“I hear people talk about ‘going to heaven,'” writes a gracEmail subscriber. “Does the Bible say that the saved will go there? If it does, do people ‘go to heaven’ as soon as they die, or at the end of the world?”
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Scripture assures us that believers now have a house that is from heaven (2 Cor. 5:2), treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20), reward in heaven (Lk. 6:23), names written in heaven (Lk. 10:20), citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20), a hope in heaven (Col. 1:5), and an inheritance in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4). Yet, surprising as it may seem, the Bible nowhere says that the redeemed will go to heaven, either at their deaths or later. Instead, John pictures “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2), as a loud voice announces, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them” (Rev. 21:3). This vision has God coming to us, not us going to God. Scripture refers to the redeemed universe to come as “new heavens and new earth” (Isa. 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).
The Old Testament says that Enoch “was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24), and the New Testament says that he was “taken up” (Heb. 11:5), but neither specifically says that he went to “heaven.” Scripture does say that the Lord took up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven” (2 Kings 2:1), but that refers to the skies and not the abode of God and the angels. Peter affirms that not even righteous David ascended into heaven (Acts 2:34). Indeed, “no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man” (John 3:13).
That Son of Man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth, who came down from heaven (John 3:31; 6:33; 1 Cor. 15:47). After his resurrection from the dead ones, Jesus ascended up into heaven (Acts 1:11). Heaven has received him, for the time being, where he intercedes for his people (Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 4:14; 8:1; 1 Pet. 3:22). One day he will return from heaven for those people, who now await his coming (1 Thes. 1:10; 4:16). When he comes, “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” then, with them, Christ’s people who are still alive, will ascend to meet him in the air, as one runs out to welcome a greatly-desired guest (1 Thes. 4:17). Then we will always be with the Lord.