by Kelinda Crawford
Solutions General Editor Kelinda Crawford discusses heaven and near-death experiences with Dr. Robert Jeffress in this interview about his latest book, A Place Called Heaven: 10 Surprising Truths About Your Eternal Home.
Kelinda: Dr. Jeffress, what motivated you to write a book about heaven? Was there an experience or conversation that inspired you to write it?
Dr. Jeffress: If any of us learned we were going to move to a foreign country, we’d do everything we could to learn about that place so that we’d be prepared when moving day arrived. As Christians, we know some day we will leave our familiar country and be united with God in heaven. And yet many of us know very little about this place called heaven.
As a pastor, I receive many questions about heaven, and I want to answer them in a way that will help Christians begin to prepare for their eternal home.
Kelinda: Of your “10 most frequently-asked questions about heaven,” which one do you hear the most, and why?
Dr. Jeffress: I would say the most frequently asked question is “What difference does a future heaven make in my life today?” It’s human nature for us to wonder “what’s in it for me?” for most everything in life, and since most Christians view heaven as a future, far-off destination, they often question the need and relevance of heaven to their daily life in the here and now.
Kelinda: What are some common misconceptions about heaven?
Dr. Jeffress: There are three common misconceptions about God and heaven that have many believing that heaven could be a worse eternal destination than hell. These popular myths are that:
1. God is a cosmic killjoy—Those who believe this myth view God as a perennial party popper and Satan as the life of the party. Those who’ve come to that conclusion are convinced that heaven must be as dull as watching paint dry, while hell must be as exhilarating as driving in a NASCAR race.
But there is nothing boring about God. He is exceedingly and eternally fascinating: just look at the present world He has created for us to live in. Heaven is the place where everything will be eternally good, beautiful, enjoyable, refreshing, fascinating, and exciting because heaven’s Creator is all of those things.
2. Heaven will be monotonous—Some people are convinced that no matter how exciting the activities of heaven may be, doing the same thing over and over for eternity will become monotonous.
But the activities of heaven will never get monotonous—even if we do them over and over—because we will no longer inhabit aging bodies that grow tired or live in a sin-infected world that makes life tedious. In that “place called heaven” we will enjoy an “excess of life.” We’ll be like children saying to our heavenly Father, “Do it again!”
3. Heaven will be one long church service—While worshiping God will be a central activity in heaven, it will not be our only activity. Just as Christians today can offer praise to God while engaging in other tasks throughout the week, Christians in the new heaven and new earth will worship God during special, designated times as well as while involved in other activities.
Kelinda: There’s an old saying: “He’s so heavenly-minded that he’s no earthly good.” Would you share with us your thoughts on that adage?
Dr. Jeffress: We’ve all heard this old cliché, and some people use the idea to justify focusing their efforts and affections solely on this world—deluding themselves into thinking such a limited perspective is actually a virtue. Like the foolish farmer who acted as if he would live forever, these people fail to realize the brevity of this life and the length of eternity.
But here is the great irony: the more we think about the next world, the more effective we become in this world.
The realization that we are headed to a new location called “heaven” should be great motivation for us to spend our limited time on earth productively. No need to be concern-ed about piling up a large amount of money—we’ll leave it all behind when we depart. No reason to be fixated on what other people do to us or think about us—our calling to our new location is assured. Instead, grasping the reality of that “place called heaven” that awaits us should liberate us to invest our few remaining years on earth as wisely as possible.
Kelinda: There are some books, already on the market, written about Near-Death Experiences, some of which involve visits to heaven. Do you believe these are actual visits?
Dr. Jeffress: The popularity of these NDE books goes beyond our natural curiosity about the unknown. Implanted deep inside each of us is a longing for this “place called heaven.” While there is much to love about earth—its people and places—we instinctively know there must be something more, something better. King Solomon wrote that God has “set eternity in [our] heart” (Eccles. 3:11), meaning we possess a deep-seated desire and natural inquisitiveness about what awaits us on the other side of death.
But where are we to look for the answers about what really happens to us after we die? God has provided us with a wealth of information about the future that awaits Christians and non-Christians after death. Although God hasn’t told us everything we may want to know, He has revealed everything we need to know.
When it comes to near-death experiences we need to think biblically. This involves determining whether an NDE corroborates or contradicts Scripture, whether it glorifies God or self, and whether it motivates the experiencer to know more of God and His Word or to seek additional experiences. In my new book A Place Called Heaven, I discuss the seven principles we should keep in mind while evaluating the experiences of those who claim to have already visited heaven.
Kelinda: Most people have a concept of heaven being “up” and hell being “down.” Would you share with us, through your studies of Scripture, how this concept evolved and if there is any truth to it?
Dr. Jeffress: We need to distinguish between the current heaven where God resides and the future heaven where believers will dwell for eternity. Although some scriptures indicate that the direction of the current heaven is “up” (Isaiah 14:13, Acts 1:10), we can’t be too dogmatic about this. It may be that the current heaven exists in a completely different dimension than we are able to see right now.
However, there is a future heaven and earth yet to be created, according to Revelation 21-22. As I explain in the book, our ultimate residing place will be a newly recreated earth. Frankly, that gives me a lot of comfort to know that I won’t be spending eternity floating around in an unfamiliar place, but I will be right here on earth in its original Edenic form, as God originally designed it.
Kelinda: What scripture about heaven gives you the most comfort?
Dr. Jeffress: I often find comfort in these words from Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and I often share these words to comfort the grieving, bring hope to the hopeless, or to assure the doubtful:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Kelinda: What do you hope people will remember most from reading A Place Called Heaven?
Dr. Jeffress: Heaven is an amazing place, but Scripture tells us that many will be turned away at Heaven’s gates—and not just atheists and devil worshipers. Those turned away will include religious people who consider themselves Christ-followers because of the many good works they performed in the name of Jesus. In fact, they will use their righteous acts as an argument for why they should be allowed into God’s presence:
Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” (Matt. 7:22)
The only “document” that allows us entry into God’s presence for eternity is one that is stamped “Forgiven,” and it is given to us the moment we trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation. My hope is that readers who have not placed their trust in Jesus Christ will be moved to do so and be allowed entry into our eternal home on the day of judgment.
Dr. Robert Jeffress is senior pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. His daily radio program, Pathway to Victory, is heard on more than 900 stations nationwide, and his weekly television program is seen on more than 10,000 cable systems and stations in the USA and in nearly 200 countries around the world.