Verses sometimes used to support the idea that our everlasting future is in Heaven

[This article was taken from our book The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul.]

 

“Difficult” Verses

While many verses in the Bible are so plain that even a child can read and understand them, for instance, “You shall not steal,” many other verses can be more difficult to grasp. This is attributed to several factors. For one thing, the Bible was originally written in another language (actually three other languages—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and the recorded events took place in another culture. This can sometimes result in an “outside looking in” perspective, not unlike someone visiting a “foreign” country. The country is “foreign” only to the visitor, not to the people who live there, and it is easy for the visitor to misinterpret what he sees and experiences. Although this can make the task of accurately understanding the Bible somewhat difficult, no one should believe that it is impossible. If it is not available to understand the Bible and the truths contained in it, then God is being disingenuous when He says that He wants all men to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). [1]

To a large degree, it is the failure to understand the cultural context of the Bible, as well as the scope of Scripture and the context of specific verses, that has resulted in some verses being misinterpreted and used to support the idea that heaven is the ultimate home of believers. The purpose of this article is to examine these “difficult” verses in the light of the scope of the entire Bible, the context of the verse in question, the translation of the Greek or Hebrew text, and the culture and customs of the time in order to bring their true meaning to light. [For further study see our Bible Study Guide.]

Elijah in Heaven

2 Kings 2:11 says, “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (KJV). Most Christians immediately assume that Elijah went up to be with God, but that is not what the people who lived during Elijah’s time thought. First of all, “heaven” refers to other things beside the place where God lives. It is the place where birds fly, rain and snow come from, etc. Scripture mentions, “the fowl of the heaven” (Gen. 7:23, KJV), “rain from heaven” (Acts 14:17), “snow from heaven” (Isa. 55:10, KJV), and clouds in heaven (1 Kings 18:45, KJV). [2] The prophets of Elijah’s day did not believe that he was taken up to the place where God lives. They knew he was taken up into the air, but believed he would eventually be set down somewhere. They thought if they looked hard enough, they would be able to find him (2 Kings 2:16).

While others wanted to search for Elijah, Elisha understood that if God had wanted Elijah there, He would not have moved him. Understanding the customs of the time further helps to clarify this section of Scripture. God had told Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him (1 Kings 19:16). According to custom, Elisha could not assume leadership of the prophets as long as Elijah was present. Therefore, in order to allow Elisha to lead, God had to find a way to graciously remove Elijah. He chose to do it by a whirlwind. Elijah was not taken up to the place where God lives, but he was taken up into the air and placed somewhere else. God simply moved Elijah from one place to another and he lived out his days somewhere else. Elijah could not have been taken to heaven to live with God because he lived before the time of Christ. It is Christ’s shed blood that is the only valid payment for all men’s sin, including Elijah’s. If Elijah were already enjoying everlasting life in heaven, there was no need for Christ to come and to die for his sin. [3] The gospel of John makes it clear that Elijah did not go to heaven. It says, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13).

The Reward in Heaven

There are many verses that refer to reward, or treasures, or even a home in heaven. These include verses such as Matthew 5:12 (“Great is your reward in heaven”), Matthew 6:19 and 20 (“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”), Colossians 1:5 (“The hope that is stored up for you in heaven”) and 1 Peter 1:4 (“Kept in heaven for you”). It is understandable that these verses and others like them can be confusing and may lead one to believe that the righteous will go to heaven. However, Jesus was talking to Jews who knew (or should have known from the Old Testament scriptures) that they would inherit the earth. Therefore, their understanding of these concepts would not be based on a literal use of the word heaven in the sense that these physical things, namely, rewards, treasures, and homes, were actually in heaven, but rather, that God, who is in heaven, is “storing” them or keeping record of them. The actual receipt of these things will occur in the future on earth. The Old Testament made it clear that people would get what they deserved and that this would happen when the Kingdom was established. The idea of God keeping track of man’s behavior is clearly recorded in the Old Testament.

Malachi 3:16
Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.

Ecclesiastes 12:14
For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

The book of Revelation notes that at the Judgment, “The books were opened” and “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:12). That God was keeping a reward or treasure for them in heaven, and that they could add to that treasure by their good deeds, was a common concept in Judaism.

