In my last post, I ended with the claim that:
“there is not a single verse in the Bible that says believers go to heaven when they die. In contrast, almost every gospel presentation given by believers today includes in one way or another heaven as the goal or reason to convince unbelievers to repent and believe.” ¹
I encouraged all my readers to send me verses or logic that says otherwise. I’ve been very encouraged by all the feedback and will be sure to address all of those mentioned in this post (though it make take a third given how many I received!). Before I begin, I’d like to make note of something.
“And some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and questioned Him” Luke 20:27
I read this verse this morning and felt touched by the Lord to mention it in this post. I don’t mention this because it talks about the resurrection from the dead (spoiler alert: that will be what I present as an alternative view at the end), but rather because of the way the Sadducees questioned Jesus.
They said there was no resurrection, and then they questioned Him concerning such. This type of questioning (with preconceptions), and especially this kind of approach to the Scriptures will always leave us with a strengthened prejudice, not a renewed mind. Let us try to have a poor spirit and an open mind (Matt. 5:3; Acts 17:11).
Jewish Conception – Sheol
Starting with a blank slate, I think it is also important to note that Jews believe that the Christian notion of ascending to heaven after death is erroneous. Orthodox Jews, according to the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament), believe that both the righteous and the unrighteous descend to a place called Sheol (Gen. 37:35; Job 14:13). This was simply considered the resting place of the dead, and for many, the intermediate state between this life and the one to come after the resurrection.
Also let it be noted that the Christians of the first and second century did not believe in going to heaven immediately after death, but rather hoped in a resurrection to a kingdom on the earth. The concept of a believer’s ascent to the heaven of heavens came in later with the introduction of certain Platonic philosophy about the utter corruption of the material world. ²
Thief on the Cross
“And He said to him, Truly I say to you, Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43; Read vv. 26-43 for full context
I will remind the reader that we must start at a minimum with a blank slate. In fact, we must start with the assumption that the Old Testament gives, that all descend to rest in Sheol, and then look for when the Lord Jesus or one of His apostles tells us of the change.
This verse is convincing if you have the preconception of heaven, but without such let it be noted the “Paradise” is mentioned, not heaven. Also note the word “Today.” Paradise, according to Jewish traditions, was with the Old Testament saints in Sheol, not in heaven. And where did the Lord Jesus go that day? Certainly not to heaven:
“For just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Matt. 12:40
The Lord descended to Sheol, the heart of the earth, for three days. So putting these two verses together, we see that the thief, who became our brother in Christ, descended to the heart of the earth.
Lazarus and The Rich Man
“And in Hades (Gk. rendering of Heb. “Sheol”) he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus in his bosom.” Luke 16:23; read vv. 19-31 for full context
I will mention that this study would be less confusing with a more literal translation, for translators often translate Hades, Sheol, Tartarus, the nether-world, the grave, etc. liberally according to preconceptions, sometimes rendering it “Hell,” which confuses such with the Lake of Fire reserved for the final judgement in Revelation 20.³
Here in Luke 16 we see the clearest picture of what Hades or Sheol is like. Many Bibles have a footnote under the word Hades that tell us it is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol. Greek mythology even sheds light on what the word “Hades” means, namely the resting place of the dead (as seen in one of my favorite Disney movies).
Hades has two sides with a great chasm fixed between (v. 26). One side is referred to as “Abraham’s bosom,” while the other is “torment.” We know that both sides are in Hades under the earth, for verses 27-31 talk about sending Lazarus to the rich man’s family as one risen from the dead (v. 31), not descending from heaven. “Abraham’s bosom” was a common Jewish reference to Sheol, or where Abraham is.
“In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2 KJV; PLEASE read all of John 14 for context
This may be the epitome of horribly misinterpreted verses in the whole Bible. The common view goes that our carpenter-Savior has ascended into heaven that He might build our physical mansions that we will dwell in for eternity. This could not be further from the truth (in fact, I get genuinely angry thinking about such an interpretation, and I don’t get angry often).
With the preconception of heaven, I understand why some would believe such. But from a blank slate, this section of verses reveals somethings profound. First I must note that the King James Version, though I enjoy reading it, adds to the confusion by rendering the word “abodes” as “mansions.” They translate the exact same greek word in verse 23 as “abode.” The reasoning for such is beyond the scope of this post.
“The Father’s house” here does not mean heaven, as can be clearly seen earlier in John’s gospel:
“And to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away from here; do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise.’ John 2:16
“But He spoke of the temple of His body.” 2:21
“Now you are the Body of Christ, and members individually.” 1 Corinthians 12:27
The Father’s house used to be the temple in Jerusalem, but when Christ came, He came as the tabernacle of God (Jn. 1:1, 14), and now as His Body we are the Father’s house:
“the house of God, which is the church” 1 Tim. 3:15
“Do you not know that you (plural) are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16
“In whom you also are being build together into a dwelling place of God in spirit.” Eph. 2:22
Heaven is not God’s house. It is merely His throne (Is. 66:1). He was in Heaven looking for a house among men (v. 2)! The Lord’s “going to prepare a place for us” was not His ascension. In context you see that it was His going to the cross (vv. 13:36-38). The Lord went to the cross and resurrected that He might bring us to God. The “place” was in the Father Himself, as indicated in verse 6, further proven by verses 3 and 10 which say that He is bringing us to where He is, in the Father! These verses in context may help with this mystery:
“Jesus answered and said to him, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make an abode with him.” John 14:23
“Abide in Me and I in you.” 15:4
John 14-17 is one spoken message. We see the mutual abiding of God and man, man and God. The Father’s house, as the church, has many abodes, which are it’s many members (1 Cor. 12:27; 3:16), and in which the Father Himself abides (v.23), which is why it is HIS house. We are brought to where the Lord is according to verse 3, which according to verse 10 is in the Father, and is the goal described in verse 6: “no one comes to the Father except through me.”
To dumb this wonderful message that continues all the way to the end of the Lord’s prayer in chapter 17 down to a heavenly-carpenter, building us mansions is a horrendous interpretation and an unfortunate veil to the Lord’s children seeing God’s purpose.4
“After these things I saw, and behold, there was a great multitude which no one could number, out of every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and palm branches in their hands.” Rev. 7:9
“And the twelves gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was, respectively, of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” 21:21
Since the study of eschatology is quite complex, I won’t waste too much space here diving into the exact details of the sequence in Revelation (though I plan on doing this in the future). These verses actually don’t need much explaining at all. In chapter 7 and all the later references of saints in heaven, saints have been taken up to heaven after the great tribulation to the judgement seat of Christ, i.e. the first resurrection before the millennial kingdom (20:5-6). This says nothing about the immediate state of believers after death.
The verse presented from chapter 21 is just a sample of where much of the imagery of heaven comes from in modern theology, but a closer study of this chapter and the next reveal that this describes the New Jerusalem, which come down out of heaven to earth after the age of the kingdom (which is a thousand year period (20:6)). It in no way describes heaven today (a further study on the New Jerusalem will be done in the future as well).
More to Come
I have not exhausted this topic, but I have exhausted my usual word count. I will have to continue in another post. I would really appreciate comments, personal messaging, or any other sort of communication concerning things I missed in this post and with other verses that must be addressed. I could write a post on each of the subtitles here, but I simply can’t ramble on forever on this outlet. May the Lord lead us to seek Him diligently (Heb. 11:6) and gain Him (Phil. 3:8) rather than seek a material dwelling place in the sky!
¹ Heaven (I) ² N.T. Wright, David Van Biema, Time Magizine: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html ³ http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/hades/ 4 Building