Did Early Christians Teach They Were Going to Heaven?

By COGwriter

Did early Christians teach that they would go to heaven upon death?

If not, how did this belief become prevalent?

What did early Christians understand? What does the Bible teach about heaven? How many heavens are there? What does heaven have to do with the reward for Christians? Here are links to a related sermons: Heaven and Christianity and It's not heaven.

Scholars Realize that Early Christians Did Not Believe They Were Going to Heaven

Scholars who have looked into the Bible and early church history are increasingly questioning the idea of Christians going to heaven:

May 17, 2012

(RNS) The oft-cliched Christian notion of heaven — a blissful realm of harp-strumming angels — has remained a fixture of the faith for centuries…But scholars on the right and left increasingly say that comforting belief in an afterlife has no basis in the Bible and would have sounded bizarre to Jesus and his early followers…

The most recent expert to add his voice to this chorus is the prolific Christian apologist N.T. Wright, a former Anglican bishop who now teaches about early Christianity and New Testament at Scotland's University of St. Andrews. Wright has explored Christian misconceptions about heaven ... "This is a very current issue -- that what the church, or what the majority conventional view of heaven is, is very different from what we find in these biblical testimonies," said Christopher Morse of Union Theological Seminary in New York. . .

Wright and Morse work independently of each other and in very different ideological settings, but their work shows a remarkable convergence on key points. In classic Judaism and first-century Christianity, believers expected this world would be transformed into God’s Kingdom — a restored Eden where redeemed human beings would be liberated from death, illness, sin and other corruptions.

“This represents an instance of two top scholars who have apparently grown tired of talk of heaven on the part of Christians that is neither consistent with the New Testament nor theologically coherent,” said Trevor Eppehimer of Hood Theological Seminary in North Carolina. “The majority of Christian theologians today would recognize that Wright and Morse’s views on heaven represent, for the most part, the basic New Testament perspective on heaven.”

First-century Jews who believed Jesus was Messiah also believed he inaugurated the Kingdom of God and were convinced the world would be transformed in their own lifetimes, Wright said. This inauguration, however, was far from complete and required the active participation of God’s people practicing social justice, nonviolence and forgiveness to become fulfilled…“And so it’s not a Platonic, timeless eternity, which is what we were all taught,” Wright said. “It is very definitely that there will come a time when God will utterly transform this world — that will be the age to come.”  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/nt-wright-christian-heaven-is-wrong_n_1524117.html

May 17, 2012

N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Rob Bell’s bestseller Love Wins follows Wright in putting the post-mortem emphasis on resurrected bodies in the context of a new heaven and a new earth. More recently Howard Snyder and Joel Scandrett, in Salvation Means Creation Healed, make an extended argument that salvation focuses not just on souls and not just on people, but presents the hope of a transformed and new earth…

The eschatological hope of reembodiment and a renewed earth doesn’t belong to Paul alone. Second Peter 3:13 reads that “in accordance with his [God’s] promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” And of course there are chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation, in which the seer beholds “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (21:1) and focuses on a resplendent New Jerusalem, into which the nations will proceed by the light of the Lamb and offer up all their glories (22:23–24).

Such texts suggest that the new view is not so new but is indeed a recovery of an old and more decidedly biblical view of death and the afterlife.  http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2012-05/life-after-life-after-death

It should also be noted that Dr. Wright was correct that Christians practiced nonviolence (see Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare?).  However, since Mithraism was a military cult, when a follower of Mithras in the fourth century (the Roman Emperor Constantine, who opposed matters he considered to be Jewish, see Did Early Christians Celebrate Easter?) decided to attempt to blend the religion of Mithras with Catholicism, most who professed Christ then not only adopted the view of heaven, but also the view that military service in this age was acceptable (see Military Service and the Churches of God: Do Real Christians Participate in Carnal Warfare? and Do You Practice Mithraism?).

Bart Ehrman has written that Christians in the 1st century believed that the Kingdom of God was coming to earth within their own lifetimes and they looked forward to a divine future on earth. Bart Ehrman postulated that when the Kingdom of God did not arrive, Greco-Romans Christians gradually refined their hopes so that they came to look forward to an immediate reward in heaven after death, rather than to a future divine kingdom on earth—despite the churches' continuing to use the major creeds' statements of belief in a coming Resurrection Day and World to Come (Ehrman, Bart. Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend. Oxford University Press, USA. 2006. ISBN 0-19-530013-0).

There is no question that early Christians did not teach that believers go to heaven upon death, but instead taught that they would be part of the kingdom of God.

Some Early Writings: Are the Deceased Now in Heaven?

Are the deceased now in heaven?

Although he had a lot of heretical views, Justin Martyr (considered to be a saint by both Catholics and Protestants, but not by those of us in the Church of God) in the second century wrote:

“For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians” (Justin.  Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 80).

This differs from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1023 Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they "see him as he is," face to face:

By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven - have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.

