Did Billy Graham go to Heaven?
Absurd question right? Everyone knows that if anyone went to heaven then it was Billy. Well, not everyone. Apparently there are so many ways to heaven that in some group's scheme he was "in" because he is one of those rare evangelists who lived without having a sexual scandal mark his ministry. For others, he was "out" because heaven is limited to their group.
In this introductory blog I just want to point out a simple truth that would seem obvious to anyone willing to see it.
In fact, I remember years ago in my "evangelist" years I was trying to figure out how to preach the perfect evangelism sermon that would bring conviction and faith which would move them to a decision. I remember briefly being confused because I couldn't find anyplace in the New Testament that described a clear step by step explanation about how to go to heaven. I didn't think I was taking those scriptures out of context. I just thought I didn't understand them as well as the "experts".
After many years I came back full circle to that question again. This series of blogs called Hacking Heaven will examine the various beliefs about heaven, who goes there, why, what different religions believe, the fear of heaven (yes there is an actual diagnosis), and whatever other crazy ideas I come up with! :)
We all possess a perspective of "heaven" that is based on the region of our birth or our childhood culture.
If you were born in India your view of heaven may cause you to believe in fourteen worlds within the universe with seven above and seven below.
If you were born in an Islamic region, you grew up having your heart perspective shaped by the view that heaven is a garden paradise called Jannah where some groups experience every wish fulfilled including getting to do things which were considered sinful on earth like drink all they want and have virgin servants for their pleasure. Muslims in heaven will be divided into others still who will be brought even closer than most to the throne of God.
In Christianity, heaven is the synonym for the afterlife occuring after some form of judgment and is a paradise in the presence of God reserved only for those who "believe" before they die. Some believe heaven is on earth now.
Those with near death experiences tell it slightly different.
But what is it really? What is it like? As Americans we picture St Peter at the pearly gates with a large book and his finger on a trap door trigger for anyone not written in the book. Instinctively we know that isn't true, yet very few have explored beyond the dad-joke version of heaven. In fact, have YOU ever had a "heaven" experience personally or do we simply accept whatever "golden street" stories we were told is "what the Bible says"?
Pointing Out the Obvious
For now lets briefly get back to the simple truth I mentioned that is obvious to anyone willing to see it. The Bible does not teach the gospel as a way to get to heaven when you die. There are over 30,000 verses in the Bible and you will not find a single verse that says "believe in Jesus so that you can go to heaven." Despite Graham's passionate pleas and "Just as I Am" playing in the background... it's just not there.
I know, you are immediately thinking... the verse you memorized as a child... For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believe(th) in him will not perish but will have eternal life. Eternal life is not heaven. Says nothing about heaven.
Let's look at the word eternal for a moment. It is the word "aionios."
Helps Word Studies defines it like this: Cognate: 166 aiṓnios (an adjective, derived from 165 /aiṓn ("an age, having a particular character and quality") – properly, "age-like" ("like-an-age"), i.e. an "age-characteristic" (the quality describing a particular age); (figuratively) the unique quality (reality) of God's life at work in the believer, i.e. as the Lord manifests His self-existent life (as it is in His sinless abode of heaven). It (aiṓnios) does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age (165 /aiṓn) it relates to. Thus believers live in "eternal (166 /aiṓnios) life" right now, experiencing this quality of God's life now as a present possession. (Note the Gk present tense of having eternal life in Jn 3:36, 5:24, 6:47; cf. Ro 6:23.)]
The word "eternal" actually refers to an age, or a quality experienced in an age of history.
But that word modifies another one, the word life, or "zoe":
Original Word: ζωή, ῆς, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Phonetic Spelling: (dzo-ay')
Short Definition: life
Definition: 2222 zōḗ – life (PHYSICAL and spiritual).
So eternal life, which we thought meant going to heaven when we die, actually means, the life (zoe) of the age (aionios) and was being experienced already by believers in the NT but particularly as the new era of the kingdom began after AD70.
You will not find a verse that says "eternal life" and "heaven" are the same thing. It is just not there. Instead Jesus taught that "eternal life" was knowing God. Jesus said, "this is eternal life, that you may know him the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent"(John 17:3).
On a quick note, remember that from the cross to AD 70 is a transition from the Old age of Law to the New Covenant age of the Kingdom. The end of the age, was the end of the Old Covenant age when Rome destroyed Jerusalem 40 years after the cross (within one generation). (For more on this see my blog Eternal Life Does Not Mean Going To Heaven)
What about Romans 10?
Did Paul say if we confess and believe we go to heaven? Actually no. There is a context here. It uses the word saved, a word that we were taught was a synonym for going to heaven. But you will not find a scripture to support that. Saved in the NT usually meant physical healing or escape from the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Romans 10: 9 that if thou mayest confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and mayest believe in thy heart that God did raise him out of the dead, thou shalt be saved... 13 for every one -- whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, he shall be saved.'
This is the same scripture Peter quoted in Acts 2 about AD 70, whose origin is in Joel 2:32 “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be [saved] delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, As the Lord has said, Even among the survivors whom the Lord calls." He is preaching to Jews from throughout the known Roman world. Notice Peter promised who ever called on Christ would be saved and escape being part of the 1.3 million who would die. This isn't about going to heaven.
It should be no surprise that in the very next chapter Paul is quoting OT passages that specifically speak of the remnant of Israel being saved and applying it to their generation. So when it says "so all Israel will be saved", it means in context, all the remnant will be saved from Jerusalem's destruction, just as God promised. They would be saved from it by believing in Jesus Christ and fleeing the city when the Romans marched to it (the separation of the sheep and the goats). Romans 11:26, "and so [in this manner] all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, `There shall come forth out of Zion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob."
(For more on this topic check out my article, How Saved Are We: The Truth About the Word Saved)
So Did Billy-Boy Go To Heaven?
Well, of course he did... but not because he was a good little boy, or even because he believed in Jesus. All dogs go to heaven. Paul said, "EVERY KNEE WILL BOW and EVERY TONGUE CONFESS that Jesus Christ is Lord...in heaven and on earth...". The word "bow" in Greek in the NT is used as a voluntary act of worship. Not forced. Even if you believe you have to confess Christ to "go to heaven" then according to Paul everyone will confess Christ.
So the question really isn't did Billy Graham go to heaven. The real question is did he completely freak out when he saw the unexpected people there who didn't come to his altar calls.
Wish I could have seen the look on his face.
Upcoming blogs in this Hacking Heaven Series we will explore topics like, Is Jesus Building You a Mansion in Heaven?, Will God Wipe Away Every Tear in Heaven? and more. Keep an eye out.
Please share this if it was meaningful to you.