One of the central doctrines of Christianity is the teaching that believers will spend eternity in heaven. Numerous hymns have been written about those heavenly "streets of gold" that we will walk on in the afterlife. Along with Sunday observance and the Trinitarian concept of the Godhead, the doctrine of going to heaven is one of the foundational beliefs of traditional Christianity.
However, there is no such doctrine taught in the Old Testament. This teaching is based exclusively on New Testament passages. The Synpotic Gospels state that our treasure will be in heaven:
MATTHEW 6:19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (NKJV)
MATTHEW 19:21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (NKJV)
MARK 10:21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." (NKJV)
LUKE 18:22 So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." (NKJV)
Other passages speak of our reward that is in heaven:
MATTHEW 5:11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (NKJV)
LUKE 6:20 Looking at his disciples, he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. (NIV)
The disciples were told that their names were recorded in heaven:
LUKE 10:19 "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." (NKJV)
HEBREWS 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, (NKJV)
The apostle Paul stated that believers were citizens of heaven:
PHILIPPIANS 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (NKJV)
Paul also, in agreement with the Synoptic Gospels, wrote that believers have a "hope laid up in heaven," an "enduring possession" reserved as a treasure for them in heaven:
COLOSSIANS 1:3 We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; 5 because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; (NKJV)
HEBREWS 10:32 But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. (NKJV)
I TIMOTHY 6:17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (NASU)
The apostle Peter, in agreement with the author of Hebrews, shows that believers have an "inheritance incorruptible" reserved for them in heaven:
I PETER 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (NKJV)
A close examination of these Scriptures shows that the focus the New Testament is primarily on the REWARD of believers, which is the TREASURE that they have reserved for them in heaven. In II Corinthians, Paul speaks specifically of the nature of this reward:
II CORINTHIANS 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. (NKJV)
In this passage, Paul speaks figuratively of life in this fleshly body ("our earthly house"). He tells the Corinthians they have a "building from God" in the heavens that awaits them after their fleshly body dies. He speaks longingly of being clothed with his spiritual body, that "habitation which is from heaven." He states that those believers in the flesh groan in travail, waiting to put on their incorruptible spirit body at the resurrection. It is this immortal spirit body that is the treasure or reward awaiting believers in heaven.
In an earlier letter, Paul told the Corinthians that "flesh and blood CANNOT inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 15:50):
I CORINTHIANS 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (NKJV)
Paul's teaching is clear to those who can see past the traditions of men. The reward reserved in heaven for believers is not a residence in heaven itself, but rather an incorruptible spiritual body that believers will have after the resurrection.
The Bible never explicitly states that believers will be taken to heaven to spend eternity there. In fact, Paul specifically tells us where believers will spend eternity in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
I THESSALONIANS 4:13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (NKJV)
Paul clearly states that after the return of Messiah, when the dead are resurrected, those who are "in Christ" will "always be with the Lord." Yeshua himself promised to come back and take believers to where he would be:
JOHN 14:1 "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (ESV)
Many people think that this Scripture from the Gospel of John is speaking of a heavenly dwelling place. Here Yeshua speaks of his "Father's house." This reference is generally understood to refer to heaven, and many have assumed that Yeshua is promising here to bring his disciples to heaven, that they may dwell there forever.
However, there is another spiritual house of God spoken of in the New Testament: the body of believers. Yeshua knew that God was about to replace the physical temple in Jerusalem with a spiritual temple composed of the assembly of believers. Within this new house of God would be many dwelling places. The physical bodies of believers would become individual rooms or abodes within the Father's spiritual temple. For more information on this concept, refer to my article "Pentecost and the Coming of the Holy Spirit."
One reason that Christians have embraced heaven as their eternal dwelling place is because they do not study the Old Testament enough to know what it teaches about the coming kingdom of God (called the "kingdom of heaven" by Matthew). If believers are to "always be with the Lord" after his return, where does the Bible show that the Messiah will be then? We are now going to spend the remainder of this study answering that question.
Let's start with the Messiah's own words, found in the Sermon on the Mount:
MATTHEW 5:2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: 3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (NKJV)
Many people interpret the phrase "kingdom of heaven" to mean a kingdom that is IN heaven. But that's not what Matthew (the only Gospel author to use "kingdom of heaven") intended to convey by his use of the phrase.
Matthew's Gospel was written to the Jews. Because of their desire not to take the name of God in vain (Exo. 20:7), the Jews often used terms that were understood to be synonymous with God (i.e., "the Power"-Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:62; "heaven"-Luke 15:18) instead of His name. Therefore, in Matthew's writings, the "kingdom of God" is most often referred to as the "kingdom of heaven."
Yeshua stated that the "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3) and those "persecuted for righteousness' sake" (Matt. 5:10) are going to receive the "kingdom of heaven." However, the meek are going to "inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Will there be two DIFFERENT rewards for these groups of people? Or are these two actually the same?
