Today, I seek to encourage you with what Jesus and Stephen said about Jesus’s presence in heaven and with what Jesus said about what he’s doing there, preparing a place in heaven for us.
Where and Why Did Jesus Go?
Not long before Jesus was arrested and crucified, Jesus ate with his disciples. We often call it “the Last Supper.”
At the end of the meal, Jesus tells them he will not be with them much longer. Surprised, they ask him where he’s going. He tells them, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” (John 13:33-36)
Jesus then tells them where he’s going and some of what he will be doing there.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me ….” (John 14:1-4)
So, Jesus says he is going to God’s house to prepare a place. And he promises he will come back and take them to be with him.
Did Jesus Go Where He Said He Was Going? …
Soon after, Jesus is crucified and rises from the dead. (John 19-20) Around a month and a half later, he ascends into heaven (Acts 1:1-11).
About two weeks after that, one of Jesus’s followers, Stephen, after speaking out about Jesus as the savior and performing great signs, was accused by religious leaders of saying blasphemous things about Moses and God.
Those leaders put him on trial. (Acts 6:8-15; 7:48) They had a law, and they thought Stephen broke it.
At his trial, Stephen argues, rather heatedly: “You stiff-necked people! … You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.… [N]ow you have betrayed and murdered him….”
This made people furious. (Acts 7:51-54)
… Stephen Says So
Then, Stephen really made them mad. Acts 7:55-60 explains:
“… Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’
At this, [people] covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. …
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’
Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.'”
Can I Get a Witness?
Should it trouble us that Jesus was killed? Should it worry us that our faith in Jesus is foolish?
Jesus addresses that, telling us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He tells us where he was going, to heaven. And he tells us he is preparing a place for us. (John 14:1-4)
Is Jesus true to his word? Is he in heaven?
Stephen says he is.
It would have been in Stephen’s best interest to stay silent, to not make things worse for himself. He knew he was putting his life at risk if he said what he saw. But he said it anyway.
Jesus told us that he was going to go prepare a place for us, for you and for me. And Stephen serves as a witness, telling us that Jesus is indeed in heaven.
And Jesus tells us that he “will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3)
My encouragement for you today is that Jesus said he is going to heaven to prepare a place for us and that Stephen, against his interest, testified to his vision of seeing Jesus there.
Can we trust Stephen? We can’t be sure, of course. But having someone testify to such a thing at a point at which they could have probably remained alive if they kept their mouth shut or said something different is certainly a suggestion that Stephen believed he saw Jesus in heaven.
There’s a possibility, of course, that Stephen was a madman. That he was hallucinating. Or that he was a liar. Or that he had a death-wish. Or was irrational. His speech at his trial suggests something different. That he wasn’t these things. But we can’t be sure.
This is part of faith.
My encouragement to you is that Stephen’s testimony at his trial is an indication that our faith in Jesus is not in vain.
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Sources / Notes
All scripture quotes from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
This article includes part of a sermon I delivered.