Thus a Catholic saint is teaching that those who hold the current Catholic view are not Christian. Catholics either do not seem to know of the contradiction here or dismiss it. But the reality is that early professors of Christ did not teach that upon death one went to heaven in a conscious manner.

Notice what the Apostle Paul wrote:

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Specifically notice that Paul realized that he would not get the reward until the time of Jesus' return. This is consistent also with the following:

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. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Those who believe that their deceased loved ones are now looking down on them from heaven are in scriptural error.

Polycarp of Smyrna was an early Christian leader, who was a disciple of John, the last of the original apostles to die. Polycarp, around 110-135 A.D. taught:

Knowing, then, that “God is not mocked,” we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory …For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since “every lust warreth against the spirit; ” and “neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,” nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter V. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Polycarp taught that Christians would inherit the kingdom of God. This understanding was based on the Bible. Notice some scriptures:

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

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. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53)

An anonymous, likely first century, document sometimes called I Clement states:

The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the Apostles are from Christ. Both therefore came of the will of God in the appointed order. Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. (42:1-3).

The kingdom of God is to come.

While Greek philosophers and Mithraism taught going to heaven (see Do You Practice Mithraism?), the reality is that this was not a teaching of the New Testament nor early professors of Christ. 

The modern doctrine of going to heaven upon death simply was not part of early Christianity or taught in the New Testament. Christians taught the resurrection (see What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection?) and did not teach that souls were, of themselves, immortal (see Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality?).

(Some might wonder about the so-called "thief on the cross." To find out more about him, etc., check out the article Did the "Thief on the Cross" enter PARADISE immediately?)

Heaven in Perpetua?

Christianity Today indicates that the first references to heaven for those professing Christ came from one source in the third and another source in the second century:

For thoughtful Christians, all of this raises the question, "What did the early church believe about heaven?...

Indeed, in the New Testament the word "heaven" is often used to stand for God himself (Luke 15:21; Matt. 21:25, 23:22; John 3:27)...

Not only was heaven a place, it was populated. Especially during the centuries of Roman persecution, Christians looked forward to communing after death not only with God, but with each other.

The earliest evidence of this trend is The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity, an account of two Christian women killed in Carthage (in North Africa) around 202 or 203. This book records a dream Perpetua had in prison just before she and her companions were thrown to the wild beasts. In the dream Perpetua saw her sickly brother, Dinocrates, who had died at the age of 7, in heaven drinking from the fountain of life. In the same book, other soon-to-be-martyred Roman captives envisioned themselves after death joyously rejoining their fellow martyrs in a garden paradise.

The Martyrdom was a widely circulated book, and it may well have shaped many early Christians' visions of their eternal reward...

Clement of Alexandria, one of the earliest fathers, said in the second century that heaven was above all the place where believers received the vision of God from Christ. (Armstrong C. How the Early Church Saw Heaven. Christianity Today, posted 8/08/2008. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2002/aug9.html viewed 04/19/2014)

The Martyrdom of Perpetua was not circulated and accepted amongst true Church of God Christians. Perpetua was martyred in Carthage, Egypt, an area that has been influenced by Gnosticism and Montanists. She claimed several visions of the dead in that book--this is contrary to the Christian views that the dead remain in their graves until the resurrection (see What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection?) and that humans do not of themselves posses immortality (see Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality?). Protestants may find if of interest the Catholics consider the Martyrdom of Perpetua to be one of the earliest references to the place that they call Purgatory, a place the Protestants and the Continuing Church of God do not accept as valid. Even Catholic scholars have wondered if the Perpetua story was a development of the Montanists, a group that the Catholics condemned in the early third century (see Chapman J. Montanists. The Catholic Encyclopedia).

Also, Clement of Alexander was known for combining Gnostic ideas with his view of Christianity--he is discredited by scholars who believe that the Bible was not to be blended in with Greco-Roman pagan ideas.

Scholars, including Catholic and Protestant ones, have raised serious concerns about Clement of Alexandria:

Clement of Alexandria, himself infected with Gnosticism, actually uses Marcus number system though without acknowledgement (Strom, VI, xvi) (Arendzen JP. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. Marcus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Clement refers to secret tradition, and his affinities to gnosticism seems to go beyond mere borrowing of gnostic terms. (Brown HOJ. Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), 1988, p. 87).

Clement, most famous of the Alexandrian college faculty and a teacher of Origen, boasted that he would not teach Christianity unless it were mixed with pagan philosophy (Wilkinson BG. Truth Triumphant, ca. 1890. Reprint: Teach Services, Brushton (NY) 1994, p. 47).

Clement’s object is quite frankly to lead his pupils to become real Gnostics. (William J, Wand C. A history of the early church to A.D. 500, 4th edition. Routledge, 1990)

True Christianity did not adopt Gnosticism and would not rely on Gnostic views instead of the Bible. And even Clement did not clearly teach that Christians would go to heaven upon death.

Thus, these early references to the belief in heaven for Christians from Perpetua and Clement, as Christianity Today's article indicates, does not proves that this was the view of early, true Christians. As they were Egyptians, they would have been familiar with tales of the pagan god Osiris and heaven and this may have influenced them.

