11-03-2018 - WILL THESE
VERSES GET YOU TO HEAVEN?
Published 11th March 2018
By John Aldworth
2 Cor. 5:8: We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Luke 23:43: And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.
2 Cor. 12:4: How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which is not lawful for a man to utter.
Rev. 2: 7: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
It beats me why they think so, but many firmly believe that they will go to heaven when they die. Such people include pagans who worship false gods, the ungodly who deride God and his truth and many so-called ‘Christians’ who, far from being like Christ (which is the meaning of ‘Christian’), manage to ignore his command to ‘search the scriptures for in them ye think ye have eternal life…’ (John 5:39) all their lives.
One man I met had never read the Bible, nor darkened a church door, yet was convinced he would go to heaven ‘because I’ve never done anything wrong’. Just three questions convinced him he was actually, like the rest of us, a sinner but still he insisted he was ‘good enough to get in’ because, ‘I’ve done more good than bad’. Needless to say there is no scripture that confirms his view, for ‘we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23).
Leaving ordinary folk aside, even prominent pastors, well versed in scripture, preach the myth that upon death the saved in Christ go straight to heaven. Yet at least one minister I met evidently had his doubts. ‘What do you make of 2 Cor. 5:8?’ he asked me. ‘Does it really mean we go straight to heaven when we die?’
The short answer is, no it does not. There is no mention at all of anyone going to heaven in the verse, chapter or the entire epistle. Indeed, with the exception of Jesus Christ, there is no mention of anyone going to heaven, or having a hope of going to heaven, in all of the Old Testament and most of the New.
Only in the prison epistles of the Apostle Paul, in which the latest word from God, the dispensation of the grace of God and the mystery (Eph. 3:1-4), is revealed, are believers told to ‘set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth’ and believe with Paul that the Lord ‘will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom’ (2 Tim. 4:18). Only believers saved by the ‘quickening’ (Eph. 2:5) who, by faith, are already ‘risen with Christ’ are told:
When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4).
And here ‘appearing in glory’ means appearing with Christ in heaven because that is where He will appear in glory when He reigns from heaven over earth at the start of the his ‘heavenly kingdom’ (2 Tim. 4:1 and 2 Tim. 4:18). But, it bears saying again that this is the first time in scripture a real promise of going to heaven is offered the believer.
No, this appearing is not his second coming, though many think it is. Nor is the quickening the same as or part of that Second Coming. His appearing (Titus 2:13) is a separate and earlier event. And this appearing of the Lord - in his fullness as the God who became man so that as man He could become God - takes place in glory, that is in heaven, as Col. 3:1-4 clearly teaches. Furthermore it will only take place at the start of the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6).
You see, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ must remain in heaven until the earth is fully restored in the beauty of its original creation. He must rule from on high and remain on high until all men once again hear and heed the voice of God as the Apostle Peter infallibly taught (and popes have fallibly ignored) in Acts 3:21. Importantly, the ‘times of restitution of all things’ referred to in Acts 3:21 will take place in the day of Christ (Phil. 1:6 and 10), not during his 1,000-year millennial reign in the day of the Lord, as is commonly thought.
Indeed, during the centuries in which the earth is restored to its original creation splendour and all flesh is made to see the glory of the Lord (Num. 14:21), Jesus Himself remains in heaven. The Apostle Peter said so infallibly with the full authority of God behind his words.
While Peter’s revelation of this truth was to Jews on in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost nevertheless it is also truth to Gentiles such as we, saved by grace much later in the present dispensation of the mystery. You see this restitution of the earth, the Lord’s appearing in glory (and we with Him) and the Lord’s rule over earth from heaven together comprise our ‘blessed hope’ (Titus 2:13), the very thing we, as grace-saved believers, should be looking for.
And clearly, this is a heavenly hope, not an earthly one, since in Col. 3:1 we are told to ‘seek the things which are above where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God’. However, when the Apostle Paul wrote 2 Cor. 5:8 his hope and that of other believers then was still an earthly hope. The hope of going to heaven to be with the Lord had yet to be revealed to him as part of the mystery revelation of the prison epistles. Accordingly, in 2 Cor. 5:2 he is desiring ‘to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven’, meaning that such ‘clothing’ will take place on earth. Granted, the resurrected body will be heavenly in that it will ‘bear the image of the heavenly’ (1 Cor. 15:49) but it will walk on earth.
By contrast believers today saved in the hope of the mystery, which is ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27), are told their dwelling place will be in heaven:
Phil. 3:20: For our conversation [the KJV margin note says this word means ‘citizenship’, but certainly the prospect of being in heaven one day is well worth talking about] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ [i.e. in his appearing (Titus 2:13)].
But, I hear you ask, didn’t Jesus when on earth say the saved would go to heaven? Well, not that I can find, He didn’t. But here’s what He did say:
And no man hath ascended up to heaven but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven (John 3:13).
That means that even today Christ is still the only man that hath ascended to heaven, a truth that is confirmed by Paul in Eph. 4:9. In this verse the apostle proclaims that, when He ascended, Christ ‘took captivity captive and gave gifts to men’.
Importantly, He ‘ascended far above all heavens’ to the uncreated place God calls home, there to obtain the fullness of grace from the Majesty on high to give to men, having taken captive the dark powers that would prevent them from receiving it. He then ‘descended’ into the lower parts of the earth (where we live) to give believers this grace ‘according to the measure of the gift of Christ’, which means He gives as much grace as He Himself has. And that’s an awful lot.
