This morning in my daily Bible reading I came across the following verse in John 1:51, in which Jesus tells his soon-to-be disciples the wonders that await them as they follow Him:
“I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
How many times have I read that and moved on? Quite a few, but not today. The study notes in my Bible stated:
“Jesus represents himself as the ladder by which God’s revelation comes to the world (cf. Genesis 28:12).”
Because of the ladder reference, I knew what Genesis 28:12 was going to tell me before I turned there. This is the story of Jacob on his journey back to reconcile with Esau. He stops for the night, pulls up a comfortable rock to rest his head upon, and then:
He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
Wow! Once again, how many times have I read that and never related it to Jesus? Yet the purpose of the entire Old Testament is to point to Jesus.
What does this tell us about the communication between heaven and earth and the access from earth to heaven? Why did these verses rise to such an intense level of interest for me today?
Very briefly, I’ll answer the second question first. Without using any names or specifics, let me just say that I got into the middle of a controversy and am trying to act as a facilitator/mediator. The core issue is whether or not there is heavenly communication to loved ones or others on earth following death.
To most of us the answer should be obvious. The Bible in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 says:
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.
Very clear. We are not to communicate with the dead. Doing so is an abomination to the Lord. This is called necromancy.
What happens following death? For a clear picture we turn to Luke 16:19-31, which is Jesus’ story of The Rich Man and Lazarus. Most Bible commentators believe this is a real incident since Jesus uses a real name, the only time He does so in such a story. The rich man dies and goes to Hades; Lazarus dies and goes into the arms of Father Abraham. There is an unbreachable chasm between the two places. The rich man begs Abraham to help him in some way, but that is impossible. Then he begs for Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers about this awful place.
First, in Luke 16:26 Abraham says:
“And besides all that, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross from there to us.”
Then in Luke 16:31, Abraham nails the coffin shut on the rich man’s hopes that his brothers will turn from their wicked ways:
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Apparently, some people will never turn to the Lord.
The account in Luke 16 may raise the question, how does Jesus figure into this death scenario given Abraham as a main actor? Personally, I think, since Jesus is the teller of this, that He may be using Abraham symbolically for Himself. The reason I think this is because of 2 Corinthians 5:8, which says:
we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Our New Testament understanding is that upon death we immediately go to be with Jesus. I think this may also be a disembodied spiritual state at this point. We are at rest following death and remain that way until certain prophetic events occur. The main one in this regard is the Rapture. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 Paul spells this out:
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.
We learn in this passage that it’s ONLY upon the Rapture that those who have died in Christ are raised into glorified bodies. How do I know this? Because of 1 John 3:2:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
Okay, what do we know from all this? Luke 16 doesn’t refer to a chasm between earth and heaven, but between Hades and heaven. However, I think we can infer from Jesus’ own words that there is also a separation between earth and heaven. When we die, we go to be with Jesus. We’re only given new bodies following the Rapture.
That would mean that those in heaven right now do not have bodies. That would also mean that anyone having a glimpse into heaven—which may or may not be valid; that’s not my point of contention here—will see, not necessarily their loved ones in actual glorified bodies, but perhaps a vision of that as a representation of what will be in the future. (If it’s a true vision from God, which again, is another issue altogether.)
Now let’s go back to my original verses in John 1 and Genesis 28. I believe the Bible tells us here that the only means by which there is communication or passage between heaven and earth is through Jesus. He is the ladder. Who do we see traversing Him, i.e. the ladder? Only angels. We know that angels are God’s messengers, so this makes sense. They go from heaven to earth on divine missions and then return. The key to any of that is Jesus. He has to be the purpose and completely integral to what the angels do at God’s direction.
We have absolutely no evidence that deceased loved ones go up and down this ladder, nor that there’s any approval of anything remotely like that.
The only conclusion, then, is that anyone thinking they’ve had a visitation from heaven by a deceased loved one is being deceived. As 2 Corinthians 11:14 says:
And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Thus, for someone to see their deceased son, daughter, mother, father, etc. is seeing a deception from Satan himself. He can appear as an angel. Surely, he appears as a dead son to grieving parents.
And unfortunately from this, many people can be led astray away from the truth that is Jesus, and Him only.