It seems that we are living in times where many Christians today are just simply taking in everything that looks inspirational, without question, as long as it makes them feel good. I believe that it is getting worse and worse, and nothing has been better illustrative than the excitement to go see something that has come out of Hollywood, and without question, believe that it is going to be a good thing for everyone! Nothing was more illustrative of an incredible lack of discernment and good judgment than the latest Hollywood disaster (in biblical terms) than Noah. It was not even close to being a good rendition of the Bible account of Noah and the flood- yet undiscerning Christians flocked to it, and most likely walked away disappointed.
When will some Christians start understanding that if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is NOT necessarily a duck- unless you know what is in the product!
I understand that many non-believers and even naïve young Christians (young in the faith) might be excited about such movies, and go to them, enjoy them, and come away excited and even encouraged about the afterlife. That is quite understandable. What bothers me is how supposedly mature, Bible-believing Christians, especially pastors and other leaders, are encouraging people to go to the movie, without checking out the claims of the young man and seeing whether they clash with Scripture in any way. What would be more disturbing I suppose is if a Christian leader knows that this movie is very dubious, and recommends it anyway. The emotional value of a movie it seems might be a very influential factor that perhaps clouds an otherwise mature Christian’s judgment, and makes them set aside God’s word, in exchange for the emotional benefits from the story.
I listened to a portion of Sean Hannity’s radio show a few days ago, where he interviewed Colton Burpo, who is now 14 years old, and his father Todd Burpo. Colton is the young man who claims that at four years old, while undergoing surgery, he went to heaven and experienced some incredible things, including meeting Jesus, his grandfather who he never knew, and his sister who he never met, because she had died while in her mothers womb. The movie is opening nationwide this Wednesday, April 16, and I am sure it will make millions of dollars this week.
Do We Have Physical Bodies in Heaven Right After We Die?
In the interview, Colton was asked about the people he saw in heaven, and whether they have physical bodies or not, or whether it was just a spiritual thing. He answered Sean Hannity and said that definitely everyone in heaven has their own physical body, and he was able to hug some people physically. So he had no doubt that people that he met in heaven possess physical bodies.
Now, the important question: what does Scripture say about death, and about what happens after a Christian dies?
As a believer who is saved, Scripture says that after death we are taken into the presence of Christ. To the thief on the cross, Jesus said: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). And on two separate occasions, Paul said the following regarding death and bringing us into Christ’s presence:
“But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Philippians 1:23-24)
“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord–for we walk by faith, not by sight–we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9)
Here’s where it gets “tricky”, in relation to Colton Burpo’s testimony. I believe that when a Christian dies, his spirit/soul goes to be with the Lord- but not his physical body.
How do I know that? Let’s see what Scripture says about this.
Paul says, in Romans 8:23, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Then we have 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
And then 1 Thessalonians 14: 13-17, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,4 that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
These two passages are describing believers being resurrected and given glorified bodies.
The question then follows here:
If believers go to be with Christ immediately after death, what is the purpose of this resurrection? It seems that while the souls/spirits of believers go to be with Christ immediately after death, the physical body remains in the grave “sleeping.” At the resurrection of believers, the physical body is resurrected, glorified, and then reunited with the soul/spirit. This reunited and glorified body-soul-spirit will be the possession of believers for eternity in the new heavens and new earth. (source, www.gotquestions.org)
And according to Revelation 20:11-15, those who died as unbelievers will also be resurrected just as the believer will be, but they will be eternally condemned to hell. They will be resurrected to be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment. The Scriptures say that those judged are judged according “…to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev 20: 12). And v 13 says, “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.” This answers the question: “What about the poor heathen who never heard?” They will be in this judgment.
Frankly, I don’t think a movie called “Hell is For Real” would have much appeal to people today, although if it followed Scripture, would present the Gospel and show unbelievers where their destiny would be without Christ.
So it seems to me that Colton Burpo got it wrong. The only other conclusion is that Scripture has it wrong, and what is described in the Bible is a mistake. So you must choose: either believe Colton Burpo, or believe Scripture. Or did I not understand what the Bible says?
If Scripture is correct, what does that say of Colton’s testimony? We already know of the other contradictions from his account that do not line with Scripture. What does a Bible-believing Christian do with the knowledge of the fact that much of his story is in opposition to the Bible? What does one do with the fact that his claim to have gone to heaven is contradicted by God’s word? Jesus told Nicodemus:
“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.” John 3:13
I don’t often reference the NLT, but I believe it translates it most clearly: “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.”
Dear brothers and sisters, pastors, and youth leaders, you may think I am obsessed with yet another nitpicky thing. Why should I ruin such a wonderful, inspiring and emotionally reassuring story? Why spoil people’s chances at getting a good feeling about life after death? Why not let them have a modicum of comfort in their lives? The answer is simple. We must not accept anything just because it has the label of “Christian”, or because it feels good, or looks good, for the sake of temporary good feelings and comfort- if it goes against God’s Holy word. Don’t you think that there are many more people in this world who could sit down and write an even more incredible story than even Colton has written? Would you believe them too?
Either Colton Burpo’s story must be rejected, or you must reject the veracity of Scripture. You cannot have both.