The notion of a heavenly treasure, beyond the reach of corruption, was a common eschatological concept in Judaism. The righteous on earth do not yet possess it, for it belongs to the future; nevertheless they can now add to it. [4]

An important concept in Jewish and Christian theology is the belief that sins and virtues accumulate and are “stored” the way money might be stored in a treasury. The Lord was believed to keep records of every sin and virtue and require the books be balanced from time to time. [5]

The Jews in Christ’s audience knew that God was keeping track of their deeds with the intention of rewarding them. They will receive what is rightfully theirs when the Messiah returns and establishes his Kingdom on earth.

They Will Be Like the Angels in Heaven

Matthew 22 records that the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a difficult question. They asked Jesus what would happen to a woman who had seven husbands in her first life. Whose wife would she be in the resurrection? Christ answered them by saying, “At the resurrection, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). What is important for the discussion in this book is the fact that Christ was not speaking about being on earth or in heaven. He did not say, “In the resurrection, people will be like angels [and live in heaven].” Rather, he revealed two great truths: angels do not have husbands and wives, and, after the resurrection, the saved will not have husbands and wives. Thus, as far as marriage is concerned, the saved will be like the angels in heaven.

It is also important to understand that Jesus never said that after death or after the resurrection, people become angels. Although it is widely believed that when people die they become angels, this is not the testimony of Scripture. Believers’ natural bodies will be changed and they will become immortal, but they will not become angels.

I Go to Prepare a Place for You

John 14:1–3 has often been used to teach that the saved will spend forever in heaven.

John 14:1–3
(1) Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
(2) In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
(3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

The NIV translation of verse 3 is misleading. The phrase “take you to be with me” incorrectly implies that Jesus would take the disciples somewhere, presumably back to heaven. A literal and more accurate translation of this phrase would be “receive you unto myself.” Christ was not going to “take” the disciples anywhere; he was going to “receive them unto himself.” The King James Version handles this section well:

John 14:1–5 (KJV)
(1) Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
(2) In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
(3) And 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.
(4) And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
(5) Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

An examination of this section of Scripture should begin with a careful study of what it does not mean. It does not mean, “When you die, you go to heaven.” Christ told his disciples they would be with him when he came again for them. He did not say they would be with him when they died. Even some orthodox Christians have noted that Christ must come for believers if they are going to be with him. On this basis they teach that he actually comes and retrieves each believer’s soul at death and escorts it back into heaven. Besides the fact that this is an assumption unsupported by Scripture, it would seem to be very impractical. There are so many Christians dying every day that Christ would be doing nothing but commuting back and forth from heaven to earth—if indeed he ever got a chance to complete even one round trip without interruption. In any case, these verses clearly refute the idea that the “soul” goes to heaven or hell when a person dies.

There are other orthodox Christian theologians who acknowledge that Jesus’ coming for the disciples refers to his coming from heaven to earth when he comes to fight at Armageddon. Yet these same theologians assert that, after gathering the disciples, Christ will take them back to heaven. One problem with this belief is that no verse states that once Christ conquers the earth he will go back to heaven. Scripture clearly portrays Christ ruling on earth, as we have seen throughout this book.

In order to see how the disciples would have understood what Christ was saying, the context of this section of Scripture must be examined very closely. Although the disciples did not fully understand what he was saying, they could have if they had carefully listened to, and believed, everything he had previously taught. Jesus’ disciples knew about the Kingdom coming on earth. What they did not yet grasp was that the Messiah would have to suffer, die, be buried, be raised from the dead, and then ascend into heaven before it could come, and Jesus was preparing them for these events. Christ spoke with his disciples and said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Why would he say that? He wanted to ease the terror that the disciples would naturally feel when he was arrested, tortured, and crucified.

Jesus went on to say that in his Father’s “house” were many mansions. The “house” of the Father is the Kingdom that is to come. There is no reason to believe that the word “house” is literal. The Bible never speaks of God living in a “house” in heaven, and it never says that saved believers will live in separate rooms in God’s house. The Bible states that there will be people living all over the world in the Millennial Kingdom, not just in one house. Also, since the Everlasting Kingdom has a city that is about 1,400 miles square, it certainly seems that people will not live in just one house at that time either. It was common in the biblical culture to use the word “house” to refer to a nation or kingdom, such as in the phrase, the “house of Israel.” [6] Christ used the word “house” to mean a kingdom when he said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall” (Luke 11:17).