That being said, it is from the writings of the apostate Irenaeus that we first see it taught that some would go to heaven. He claims that some will go to heaven, others to paradise, and others to the city, as their reward:

1...And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy.

2. [They say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, "In My Father's house are many mansions." For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His Word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 35, Verses 1,2. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

This view that various ones are worthy of heaven while others only for 'paradise,' etc. is not scriptural. Irenaeus seemed to have learned it from others, as he said that 'presbyters' taught this. But these would have been false ministers (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

Even Greek Orthodox bishops have written "relevant details given by ... Irenaeus of Lyons ... are proved to be baseless and untrue, and this because these details are obviously based on apocryphal texts and inaccurate sources" (Letter to Francis. HOLY AUTOCEPHALOUS ORTHODOX CATHOLIC CHURCH OF GREECE. April 10, 2014, pp. 45-56. http://cdn.romfea.gr/images/stories/photos/2014/4/romfea1/spiti/Epistle%20to%20Pope%20Francis%20I.pdf viewed 04/21/2014).

Some Protestant Observations

Even various Protestants realize that the idea of 'near death experiences' and going to heaven is not biblical.

A film was released in 2014 titled Heaven is for Real.  It is based upon a story that was based on an incident involving a four-year-old.  Here is some information about it:

When four-year-old Colton Burpo made it through an emergency appendectomy his family was overjoyed at his miraculous survival. What they weren’t expecting, though, was the story that emerged in the following months—a story as beautiful as it was extraordinary, detailing their little boy’s trip to heaven and back.  http://heavenisforreal.net/

In Heaven, Colton says he met his miscarried sister whom no one had ever told him about and his great-grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born. He shared supposedly impossible-to-know details about each. Colton went on to describe the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and His chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help people.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heaven_Is_for_Real_%28film%29

Heaven is for real, it is the place where God’s throne now is (Matthew 5:34), but Colton Burpo did not go there.

Notice the following in a commentary on the 2014 movie, Heaven is For Real:

Four biblical authors had visions of heaven—not near-death experiences. Isaiah and Ezekiel (Old Testament prophets) and Paul and John (New Testament apostles) all had such visions. Two other biblical figures—Micaiah and Stephen—got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is merely mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55).

Only three of these men later wrote about what they saw—and the details they gave were comparatively sparse (Isaiah 6:1–4; Ezekiel 1, 10; Revelation 4–6). All of them focused properly on God’s glory. They also mentioned their own fear and shame in the presence of such glory. They had nothing to say about the mundane features that are so prominent in modern tales about heaven (things like picnics, games, juvenile attractions, familiar faces, odd conversations, and so on). Paul gave no actual description of heaven but simply said what he saw would be unlawful to utter. In short, the biblical descriptions of heaven could hardly be any more different from today’s fanciful stories about heaven. http://christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2014/heavenisforreal2014.html?zoom_highlight=heaven+is+real viewed 04/24/14

Notice also what the Old Testament teaches:

5 For the living know that they will die;
But the dead know nothing, (Ecclesiastes 9:5)

14 If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my hard service I will wait,
Till my change comes.  (Job 14:14)

While I do not doubt that Colton Burpo could not have an encounter with demonic sources that gave him information, he was not in heaven. God was not going to bring him there and send him back.

The Bible does not endorse the idea of 'near death experiences,' going to heaven, and then returning to earth.

the following:

‘Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’ going back to publisher

Washington Post -

Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.

The best-selling book, first published in 2010, describes what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months, and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the subsequent spiritual memoir — with its assuring description of “Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World” — became part of a popular genre of “heavenly tourism,” which has been controversial among orthodox Christians.

Earlier this week, Alex recanted his testimony about the afterlife. In an open letter to Christian bookstores posted on the Pulpit and Pen Web site, Alex states flatly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”

Referring to the injuries that continue to make it difficult for him to express himself, Alex writes, “Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short…. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

This evening, Todd Starowitz, public relations director of Tyndale House, told The Washington Post: “Tyndale has decided to take the book and related ancillary products out of print.”...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2015/01/15/boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-going-back-to-publisher/

So Alex Malarkey's 'true story' is admitted to be false. Notice the definition of the word malarkey:

ma·lar·key
məˈlärkē/
noun
informal
noun: malarkey
meaningless talk; nonsense.

Sadly, Alex Malarkey lived up to his name for years. Hopefully, he will further repent.  Admitting his lie was a good step. Heaven is for real, but neither Alex Malarkey nor Colton Burpo went there.

Notice a view about heaven from Joseph Farah, the Protestant editor of World News Daily:

The point? Maybe, Farah suggests, there is another destiny for man – the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. How could the Kingdom of Heaven be on Earth?

Jesus says in Matthew 16:19: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This seems to be a promise to believers of a powerful life in the Kingdom of heaven on Earth, Farah observes.

In addition, he cites Acts 2:34-35, again, a book written late in the first century long after the Resurrection of Jesus: “For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool.” To which Farah asks, “If not even David, a king after the Lord’s own heart is not ascended to heaven, are we to believe others have?”

