The Wonder of Heaven: A Biblical Tour of Our Eternal Home. By Ron Rhodes. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2009. 266 pp. Paper, $13.99.
As part of a recent book which had a chapter on heaven, I read a number of books on heaven. This is one of those books.
The author’s basic premise is that at the current time heaven is the home of believers who have died and it will be the eternal home of believers after the Millennium. However, in his view, those two heavens are not the same. The current heaven he understands as referring to the third heaven, which Paul saw while still alive (2 Cor 12:2). But the future heaven will include the entire new universe except for the lake of fire (pp. 92-93). Thus for him, heaven in eternity will include the new earth, the new planets and stars, and the third heaven (“there will be a much wider meaning for the third heaven”).
I found this a bit confusing. In much of the book Rhodes says that heaven is the third heaven, the place where God’s glory is especially manifested (see, for example, pp. 37, 51-52, 55, 157). This is the way most people use the term. Only in a few places (pp. 92-93, 115, 132, 135) did I find the future heaven defined as the entire new universe, including the third heaven.
Why the term heaven changed in meaning is not made clear, other than Rhodes seems to think that the reference to a new heaven and a new earth shows this, even though he rightly argues that the new heaven is not the third heaven, but the new stars and planets (p. 135). Rhodes seems to hold that believers will spend eternity exclusively on the new earth and not at all in the third heaven, even though he mentions that the new heaven will include the third heaven and the new earth and the new universe.
Revelation 21–22 receives more attention in this work than in most books on heaven (though I would prefer even more attention). Several verses from Revelation 21 are mentioned in passing on pages 108 and 135. Chapter 7 is devoted to discussing Revelation 21–22 (see esp. pp. 118-27).
JOTGES readers will be pleased that most of the time the author indicates that the sole condition of everlasting life and a guaranteed eternity with the Lord is faith in Christ, that is, being a believer (pp. 25, 57, 58, 89, 103, 141, 159, 220, 221, 222, 223). Only once did I find an errant comment: “Jesus…promised eternal life to those who followed Him” (p. 68).
His discussion of the Judgment Seat of Christ is right in line with Free Grace teaching as well (pp. 154-55, 173-90).
Some JOTGES readers will be somewhat uncomfortable with the evangelistic appeal of Rhodes. While he calls for faith in Christ, apart from works or commitment, he indicates that faith is a decision (pp. 218, 220, 221) and he leads the reader in a sinner’s prayer, though he does say, “Keep in mind that it is not the prayer that saves you” (p. 223).
I was surprised and unconvinced by Rhodes’s suggestion that OT saints did not go to the saved part of Sheol, but directly to the third heaven (pp. 51-52). He sees the place where Abraham is in Luke 16:19-31 as a figure of speech for the third heaven (p. 52), not an actual place in which unbelievers and believers coexisted (though separated by a great chasm) before the ascension of Jesus. In my opinion, Luke 16:19-31 is an actual historical event and it shows that OT saints were in Sheol prior to the ascension of Jesus.
I found his explanation of Eph 4:8 (“When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive”) to be possible but far from obvious. Rhodes suggests Eph 4:8 “is a reference to His conquering the forces of evil” (p. 52). If so, in what sense was He leading Satan and his followers when He ascended? They were not with Him. He was not leading them.
Many commentators suggest just the opposite—that the captives He led when He ascended were OT saints who had been redeemed and regenerated and they were going with Him to the third heaven as He ascended. They had once been captives, but they were no longer. They were now part of His entourage.
Even more puzzling is the suggestion by Rhodes that paradise is the third heaven. Thus when Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in paradise (Luke 23:43), Rhodes says that Jesus and the thief went to the third heaven (p. 37). Yet Jesus Himself said that He would spend three days “in the heart of the earth” before rising from the dead (Matt 12:40). The heart of the earth is not the third heaven. The heart of the earth is the center of the earth, which is where many think Sheol is.
Ephesians 4:9 also says that before He ascended to heaven, “He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth.” That too shows that He went to the lower part of the earth (i.e., Sheol) when He died, not directly to the third heaven.
Overall, I find this to be a very helpful book on the place in which believers will live forever. I recommend it.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society