The Bible doesn’t teach that you go to heaven upon death. But what it does expound is marvelous!
[Gary Petty] Realize Jesus claimed that He's the only one who has ascended into heaven. The only one. What happened to all the great men and women of faith throughout history? I mean, where do Christians go when they die? We've assumed heaven. But is that what the Bible actually teaches? Have you ever wondered about who you will meet when you go to heaven?
Over the years I've read a number of surveys where people were asked, who they wanted to meet in heaven. And of course, God and Jesus were at the top of most lists. And then people said they'd like to meet family members or friends, but also famous people like Mahatma Gandhi, Elvis Presley, and Marilyn Monroe. As a pastor many people ask me questions about heaven. They want to know will I know my loved ones when I go to heaven? Or why can't my relatives contact me while they're up in heaven? Now sometimes how I answer those questions is a bit surprising to them.
Today, we're going to talk about going to heaven from a biblical viewpoint and this may be very different than what some of you've heard, but you need to listen because the truth about heaven is better than you think. One of the most astonishing statements Jesus made about heaven is recorded in the gospel of John. Jesus said, "No one has ascended to heaven, but He who came down from heaven, that is the Son of Man." I'm going to read this again. So I want you to think about this, read this. Words of Jesus. "No one has ascended to heaven, but He who came down from heaven that is the Son of Man." Realize Jesus claimed that He's the only one who has ascended into heaven. The only one.
Are we to take Jesus' statement, literally? I mean if Jesus is the only one to go to heaven, what happened to all the great men and women of faith throughout history? Where did they go? I mean, where do Christians go when they die? You've assumed heaven, but is that what the Bible actually teaches? God does have a plan for your eternity and the Bible teaches something different about God's plan than what many Christians actually believe. If you have a Bible nearby, get it because we're going to do a Bible study on going to heaven. Understanding what the Bible actually teaches can help you understand and find answers to the questions about loved ones who have died, and the future God actually wants to give to you.
So let's begin by looking at two places here in the Bible that deal with going to heaven. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven, Apostle Peter gave a stirring sermon, it’s recorded in the book of Acts, about Jesus being a descendant of King David and the prophesied Messiah. He quotes from Psalm 110 where the Messiah is prophesied to ascend into heaven, to sit at the right hand of God. And Peter wants his audience to know that David wasn't writing this prophecy about himself. Instead, Peter says that what David wrote here applies to Jesus Christ and here's something Peter said in discussing Jesus as the Christ. So he said "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David that he is both dead and buried and his tomb was with us today." And then a few verses later, he says this, this is important. "For David did not ascend into the heavens." Jesus said, "Nobody's going to heaven, but Him." And here, Peter says, "David, didn't go there." David, a man after God's own heart, didn't go to heaven. And the point of Peter's sermon is the foundational truth that Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven, fulfilling the prophecy of Psalm 110.
Now Peter couldn't have meant that a righteous man like David has been denied eternal life with God. So what doesn't mean? I mean where is David if he's not in heaven? Now we're going to come back to answer that question about where's David. But first let's look at a second place where the Bible seems to say that the person other than Jesus has ascended in heaven. It's from somebody that's mentioned back in the book of Genesis. His name was Enoch. And all it says in Genesis is, is that “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” Now, if this is the only statement we have about Enoch we could conclude that maybe the phrase, God took him, means that God simply took him to another place or that he died. But Enoch is also mentioned in the New Testament, in the book of Hebrews, and this is what I want to read here.
I want you to listen to this sentence, and then we have a problem with it. He says, "By faith Enoch," this in Hebrews 11, "was taken away so that he did not see death and was not found." This is the quote from actually from Genesis, "Was not found because God had taken him. For before he was taken, he had this testimony that he pleased God." I mean, seems like an open and shut case, right? Enoch had to go to heaven, so he couldn't see death. Wait a minute, what about Jesus saying that nobody's gone to heaven, but Him? Something doesn't add up, does it?