A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua taught his disciples how to pray. The beginning of this prayer, which is familiar to almost every believer, contains insight into our eternal destiny:
MATTHEW 6:9 "In this manner, therefore, pray: our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (NKJV)
The kingdom of God (or "the kingdom of heaven") will be here on the earth. Yeshua taught his disciples to pray for the coming of this kingdom, so that God's will might be done here on the earth, just as it is now done in heaven.
To conclusively show that the "kingdom of heaven" and the Messiah will be on the earth, we must examine the Old Testament prophecies. These will clearly tell us where believers will enjoy their "heavenly" reward. Let's begin with a prophecy from the book of Zechariah:
ZECHARIAH 8:2 "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; with great fervor I am zealous for her.' 3 Thus says the LORD: 'I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the LORD of hosts, the Holy Mountain.' 4 Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. 5 The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.' 6 Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'If it is marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, will it also be marvelous in My eyes?' says the LORD of hosts. 7 Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Behold, I will save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west; 8 I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. They shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.' " (NKJV)
Zechariah clearly records that the Messiah (who was given the name of his Father-John 17:11) will return to Jerusalem and will dwell there in the midst of Israel. This is affirmed over and over in the Tanakh, as the following prophecies show:
ZECHARIAH 2:4 . . . "Run, speak to this young man, saying: 'Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, because of the multitude of men and livestock in it. 5 For I,' says the LORD, 'will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.' " 6 Up, up! Flee from the land of the north," says the LORD; "for I have spread you abroad like the four winds of heaven," says the LORD. 7 "Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon." 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts: "He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. 9 For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me. 10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst," says the LORD. 11 "Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. 12 And the LORD will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem." (NKJV)
MICAH 4:1 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. 2 Many nations shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths." For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 4 But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. 5 For all people walk each in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. 6 "In that day," says the LORD, "I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; 7 I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever. 8 And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem." (NKJV)
JOEL 3:16 The LORD also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. 17 "So you shall know that I am the LORD your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through her again." 18 And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip with new wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water; a fountain shall flow from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Acacias. 19 Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom a desolate wilderness, because of violence against the people of Judah, for they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20 But Judah shall abide forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. 21 For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted; for the LORD dwells in Zion." (NKJV)
ISAIAH 24:17 Fear and the pit and the snare are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth. 18 And it shall be that he who flees from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit, and he who comes up from the midst of the pit shall be caught in the snare; for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth are shaken. 19 The earth is violently broken, the earth is split open, the earth is shaken exceedingly. 20 The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall totter like a hut; its transgression shall be heavy upon it, and it will fall, and not rise again. 21 It shall come to pass in that day that the LORD will punish on high the host of exalted ones, and on the earth the kings of the earth. 22 They will be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison; after many days they will be punished. 23 Then the moon will be disgraced and the sun ashamed; for the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously. (NKJV)
ISAIAH 12:1 And in that day you will say: "O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. 2 Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; 'For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.' " 3 Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And in that day you will say: "Praise the LORD, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. 5 Sing to the LORD, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. 6 Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!" (NKJV)
PSALM 2:1 Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3 "Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us." 4 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. 5 Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: 6 "Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion." 7 "I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of Me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.' " 10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in him. (NKJV)
A multitude of Old Testament prophecies speak of the regathering of the Israelites to the Holy Land under the reign of King Messiah. It is clear that Yeshua will be here on earth ruling over the nations from Jerusalem.
According to Paul, we are to forever be with the Lord when he appears. If that is so, then we too will be here on the earth, ruling with him as kings and priests (Rev. 1:6). Isaiah speaks of what we will do at that time:
ISAIAH 1:24 Therefore the Lord says, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, "Ah, I will rid Myself of My adversaries, and take vengeance on My enemies. 25 I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy. 26 I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city." 27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness. (NKJV)
ISAIAH 30:18 Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; and therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him. 19 For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. 20 And though the Lord [adonai] gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, but your eyes shall see your teachers. 21 Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left. (NKJV)
Resurrected saints with incorruptible spirit bodies will serve as teachers, counselors, and judges for those living in the messianic kingdom of God. As Yeshua's parable of the ten pounds (Luke 19:12-27) shows, Messiah will reward his servants when he returns with positions of rulership within the kingdom of God based on how much spiritual return they generate from the Holy Spirit given to them. They will be given responsibility to lead and teach, as Isaiah's words show us.
We do not go to heaven. At the end of the 1,000-year reign of Messiah, heaven will come to earth:
REVELATION 21:1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (NKJV)
A time will come, after the reign of the Messiah on the earth, that God Himself will come down from heaven. He will then dwell on the new earth among humanity. The earth, the current version and the new earth that will come after the Millennium, will always be the home of mankind.
Bryan T. Huie
May 25, 2004