Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?
Many hold the popular belief that heaven is the ultimate reward of the saved. The teaching of going to heaven immediately after death to receive one's reward for a righteous life is almost universally believed among most who profess to follow Christ. To even question this teaching would seem like blasphemy to many who believe heaven is their ultimate reward. However, among those who believe that heaven is the ultimate reward of the saved, there are many different ideas as to when, and how one gets to heaven.
What does the Bible actually teach about the rewards of the saved? If the dead in Christ go to heaven immediately after death and this is their reward for a righteous life, we should be able to find abundant proof within the Bible showing when, and how people obtain this reward. Can this type of documentation be found in the Bible? You may be surprised to find that it cannot, but what is found in the Bible about the rewards of the saved is far more exciting than the nebulous idea of going off to heaven without a clue as to what one would do there for eternity.
THE WORD HEAVEN
There are three heavens referred to in the Bible:
Earth's atmosphere (Gen.1:20; 27:28; Deut.33:28)
Outer space where the planets and stars are (Gen.1:14-15; Psa.8:3)
God's dwelling place 2.Cor.12:2-4; Heb.8:1-5; Rev.2:7;22:1-2)
Of these three heavens, most believe that their reward is to inhabit the third heaven where God dwells. But, is this actually the ultimate reward of the saved?
WAS HEAVEN EVER PROMISED AS A REWARD?
Is there any solid proof in the Bible that anyone was ever promised residence in heaven as their ultimate reward for a righteous life? This question is vitally important in order to gain an understanding of what the Bible teaches about the awesome rewards of the righteous.
In order to expose the false teaching of heaven as the ultimate reward of the righteous, each scripture used to support this teaching will be analyzed and explained. Moreover, it will be shown that no solid scriptural foundation can be found for this teaching and that those who teach it must rely on mistranslations, obscure scriptures, and traditions to support their belief.
NO MAN HAS EVER GONE TO HEAVEN
For centuries churches have tried to get their converts to set their sights on going to heaven when they die. However, do the saved go to heaven when they die? Does anyone go to heaven when they die or at any other time? Will anybody go to heaven? Has anyone gone to heaven, and if so, who and when?
Jesus himself said that "No man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man . . ." (Jn.3:13 KJV).
Even the Jews of Jesus' time knew that no man was in heaven. Notice what they said while condemning Jesus:
"Then said the Jews to him, Now we know that you have a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and you say, If a man keep my sayings, he shall never taste of death. Are you greater than our father Abraham, which is dead?. . ." (Jn.8:52-53 KJV).
Peter said the following about King David fifty days after Jesus had been resurrected. At this point in history David had not been resurrected, he was still dead and buried:
"Men and brethren, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day. . .. For David is not ascended into the heavens:. . ." (Acts 2:29; 34 KJV).
The Writer to the Hebrews
In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11, there is a long list of righteous individuals who died without yet receiving their rewards:
"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb.11:13 KJV).
"Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:" (Heb.11:33-35 KJV).
If any are worthy to receive the promises that God has for the righteous, it would have surely been these champions of faith. However, about thirty years after Jesus' death and resurrection (when the letter to the Hebrews was written), these righteous people were still dead in their graves; they did not receive their reward then and they still have not received it:
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb.11: 39-40 KJV). See also v13.
The simple truth is that Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, David, the prophets, and the righteous of all ages are dead, not alive in heaven or some other place. However, upon the return of Jesus Christ, they will be resurrected and receive their reward.
WHAT ARE THE REWARDS OF THE RIGHTEOUS?
Believe it or not, the ultimate reward for being righteous is not to float aimlessly around heaven playing harp music for eternity. There is something far more spectacular in store for those who are accounted worthy of salvation:
"But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him" (1.Cor.2:9 KJV).
The following are just some of the rewards for righteousness:
To have one's name in the Book of Life (Phil.4:3)
To become an immortal being (Rom.2:7)
To have eternal life (Lk.18:29-30)
To become a son of God (Jn.1:12; Rom.8:14)
To be a joint-heir with Christ (Rom.8:16-18)
To inherit all things (Rev.21:7)
To inherit the earth (Psa.37:9)
To inherit the Kingdom of God (Matt.25:31-34)
To have access to New Jerusalem (Rev.22:14)
To be in the first resurrection (Rev.20:6)
To be a co-ruler with Christ (Rev.2:26-27)
To become a king and a priest (Rev.1:4-6)
This list contains only a few of the enormous rewards which God has promised to the saints. The magnitude of the rewards for those who obtain salvation is so far beyond our imagination and dreams that it defies human comprehension.