In Romans 10:6, Paul seemingly explains, suggests Farah: “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above.)” Jesus is returning to Earth, Farah says, to set up His Kingdom in which His chosen will rule and reign with Him – on Earth.

Farah also points out that the most familiar prayer in the Greek Scriptures taught by Jesus Himself it refers twice to this heavenly Kingdom on Earth: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13).

“Again, nowhere in the Bible does it unequivocally state that heaven is the destination of man,” says Farah. “But all of the prophets speak of this Kingdom of God on Earth, as Peter says in Acts 3. There will be a 1,000-year period of a redeemed Earth, followed by a new heaven and a new earth. That’s what the Scriptures unequivocally talk about – in both the Hebrew scriptures and the Greek scriptures. After all, we learn in Genesis 1:26 that man was made by God to have dominion over the Earth. But man fell. Jesus is the new man, and He’s coming back to redeem the earth and restore all things. I don’t expect to be playing harps in heaven after I die. I expect to be ruling and reigning with the Lord Jesus right here on Earth. But, don’t take my word for it. Study the Scriptures like a Berean and make up your own mind.”

Farah cites some key scriptures about this coming Kingdom of Heaven on Earth:

In “The Restitution of All Things,” Farah focuses on what Scripture says specifically about what life in that coming Kingdom on Earth will be like and what we can learn from that about how we should be living today – in preparation for that period of rest, justice, perfect peace and abundance.12/05/16 http://www.wnd.com/2016/12/shocker-where-do-believers-go-when-they-die/#yoYkqYhtvRHSL0bj.99

And it is true that Christians do not go to heaven upon death and that God's kingdom will come to the earth (see also The Gospel of the Kingdom of God).

What Does the Bible Say About Heaven?

Of course, the opinions of scholars, Protestants, and early writers is one thing, but what about the Bible? And what did Jesus teach?

Heaven is mentioned throughout the Bible.

And actually there are three "heavens." We know this for certain because of the writings of the Apostle Paul:

1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago — whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows — such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. 6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. (2 Corinthians 12:1-6)

That third heaven is where God's throne currently is:

4 The Lord is in His holy temple,
The Lord's throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold,
His eyelids test the sons of men. (Psalms 11:4)

9 The Lord has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all. (Psalms 103:19)

9... Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

The Bible repeatedly refers to the 'kingdom of heaven.' Partially because of that, some misunderstood that the kingdom, while in heaven, will come down to the earth. Notice:

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." (Revelation 21:2-4)

As far as going to heaven, notice what Jesus taught:

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  (John 3:12-13)

Jesus Christ indeed had come down from heaven to be on the earth, and did later return to the throne of the Father in heaven (John 20:17). But, He also taught that no one else had ever done so.

Notice what the Apostle Peter taught:

29 "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne,  31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

34 "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:

'The Lord said to my Lord,
'Sit at My right hand,
35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."  (Acts 2:29-35)

Notice that David, a 'man after God's own heart' (cf. 1 Samuel 13:14; 16:13), did not go to heaven. The Apostle Peter confirmed, centuries after his death as well as after Jesus' resurrection, that David was still in his grave where he had been placed at death, and was still awaiting the resurrection. Oddly, today there is a widely mistaken belief that saints, right now, are looking down at us from heaven. Humans do not go to heaven upon death.  They await the resurrection.

The Bible teaches a resurrection. One does not go to heaven upon death.

The First and Second Heavens

The Bible teaches that there are multiple places called heaven. In addition to the third heaven, the creation of the two physical heavens is mentioned in Genesis:

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. (Genesis 1:7-8)

Multiple heavens are mentioned also in other scriptures. Here are some of them:

14 Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it. (Deuteronomy 10:14)

27 "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. (1 Kings 8:27)

6 You alone are the Lord;
You have made heaven,
The heaven of heavens, with all their host,
The earth and everything on it,
The seas and all that is in them,
And You preserve them all.
The host of heaven worships You. (Nehemiah 9:6)

What is sometimes called the 'first heaven' is the area where the atmosphere and clouds are.

23 Yet He had commanded the clouds above,
And opened the doors of heaven,
24 Had rained down manna on them to eat,
And given them of the bread of heaven. (Psalms 78:23-24)

15 In the tender grass of the field.
Let it be wet with the dew of heaven, (Daniel 4:15)

11... the windows of heaven were opened. 12 And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12)

What is known as 'outer-space' is sometimes called the 'second heaven.' Below God tells Abram to look in the heaven where the stars are:

5 Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." (Genesis 15:5)

And also notice:

22 ... stars of heaven (Deuteronomy 10:22).

3 ... the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven (Deuteronomy 17:3).

10 For the stars of heaven and their constellation (Isaiah 13:10).

1 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. (Revelation 9:1)

So, we can see that there are different heavens mentioned in the Bible, as well as what they are.

Who are the 24 Elders of Revelation 5?

