Where will we be with Christ? ...

Is Heaven the Christian's Reward?

Jesus went to Heaven after his resurrection. Will Christians, when we die, follow him there?

Fortunately, it is God's decision, not ours, whether we, our pets, or anything, goes to Heaven or not! But what did Jesus mean when he said:
"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:..." (Matt. 5:12)

Bill Faith: After ministering for forty days following his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven in sight of all those who stood by, watching. In fact, we are told that heaven must receive Him, until the time of restitution of all things (Acts 3:21).

The fact that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven is unquestioned in most Christian belief. It is also the common understanding of most professing Christians that they also will ascend into heaven after completing their life here on earth. This commonly taught and accepted belief has been around for centuries, even millennia. Few question its validity.

But does the Bible teach that the reward of the saved is to spend eternity in heaven?

"In few, if any, instances of the use of the word heaven [in Matthew, Mark and Luke] is there any parallel with modern usage. The gospel records of our Lord's life and teaching do not speak of going to heaven, as a modern believer so naturally does. Rather the emphasis is on that which is heavenly coming down to man . . . Our modern way of speaking of life with God as being life in heaven is not the way the Gospels speak of the matter. Especially is there no suggestion that Jesus is offering to his disciples the certainty of heaven after this life."
William Strawson (1959) Jesus and the Future Life. London:Epworth Press.

Heaven as the future abode of the believers is [a conception] conspicuous by its absence from St. Paul's thought. The second coming is always from heaven alike in the earliest (I Thess. 1:10) and the latest (Phil. 3:20) of Paul's letters. Possibly he so takes it for granted that believers will have their place in a Messianic earthly Kingdom that he does not think it necessary to mention it.
Article: "Heaven". Dictionary of Christ and the Apostles, Vol. I, p. 531.

Jesus was not thinking of a colorless and purely heavenly beyond, but pictured it to Himself as a state of things existing upon this earth - though of course a transfigured earth - and in His own land.
W. Bousset (1906). Jesus. London: Williams and Norgate, 1906, p. 82.

These quotes from A. F. Buzzard (1995) Our Fathers Who Aren't in Heaven. Morrow, Georgia: Atlanta Bible College and Restoration Fellowship.

Most everyone is familiar with the Lord's prayer and can recite it by memory. In that prayer we find an interesting statement which most do not understand the significance of. It says, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Mt. 6: 10). Most don't fully understand what they are asking for when they recite that prayer! We are asking that God's kingdom come to this earth and that His will be done here as it is now being done in heaven.

Jesus explained to Nicodemus that "No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man..." (John 3:13). In this text, Jesus states that no man had ever ascended into heaven except himself, and that was because he came down from heaven to become human. In Hebrews 4:14, we are also told that Christ our high priest "is passed into the heavens."

Peter addressing a large multitude on the day of Pentecost just after the holy Spirit was given said, "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried.... For David is not ascended into the heavens..." (Acts 2:29,34). The Scriptures tell us that David was a man after God's own heart. Yet Peter tells us that he had not ascended into the heavens, even after Christ was resurrected and had gone back to heaven, had "passed into the heavens".

An Earthly Inheritance

Have you ever wondered why Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Mt. 5:5)? Are the meek to inherit the earth, while others are to inherit heaven? No, for God is not a respecter of persons. In Romans 4:13, where the apostle Paul is addressing the topic of salvation by faith rather than works he wrote, "For the promise that he should be heir of the world [of the whole Earth] was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law." Did you notice what Paul said here? Abraham and his seed are to be heirs of the world!

Notice what else the apostle Paul says concerning this promise. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). From this we must conclude that the promise to be heir of the world was given to Abraham and to Christ. Where does that leave us?

Paul also answers that question. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ"... (Rom. 8:16-17). Through the Spirit of God, we become adopted sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:15). After being adopted into God's family, we become both heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. But Christ is to inherit the earth and we are joint heirs with him, then we also will inherit the earth. That's why Jesus said that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Jesus' comment that the meek would some day inherit the earth was not a new doctrine. He just confirmed in Matthew 5:5 what the Old Testament scriptures had already said in Psalm 37:11. Again in Psalm 37:22, it reiterates that message, "For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth."

It seems difficult for many people to accept that God would establish His kingdom on this earth. The earth is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Natural resources are being depleted rapidly. Human nature has little respect for God or His laws. Therefore, total annihilation from nuclear wars at some future date seems quite possible. Yet the Bible tells us that "The creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God ... because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption" (Romans 8:19, 21).

The book of Revelation reveals that the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and that he shall reign forever (Rev. 11:15). Those that are Christ's will reign with him, for it is written that he has "...made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5: 10).

My question is this: In Luke 23:43 Jesus said to the condemned man "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." And what about Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus on the mount witnessed by the disciples? Can you explain these?

Thank you for your questions. These have been of concern to Christians for 2,000 years.