THE BOOK OF LIFE
For the righteous, the Book of Life is the most important book ever written, because their names are recorded within its pages. However, some believe that because the saint's names are recorded in heaven, they will immediately go to heaven after death. Therefore, it is important to know what the Bible actually says about the Book of Life and how it pertains to the righteous.
In beseeching God to spare the Israelites who had rebelled at Sinai, Moses says the following:
"Yet now, if you will forgive their sin"; and if not, blot me, I pray you, out of your book which you have written. And the Lord said to Moses, Whosoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (Ex.32:32-33 KJV). See also Psa.69:28; Rev.21:27; 22:19.
The following are three major things to notice about this book:
It is God's property.
God controls whose name can be placed into or taken out of it.
If a person's name is taken out of it, they will not have eternal life.
It is evident the righteous have their names recorded in the Book of Life, which is in heaven. However, there is absolutely nothing anywhere in the scriptures that remotely indicates that the saved immediately go to heaven after they die because their names are written in the Book of Life. It is obvious from the many references throughout the biblical record which refer to the Book of Life, that this book is a record, not a permit to reside in heaven:
"Behold , I give to you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over, the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Lk.10:19-20 KJV). See also Phil.4:3, Heb.12:23; Rev.13:7-8;17:8.
"He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Rev.3:5 KJV).
The quality of life which the righteous are promised is comparable to God's quality of life. God is a spirit -being who inherently possesses the highest form of life: immortality on the divine plane of existence. This kind of life springs forth from itself; it is not dependent on any other source to sustain it; it is self sustaining:
"Behold I show 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (1.Cor.15:51-54 KJV). See also 2.Tim.1:9-10; Rev.20:6.
"To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life:" (Rom.2:7 KJV).
It is abundantly clear that God intends to share immortality with those he has called to salvation. Immortality represents the ultimate reward for faithfulness to God.
"Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature. . ." (2.Pet. 1:4 KJV).
Immortality and eternal life are rewards that allow a person to pass beyond this physical existence:
"I tell you the truth . . . no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life" (Lk.18:29-30 NIV).
"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses" (1.Tim.6:12 KJV; Lk.20:34-35).
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom.6:23 KJV).
"And this is the promise that he has promised us, even eternal life"
(1.Jn.2:25 KJV; Tit.3:7).
BECOME A SON OF GOD
Many believe that even if they do gain eternal life, they will be doomed to some meaningless existence. However, this assumption could not be farther from the truth:
"Wherefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty," (2.Cor.6:17-18 KJV).
Part of the reward of righteousness is becoming a spiritual son of God the Father and a brother of Jesus Christ:
"For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons into glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren," (Heb.2:10-11 KJV).
Jesus who was the Creator God is the one who suffered death so that you and I can become children of God the Father.
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:" (Jn.1:12 KJV). See also Jn.3:1-3; Rom.8:18.
"For whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom.8:29 KJV).
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1.Jn.3:2 KJV). See also Phil.3:21.
What the apostle Paul reveals in these scriptures is truly astounding; to become a son of God and a brother of Jesus is a tremendous reward with truly awesome implications.
JOINT-HEIR WITH CHRIST
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can become heirs of the Kingdom of God.
"The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom.8:16-18 KJV).
"But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore you are no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Gal.4:4-7 KJV).
INHERIT ALL THINGS
"In many times and in many ways of old, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets: in these last days he spoke to us in the Son, by whom He appointed heir of all; through whom he indeed made the ages" (Heb.1:1-2 Para.). See also verses 5-8.
"He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Rev.21:7 KJV).
What an amazing reward! Not only are the righteous heirs but also joint-heirs with Jesus. Moreover, they will share in the inheritance of all that exists now and forever.
INHERIT THE EARTH
Part of the promise that God gave to Abraham was that he and his descendants would inherit the earth and be a blessing to all nations forever. See Gen.12:2-3; 13;15-16; 15:7, 18:18; 26:1-5; Rom.4:13.
"And if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal.3:29 KJV).
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt.5:5 KJV).
