Hi to my Forum Friends,
In the discussion regarding "near death experiences" posted by Vic and titled "We've Just Scratched The Surface" -- I had written:
I suppose it all depends upon what one classifies as a "near death experience." Yes, many people have been "near death" and have been revived. No doubt, many of them were believers who knew of God and heaven -- and many may be non-believers, that in Sunday School and some other venue, have heard of God and heaven.
In those cases, is it extreme to think that they could be dreaming or that their minds are playing a trick on them -- making them believe they saw God and/or heaven?
But, to say that one does have a "near death experience" and actually enters heaven, or even actually is given an inside preview of heaven -- is not Biblical.
A Friend, Bob (not his real name), from my Friends Ministry mail list responded:
I wanted to reply to you instead of posting in the forum for two reasons:
1) I'm not a member of the forum -- and I belong to way too many forums and other social networking sites that I don't visit; and
2) I have an honest and sincere question -- that I don't want anyone using to discredit your ministry, if they could.
If I understood your Scripture quotes correctly, then it is impossible for flesh and blood to enter heaven. That I understand and agree with. We will either enter heaven in spirit only at death, or our bodies will be changed to immortal bodies at the Rapture.
But you also said that the spirit is still in the body until a person dies. That is my question. If a person's spirit cannot leave their body until the person dies, then how (in 2 Corinthians chapter 12) did the apostle Paul get caught up to the third heaven? And what exactly happened with John's spirit when the angel in Revelation 4 said "Come up here"?
I understand that God sometimes sends people visions to speak to them, but these Scriptures appear to be saying that the person's spirit was actually taken up to heaven in order to be shown what God wanted to show them, but then they returned to their bodies. They HAD to have returned, because, in not, they couldn't have written about the event afterward.
Please help me to understand what you are saying regarding the connection between spirit and body.
Your brother in Christ, Bob
My response to Bob:
2 Corinthians 12:2-4, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago -- whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows -- such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man -- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows -- was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak."
Paul may have been referring to the time in Lystra, during his first missionary journey, when he was stoned and thought by his attackers and disciples to be dead. Yet, he, not being dead, rose and continued his ministry (Act 14:19-20).
But, in this passage in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 even Paul does not know if he saw heaven in spirit or in body. Effectively, the Bible is silent on this. So, we must filter this through other Scripture to gain the best possible understanding.
We know that in the 1st century church many special revelations and miracles did happen -- so that more people might believe. And, even though, today, we have God's full revelation to man given to us in the Bible; there is no doubt that God still performs special revelations.
Yet, I am not comfortable with the idea that God gives special revelations, such as "near death experiences" -- so that a person can write a New York Times best seller book.
Notice that when the apostle Paul, one who had every right to brag, boast, and to write a best seller book for the "New Rome Times" of his day -- did not mention his special revelation for fourteen years. And, even then, he initially spoke of it in a third person voice. It is not until verse 7 that Paul begins to speak in a first person voice when he speaks of the thorn in his flesh to keep him humble.
Do such revelations happen today? Yes. It has happened to me. I have always been, and still am, one of the most "conservative" Christians you will find. Before, if someone had told me that "God spoke to me in an oral voice" -- I would have patted him on the head and suggested he take his medication.
Yet, in the early 1990s, my step-father had my mother in a cult church for twenty years. When I became a Christian in 1987, this began to bother me. I often prayed to God to show me how to help my mother without breaking up their marriage. In 1993 she had several strokes and my step-father moved them to Arkansas to be close to his daughter. This upset me, for mom had lived in Alabama all her life -- in the same home for almost fifty years. Several months later, he and his daughter put her into a nursing home -- and I became very angry.
Yet, God put on my heart, "You have been praying for an opportunity to help her. This is your opportunity."
I called the nursing home and asked if there was a Baptist church nearby. Turns out, there was one next door -- and they did Bible studies in the home. I called the pastor, he took her a Bible, and got her involved in their Bible studies. Several months later, he told me, "Bill, I led her in a prayer for salvation; but, I am not sure she understood." I told him that I understood, for her strokes had left her often confused. As I told him, that is why I had not tried to do that on the telephone.
A few months later, she had another stroke and went into a coma. I flew to Arkansas and was there for three days before she passed away. At that time, I had no idea of her spiritual status. We transported her back to our home town in Alabama and, on Thursday evening, had the viewing.
Just before the viewing was to start, I walked to her casket and stood there alone. That is when I heard the voice of God speaking to me. I heard His voice as clearly as I have ever heard anyone speak, and He said, "Don't worry. She is with Me now."
As I said, before that moment -- if anyone had told me he had heard the voice of God, I would have smiled and patted him on the head. But, when I heard that voice speaking to me -- there was no hesitation, no doubt. I knew, at that very moment, that this WAS the voice of God giving me His assurance.
The next day, when a pastor Friend in California called to offer his condolence -- I told him about this. He, too, did not falter nor hesitate -- but, told me, "That is His blessed assurance." Since that day, that song "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!" -- has taken on special meaning to me.
Her viewing that evening and her funeral the next day -- were not times of mourning -- but, were times of celebration. We celebrated her home going to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Yes, I mourned for myself; but, I celebrated for her.
So, was the apostle Paul's experience similar to what we might call a "near death experience" today? It could have been -- but, I prefer to call it a special revelation given by God to Paul. And, Paul treated it as just that -- a special blessing given to him by God -- not an Oprah moment, nor material for a New York Times best seller.
You ask about Revelation 4.
Revelation 4:1, "After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things."
Revelation 4:2, "Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne."
Reading verse 1, when John says he sees a door standing open in heaven; immediately we think of Stephen (Acts 7:56) when he was being stoned to death and said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." I believe Stephen was given a special revelation, a special preview of a soon coming event when he would be standing face to face with his Lord and Savior.
With John, in Revelation 4, he tells us, in verse 2, that he is in the Spirit, i.e., I believe he was telling us that the Holy Spirit had taken him, in spirit, into a special revelation of heaven -- a special preview of the coming imminent Rapture we all eagerly await.
And, after chapters 4 and 5, the church is no longer mentioned in Revelation until chapter 19, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Personally, I see this, Revelation 4:1-2, as an assurance of the coming Rapture -- a blessed assurance!
I still believe what we are told in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, that no mortal body can or will enter into heaven. But, I will reemphasize -- we cannot attempt to limit what God can, will, and does do. He is sovereign and can do as He pleases. And, if that means giving a person a special revelation of heaven, in spirit or in body -- He is the boss.
Yet, I still find it hard to believe He would not choose someone such as a Paul, a very humble person -- and not a person whose goal is a New York Times best seller.
Bob, my Friend, I can only give you what I personally believe. As the apostle Paul tells us in Acts 17:11, we must all test what we are being told against Scripture.
God bless, have a wonderful, blessed day,