The “mansions” in the Kingdom are places to stay, rooms, or abiding places. The KJV translation of “mansions” is an old English usage. In 1611, when the King James Version was written, a “mansion” was a place of residence, no matter what size, and also the house of the lord of the manor. Over time, the word “mansion” came to be used only of large houses, as it is used today in common English. What Christ said in terms that were clear in his culture was, “In my Father’s Kingdom are many places to live.” This is certainly true, as is borne out by the many scriptures that refer to the Kingdom, including the one that says the people will live in “secure homes” (Isa. 32:18).

The truth being revealed in this verse is that there will be room for any and all who want to come. When Jesus said, “In my Father’s house [Kingdom] are many places to stay,” he was continuing to comfort his disciples. He was not leaving them behind because there was no room for them in the Kingdom; rather he was leaving to prepare “a place” for them there. The “preparation” that was necessary to bring the Kingdom included his torture, death, and resurrection. All of these events were necessary in order to complete mankind’s salvation. Without the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, no man would ever be raised from the dead to enter the Kingdom. When the disciples heard what Jesus said, they would not have thought about a house “in the air.” This would have been a totally foreign concept to them. They were, however, well aware that there was going to be a Kingdom on earth.

Verse 3 says, “And 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.” Bible commentators have had trouble explaining this verse and different commentaries have different explanations. Most orthodox explanations are incorrect because they involve mansions “in heaven” and living in the air forever. Even when one realizes that the Kingdom is on earth however, there are still several ways to understand the verse. Three possible interpretations will be examined. All of them are sensitive to the context of John 14, the time Christ was speaking (his last supper) and what the disciples would have been able to understand based on what they knew from the Old Testament and from what Jesus had taught them.

The “last supper” was no ordinary meal. When the Four Gospels are compared, we see that Jesus used the occasion to teach on a wide variety of subjects. He spoke about his betrayal; he instructed his disciples to serve one another and demonstrated his teaching by washing their feet; he taught about love and obedience; he spoke of the New Covenant and partook of the cup and bread; he taught about the vine and the branches; he forewarned the disciples that they would be hated by the world; he spoke of the coming holy spirit; he predicted Peter’s denials; he taught about his ascension, which he called “going to my Father.” With all this in mind, it is evident why the interpretation of John 14:3 is difficult. The three most likely interpretations are:

1. And if I go and prepare a place for you [by my death and burial], I will come again [be resurrected], and receive you unto myself [welcome you back into my life even though you fled, and did not at first believe I was alive]; that where I am, there ye may be also [in the Kingdom when it comes on earth].

2. And if I go and prepare a place for you [at my ascension], I will come again [at my Second Coming when I fight at Armageddon and conquer the earth], and receive you unto myself [welcome you into the Kingdom]; that where I am, there ye may be also [in the Kingdom].

3. And if I go and prepare a place for you [by my death, resurrection, and later my ascension], I will come again [first at my resurrection and later when I fight at Armageddon and conquer the earth], and receive you unto myself [first when I welcome you back into my life even though you fled and did not at first believe I was alive, and then later when I welcome you into my Kingdom]; that where I am, there ye may be also [in the Kingdom].

The third interpretation is actually a combination of the first two. People who argue for the first interpretation say that Jesus did not need to talk about his ascension at this time because his death was the more immediate event. He would have 40 days after his resurrection to teach about his Ascension. Those who argue for the second interpretation say that Christ had the ascension clearly in mind and that it was a major subject of discussion (it comes up after John 14:12 when he said he was going to the Father). Furthermore, they say, when he said later in his discourse that he was “going away,” it was clearly “to the Father” (John 16:5 ff) and not to the grave. People who say that the third interpretation is correct point out that Christ often communicated more than one meaning in a word or phrase and see no reason why he was not referring to both things—after all, both are true. This discussion over which interpretation is correct may never be settled, and, from the standpoint of this book, it is not necessary to speak definitively on which is correct. The purpose of this study is to show that the future home of the saved is on earth, not in heaven, and all three interpretations support this truth.

