Millions of professing Christians believe that those who were nominally obedient or, at least, had good intentions in their physical lifetimes, go to heaven when they die. This belief is closely tied to the idea that human beings possess an immortal soul, which will be addressed in detail in the next lesson. The vast majority of professing Christians have accepted, without question, the belief of going to heaven.
Does the Bible conclusively prove this belief to be true or false? This lesson will cover the major issues of this long-held tradition, and will show how to prove, directly from the Bible, what God says about this matter. A pivotal promise, made to the patriarch Abraham, is central to the reward of the saved—to converted Christians who are to inherit this promise. We will focus upon exactly what Abraham is to inherit, as well as what those who are his “seed”—true Christians (Gal. 3:29)—inherit.
Since professing Christianity considers heaven as the reward of the saved, it would be helpful to define the term “heaven” as presented in the Bible. The Bible speaks of three heavens: The first heaven is the earth’s atmosphere; the second heaven is the vast area of “outer space” where the solar system and countless stars and galaxies exist; the third heaven is the location of God’s throne.
The first heaven is mentioned in Psalm 104:12: “By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.” The second heaven is described in Psalm 8:3: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained…” The third heaven is referenced in John 3:13: “And no man has ascended up to heaven,” and is specifically mentioned in II Corinthians 12:2: “…such an one caught up to the third heaven.” The Bible reveals that the reward of the saved is a very different “destination” than that charted by this world’s religions.
(1) What were God’s instructions to Abram (his original name) when God started dealing directly with him? Genesis 12:1.
Comment: Likewise, when God calls someone (John 6:44), one of the first courses of action to be taken is to “come out” of the world.
Comment: Canaan is the same territory later occupied by the nation of Israel—the 12 tribes that emerged from the sons of Jacob. This land has been properly called the “Promised Land,” as well as the “Holy Land.” In verse 7, the term “seed” refers to Abraham’s descendants, to whom this promise pertained.
(4) Did God further reiterate this promise to Abram and his descendants? Genesis 13:14-16.
(5) Who were Abram’s immediate descendants to whom those promises pertained? Exodus 3:16.
Comment: Throughout Scripture, terms such as “the promises made unto the fathers” and “the God of our fathers” refer to the same fathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This came to apply to the descendants of Israel, as mentioned.
(6) What was the extent of this land given to Abram and his seed? Genesis 15:18.
Comment: The territory extending from the Nile River to the Euphrates River was never attained by the nation of Israel, although it was almost acquired late in the reign of King David—a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). This promise of a specific territory on earth is everlasting.
(7) Why did God change Abram’s name to Abraham? Genesis 17:4-5.
(8) Was Abraham’s inheritance destined to include far more territory than just the land occupied by ancient Israel? Romans 4:13.
Comment: To be “heir of the world” was promised to Abraham and those who were to become his spiritual seed “through the righteousness of faith.”
(1) Although Abraham had already proven his obedience to God by departing from his homeland, did God test him even further? Genesis 22:1-2.
Comment: The Hebrew word nasah is translated “tempt” (King James Version). A more accurate meaning of that Hebrew term is “to test, try or to prove.” God sought to test Abraham further in order for him to qualify for greater things.
(2) How willing was Abraham to obey God? Genesis 22:3.
Comment: As before, Abraham obeyed God. He readily departed, fully trusting God.
(3) Did God prove the extent of Abraham’s obedience in this ultimate test? Genesis 22:10-12.
Comment: God the Father would one day sacrifice His Son to redeem humanity from sin, according to His plan of salvation. As the father of the faithful, Abraham was tested as to his willingness to give up his son.
(4) How did Abraham pass this test? Hebrews 11:17-19.
Comment: He had full faith and confidence that God would raise Isaac from the dead, if the sacrifice were carried out—which he intended to do in faith.
(5) After this test was fulfilled, was Abraham’s obedience acceptable to God? Genesis 22:15-18.
Comment: Notice God’s words beginning in verse 16: “Because you have done this thing…That in blessing I will bless you…And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed My voice.” The promises made to Abraham were now unconditional, since he had proven himself faithful. These blessings were now to be passed on to Abraham and his descendants according to God’s timing.
(6) Did God repeat this unconditional promise to Isaac, Abraham’s son? Genesis 26:3-5.
Comment: In verse 4, the birthright promise was passed on to Isaac, including his seed being multiplied as the stars of heaven, and that God would give many countries (including the territory of ancient Israel) to Isaac’s seed. The remaining part of this verse refers to a different promise—“and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
Comment: The fact that the one separate Seed was Christ adds far more meaning to Abraham being called “the father of the faithful.” Before focusing on this aspect of the promise to Abraham, we should consider other aspects of it.
Comment: Genesis 35:10 records that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Verses 11 and 12 cover the birthright blessings. They involved physical blessings of wealth and greatness that were passed on to Joseph’s two sons—Ephraim (a company of nations—the British Commonwealth) and Manasseh (a great nation—the U.S.).
The scepter involved the kingly line of rulership, which was passed on to the tribe of Judah. The scepter was to culminate with the reign of Christ in the coming kingdom of God. The core of the Scepter Promise is the promise to Christians through the One Seed, which ties directly to what we read in Galatians 3:16. We now move on to the important aspect of the promises given to Abraham and his spiritual descendants.
(1) How did the promises God made to Abraham lead to all nations being blessed? Galatians 3:8.
Comment: Galatians 3:16 showed how the One Seed refers to Christ and that those who are called in Christ become Abraham’s seed in the spiritual sense (vs. 29). The blessings given to Abraham’s physical seed were to be of physical wealth. However, the ultimate, lasting inheritance pertained to far greater spiritual blessings, which would last forever. Here was how Gentile nations would truly be blessed.