"For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth" (Psa.37:9 KJV). See also Psa.37:11, 22, 29, 34;72:8.
The scriptures clearly show that, when the righteous become spirit-beings, they will inherit the earth. But, what possible use could they have for a physical earth? It seems that the earth would be of no use to them unless God is not finished with his plan for the salvation of humanity after Christ returns. Therein lies one of the purposes for the earth as an inheritance; it is to be inhabited by both spirit and physical beings as God's plan for the salvation of humanity continues after Christ returns.
INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD
"Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.5:3 KJV).
Here, Jesus speaks of those who will obtain the ultimate joy of sharing the rewards of the Kingdom of God with him because of their humility of spirit. The undeniable fact is that there is a Kingdom (a government) of Heaven, which is owned by God the Father, and the righteous are to inherit it.
When Jesus told the parable of the shepherd dividing his sheep from the goats, he clearly reveals that the Kingdom of God was prepared as an inheritance for the righteous before mankind was created:
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King [Jesus] say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father [God the Father], inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:" (Matt.25: 31-34 KJV). See also Jms.2:5.
HAVE ACCESS TO NEW JERUSALEM
Not only do the righteous inherit the Kingdom of God but also they have access to New Jerusalem from where the Father rules all of his creation.
"And there in no wise enter into it any thing that defiles, neither whatsoever works abomination, or makes a lie: but they which are written in the lamb's book of life" (Rev.21:27 KJV).
"Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Rev.22:14 KJV). See also Rev.21:1 through 22:13.
CO-RULERSHIP WITH CHRIST
"To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev.3:21 KJV).
"And he that overcomes, and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of Iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father" (Rev.2:26-27 KJV).
TO BECOME A KING AND A PRIEST
"John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And has made us kings and priests to God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Rev.1:4-6 KJV). See also Rev.5:10.
Here, John speaks of the future when he says that the elect are kings and priests. This indicates that as far as the Father is concerned, this reward and responsibility has already been given to his elect children.
CITIZENSHIP IS IN HEAVEN
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ," (Phil.3:20 NIV).
Some believe this verse confirms that heaven is the ultimate reward of the saved, because it calls the elect citizens of heaven. It is true that the righteous are not of this world, although they must live in it and be subject to many of its laws until the return of Christ.
Jesus and the apostle Paul said the following about the elect and their citizenship:
"If you were of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (Jn.15:19 KJV).
"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be you reconciled to God" (2.Cor.5:20 KJV).
Because one's citizenship is in a certain place does not mean one must continually reside there?
IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE
Jesus tells his disciples:
"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. 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" (Jn.14:2-3 NIV).
Because this is one of the primary scriptures many quote to support their belief in going to heaven immediately after death, it is important to discover what Jesus actually said.
The English word rooms is translated from the Greek word mone, which can mean staying, tarrying, abiding, or place to stay (e.g., an inn or watch house). In the New Testament, it only occurs twice and denotes a dwelling place or an abode. Moreover, there are many Rabbinic parallels that denote the phrase "my father's house" as a place of rest.
In this scripture, Jesus makes a statement of fact. He will go to prepare a place for the righteous where his Father dwells. The Greek word for place is topos, which can mean a geographical location, but it can also be used in its abstract form to mean a position or office of endeavor. Other scriptures show that what Jesus is preparing is not only a space to inhabit but also positions and offices of authority within which the elect will function.
Because Jesus says he will come back and take the elect to the place he has prepared for them, many believe this means that they are going to reside continually heaven with Christ. However, the scriptures clearly show that ecclesiastical and governmental positions will be given to the righteous through which they will govern the physical earth with Christ for at least a thousand years.
Jesus said nothing about heaven being a reward or a continual residence for the saints from which they will never leave; he merely states that he was going to prepare a place for them and take them there so they can be where he is. Many scriptures show that after his return, he will administer the government of God over the earth from Jerusalem. See Isa.11:5-9; 27:13; 65:17-25; Mic.4:1-7; Zech.8:3-4.
In John 14, Jesus merely explains that he would go to heaven to prepare positions and offices of authority and responsibility in which the elect will function in the Kingdom of God. Just because the elect have access to heavenly Jerusalem (Rev.20:6, 21:27; 22:14) does not prevent them from reigning on earth with Jesus.
