When Will Saints Enter Heaven? by Owen Olbricht

WHEN WILL SAINTS ENTER HEAVEN?

      Jesus taught that those who have died still exist by stating “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). By saying this, He affirmed that their (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) souls are still alive, even though they are dead.

     The apostle Paul taught the same, for he wrote, “For if the dead do not rise, then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished” (1 Corinthians 15:18). Positively stated, they will rise because they have not perished.

     According to Paul, we have a body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:23).  The soul, Greek psuche, does not die when the body dies (Matthew 10:28).  The soul leaves the body at death (Genesis 35:18).  It returns to the body if the person is resurrected (1 Kings 17:20, 21).  Some versions have “life” in the above two verses instead of “soul,” as translated in the KJV, which is the most used rendering of the Hebrew word nephesh.

     The spirit, Greek pneuma, leaves the body at death (Ecclesiastes 12:87; Matthew 28:50 [“ghost” KJV]; James 2:26) and returns to the body if a person is resurrected (Luke 8:55).

Not Yet in Heaven

     Two terms are used in the Bible of the place where dead people go, which include the Hebrew word sheol translated “grave,” “pit,” and “hell” in the Old Testament and the Greek word hades translated “grave,” “hell,” and “Hades.” Sheol and Hades are the same place (Compare–Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27, 31; KJV incorrectly has “hell” in both passages). “Hell, “pit,” and “grave” are not the best translations of sheol or hades, which should be understood as the place where all dead people go (Psalm 9:17; Proverbs 30:16; Isaiah 14:13), unless figuratively used as in the Old Testament (Psalms 86:13; Jonah 2:2).

     Hades and heaven are two separate places. This is evident from David’s statement that if he ascends into heaven or makes his bed in Hades, he cannot escape God’s presence (Psalm 139:8).  The dead go to Hades, not to heaven, where they wait for their resurrection.

     Jesus’ statement to the Sadducees shows that those who die are in some sense alive (Matthew 22:23, 31, 32), as do Old Testament passages. Jacob felt he would go to Sheol to be with Joseph (Genesis 37:35; KJV has “grave”).  Surely he did not mean he would be buried in the same grave with Joseph, for he did not know where Joseph had gone.

     Samuel appeared to Saul and told him that he and his sons would be with him tomorrow (1 Samuel 28:19). Samuel did not mean that they would be in the same grave, but that they would be together, thus in Sheol. David could be comforted knowing he would go to be with his son who died (2 Samuel 12:23). These died but none of them went straight to heaven, for Jesus said, “And no man has ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven” (John 3:13).

     Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration (Matthew 17:2-4; Luke 9:29-33), showing that they had not perished. Saints came from their graves when Jesus died on the cross and entered Jerusalem after His resurrection (Matthew 27:52, 53). Their bodies were still in the graves, but when they came back to life their spirits reenter their bodies, for the body without the spirit is dead (James 2:26).

     According to Peter, even after Jesus went to heaven, David had not yet ascended into heaven (Acts 2:34). If Jesus took people into heaven when he ascended (Ephesians 4:8), as some assert, it seems strange He did not take David with him.

Souls of the Dead Not in Heaven

     When Jesus died, His soul left His body and went to Hades (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27, 31), the place where even lost people go (Luke 16:22, 23). Jesus’ spirit, as does the spirit of all the dead, departed into God’s keeping when He died (Luke 23:46; Ecclesiastes 12:7), but did not go to be with God in heaven, for Jesus did not at that time ascend into heaven (John 20:17, 18).

     Jesus promised the criminal, who was dying on a cross that he would be with Him in Paradise.  Jesus did not mean that Paradise (Luke 23:43) was heaven, for He told Mary Magdalene, “I have not yet ascended to My Father” (John 20:17, 18), which ascension was 40 days later as described by Luke (Acts 1:9, 10). Jesus used Paradise of a place of rest and comfort, not heaven, but Hades where His soul went at death and from which it returned to enter His body when He was raised (Acts 2:27, 31).

Enter Heaven on the Last Day

      Jesus taught that “the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28, 29). This raising of the dead will take place on the last day (John 6:40, 44, 54), which truth Martha may have learned from Jesus (John 11:24).  Jesus will judge the world on that day, the last day (John 12:48; Acts 17:31; 2 Cor. 5:10).

    “Day” is used in the New Testament of Jesus’ day when He will return, will raise the dead, judge the world, and when the heavens and earth will be burned up. The day when this will happen is described with three terms:

  • Day of judgment (Matt. 11:22, 24; 12:36; Rom. 2:5, 16; 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7; Jude 6).
  • Day of the Lord (1 Cor. 1:8, 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12).
  • That day (Matt. 7:22; 24:36; Mark. 12:32; Luke 6:23; 10:12; 17:30; 1 Thess. 5:4; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:18; 4:8).

     On that day, Jesus’ day, the day of judgment, Sodom and Gomorrah, thus Old Testament people, and rebellious angels will be present (Matthew 11:22, 24; Jude 6). Those who are righteous will be rewarded (Luke 6:23; 2 Timothy 4:8), Jesus will be glorified in the saints (2 Thessalonians 1:10). He will say to those who do not do the will of God, depart from me (Matthew 7:21-23). God will show His wrath and will punish the disobedient (Romans 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Peter 2:7) and the universe will be destroyed (2 Peter 3:10, 12),

     The day when all this will take place had not come when Paul wrote the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:2), but will come as a thief at night when no one expects His coming (Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).

      The last day is when Jesus will raise all the dead at His return (John 5:28, 29), which will be followed by the end (1 Corinthians 15:22-24), the day of the Lord when the universe will pass away and be no more (2 Peter 3:10-12; Revelation 20:11; 21:1).

     If the dead saints are now in heaven, then they are still in their unchanged earthly bodies, for all will be changed at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:44, 51), when Jesus returns (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).

     Heaven and earth still exist.  The last day has not come, the judgment has not taken place, and the dead saints have not yet entered heaven.

Conclusion

     As of now, dead saints are not in heaven. Their bodies are in graves and their souls are in Hades. The living will not enter heaven before those who have died but both will be caught up together to be with Jesus when He comes again (1 Corinthians 15:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). Hades will give up the souls of the dead that are in it when Jesus comes to sit on His throne and judge the world (Revelation 20:11-13).

     When will saints enter heaven? On the last day when all will be raised, changed, and judged (John 6:44; 12:48).