To deal with what appears here to be a contradiction, we have to look at the entire chapter of the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 11 is a testimony about the great men and women of the Old Testament. I mean this list in this chapter includes people like Noah and Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Samuel and David, and Enoch is in this list. I just read the little statement that's made about him. The book of Hebrews was written to inspire Christians, to stay dedicated to God in faith. Now here's what it is said about these wonderful examples of faith in the book of Hebrews. So we're still in Hebrews 11 here. It says all these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. I want you to think about what we just read. All the people in this list died that would include Enoch, and not one of them received the things promised, not one. So what was promised them? Well, the next verse says, "People who say such things," these people of faith, "show that they're looking for a country of their own." That's very interesting. Abraham and Sarah were looking to the promised land. They went to the promised land and they never owned it, they wondered through it. Moses took the ancient Israelites to the promised land, and he never even got into it, but right, he died before he got there.
But what this talk about here in Hebrews is something much bigger than that physical promised land. It continues, the writer of Hebrews, "If they had been thinking of the country where they had left, they would've had opportunity to return. Instead," Now, listen. "They were longing looking for desiring, longing for a better country, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared a city for them." All of the people of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11, longed for, desired a heavenly city, but they all died and did not receive the promise. This includes Enoch. Boy, that leaves us with some hard questions, doesn't it? And they're answered here in Hebrews 11. We're going to come back to it.
But before we look at those answers, I want to tell you about today's free study guide, what we're offering on today's program. It's called "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" "You die and go to heaven!" is what most people think that's what happens, and many claim that it's what the Bible says. What the Bible actually teaches is a fascinating revelation that can give you hope even in death. Take time to order you free study guide, "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" Some of you may know the Bible and at this point you're saying, "oh, wait a minute, wait a minute. It says in the Bible that the Prophet Elijah went to heaven." Is that what it really says? This study guide answers the question, did Elijah go to heaven? I mean, did you know that Elijah actually wrote letter to a king long after he disappeared? Did you know that the Bible talks about different heavens? When you get this study guide, you will need to have a Bible with you so you can read and find out what it actually says. Order your free copy of "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" By calling the number on your screen or going to beyondtoday.tv where you can download your free copy.
Okay, Jesus said that no one has ascended into heaven but himself. But many people believe that Enoch, mentioned in the book of Genesis and here in Hebrews, was taken into heaven so that he would not suffer death. We've seen how in the New Testament, Enoch is listed with great people of faith who, "all died in the faith." These people were said to have been seeking the promise of a heavenly city, which they did not receive. So let's go back and look at again, what we read just a few minutes ago, about Enoch from Hebrew chapter 11. It says, "By faith, Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death. And was not found because God had taken him. For before he was taken, he had this testimony that he pleased God." Now I want you to think about, notice something. That passage does not say that he was taken to heaven. It does not say that, that's an assumption that's read into the passage. So to be consistent with what Jesus said, what did he say? "No one's gone there, but me." That's what Jesus said. So to be consistent with that and with the rest of this very chapter that we're quoting comes from where it says, that all the great men and women of faith have not received of their promise of a heavenly city.
We must conclude that Enoch was taken away or moved from one place to another and did not see death at that time, cause we know he did die. And according to Hebrews, Enoch did die, and has not yet received his heavenly reward. Now, why would that be true? Why would that be true? What is God's purpose for having all these people, these wonderful examples of faithful people not received the promise of their heavenly city? I mean, why would He do that? The answer is shocking and it's mentioned here at the very end of Hebrews 11. Here's what it says. "These were all commended for their faith," all these people on this list, "yet none of them received what had been promised." And here's why, "Since God had planned something better for us, so that only together with us would they be made perfect."
Only together with us. There's a perfection process going on, and all the people of God are made perfect at the same time. I mean, think what that passage says. For us now that's Christians at that time, it’s Christians here 2,000 years later. Everybody is being prepared and everybody's perfected at the same time. That means Enoch's not in heaven, but neither is Abraham, Sarah, Peter, Mary the mother of Jesus or the Apostle Paul. They are waiting to receive the promise, the promise of eternal life with God. And they're waiting until everyone is perfected together, and this is important.