There is no doubt that Jesus went to heaven to prepare a place for the elect and there is no doubt that the elect will be wherever Jesus is going to be. In fact, one place where Jesus is going to be is right here on earth with the righteous who have obtained salvation.
OUR HOPE IS IN HEAVEN
Some believe that because there are scriptures which state the hope of the righteous is laid up in heaven, the ultimate reward of the saved will be to go to heaven. But just what is this hope that is laid up in heaven for the righteous? Is it to reside in heaven forever without ever leaving or is it something very different?
"We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which you have to all the saints, For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;" (Col.1:3-5 KJV).
The English word hope in this text is translated from the Greek word elpis, which connotes faith, trust, assurance, an expectation of the future, and comfort in distress.
Paul says the hope of the righteous is reserved in heaven. But, what is this hope that is reserved there?
Paul does not say that our hope is to go to heaven to reside forever or that our hope is to be with Christ in heaven. He just says that our hope (faith, trust, assurance, expectation) is laid up in heaven.
Paul had faith that God was going to provide many things as a reward for righteousness and they were reserved in heaven awaiting distribution to the elect of God:
"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing" (2.Tim.4:8 KJV).
"Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Tit.1:1-2 KJV). See also Tit.3:7; 1.Thes.5:8.
Many of the things which are laid up in heaven as rewards will be given according to the effort of each individual. Jesus said, "But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matt.6:20 KJV).
How does one lay up treasures in heaven? Many scriptures document that it takes special effort to gain rewards outside of the gift of eternal and immortal life:
"Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done" (Rev.22:12 NIV).
"Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully" (2.Jn.8 NIV).
The hope that is laid up in heaven is the faith that God the Father and Jesus Christ who are in heaven will fulfill their promises to give us our rewards in that great day when Jesus returns to rule the earth.
REWARDS ARE RESERVED IN HEAVEN
There are many scriptures showing that the rewards for the saints are reserved in heaven. However, do any of these references state that the saint's reward is exclusively heaven, or that they must reside in heaven forever to receive their reward?
"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven:. . ." (Matt.5:12 KJV; Lk.6:23).
"Take heed that you do not your alms [i.e., acts of goodness] before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven" (Matt.6:1 KJV).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you" (1.Pet.1:3-4 KJV). See also Acts 23:6; 24:15, Tit.1:2.
There is no denying that the above scriptures show that the reward of the righteous is reserved for them in heaven. However, are there any clear scriptures which say heaven is the only reward of the saved or that the inheritance of the saints is to live in heaven forever? No, there are not! In fact, nowhere in the entire Bible does it say that going to heaven is the only and final reward of the saved.
If the righteous were to go directly to heaven at death to receive their reward, why would they need to be resurrected (1.Cor.15:52-53)? It does not make any sense to resurrect (restore to life) people who are already alive. Moreover, all of the scriptures which speak in great detail about the resurrection of God's elect would be meaningless, and there would be no reason for Christ to return and bring the elect's reward with him if they have already received it.
Remember that Paul said he and the other elect children of God will receive their reward in the day that Jesus returns to earth:
"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing" (2.Tim.4:8 KJV). See also Matt.16:21; Rev.11:18; 14:12-13; 22:12.
Why do those who teach that going to heaven is the ultimate reward of the saved rely on mistranslations, obscure scriptures, and tradition for their support of this teaching? The simple truth is that the Bible does not teach that heaven is the ultimate reward of the saved nor does it teach that the saved go immediately to heaven after death. These teachings are another example of the many contradictions between what people believe and what the Bible actually says.
The rewards God has prepared for the righteous are far more exciting than the nebulous idea of going off to heaven. The Bible teaches that the rewards of the righteous are immortality, becoming a son of God the Father, a joint inheritance and rulership with Jesus Christ in the God family, and much more. The Bible also teaches a life full of peace, happiness, joy, and pleasures forever for those who obtain salvation:
"You will make me to know the way of life. In your presence are fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever" (Psa.16: 11 Para.).
The teaching that humans go directly to heaven after death is a false teaching and the scriptures clearly show the error of this belief. As you can see by the clear scriptures that have been presented here, there is a great contradiction between what people believe and what the Bible actually says about this topic. Moreover, personal research and study into this topic will help bring a deeper understanding of the tremendous opportunity God is offering humanity.
By B.L. Cocherell b7w9