Scripture Vs. Modern First Person Accounts of Angels and Heaven

Every so often, it comes in to fashion to claim one has visited heaven or had an angelic encounter.  Just a couple of years ago we were in this cycle again with books like Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo,  The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin Malarky (which the author later retracted and admitted was false), and 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper.  Just to be clear right from the start, I do not recommend any of these books, or any books made up of first person accounts of heaven or angelic encounters. Specific heaven tourism books have been addressed by many skilled writers already, which I will link to a few of them at the bottom of this essay in case you are wanting careful analysis of a specific book.  But for our purposes today I want to examine what scripture tells us about angelic encounters and heavenly visions and/or visits.

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The problem with these supposed first person accounts of heaven and/or angels is that they contradict scriptural accounts of such things.  To ground ourselves in truth, lets take a look at what the scriptures tells us about Angelic encounters and Heavenly visits/visions.  In Daniel chapter 10, we have this account of Daniel’s vision/encounter with an angel:

I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.”

So, from this biblical account we have people fleeing in terror, Daniel passes out, he trembles and is afraid.  He’s speechless; he is over come with anguish; he’s weak.

Here are some new testament accounts of angelic encounters:

And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. (Luke 1:11-13)

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. (Matthew 17: 5-6)

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Mathew 28:5-7)

While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? “He is not here, but He has risen Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” (Luke 24:4-7) 

In all of these accounts of heavenly/angelic encounters, people are terrified.  In Hebrews 13:2 we are instructed: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, recounts his heavenly vision/visit, and has this to say: “[I] was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” (2 Corinthians 12:4)

To sum it up, we have numerous accounts of angelic encounters where people are terrified, some to the point of losing consciousness or fleeing.  We have the apostle Paul, who is responsible for penning a good portion of the New Testament and arguably the greatest evangelist of all time informing us that he was forbidden to recount his heavenly visit/vision.  And then we have a verse from Hebrews that lets us know that people may entertain angels, unaware.  Terror; not allowed to say; unaware of their presence.  Okay.

The only time we do have details on heavenly visions is when God instructed his prophets in the Old Testament to recount what they had seen and heard.  And in the New Testament John is given the Revelation of Jesus Christ which he was instructed to write down and deliver to the churches in Asia Minor.  God is always precise and specific.

Let’s not forget, that as of the writing of the Revelation of Jesus Christ by the apostle John, the cannon and prophecy is closed.  Finished.  There is no more new revelation folks.  God speaks today through his Word and spoke through His Son, Jesus the Christ.  Here is a 3 part series on that very topic here , here and here.

Peter, who walked with Jesus, was one of His disciples and an eyewitness to His resurrection has this to say about personal experience versus the Word: “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19) 

And the most convincing case was Jesus Himself.  My pastor just preached on this account this past Sunday, so it is fresh in my mind.  After His resurrection, in the account of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35, Jesus does not initially reveal who He is to the men, but begins with scripture.  “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”  Jesus, who is God, used the scriptures first to teach the men before revealing Himself!  That is our example, friends.

I hope after reading through all of the scriptures above, you have been convinced by them that modern first person accounts are nothing but tall tales.  Instead of running after sensual personal stories, look to the more sure Word of God.  Repent of going beyond scripture for details, which God in his infinite wisdom has withheld from us for now.  Place your trust in Him and look to His Word to determine absolute truth in all matters.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Further Reading:

Discernment Lesson: Books where people are given tours of heaven and hell by Elizabeth Prata

The Burpo-Malarky Doctrine by Phil Johnson

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