Continuing in John 14, Jesus said to his disciples, “Where I go, you know, and the way you know” (v. 4). These words are important. The disciples had been told both “where” and “the way” Christ was going. The “where” he was going was to the grave and eventually into heaven (at his ascension). The “way” was via his torture, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The disciples “knew” all these facts either because of Christ’s teaching or because of Old Testament teaching. Nevertheless, they did not fully believe, and so they were confused by what he said.

Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). What apparently confused the disciples was that all of this was in the context of Christ’s “going away” and then coming back. The disciples did not yet believe that Christ would have to suffer and die as a prerequisite to entering into his glory. From their point of view, Jesus did not need to “go” anywhere. They thought he was going to conquer the earth and set up his Kingdom right then and there.

One last point: It is evident that the disciples did not realize that Christ would be ascending into heaven. After his resurrection, they asked if he was going to establish his Kingdom (Acts 1:6). If the disciples were not expecting Christ to go to heaven, they certainly would not have thought that they were going.

My Kingdom is Not of This World

The fact that Christ said his Kingdom was “not of this world” has led people to believe that it must be somewhere else, namely “heaven.”

John 18:36 (KJV)
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

The key to properly understanding this verse is to know what Jesus meant by the phrase, “of this world.” It is commonly assumed that he meant his Kingdom would not be on the physical earth, but the phrase is not a reference to the physical earth. He was referring to the world as it is today—fallen and under the influence of the Devil. It is used with the same force as “this age.” [7] Christ’s Kingdom is not of “this world” because it will not be under the influences of the evil that so characterizes today’s world. His future Kingdom will not be of “this world” because “this world” is run by the Devil and it will have been judged (John 12:31).

Today’s world, “this world,” is going to pass away, even as 1 Corinthians 7:31 says: “For this world in its present form is passing away.” It cannot be that the “world” as a physical reality is passing away because both the Old and New Testament testify that God will create a new earth. That the phrase “this world” means the fallen world is made clear in other scriptures. For example, Jesus spoke of his disciples not being “of the world” (John 15:19). It is clear that the disciples were “of the world” in the sense that they lived on the physical earth and were fully human. Yet it is also clear they were not “of the world” in the sense that they were not a part of the evil influences of the world.

In stark contrast to the disciples, Jesus referred to the Pharisees who opposed him as being “of this world” (John 8:23). Like the disciples, they were human beings who lived on the physical earth, but they were caught up in its evil. The contrast between the disciples, who were “not of this world,” with the Pharisees, who were “of this world,” shows clearly that the phrase has nothing to do with actually being on earth or being in a physical body. It speaks of involvement with evil and demonic influences. Christ said that his Kingdom was not of this world, but that it will come at the “renewal” of all things and be exempt from the evil influences of this world.

Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God

1 Corinthians 15:50
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Some people have used this verse to try to show that the new, immortal body each saved person will receive will be spirit instead of flesh, or that the saved will not be on earth in the future but in heaven. Both of these ideas are erroneous. Christians will be given a new body that is fashioned like Jesus’ glorious body (Phil. 3:21), which was still flesh and bone even after his resurrection. When he appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they said he was a spirit, but he refuted that idea.

Luke 24:36–39
(36) While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
(37) They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.
(38) He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?
(39) Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost [pneuma] does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

Although the NIV uses the word “ghost,” the Greek word is pneuma and is more accurately translated as “spirit.” In his glorified body, Christ had flesh and bones. He could be touched and felt. He even ate with the disciples (Luke 24:43). Therefore, if the King of the Kingdom has a physical body with flesh, flesh can most definitely enter the Kingdom. Then what is the meaning of this verse in Corinthians? The phrase “flesh and blood” is used five times in Scripture and it means “people” in the common sense of the word. Jesus told Peter that “flesh and blood” (i.e., people) had not revealed his identity, but his Father in heaven had (Matt. 16:17). Ephesians 6:12 states that Christians are not wrestling against “flesh and blood” (i.e., people) but against spiritual forces. 1 Corinthians 15:50 means that “natural” people cannot inherit the Kingdom of God because the present human body is not capable of everlasting life. It is corruptible. Therefore, it must be changed so that it becomes like Christ’s.

