When we ask the questions, "Is there a Heaven? Is there a Hell? Which religion does a person have to belong to in order to go to Heaven? How do we know?", etc., etc., we are asking questions about ultimate reality. Ultimate reality is that which exists after our bodies die. Materialists say 'when you die, you cease to be'. If that's true, ultimate reality is simply nothingness. Agnostics say 'we don't think you can know anything about ultimate realities until you get there'. If they are right, there's no sense in my writing these articles. However, Jesus Christ said two things plainly: 1) You are going to experience resurrection from the dead and continue to exist somewhere forever; and 2) If you wait until after you are dead and raised to decide your loyalties, you will perish for all eternity.
Question is, who is right? How do we know? In our last few articles we have discussed this matter of knowledge and have argued that knowing is simply the result of believing what is true. Sometimes what is true is revealed by our experience. Sometimes we simply have to choose to believe someone whose experience is greater than ours. We cannot experience everything and yet we can know more than we experience. But, knowledge beyond experience is knowledge based upon faith.
But when we ask ultimate questions (who goes to Heaven when the body dies--Catholics? Protestants? Islamic fundamentalists? Who?), we put ourselves beyond the sources of knowledge that come from our own experience. For ultimate questions, there is only knowledge that comes from believing someone who is supposed to have that experience.
So, the most critical question is not "Is there a Heaven?", but "Who knows for sure if there is a Heaven?" Knowing for sure depends upon experience. Jesus recognized this in His teaching. He said, "We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen" (John 3:11; ASV). He also recognized that no one was going to get to have His experience of seeing eternal realities until after they died (which would be too late to make the right decisions). So, He also said, "If I told you earthly things (which you can see and verify) and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you Heavenly things (which you can only know if you believe the one who has been there)?...No one has ascended into Heaven except he that descended out of Heaven--the Son of Man" (John 3:12-13 paraphrased).
No other person in history made the claim that he has been in Heaven and descended to tell us the truth about it and had impeccable credentials to back up the claim. Many have claimed to know ultimate truth. None but Jesus could do miraculously powerful works, live so sinlessly that He could challenge His enemies to establish a charge of wrong-doing against Him, and teach so powerfully that many believed to the extent of becoming genuinely loving persons after having believed.
Jesus also made another pertinent statement: "If you do not believe Me, you will die in your sins" (John 8:23-24 paraphrased). If He was lying we have no problem if we don't believe Him. If He was telling the truth we are in big trouble if we don't believe Him.