Perhaps a little history first. Jesus, Paul and all the early New Testament leaders taught that the "Kingdom of God", called the "Kingdom of Heaven" in Matthew, would be set up on Earth after a Resurrection of the dead. See, for instance, Harper's Bible Dictionary, article "Kingdom of God." The ideas of the "immortal soul" and "going to Heaven" entered Christianity after the time of the Apostles.

Let's address your questions directly.

First, according to most Christian teaching, where did Jesus go that day after His death? To Paradise? NO!!!! To "Hell". The Apostle's Creed says "He descended into Hell". So even conventional Christian theologians have a problem with this verse. There are two solutions:
(a) The next conscious moment for the thief, after his death, he would be in "Paradise". This would seem like "today" to him, but it could actually happen in the distant future.
(b) This is the more likely explanation. The original Greek has no punctuation. English does have punctuation, but the translators got it wrong. What Jesus probably said was: ""Verily I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with me in paradise."

Second, Moses and Elijah.
In Matt. 17:9, Jesus says this was a "vision". We do not know who, if anyone, was actually there. Bible Commentaries are full of speculations. Did the Apostles have a glimpse into the future, like John in the Book of Revelation? Were Elijah and Moses holographic projections? Were they angels dressed up to look like Elijah and Moses? Science fiction fans could probably come up with dozens of explanations. But Elijah and Moses themselves could not have been alive at that time, because Paul makes very clear that it is Jesus who is the "firstborn from the dead" (Romans 8:29, Col. 1:15, 18). Moses and Elijah could not precede him into the new life. Further, David, "a man after God's own heart" (Acts. 13:22), was still "not ascended into the heavens" as late as Acts 2:34, even after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus.

So what is "in Heaven"?

"an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, .... to be revealed in the last time .... at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:4-7).

"And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, ..." (Rev. 22:12).

Our reward is God's promise to us of eternal life with Jesus. When Jesus said "your reward is in Heaven" (Matt. 5:12), that promise was still with God in Heaven. But, when Christ returns, we will be raised from the dead (I Thess. 4:16), and then we will be "forever with the Lord", then "where he is we will be also." And where will he be? "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:2). Jesus went up in the clouds of heaven. He will return with the clouds of Heaven. And his feet will stand on that day on the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem (Zech.14:1). It is God's promise, our reward, that we will be there! So our reward is now with God in Heaven, but Jesus will bring it with him, and give it to us on this Earth!

Utopian Reality

The prophet Isaiah (approximately 700 B.C.) prophesied of this future time when he wrote, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain [government] of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, [over all the world's governments] and shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2-3).

Isaiah, continuing to write about this utopian time stated, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). This passage clearly states that this time of utopia will be here on the earth. Yet many mistakenly teach it will be in heaven.

Zechariah, another prophet who prophesied of the coming kingdom of God wrote, "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one" (Zech. 14:9).

The Bible plainly teaches that God's kingdom is to be established on the earth. The gospel accounts speak of it as the "Kingdom of heaven" and as the "Kingdom of God". The word "of" is a preposition indicating "association with" or ownership and does not indicate where the kingdom will be. The Gospel accounts do not say the "Kingdom in heaven." which would show where the kingdom is, but rather, the "Kingdom of heaven."

For example, if a person from the United States of America were visiting in England and told someone that he was a "citizen of the United States" they would know that the person was in England yet was from the U.S. Likewise the "Kingdom of God" or "Kingdom of heaven" is from God and from heaven, even though it will be on earth.

Yes, it is certainly true that after ministering for forty days following his resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. But we must also remember that while the disciples watched Jesus ascending into heaven two men stood by them in white apparel saying, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

Indeed Zechariah (14:14) asserts the returning Lord will in that day stand on the Mount of Olives - a real physical place and certainly not in heaven!

Jesus is now preparing for each saint a "place" - a position of leadership - in his coming Kingdom. The reason, he said, is "..that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1-3) i.e., right here on earth! As John also recorded "We shall reign [with him] on the earth" (Revelation 5:10. 20:6).

When Jesus returns - as he clearly foretold he will - it will be to establish the kingdom of God right here on this earth. It will be a kingdom that shall never be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14). If you are banking on going to heaven - you will surely miss him!

When Someone Dies

If heaven isn't your destiny when you die - where will you be? Why does the Bible teach a resurrection at the return of Christ? Where, in the meantime, is our "soul"'? When you die, what happens between then and your rising from the grave at his coming?

Such questions puzzle students of the Scriptures! Yet when we rid ourselves of the false traditions burned into our minds from our mother's knee, and reinforced by virtually every preacher we listen to, - then the beautiful simplicity of life and its sequel become crystal clear.

To help you study this vital matter you are invited to read the articles After The Resurrection and When Someone Dies.

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Issue 16, July/August 1999. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.

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