What about the 24 elders mentioned in Revelation 4 & 5 & 11?

Let's look at how the NKJV translates this:

4:2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

6 Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. 8 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:

"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,Who was and is and is to come!"

9 Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:

11 "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created."

5:1 And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.

4 So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. 5 But one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals."

6 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:

"You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us* kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth."

11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice:

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!"

13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

"Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne,And to the Lamb, forever and ever!"

14 Then the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever. (Revelation 4:2-5:14)

Notice the following from the Good News magazine, October 1963:

I have always wondered who the 24 elders mentioned in Revelation 4:10 and 5:8-10 are? Are they angels--or a different type of being?

The Bible does not directly state what their office is. But it is clear they are angelic spirit beings who have authority in God’s Government. Revelation 4:10 mentions they have crowns, which typify a certain measure of authority. These elders are not and never have been men. They are in heaven. NO MAN has ever ascended to heaven except Jesus Christ (John 3:13). Correctly translated, Revelation 5:9-10 should read: “And they {these elders} sang a new song, saying, Thou [Christ) art worthy to take the bonk, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed them [not us) to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made them [not us} unto our God kings and priests: and they [not We) shall reign on the earth.”

Here is a transliteration of the Greek (I added the ... to try to better align this):

9 And they sung a song, new saying, worthy
2532..... 103...... 5603 2537... 3004..... 514
Kaí  ádousin  oodeén  kaineén  légontes  áxios

Thou art to take the book, and to open the
1488 ......2983 3588 975 2532 .455. 3588
eí  labeín  tó  ......biblíon  kaí  anoíxai  tás

seals ...thereof: for thou wast slain, and
4973 ....846 ....3754 4969 .......2532
sfragídas autoú  hóti  esfágees  kaí

hast redeemed to... God...... by ...the blood
59 .................3588 2316.. 1722 3588 129
eegórasas ..... toó  Theoó  en  ....toó  haímatí

thy ....out of every kindred, and tongue, and
4675 1537 3956 ...5443 2532 1100 ....2532
sou  ek  ....pásees  fuleés  kaí  gloóssees  kaí

people, and nation;
2992.. 2532 1484
laoú  kaí  éthnous

10 And hast made them to God... unto our
2532 ..4160........ 846.. 3588... 2316 ....2257
kaí  epoíeesas  autoús  toó  Theoó  heemoón

kings and.. priests: and they will reign.... on the
<932> 2532 2409 2532.......936.............1909 3588
basileían  kaí  hiereís kaí  basileúsousin  epí  teés

earth.
1093
geés

The KJV and NKJV mistranslated Revelation 5:9-10. Here are some better translations:

New International Version
9 And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

New Living Translation
9 And they sang a new song with these words: "You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth."

English Standard Version
9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

New American Standard Bible
9 And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

Holman Christian Standard Bible
9 And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.

International Standard Version
9 They sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slaughtered. With your blood you purchased people for God from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on the earth."

NET Bible
9 They were singing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because you were killed, and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

GOD'S WORD® Translation
9 Then they sang a new song, "You deserve to take the scroll and open the seals on it, because you were slaughtered. You bought people with your blood to be God's own. They are from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You made them a kingdom and priests for our God. They will rule as kings on the earth."

English Revised Version
9 And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, 10 and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.

Weymouth New Testament
9 And now they sing a new song. "It is fitting," they say, "that Thou shouldst be the One to take the book And break its seals; Because Thou hast been offered in sacrifice, And hast purchased for God with Thine own blood Some out of every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 And hast formed them into a Kingdom to be priests to our God, And they reign over the earth."

New Jerusalem Bible
9 They sang a new hymn: You are worthy to take the scroll and to break its seals, because you were sacrificed, and with your blood you bought people for God of every race, language, people and nation 10 and made them a line of kings and priests for God, to rule the world.

The last translation above is from a Roman Catholic one.

It should be noted that the Kingdom of God will be coming to earth, and it is "people" that come from tribes and nations with various tongues.

Now one objection to the view about angelic or some type of spirit beings is that the other times the word for elders is used in the New Testament it is referring to men. It is important to realize that Revelation 4 & 5 happens before Jesus returns. The seventh seal is not yet opened until Revelation 8, and that includes seven trumpets, and Jesus does not return until the seventh trumpet. Since the last and seventh trumpet is when the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5-6) is (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), these elders cannot be humans.

Also, if you check out the context of Revelation 4-5, John pictures a scene of worship around God's throne, which is in heaven. Around the throne are twenty-four other thrones on which are seated twenty-four elders (πρεσβυτέρους). Since the angels pattern worship in heaven with a song in chapter 4, and then in chapter 5 the Lamb redeems a people from every nation to worship in the same manner with a new song this demonstrates that the elders must be a type of spirit being like angels.

Verse 5:2-5 supports this idea. In books like Daniel, Zechariah, and in much of the rest of Revelation, the people guiding the authors through their visions are typically angels. The Book of Ezekiel shows that angels are around the throne of God, which he calls "living creatures (Ezekiel 1:4-15) and cherubim (Ezekiel 10:1-20)--cherubim are a type of angelic being.