(2) Was Christ of the tribe of Judah, which descended from Abraham? Hebrews 7:14.
Comment: Christ’s genealogy through his mother went back to Judah and on to Abraham (Luke 3:34). In verse 23, note that Mary was Heli’s daughter and Joseph was actually Heli’s son-in-law—only males were listed in certain genealogies.
(3) Did the Jews possess the knowledge of true worship leading to ultimate salvation? John 4:22.
(4) How then were Gentiles to share in the promises given to Abraham? Galatians 3:28-29.
Comment: It is through conversion, made possible through Christ, that Gentiles become spiritual Israelites, and heirs of eternal blessings.
(5) Did Gentiles experience greater fulfillment in their lives after conversion? Ephesians 2:11-12.
Comment: Once converted, these brethren recognized their former, hopeless condition in a world cut off from God.
(7) How are Israelites and Gentiles partakers of a common inheritance? Romans 8:14.
(1) Were Abraham and his seed to become heirs of the world—the entire earth? Romans 4:13.
(3) What is the inheritance of those who wait upon the Lord? Psalm 37:9.
(4) What is the inheritance of those who are blessed of God? Psalm 37:22.
(5) Of the righteous who inherit the land, how long will they dwell there? Psalm 37:29.
(6) After God has appointed the saints to rule as kings and priests, from where will they rule? Revelation 5:10.
(1) What did Christ say pertaining to people going to heaven? John 3:13.
Comment: Christ plainly stated that no one other than Himself had ascended into heaven.
(4) Does Christ indicate where He will be after He returns and who will be with Him? John 14:2-3.
Comment: The term translated “mansions” means “rooms, abode or residence.” The Temple during the times of ancient Israel provided rooms for the various priests who served at the Temple. The different rooms signified different positions of authority. Thus, the word “mansions,” as used here, refers to positions of authority. These verses show that, upon Christ’s return, His faithful servants will work under His direction as kings and priests.
These events take place on the earth—not in heaven. We see that, at Christ’s Return, “…we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (I Thes. 4:17). We are also shown, “And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east…and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with [Him]” (Zech. 14:4-5). Once again, Revelation 5:10 clearly states, “And has made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
(1) Had Abraham already gone to his reward and received eternal life by the time of Christ? John 8:52-53.
Comment: Since Abraham was dead at that time, and the First Resurrection is yet to occur, he is still dead and in his grave. Since Abraham has not yet received his inheritance, he, like us, remains an heir.
(2) Does the Bible indicate that Abraham is yet to receive the inheritance he was unconditionally promised? Acts 7:2-5.
(3) Were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob considered only as “sojourners” on the earth, though having been promised the land in which to dwell? Hebrews 11:8-10.
Comment: The city “whose builder and maker is God” refers to the New Jerusalem, which descends from heaven (Rev. 21). God revealed such prophetic understanding to the patriarchs long before He inspired the book of Revelation to be written.
(4) Did these great patriarchs and servants of God receive their reward immediately upon death? Hebrews 11:13.
Comment: These all died in faith, not having received the promises! Nothing in the Bible supports the belief about “going to heaven.” Such ideas emerge from ancient false religion, especially the Babylonian Mystery religion—the core of modern professing Christianity.
(5) Have any other servants of God received their reward, even though Abraham and the other patriarchs have yet to receive theirs? Hebrews 11:39-40.
Comment: In verse 39, the term “these all” refers to the patriarchs as well as the many servants listed from verses 32 and the following verses, which describe the persecution that these servants suffered. Notice the key phrase in verse 40, “…they without us should not be made perfect.” The First Resurrection, at the time of the Seventh (last) Trumpet, will be when all the saints are raised as spirit beings.
(1) Who will not inherit God’s kingdom? I Corinthians 6:9-10.
Comment: The apostle Paul listed various categories of sin, which would disqualify anyone from the kingdom of God.
(2) Should those whom God calls seek to enter heaven, or to enter the kingdom of God? Matthew 6:33.
(3) When Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have attained their reward, where will they be? Luke 13:28.
(4) In the kingdom, will many others come to counsel with these patriarchs? Matthew 8:11.
Comment: In Scripture, God’s kingdom is sometimes referred to as the “kingdom of heaven,” but the kingdom is not located in heaven—it represents the government based on God’s laws and precepts emanating from heaven. The term “kingdom of heaven” is interchangeable with “kingdom of God,” which is to be established on earth. It means heaven’s kingdom. The term “kingdom” implies a territory, a ruling government and subjects. The Bible never uses the term “kingdom of heaven” to define the location of God’s throne. It often refers to this location as “heaven,” or the “third heaven.”
(5) What are true Christians to work toward or to press into in this life? Luke 16:16.
(6) Can physical human beings inherit the kingdom of God? I Corinthians 15:50-53.
Comment: God’s kingdom will be comprised of spirit beings, ruling over the earth in the millennium, during which physical people will live in peace, abundance and joy.
The New Jerusalem, in which God the Father will dwell, will come down to earth—the Headquarters over all the universe. At this point, the inheritance of Abraham and his descendants—true Christians—expands well beyond our limited ability to grasp. The truth is far more fascinating than the fable of “retirement in heaven,” as presented by professing Christianity.
For a better overview of this subject, read our booklets Do the Saved Go to Heaven? and What Is Your Reward in the Next Life? They expose and explain the error of the belief in “going to heaven,” and will help you to grasp a more complete understanding of what is the reward of the saved.