How great is Heaven? The author of Hebrews might give us a clue.
In Hebrews 11, the anonymous writer recites dozens of examples of men and women of faith. In verse 35, he writes, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (ESV).
Though most (if not all) the examples given in Hebrews 11 point to people in the Old Testament, many Bible scholars believe that this verse possibly refers to examples in the books of Maccabees, those intertestamental books found in Catholic Bibles. Evangelical scholars agree that these books are not inspired by God—and thus not included in the canon of Scripture—but this doesn’t mean they have no historical value. Many stories within may well reflect actual events that took place, even if they were not written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
In this case, many point to 2 Maccabees 7 as the text behind Hebrews 11:35. In this chapter, the evil king Antiochus arrests seven brothers and their mother. Specifically, he wants to force them to renounce their faith by eating the flesh of a pig (7:1), which is unlawful for a Jewish person.
When one son speaks out against Antiochus, the king rages and begins to torture the man by cutting out his tongue, scalping him and dismembering his hands and feet. Then, the king has the man fried alive in a pan.
But the other brothers remain undeterred, even after this horrific display of violence. One by one each brother meets a similar fate, until only the youngest son and the mother are left alive. Antiochus pleads with the mother to convince her son that he should just eat the pig and remain alive, but the mother surprises everyone by telling the son, “Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers” (7:29 NRSV).
That’s some faith!
The son is tortured to death even more brutally than his brothers and the mother follows him in martyrdom soon after.
The text specifically tells us that both the mother and her youngest son had “hope” or “trust in the Lord” (7:20, 40). Each of the other brothers makes a brief speech as well, putting their full confidence in God, the resurrection to come and their hope of something greater in Heaven.
How great is Heaven? Consider the choice these young men and their mother had to make. Eat some pig—just a few slices of bacon—or be tortured to death. And they chose death over bacon because they realized that they would rise again to a better life.
How great is Heaven?
At the very least, it’s even better than bacon.