There is more to it, however. At the “Sheep and Goat Judgment” (Matt. 25), the righteous people living on earth will be allowed to enter the Kingdom without their corruptible bodies being changed into immortal bodies. This is why there will be death in the Millennial Kingdom. However, these people do not, at the point of entry, “inherit” the Kingdom in the fullest sense. The key to understanding this is in 1 Corinthians 15:50 itself. The last phrase of the verse says, “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” This is true because “flesh and blood” is perishable. It must be made imperishable in order to “inherit” the Kingdom. Living in the Kingdom for a hundred years or so and then dying does not constitute “inheriting” the Kingdom—at best it is only visiting. The “flesh and blood” body must be made “imperishable” in order for it to actually inherit the Kingdom. This is exactly what Corinthians goes on to say:

1 Corinthians 15:51–53
(51) Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—
(52) in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
(53) For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

The above verses say that Christians will be “changed,” but not into “spirit beings.” The change is from mortal to immortal and from perishable to imperishable. The new, imperishable body will enable each believer to “inherit” the Kingdom and enjoy its fullness forever.

Our House in Heaven

2 Corinthians 5:1
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

This verse apparently contradicts the position that the saved will live forever on earth. It seems to say that the saved will have an eternal house in heaven. However, when the keys to the proper interpretation of Scripture are applied, then this difficult verse can be understood to fit with the many clear verses that say the earth will be the final habitation of man.

In 2 Corinthians 5:1, the word “eternal” describes the word “house,” not the phrase, “in heaven.” The verse does not say Christians have a house “eternally in heaven.” It is the “house” that is eternal, and although it is “in heaven” now by promise, that will change. This verse is expressing the fact that is stated in other parts of Corinthians and the Church Epistles that each Christian’s future heavenly body will be imperishable. What does it mean that the Christian’s house is in heaven? It cannot mean that God already has a closet full of “lifeless new bodysuits” waiting in heaven that Christians will somehow slip into when they get there. Scripture is clear that Christians will get their new bodies by having their old ones changed (1 Cor. 15:51 and 52). When God is reserving something that is not presently accessible or available, it is said to be “in heaven,” as if it already tangibly existed (see “The Reward in Heaven,” above, and Appendix E on the prophetic perfect). God will give each Christian a new body at the Rapture, so Paul could say that Christians have a house “in heaven.”

Seated in Heaven

Ephesians 2:6 has caused confusion to some Christians because it speaks as if Christians were already in heaven with Christ.

Ephesians 2:6
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

Since Christians are obviously living on the earth now, how can it be that they are also “in heaven” at the same time? Some Christians say that they are “physically” on earth but “spiritually” in heaven, but that is inaccurate. It is not biblical to say that a Christian’s “spirit” is in heaven because the Bible says that holy spirit is “sealed” inside each Christian and we are still on earth. [8]

The key to understanding Ephesians 2:6 is knowing a common biblical idiom that uses the past tense when speaking of a future event that is certain to occur. This idiom is very well known to biblical scholars and is called by several different names, including, “the prophetic perfect,” “the historic sense of prophecy,” and “the perfective of confidence.” It is also sometimes known as the concept of the “here now, but not yet.”

At the Rapture, Christians will be gathered together to be with Christ in the heavenly realms. This future event is so certain that it is spoken of as having already occurred. This is a clear example of the prophetic perfect. This does not, however, mean that Christians will continue to live in heaven forever. Christians will return to earth with Christ at the Battle of Armageddon and continue to be with him on earth forever (refer to Chapter 3). The prophetic perfect idiom is important to know in order to understand many biblical texts. The subject is handled at length in Appendix E.

They Were Longing for a Better Country—a Heavenly One

Hebrews 11:16 speaks of a “heavenly” country. This does not mean that the country is in heaven. Nor does it mean that there is a city in heaven to which people go when they die or after the resurrection. The word “heavenly” can describe the origin of something, the qualities of something, or something’s position in space. In this case, the word “heavenly” refers to the origin and qualities of the country.

The author of Hebrews called “the land of promise” (11:9) “a heavenly [one].” This does not mean it is not on earth any more than the “sharers in [the] heavenly calling” (3:1) who had “tasted the heavenly gift” (6:4) were not those who lived on earth. Indeed, it was the very land on which the patriarchs dwelt as “strangers and wanderers (11:13), but the expression means that it is a divine land which God himself has promised (Brackets are his). [9]

Hebrews 13:14 sheds more light on the city and country referred to in Hebrews 11:16.