God has a plan to perfect all of those who have been His followers, I mean the Old Testament patriarchs, the New Testament saints, all of the Christians who have followed Christ throughout the centuries, all at the same time. That's what it just said. That's what we just read. And there is one place in the Bible where the Apostle Paul explains all of this. It is in 1st Corinthians chapter 15. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is dealing with the difficulty many of the Greeks had that these Greeks had come into the church, and they were having difficulty just figuring out what he meant by a resurrection of the dead, right? It didn't make sense to them. A resurrection of the dead? And in chapter 15, Paul explains the basis of Christianity is the fact that Jesus the Christ was raised from the dead. In fact, he says that Jesus’ resurrection is proof that His followers will receive a promised resurrection from the dead, is proof that the followers receive that.
It reminds me back in the gospel of John, where Jesus said the hour's coming, in which all of those are in the graves would hear His voice and come forth. Come out of the graves. Understand to be resurrected, is to die and be brought back to life out of the grave. That's what it means. That's what the word means. Here in 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul summarizes his teachings when he says, "For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile and you're still in your sins. Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished." If Christ did not rise from the dead, there is no Christianity. It's all fake. And there is no hope for Christians, and I want to stress this, to receive the promise of Christianity. And what is the promise of Christianity? The resurrection from the dead.
You see, we need to look at how Paul explains this resurrection, and first of all it's important to notice that the promise, the promise of the resurrection is not a promise that your body dies and your soul leaves your body and travels to heaven. That's not the promise. The idea that the person has an immortal soul and immediately goes to heaven at death. The death of the body is how it's explained. It's not a biblical teaching actually. And I know this may make some of you feel very uneasy but we're looking at the Word of God as our source of truth. All of us have at times had to get into the scripture and discover that there's message from God we've missed. And when you put all the scriptures together, the Bible does not contain the idea that we have an immortal soul. The idea actually infiltrated into early Christianity from Greek philosophy, primarily from Plato. Many of the Christian writers from the second through the fourth century's Origin, Tertullian, Augustine, were avid students of Plato's writings, and their writing show his influence, especially in the belief that there's an immortal soul that goes to heaven when the body dies.
What we discovered in the book of Hebrews and here in 1st Corinthians is something quite different. You notice Paul said that, "Christians are asleep in Christ." We just read that. Death-as-sleep is a common description of the experience of death throughout the Bible. It's a metaphor. That's what it's like to die. That's why you have to be woke up because you're asleep. This is why they're numerous passages in the Old Testament about how the dead, they know nothing. They have no emotions, they have no consciousness. But Paul said, "But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." Death isn't the final answer. God will call and the dead shall awaken.
The question here is when do those who have fallen asleep wake up? And before we answer that question, I want to invite you to get your free copy of "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" Have you ever wondered why your friends and family who have died, don't contact you? Or why do those in heaven have to return to be resurrected? Some of you've heard that. You can find these answers in "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" The discovery of this message from God will help you have hope and find hope in the Word of God. Get your free study guide by calling the number on your screen or downloading a copy of beyondtoday.tv.
Let's get back to 1st Corinthians 15, and see what Paul teaches about the Christian resurrection. The time when, according to Hebrews 11, all the faithful were perfected at the same time. The great culture of Corinth was steeped in Homer's Odyssey and Iliad where the dead exists as shades or ghost in hades. And Plato's teaching about how the immortal soul flees the body at death. Corinthian Christians were having real difficulty with Paul's teaching about a resurrection. It didn't make sense to them. You become a shade, you become a ghost. I mean, they asked Paul, "How are the dead raised up? With what body do they come?" That made no sense. They would've been shocked by his answer. Paul explained that when a person dies, it's like a planting a seed that is waiting to germinate and grow into a new life. And so Paul writes, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body."
This would've been shocking to those who had learned from Greek philosophy and Greek religion. But God promises those who follow Christ that they will receive a spiritual body. Which happens according to Paul here at the resurrection of the dead. Here's what happens when we take ancient Greek philosophy and try to merge it with biblical teaching, it leads to this strange conclusion that a Christian soul goes to heaven, where it exists as a ghost. Many people believe this. It exists as a ghost waiting to return with Jesus to receive their promised reward of a physical body. So they got to go back into grave and come up again. And that is what a lot of Christians believe.