Some feel that the 24 elders somehow represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles. And perhaps in a sense they do.

One blogger feels that these were 24 people resurrected shortly after Jesus was killed (Matthew 27:52), but that is clearly in error--they appeared to people on earth (Matthew 27:53). They did not go to the third heaven.

Anyway, there could be other explanations of Revelation 4 & 5, but these 24 elders are not currently 24 humans.

Doesn't the Bible Show People Inhabiting Heaven?

There are certain passages in the Bible that some have pointed to claiming that heaven is the reward of the saved and that there are people there.

To a degree, this is partially based upon mistranslations or misunderstandings.

One such passage is Revelation 19:1 in the KJV. Here is how the old WCG addressed that (L045. Personal Correspondence Department):

Thank you for your question concerning Revelation 19:1, which speaks of "much people in heaven."

This is an unfortunate translation of the Greek word ochlos. This word can mean people, but it also has a variety of other English synonyms. Since the Bible elsewhere plainly tells us that the reward of the saved is this earth -- not heaven -- it is evident that another synonym of the Greek word ochlos should have been chosen. (You may wish to request a copy of our booklet WHAT IS THE REWARD OF THE SAVED?)

The Goodspeed translation and the Revised Standard Version render ochlos as "multitude." The Moffat translation renders it as "host," while the Amplified New Testament and the Numeric English New Testament render it as "crowd."

These translations best convey the meaning of the original Greek. Thus, the "people" of Revelation 19:1 are actually the "host, crowd, or multitude" of heaven. This verse is speaking of angels who are in heaven. They are the great multitude that sings forth praises to God (Rev. 5:11-12).

I would also add that the NKJV translates Revelation 19:1 as follows:

1 After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! (Revelation 19:1, NKJV)

Another passage that has confused some is Philippians 3:20:

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (Philippians 3:20, KJV)

Again, this is a mistranslation. The Greek word for conversation is logoi and is so translated in Luke 17:21. The word mistranslated as conversation in Philippians 3:20 is politeuma, which has to do with citizenship. Notice the proper translation:

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. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Because New Jerusalem comes down from heaven (Revelation 21) and we are not of this world (John 15:19), our citizenship resides in heaven. Why? Because we Christians are now the people of God:

9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

And since God's throne is in heaven, that is where our citizenship currently resides.

What about Moses and Elijah? Notice the following:

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid." 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead." (Matthew 17:1-9)

Notice that this was a vision as Jesus plainly stated. Moses and Elijah are not now alive in heaven.

No people are shown to be populating heaven. This does not mean after the resurrection that spirit beings will not be able to visit the "new heaven" that the Bible tells of in Revelation 21, just that heaven itself is not the reward of the saved.

Gnostic and Pagan Religions Taught Heaven Was the Reward of the Saved

The reality is that Gnostic and pagan religions taught that heaven was the reward of the saved.

Here are some statements related to a Gnostic group, condemned by the Catholic saint Hippolytus, in the early third century:

I think that in the four preceding books I have very elaborately explained the opinions propounded by all the speculators among both Greeks and Barbarians, respecting the Divine Nature and the creation of the world ...

In the remainder (of our work), the opportunity invites us to approach the treatment of our proposed subjects, and to begin from those who have presumed to celebrate a serpent, the originator of the error (in question), through certain expressions devised by the energy of his own (ingenuity). The priests, then, and champions of the system, have been first those who have been called Naasseni ...

These (Naasseni), then, according to the system advanced by them, magnify, (as the originating cause) of all things else, a man and a son of man. ...

For Osiris, (the Naassene) says, is in temples in front of Isis; and his pudendum stands exposed, looking downwards, and crowned with all its own fruits of things that are made. And (he affirms) that such stands not only in the most hallowed temples chief of idols, but that also, for the information of all, it is as it were a light not set under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, proclaiming its message upon the housetops, in all by ways, and all streets, and near the actual dwellings, placed in front as a certain appointed limit and termination of the dwelling, and that this is denominated the good (entity) by all. For they style this good-producing, not knowing what they say. And the Greeks, deriving this mystical (expression) from the Egyptians, preserve it until this day. ...

Adopting these and such like (opinions), these most marvellous Gnostics, inventors of a novel grammatical art, magnify Homer as their prophet--as one, (according to them,) who, after the mode adopted in the mysteries, announces these truths ...

And again he exclaims, "The dead shall start forth from the graves," that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal. For this, he says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead. These same Phrygians, however, he says, affirm again that this very (man), as a consequence of the change, (becomes) a god. For, he says, he becomes a god when, having risen from the dead, he will enter into heaven through a gate of this kind. Paul the apostle, he says, knew of this gate, partially opening it in a mystery, and stating "that he was caught up by an angel, and ascended as far as the second and third heaven into paradise itself; and that he beheld sights and heard unspeakable words which it would not be possible for man to declare."

