Yes, Zuzu, There Is a Heaven
A lot of people believe a lot of misinformation when it comes to heaven and angels.
Each December my family and I look forward to the beautiful decorations, wonderful Christmas carols, and the many Christmas movies and specials that are played over and over on television during the Christmas season.
It has always amazed me, however, how little our world really understands about Jesus’ birth, God, heaven, and angels. A classic misconception is encapsulated at the end of the delightful Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life, when little Zuzu Bailey innocently declares, “Teacher says, ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.’”
Zuzu’s declaration makes for a great film but not for great theology. Yes, Zuzu, there is a heaven, and it’s filled with angels. And angels can, indeed, come to Earth (Gen. 19:1). But you need to read the Bible to understand how things actually work.
Heaven Is Real
Heaven is God’s home. We don’t know its precise location in the spiritual realm, but Jesus spoke of it as a real and viable place:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions [dwelling places]; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. . . . I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (Jn. 14:1–3).
Jesus told His disciples He would depart and prepare a place for them (and ultimately for all true believers) where God dwells.
The Hebrew Bible also treats heaven as real: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). The implication is that Enoch and God walked together so closely God took him to be with Him. King David said, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Ps. 23:6), testifying to his faith in life with God after death.
Jesus confirmed this reality when He told the Sadducees (who did not believe in a resurrection) that God clearly stated, “‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ . . . He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living” (Mk. 12:26–27).
Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, all the righteous dead appear to have been together in a place traditionally understood as Paradise, Abraham’s bosom. Bible scholar Dr. Charles Ryrie described it as “figurative speech for paradise, or the presence of God.”1
After Jesus arose from the grave, those in Paradise gained full access to heaven. Some scholars believe when the apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “When He [Jesus] ascended on high, He led captivity captive” (Eph. 4:8), Paul was referring to Jesus leading the righteous from Paradise to heaven. Whatever the interpretation, the Bible teaches God’s abode is a real place, and believers in Christ will dwell there in His presence when they die.
What About Angels?
Unlike Clarence the angel who earned his wings by helping George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, people do not become angels when they die.
God created the angelic host separately from human beings. He probably did so early in the creation process because He asked His servant Job,
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! . . . To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4–7).
God was revealing to Job a vital fact about creation: The angels (“morning stars” and “sons of God”) rejoiced, which in Hebrew could be translated “raised a shout,” as God formed the planet. They saw the entire event unfold and rejoiced as the world was being put together.
The word angel means “messenger.” The apostle John proclaimed, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Rev. 5:11).
Jesus told His disciples, “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt. 26:53). A Roman legion contained between 3,000 and 6,000 men. Thus God could have sent an exceedingly large contingent of angels at Jesus’ request, roughly 36,000 to 72,000. So, it’s safe to say God has a lot of angels at His disposal.
He created them specifically to be His messengers. Humans are a totally different aspect of God’s creation. In fact, the Bible says, “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3).
Scripture explains, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him” (Gen. 1:27). That image, in part, includes our ability to choose for God or against Him. When Satan rebelled (Isa. 14:12–15), one third of God’s angels joined him and became demons (Rev. 12:3–4, 9). Angels apparently have no ability to change their allegiance. They are either totally for God or, like Satan and his demons, totally against Him.
Because Satan deceived Eve and she and Adam rebelled against their Creator, all of humanity—originally created to be superior to angels—found itself lower than them (Ps. 8:5). Someday, the individuals who have repented of their sins and accepted Jesus’ death as the final sacrifice for them will join the Savior in judging the fallen angels. Everyone who has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb will reign and rule with Christ and have authority over angels.
There is no redemption, no salvation, for angels. The gospel message and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit are “things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:12).
No Looking Back
People often say their deceased loved ones are watching over and smiling down on them from heaven. We are fed this scenario every day in the movies. In reality, there appears to be no looking back. Nothing in God’s Word indicates anyone who has died can see anything happening on Earth.
For believers in Jesus who have departed this sphere and are in a place of complete joy, peace, contentment, and fellowship with God, looking back on us as we struggle, fret, and suffer would seem to negate the bliss of being with the Lord. If they could wish anything for loved ones they’ve left behind, it probably would be for them to know and follow the truth and receive Christ as their Savior.
That was what Lazarus wanted. Jesus told us about him and a rich man. They both died, and Lazarus went to Paradise (Abraham’s bosom), while the rich man did not: “And being in torments in Hades, he [the rich man] lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers . . . lest they also come to this place of torment’” (Lk. 16:23, 27–28). Abraham replied,
“They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (vv. 29–31).
Yes, Zuzu, there surely is a heaven; and I’m certain everyone who has departed this life wants those still living to know the truth. Life is not easy; but when compared to eternity, it seems like a moment. Scripture says, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14).
God sent His Son Jesus on that first Christmas long ago because He wants us to know the truth and have a home in heaven with Him. So “He made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus has overcome the world. How blessed are all those who know Him, for they will enjoy being with the Lord forever.
- Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1985), n Luke 16:22, 1,610.