It would be pointless for the apostle to reveal this wonderful new truth about what Christ has won for us if tens of thousands of the saved had already made the same journey on high. They hadn’t, and they still haven’t today. Of course, all this flies in the face of the common belief that the saved go straight to heaven when they die.
Now granted, grace-saved believers following Paul in the ‘high calling’ or ‘calling on high’ (Phil. 3:14), are positionally ‘risen with Christ’ (Col. 2:12) and by faith can spiritually experience the blessings of sitting with Him and in Him ‘in heavenly places’ (Eph. 2:6). However, that does not mean that they are as yet consciously or bodily occupying a place in heaven.
As an aside, many believe the Old Testament heroes of faith such as David, went to heaven upon their death. That, of course, would deny the truth infallibly proclaimed by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2: 29:
Men and brethren, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David that he is both dead and buried and that his sepulchre is with us unto this day.
Surely, if David had been alive in heaven at the time he spoke, Peter would have said so. But he didn’t and there is nothing in subsequent scripture to suggest that to this day he is anywhere else but in his grave. Actually, outside of the prison epistles (Ephesians to Philemon), there are only four verses in the rest of the Bible on which to hang your hat if you believe you are going straight to heaven when you die. We have already dealt with 2 Cor. 5:8. The other three are Luke 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:4 and Rev. 2:7. We will look at them in turn.
Of these Luke 23:43 is perhaps the favourite. The context tells the touching story of the repentant malefactor who, being crucified alongside Jesus, said, ‘Lord remember me when Thou comest into thy kingdom’ (Luke 23:42). In the gospels he is the only one to pray such a prayer.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
This is a portion of the word that above most others, requires ‘rightly dividing’ (2 Tim. 2:15), careful study and a detailed comparison with other scripture to ascertain its meaning. It turns out that meaning is not that the thief would be with Jesus in paradise the same day, as is commonly held. Dr. E. W. Bullinger in Appendix 175 in The Companion Bible explains the incorrect rendering of Luke 23:43 in our bibles results from the insertion by translators of a comma after ‘thee’ and before ‘Today’, which is incorrectly capitalised and thus made to indicate a new sentence.
This punctuation thus rests entirely on arbitrary human decision and has no God-given authority, since the Greek New Testament manuscripts bore no punctuation of any kind nor capital letters until the ninth century AD. Even that, Dr. Bullinger says, was at first only a dot inserted between words to separate them, for the early manuscripts were ‘uncial texts’, meaning that words were joined together without sentence breaks. When the texts were written phrases such as ‘I say unto thee this day’ were used in the absence of yet to be invented quotation marks to emphatically indicate actual speech. So what Jesus said was:
Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.
And the most telling evidence that the fulfilment of this is indeed future is that the Lord Himself did not enter paradise that day. As Isaiah 53:9 says ‘... He made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death’. This is confirmed by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:31 speaking of David’s prophecy ‘Thou wilt not leave my soul in ‘hell’ (that is to say the grave, Greek: Hades):
He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell (Hades), neither his flesh did see corruption.
The point is that prior to his resurrection Jesus’ soul and body went to the grave, not paradise. It was only ‘after three days and three nights’ (i.e. not the same day) that that the Lord rose. After his resurrection the Lord manifested Himself bodily to Mary and the apostles in or near Jerusalem. For Luke 23:43 to mean what it is taken to mean then Jerusalem overnight would have had to become a paradise on earth. Plainly it didn’t.
All doubt as to the real meaning is removed if it is realised that Paradise is yet future and that it will be on earth, not in heaven. This is confirmed by Rev. 2:7 where the Lord promises that the overcomer will be given to ‘… eat of the Tree of Life which is in the midst of the paradise of God’. Of course, the Tree of Life was originally in God’s first paradise, the Garden of Eden. It appears on earth again in the ‘new heaven and a new earth’ in Rev. 22:2 where its leaves are ‘for the healing of the nations’. Since it is part of a city with streets plainly its location will be on earth.
Now only 2 Cor. 12:4 of the four verses under consideration remains to be explained:
How that he was caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
This man whom Paul ‘knew in Christ’ was ‘caught up’ we are told. Here the Greek word is harpazo, meaning ‘caught away’ rather than ‘up’ (Vine’s), as in Acts 8:39. Clearly the ‘up’, which is not in the original meaning of the word, is superfluous in 1 Thess. 4:17, for example, where ‘in the clouds’ and ‘to meet the Lord in the air’ provide the only needed sense of direction.
In 2 Cor. 12:4 then, Paul describes how this ‘man in Christ’ was caught away to paradise. It appears this future vision was unfolded to him in ‘the third heaven’ to which he really was ‘caught up’. But his visitations both to the third heaven and to paradise were actually occurrences of forward time travel ‘in the spirit’, as the Apostle John described it, rather than 'beam me up Scottie' teleportations to supposed realms above as they exist to day. No, it was a far future 'third heaven' and paradise on earth he was transported to.
Now the man ‘heard unspeakable (i.e. inexpressible) words, which it is not lawful (or possible, see margin note) for a man to utter’. This should not surprise us, for thousands of years hence in in worlds yet to come undoubtedly they will speak different languages, ones unknown on earth today. Could that be why in Col. 1:13 we are told that God hath already ‘translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son’, so that we will understand a new language when we get there?
To sum up none of the four verses cited will get you to heaven. To be sure, the day will come when the Lord Jesus as king of the universe will indeed be in paradise on earth with the dying thief and other resurrected saints. But this truth offers no way of going to heaven. The true ‘stairway to heaven’ is reserved for those summoned to be part of the ‘high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3:14) who will, if they ‘continue in the faith … and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Col. 1:23), appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1-4).