These are, he says, what are by all called the secret mysteries, "which (also we speak), not in words taught of human wisdom, but in those taught of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him." (Hippolytus. THE REFUTATION OF ALL HERESIES, BOOK V. Chapters 1-3. Translated by J.H. MacMahon. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050105.htm>).

Thus, the idea of being an immortal soul that goes to heaven was documented as a belief of Gnostic heretics--and was condemned by a Catholic saint. Various pagan and Gnostic ideas ended up affecting the Greco-Roman churches. Others have indicated that it was from Osiris beliefs that heaven entered the Greco-Roman faiths that claim Christianity.

The beliefs condemned above included the idea of first going to the gate of heaven. It is likely that this pagan Greek belief later turn into the idea that Peter would greet Christians at the "pearly gates" of heaven. The only "pearly gates" the Bible refers to come down from heaven to the earth (Revelation 21:1-21).

Perhaps the pagan religion that mostly affected the Greco-Roman, non-Church of God, faiths in the 4th century A.D. was Mithraism. The Roman Emperor Constantine had been a follower of the sun god Mithras and wanted the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics to adopt many beliefs of that faith.

History shows that they did. Here is some of what two Catholic scholars wrote:

To attain to a life of happiness in heaven, the rites proper to Mithraism were held to be of exceptional efficacy and importance...Of the Mithraic priesthood, but little is known. The higher grades of initiates seem each to have had their respective priests, the highest in dignity being the priests of the grade of Fathers. They were presided over by a high priest, styled in the inscriptions Father of Fathers, Pater Patrum, or Pater Patratus.

...and if my memory still serves me right, Mithra there puts a mark on the forehead of his soldiers. (Aiken C.F., Mithraism and Christianity. The Catholic University bulletin, Volume 19, 1913. Original from the University of Michigan, Digitized Dec 19, 2008, p. 193)

The resemblances between Mithraism and Christianity may be quickly summed up,—belief in the immortality of the soul...a remote resemblance to the Christian rite of confirmation...the seven grades of the initiation as the seven sacraments...(Aiken C.F., Mithraism and Christianity, p. 380).

Mithra, identified with the invincible Sun...they also held Sunday sacred, and celebrated the birth of the Sun on the 25th of December, the same day on which Christmas has been celebrated, since the fourth century at least...They both admitted the existence of a Heaven inhabited by beatified ones, situate in the upper regions...they both, finally, believed in the immortality of the soul... (Cumont, Franz. Translated from the second revised French edition by Thomas J. McCormack. The Mysteries of Mithra. Chicago, The Catholic University bulletin Author Catholic University of America Publisher Catholic University of America., 1913 Item notes v. 19 Original from the University of Michigan Digitized Dec 19, 2008pen Court [1903] p. 193)

The similar doctrines shown above were NOT doctrines of the early Christians, but those that through compromise were adopted by the Greco-Romans.

The 'Mithras Liturgy' contained the following in a prayer for its initiates:

Be gracious to me, O Providence and Psyche ... which the great god Helios Mithras ordered to be revealed to me by his archangel, so that I alone may ascend into heaven as an inquirer and behold the universe. (As cited in Wright JE. The Early History of Heaven. Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 112)

Mithraism greatly impacted the beliefs of the Greco-Roman religions.

Most know very little about early church history or where their doctrines came from–and what many think they know is clouded by misinformation and misconceptions.

The Bible Teaches a Different Place

Where does the Bible teach?

Notice the following:

Did Jesus say Christians go to heaven?

   MANY today believe Jesus told His disciples that Christians will spend eternity in "mansions" in heaven. They quote His words in John 14:1-4.
Did Jesus really say that our reward is a mansion in heaven? Let's see.

What Is the Father's House?

   In His Father's house, Jesus said plainly, there were many "mansions." If it had not been true, He said, He would have told us. The Greek word "move" translated "mansion" means in more modern English, "a room, a place of staying, an abode, a chamber." So in the Father's house there are a number of ROOMS OR CHAMBERS.
   But what is the Father's house? What does the Bible declare the Father's house to be?
   When in the Temple, Jesus said to the Jews who were selling doves and cattle therein: "Make not my FATHER'S HOUSE an house of merchandise" (John 2:16).
   Here is a simple Bible definition of the Father's house.
   The TEMPLE at Jerusalem was an earthly type (Heb. 8:5) of the Father's house in heaven. Luke 19:46 and Isaiah 56:7, also quote the Lord as saying of the TEMPLE. "MY HOUSE is a house of prayer ...." So the Temple at Jerusalem in Christ's day was a type of the Father's house in heaven.
   But did the Temple have many "mansions" or rooms and chambers in it?
   Certainly!
   In turning to Jeremiah 35:2, we read this: "Speak unto them, and bring them into the house of the Lord, INTO ONE OF THE CHAMBERS." In the fourth verse of the same chapter, we notice that different chambers were for persons of different rank. Hanan, a man of God, had his chamber or room "BY the chamber of the princes ... which was ABOVE the chamber of ... the keeper of the door."
   The various chambers or "mansions" corresponded to the ranks of the persons residing in them. Each room of the Temple — a type of the Father's house — not only designated the RESIDENCE of each official, but also indicated his POSITION OR OFFICE, whether he was a doorkeeper or prince.