The biblical teaching supplies a better answer about death in the future for perfection mentioned in Hebrews. So let's continue here. Go back 1st Corinthians 15. Paul says, "Behold, I tell you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." And then listen to this. "So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, there shall be brought to pass the saying, death is swallowed up in victory." Death is not swallowed up in victory at the moment you die, and your soul becomes a ghost. Death is swallowed up in victory at the resurrection, when you're woke up, brought out of the sleep of death and you receive a spiritual body. The resurrection to perfection of all people of God through history is the fulfillment of the prophecy of the book of Hebrews. Now when does this resurrection of the people of God take place?
Now Paul talks about this actually in another letter, he wrote to the church in Thessalonica, and here's what he say, and he talks about those who have fallen asleep, okay? "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," and that's what he was talking about in 1st Corinthians, "will by no means proceed those who are asleep, for the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of an arch angel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." They're either ghosts to come down, get back in the grave and rise, or they're asleep and they rise and they sleep and they arise is the teaching of the scripture. See, it's different than what you've heard. But when Jesus returns, the dead in Christ are resurrected, brought back to life, awoke from their sleep of death to receive eternal life in a spiritual body. And they will serve Jesus Christ as He rules on earth as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Isn't that a whole lot better than being a ghost?
What's it like in heaven? I don't know, you're a ghost according to what most people believe. That's actually what, if you take it at face value, that's what it is cause you don't have a spiritual body. So you have to wait in heaven, waiting to be completed. Think about that. Your time is heaven is spent waiting to be perfected. No, you go to sleep, you wake up, and everybody's being perfected at the same time. Can you imagine waking up, and there is Mary, the mother of Jesus, and there is Noah and there's all these people of the scripture being resurrected to meet Jesus Christ and you're there with them. So when do we go to heaven? When do we get to go to heaven? Now we'll find the answer to that question from the Bible in a moment.
First, I want to remind you to order your free copy of "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" The study guide also covers some important questions about hell, okay, and God's punishment on the wicked. 'Cause okay, if we don't go to heaven, what about hell? This is important. You need to find out what the scripture actually teaches. Call the number on your screen or go to be on beyondtoday.tv to get your free copy.
Okay, back to the question. So when do Christians really go to heaven? Okay, they're not there now, but there's a heavenly city right, remember? They're waiting for a heavenly city. They didn't receive the heavenly city. No one has yet received that heavenly city. So when does everybody get the heavenly city? Interesting when you look at the last part of the book of a Revelation, you have what is called The Great White Throne Judgment. Okay, The Great White Throne Judgment, and this is after the reign of Jesus Christ on earth for a 1,000 years. This is after there it’s what is called a second resurrection. This is after the lake of fire and the renewal of the universe. And it says in Revelation 21, “Heaven is coming to earth." But we're not going to heaven? No, heaven's coming to earth. It actually talks about a heavenly city, New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. And there in Revelation it says that God is going to live with children and it says, "Wipe away every tear. And there should be no more death nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain." Because every person who enters this heavenly city will be an eternal child of God. And this is what God wants for you. It's what God, for everyone who will commit their lives to Him, to be what? Be a ghost and come back and get your body? No, to go to sleep and wake up to be woke by God, to become one of His children, to receive a spiritual body. And people say, "What does that mean?" And I don't know but I want one. Jesus has a body, we know that, right? We want a spiritual body, perfected together with all the people of God at the same time as Jesus returns, to set up God's Kingdom on this earth. And so you see the truth about heaven, it is better than you think.
[Narrator] Please call for the booklet, "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" This free study a will help you answer the tough questions such as, what did Jesus teach happens to you when you die? Will a loving God punish people for forever in hell? And what could be learned from the story of Lazarus and the rich man? Order now, call toll free 1888-886-8632. Or write to the address shown on your screen. Discover exactly what God has to say about heaven and hell. When you order this free study aid, we'll also send you a complimentary one-year subscription to our Beyond Today Magazine. Six times a year, you'll read about current world events in light of Bible prophecy, as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family. Call today to receive your free booklet, "Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" And your free one year description to Beyond Today Magazine. 1888-886-8632 or go online to beyondtoday.tv.
[Gary Petty] Hi, I'm Gary Petty, a pastor with the United Church of God. If you are looking for a church that encourages living what the Word of God really teaches, you found the right place. Visit ucg.org to find a church near you. We're looking forward to meeting you soon.