rich man whose name was never recorder and the other Lazarus a poor man. After being denied his initial request for comfort the rich man makes another request. He asks of  Abraham in regards to Lazarus, “‘Then I beg you , father, to send him to my father’s house- for I have five brothers- so that he can warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should be raised from the dead (Luke 16:27-31.)'”  If they won’t hear the Scriptures, they won’t be convinced by a resurrection. What is truly incredible about this, is that the one telling the story is the one who would be raised from the dead. What Jesus is in effect saying is that if people will not be convinced by the clear and authoritative word of God then they won’t be convinced at all. We have more then Moses and the Prophets, we also have the Gospels and Epistles the full story divinely inspired. If we are to take Jesus seriously in recounting this story we must acknowledge we have no need for a cottage industry based on heavenly tours, we have the Scriptures and they are enough. According to the testimony of Scripture these are unnecessary.

The Bible tells us of one man who who went to heaven and shared his experience. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4, “And 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.” It was not lawful for this man, the apostle Paul to bear witness to the thing he saw and heard in heaven. Yet many authors on the bestseller list who have made their fortunes would have us believe that God has granted them an exception. What these authors do is quite clever, they seek to do away with the biblical nature of the Christian hope in this present age. Hebrews 11:1-3 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” If these account are true they erode away at the very nature of biblical faith and hope.

What these authors are doing, what many so-called Christian leaders are doing is not novel. What they put forward is really in fact a theology of glory. Martin Luther in 1518 painted a picture of what a theology of glory in the Heidelberg Disputation. In closing I would like you to consider these two statements from the Disputation, next week we will delve into a theology of the cross:

21. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil.

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers ,works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls »enemies of the cross ofChrist« (Phil. 3:18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the »oldAdam«, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his »good works« unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s

22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened

This has already been said. Because men do not know the cross and hate it, they necessarily love the opposite, namely, wisdom, glory, power, and so on. Therefore they become increasingly blinded and hardened by such love, for desire cannot be satisfied by the acquisition of those things which it desires. Just as the love of money grows in proportion to the increase of the money itself, so the dropsy of the soul becomes thirstier the more it drinks, as the poet says: »The more water they drink, the more they thirst for it.« The same thought is expressed in Eccles. 1:8: »The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.« This holds true of all desires

.Thus also the desire for knowledge is not satisfied by the acquisition of wisdom but is stimulated that much more. Likewise the desire for glory is not satisfied by the acquisition of glory, nor is the desire to rule satisfied by power and authority, nor is the desire for praise satisfied by praise, and so on, as Christ shows in John 4:13, where he says, »Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again.«The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it. In other words, he who wishes to become wise does not seek wisdom by progressing toward it but becomes a fool by retrogressing into seeking »folly«. Likewise he who wishes to have much power, honor, pleasure, satisfaction in all things must flee rather than seek power, honor, pleasure, and satisfaction in all things. This is the wisdom which is folly to the world.