It Is NOT Heaven   

Nowhere does the Bible call "heaven" the Father's house. The Father's house IS BEING BUILT IN heaven, but it is not heaven! Heaven is never said to have "mansions."
The ancient tabernacle built under Moses had two compartments, the inner, called the Holy of Holies, being an exact picture of the throne of God of heaven itself. IT HAD NO MANSIONS. Read Hebrews 8:5 and 9:1-7 to see exactly what the pattern of heaven is like.
No, Jesus was not referring to heaven. He is referring to a place being prepared IN heaven...

The Father's House Comes to Earth!

Revelation 21:2 plainly proves that the Holy City — the Father's house or home, SINCE HE WILL MAKE IT HIS PLACE OF FUTURE RESIDENCE (Rev. 21:3 and 22:3) is one of the two things that Jesus is preparing now in heaven. Both God the Father and His Son have been fashioning it, since whatever the Father does, THE SON DOES LIKEWISE (John 5:19). Since the city comes down OUT OF HEAVEN fully prepared, then it must have been prepared IN HEAVEN, just as Jesus said He would do.
Notice, too, that the city comes out of heaven. IT DOES NOT SAY THAT WE GO TO HEAVEN.
Now let's understand what the Bible says about the Kingdom which is in preparation IN HEAVEN, and which will come to earth. Jesus returned to heaven to receive the Kingdom (Luke 19:12). He must be preparing it while acting in the office of High Priest. Since the Kingdom is prepared for all of us to inherit, then the particular place Christ is preparing for each of us must be our own position or office in that Kingdom. PLACE means POSITION, OFFICE, RANK, as well as geographical location. Our places or positions in the government of God will depend on the office we hold. Christ has FIRST PLACE, as He is King of kings. We shall all have secondary PLACES, lesser positions under Him.
The Kingdom of God is the government of God, the members of which are to be born of God. Being born of God makes the entire Kingdom, then, the FAMILY of God. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). That is why Jesus used the ancient Temple as a physical type of the spiritual FAMILY or KINGDOM OF GOD.
Now it is becoming obvious why our places or positions in God's government had to be prepared in heaven by Jesus. We could not receive the Holy Spirit, the only means by which we can enter the Kingdom, until Christ ascended (John 16:7.) Christ prepares our places or positions in the Kingdom by being our High Priest, interceding for us and by giving us the Spirit of God. The places or positions — the responsibilities of office — are being prepared by training us to fill those offices. Jesus, as our High Priest, has been calling, justifying and perfecting each of us for His Kingdom so that when the Kingdom of God comes to this earth (Matt. 6:10), each position or place in it will be fully prepared by having one of us fill that particular office. If Christ were not High Priest in heaven, the Kingdom would not be prepared. It would have none to fill its offices.
Although Christ had to go to heaven, He said: "If I go and prepare a place for you, I WILL COME AGAIN, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." Here is Jesus' own promise that He is coming again! Notice, it does not say anywhere in these verses that we go to heaven. (Hoeh H. What Is the Place that Jesus Is Preparing? Tomorrow's World magazine, February 1972)

Some may point to the following:

12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12; cf. Luke 6:23)

While the reward is currently IN heaven, notice that Jesus will bring the reward with Him:

15 Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" 16 And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying:

"We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty,
The One who is and who was and who is to come,
Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
18 The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come,
And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,
And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints,
And those who fear Your name, small and great,
And should destroy those who destroy the earth." (Revelation 11:15-18)

12 "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. (Revelation 22:12)

Christians taught that they were to reign on earth (Revelation 5:10). Daniel saw that Jesus and the Father would come down from heaven:

3 "I was watching in the night visions,
And behold, One like the Son of Man,
Coming with the clouds of heaven!
He came to the Ancient of Days,
And they brought Him near before Him.
14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom,
That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
Which shall not pass away,
And His kingdom the one
Which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

The Apostle Paul that Jesus would deliver the kingdom to God:

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:20-25).

All enemies are not yet under His feet. The kingdom of God is not here yet. But it will come to the earth (Revelation 21).

Heaven as the reward of the saved is a fantasy adopted from paganism. It is not that there is no heaven, but those who look for it do not understand why God has a different plan.

Christians taught the Kingdom of God (see The Gospel of the Kingdom of God was the Emphasis of Jesus and the Early Church), not that they were to go to heaven as their reward.

There is much misinformation about heaven.

Yet, those willing to be called and led by God can find the truth in the Bible and the scattered records of early church history. Resurrected Christians are to be part of the Kingdom of God which, while including all the heavens, will be based upon the earth.

Here are links to a related sermons: Heaven and Christianity and It's not heaven.

Thiel B. Did Early Christians Teach Going to Heaven? http://www.cogwriter.com/heaven.htm 2014/2015/206 1206

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