Going to heaven for eternity is the major goal for most who profess Christianity. But does God’s Word teach that is the destination for the saved?
It seems most everyone believes that Christians are bound for heaven. Life after death in heaven or in hell is prominently featured in mainstream Christian tradition. Religious education invariably teaches that heaven is the best destination for eternal life.
On the other hand, God’s Word—the Bible—offers evidence for something different. And the Bible—not religious tradition—is the only reliable and authoritative source to determine God’s truth.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about what truth is, as we set out to examine what God’s offer of eternal life involves and where it will be lived. We’ll see that most churches are in conflict with the Bible on the hereafter issue.
Jesus Christ prayed to His Father concerning His followers, “Sanctify [separate] them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). When doctrines come from a source other than from God’s Word, then His truth is not in them. Why? Because there is a monumental difference between God’s truth and humanly contrived doctrines. His Word is truth, and any doctrine that deviates from that reality simply cannot be truth.
Jesus, the Son of God, knew exactly what truth is, and He lived by it. “But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”’” (Matthew 4:4). If a doctrine has not proceeded from the mouth of God—His Word—then it simply is devoid of truth. The Psalmist said, “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160).
If we fail to rely on God’s Word, then we are open to error. God’s truth is what separates authentic Christianity from misguided religious traditions.
If eternal life in heaven were taught in God’s Word, then the New Testament in particular should be brimful of the concept.
But it is actually devoid of it.
No one has ascended into heaven
Looking forward to the time of His return and God’s Kingdom on earth, Jesus Christ left us with an example prayer. Part of that prayer was: “[May] Your kingdom come. [May] Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Luke 11:2).
Right now God’s will saturates where God is—in heaven. Jesus Christ instructed Christians to pray for His Kingdom to come to earth so that this world, too, would be immersed in His will. Why should Christians pray for God’s Kingdom to come to earth if our destiny is heaven?
The Bible says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). This and many other scriptures make clear that eternal life in heaven is not offered to the resurrected Christian. That does not mean that as spirit beings resurrected Christians could not visit heaven or anywhere else. It simply means that heaven is not where the Bible says resurrected Christians will spend eternal life.
What does the Bible say?
“For He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). Who are “those who are with” Christ at His return to earth? The answer is none other than those Christians to whom God will give eternal life.
“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. 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). For more about this, read the article “Resurrections: What Are They?”
Both Christians who are then resting in their graves and Christians who are still alive will be made spirit. They will be given eternal life and will rise to the clouds together to welcome the returning Jesus Christ.Both Christians who are then resting in their graves and Christians who are still alive will be made spirit. They will be given eternal life and will rise to the clouds together to welcome the returning Jesus Christ. Together both groups will descend with Him to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:4). This is the first time any human being apart from Jesus Christ will be given eternal life. It is the “first resurrection” (Revelation 20:6).
According to the Bible, nobody has gone to heaven (see “What Is Heaven?” and “Enoch and Elijah: Are They in Heaven?”). Thankfully, the Bible also shows that nobody is now being tortured in an ever-burning hellfire (see “What Is Hell?”). These traditional concepts are not taught in the Bible.
The reality of eternity
The Bible teaches that because of our sins, every human has earned a one-way ticket to death for all eternity (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Not one of us could be offered eternal life without our death penalty being paid. As the Son of God, Jesus Christ died to pay that penalty for us—if we repent. In His love for humanity, He paid our death penalty and became “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). He pioneered the way for our eternal life.
So what does He plan for us to do?
“For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, emphasis added throughout).
What will those resurrected saints do? As immortal kings, they will serve the King of kings in His Father’s Kingdom. His Kingdom will have come, and His will and purpose will be done on earth just as it is right now in heaven.
The resurrected saints will be instrumental in seeing that God’s will blankets the entire earth. “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4). Of course, that 1,000 years is only the beginning of the wonderful eternity God has in store for us—productive and fulfilling beyond our wildest imagination (1 Corinthians 2:9).
The concept of going to heaven is just not taught in God’s Word. From these few verses and many more throughout the Bible, we see that departed Christians are not alive in heaven now but are as yet in the grave—yet to be resurrected. When they are raised from the dead to immortal life, they will serve as kings here on earth. That has been God’s offer to His Church historically, and it continues to be His offer today.
As kings and priests assisting Jesus Christ during His millennial reign, His resurrected Church will help make sure that God’s will is done on earth as it is right now in heaven.
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16).
Jesus Christ, as King of kings, will be enthroned at world headquarters—Jerusalem. Many of those who will welcome Him in the clouds and descend with Him will be responsible for cities around the world. One of Jesus’ parables gives a glimpse of this:
“And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities’” (Luke 19:15-17). Those will be real cities right here on earth.
This article has only scratched the surface. To be among “those who are with Him” when He returns and to understand all the work to be done here on earth thereafter, we encourage you to study further about the Christian’s great potential. Through study, we can build faith and consequently overcome all barriers standing in the way of our being among “those who are with Him” when the feet of the King of kings alight on the earth.
For additional understanding about this topic, read the booklet The Last Enemy: What Really Happens After Death?