Hebrews 13:14
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

On earth today there are no “enduring” cities. The Amplified Bible reads “permanent,” which is a good translation. All the cities of this world are temporary, and will one day come to an end. Nevertheless, the Bible says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth. The new earth will be a glorious place, and its capital will be Jerusalem. Eventually, God will bring “the heavenly Jerusalem” to earth (Rev. 21:2). It is very significant in Hebrews 13:14 that the people were looking forward to a city in the future. Believers do not go to the city when they die, as if it were already in existence. The city is “to come” in the future and it will be on the earth.

Hebrews has many references to the Old Testament, including references to promises concerning the land. When God fulfills His promises to Abraham and others who are saved and they receive the promised land, the Hope of the Old Testament believers will become reality. In that “promised land” they will finally “rest.”

The author of Hebrews had basically one hope or aspiration: receiving the promised land in its full glory and prosperity, free from foreign rule or threat from enemies. This was called inheriting or acquiring the promises (6:11,15–17; 11:13,33,39) and entering into “rest” (3:11,18; 4:1,3,5,8,11). The promise is that which was given to Abraham that his seed should inherit the land and be blessed with power, wealth, and number (Gen. 15). This is also the “rest” (4:1), and the reception of the land was called an inheritance (11:8). The “rest” which the Israelites might have had if they had not rebelled in the wilderness is the very rest still available. The good news announced to the Israelites under Moses’ leadership is the same good news related to Jesus (4:1,6). Moses and Jesus were related to the same “house”—Moses as a servant and Jesus as a Son (3:2–6). Since the term “rest” was so closely related to the acquisition of Canaan, the intended readers were expected to object that the Israelites had received their promised rest when Joshua led the conquest of Canaan after forty years in the wilderness. The author of Hebrews had two answers: (a) If Joshua had really given them rest, at a later time God would not have spoken through David of another day (4:8); and (b) whoever finds rest ceases from his labors (4:10). Since Israel had never had a continuing period of settlement free from threat or “labor,” she had not received her full and final rest that had been promised. That did not mean the “rest” still expected was different from the one early Israelites expected, but only that it would at last be completely received. This promise of rest-inheritance was inextricably tied to the land of Canaan, which is the place where the patriarchs wandered as sojourners (11:13). [10]

The book of Hebrews contains clear revelation about the Hope of the believer. Unfortunately, because the information has been expressed as a fulfillment of Old Testament promises related to life on this earth, most Christians cannot relate to it. The average Christian is looking for promises of “being in heaven,” not promises of a “better country” (Heb. 11:16). However, the promise of a “better country” is the same promise Christ spoke when he said that the meek shall inherit the earth. Christians who have a clear understanding of this “better country” eagerly anticipate its coming.

Endnotes

[1] Actually, according to the Greek text, God wants all people to come to a “full or complete knowledge” of the truth, not just “a knowledge” of it. The Amplified Bible expresses this very well, saying that it is God, “Who wishes all men to be saved and [increasingly] to perceive and recognize and discern and know precisely and correctly the [divine] Truth.” [All italics and brackets are theirs].
[2] Although some translations use “air” or “sky” instead of “heaven,” anyone who checks the Hebrew or Greek text will see immediately that the text reads “heaven.”
[3] Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, op. cit., Is There Death After Life?, p. 85.
[4] J. Emerton, C. Cranfield, and G. Stanton, The International Critical Commentary: Matthew (T. & T. Clark, Ltd., Edinburg, 1988), p. 631.
[5] George Wesley Buchanan, The Anchor Bible: To the Hebrews (Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1972), p. xxv.
[6] This can be verified very quickly in any concordance. The phrase, “the house of Israel” is used 146 times in the KJV, the “house of Judah” is used 41 times, and the phrase “house of David” is used 26 times.
[7] C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1978), p. 536.
[8] Some Christians may be threatened by the thought that they are not “spiritually” in heaven, as if the reason they can hear from the Lord is that they are in heaven with him. God created mankind as earth dwellers. Christians can hear from the Lord because each one has the gift of holy spirit within him. God has always spoken to His people, and the space between heaven and earth does not in any way hinder Him from communicating with people.
[9] Buchanan, op. cit., Anchor Bible: Hebrews, p. 192.
[10] Ibid., p. 194.

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