There is confusion on heaven and the afterlife by some preterists, as well as many futurists. So, let’s consider what the Bible teaches about heaven, as well as the question about salvation to heaven, especially as it relates to the events of AD 70.
First of all, what does the Bible say about what heaven is like? Actually, it doesn’t give us much detail. But, heaven is described as a place of rest (Revelation 14:13). It is described as a better existence than on earth in the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). It is described as different from earth (Ecclesiastes 5:2; Matthew 5:11-12; 16:19; John 3:13; 6:38; Philippians 2:10; Colossians 1:20; etc.) and the hope of the believer (Matthew 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:19; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:5; Titus 1:2). The Bible also describes the afterlife as paradise (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). If one takes the time look up the many passages about heaven, you will certainly be convinced that it is not earth. Rather it is a “place” that is distinct from earth.
The barrier between the realm of heaven and the realm of earth is sometimes crossed, as angels sometimes appear on earth. We must have a corporeal existence in heaven, which we can infer from the visible form of Moses and Elijah that appeared to Jesus and the disciples at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Further, Jesus’ promises of eternal life for believers strongly implies a bodily existence in heaven, though this does not necessitate a flesh and bone body, but rather a spiritual body as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15.
The Bible teaches that heaven is the abode of God. Christians have always understood heaven to be the “place” where believers will abide with God in a status better than we have here on earth. Let’s put “place” in quotation marks because God resides outside of time and space, but using the term “place” may be more correct than incorrect. Here is a sampling of other passages about heaven:
Nehemiah 9:6; Job 19:26; Psalm 23:6; 33:13-14; 89:5; 103:4; Daniel 12:1-2; Matthew 5:8, 12; 6:9, 19-20; 8:11; 18:10; 22:30; Mark 12:25; 16:19; Luke 2:15; 6:23; John 1:32; 3:13-16; 6:38; 11:24-26; 14:1-6; 17:24; Romans 6:5-8; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 13:12; 15:12-20, 35-54; 2 Corinthians 4:14-18; 5:1-10; 12:1-4; Ephesians 1:20; 4:10; Philippians 1:19-23; 3:10-14, 20-21; Colossians 1:5, 20; 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16; 5:8-11; 2 Timothy 4:18; Titus 1:2; 3:7; Hebrews 8:1; 9:24; 11:13-16, 35; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Revelation 2:10; 3:21; 4:1; 11:12; 14:1-13; 19:1-9; 22:8-9
What is sometimes confusing to Christians is that they think that every time they see cosmic language in the Bible (heaven, heavens, heaven and earth, kingdom of heaven, sun, moon, stars), that they must mean the same thing each time. For example, the Bible actually speaks of three “levels” of heaven/space. The first “heaven” is the air we breathe. The second “heaven” is outer space, that is, the heavens containing the stars and other heavenly bodies. And Paul mentions the Third Heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2, which is, evidently, heaven itself—the eternal home of believers.
We also find in Scripture the concept of the “new heaven and new earth” (Isaiah 65/66; Matthew 5:17-18; 2 Peter 3, and Revelation 21.) I show in separate articles specifically that this is a Hebraic idiomatic expression about the new covenant: https://prophecyquestions.com/articles-by-charles-meek/ https://prophecyquestions.com/articles-by-charles-meek. To complicate this further, we find the “kingdom of heaven,” which I am persuaded is similar to the “new heaven and earth,” but has ongoing implications for the afterlife. That is, one must enter the kingdom while on earth by faith in order to reach heaven after physical death.
Context, as well as audience relevance, should determine how to understand these things. Sometimes, such terms mean the material universe. Examples include: Genesis 1:1; 2:1; Job 38; Psalm 8:3; 19:1; 96:3-10; 102:25-27; 121:1-2; 139:13-16; Isaiah 44:24-25; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:11-16 (“all things”); 31:35-38; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6; John 1:3 (“all things”); Acts 4:24; 14:15; 17:24, 25, 28; Romans 1:20; Philippians 2:10; Colossians 1:16-17; etc. Sometimes they do not mean the physical universe, but, especially in prophecy, are used symbolically about Israel, judgment warnings, or covenantal change. Examples include: Genesis 37:9; Isaiah 1:2-3; 13:9-11; 24:23; 50:3; 65-66; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10, 28-32; Amos 8:9; Matthew 5:18; 24:29-35; Hebrews 12:22-29 (from Haggai 2:6-7); 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 6:12-17; 12:1-2; 21:1; etc. I think you can see the difference if you take time to read these passages.
Often, the more literal usage is in the past tense, the figurative usage is in future tense. However, literal and figurative concepts can even be used in the same passage. For example, in Jeremiah 31:31-38, the author used the enduring order of the physical universe to express the measure of God’s commitment to his people. In Hebrews 8, the writer used the heavenly temple of God (verses 1-2) as the original, after which the earthly tent and the temple were copied and applied as a shadow to the context of the new covenant (verses 3-13). In 2 Peter 3, Peter uses God’s creation of the universe, and its subsequent disturbance by Noah’s judgment flood, as a prototype to explain how big of a deal the coming judgment against Jerusalem would be (AD 70). Peter was using traditional Hebraic apocalyptic language—violent disturbances of the created order—to explain the significance of the coming dissolution of the visible fabric of the Old Covenant order, that is the old “heaven and earth.”
Even in modern English, the biblical words or phrases “heaven and earth,” “heaven,” “heavens” can have different meanings ranging from literal, physical things—to metaphoric symbology, or even something outside of time and space. Just think for a moment about how such words are used in everyday English. For example, when we say, “we will move heaven and earth for you,” we are not speaking literally. So, this should not be a surprise. In every language, certainly in English, some words can have over a dozen meanings.
It can be damaging to over-literalize or over-spiritualize certain texts. Genesis 1-3 is a good example. There are, most certainly, elements of both the literal, physical universe, as well as highly symbolic language found in this text. It would be a mistake to attempt to force everything in this marvelous passage to be either/or. That creates far more problems than it solves.
Just a few more points about how we understand heaven. It seems apparent, too, that Jesus is now in his glorified body outside of time and space, or at least outside of time. There is a strong implication in the Bible that Jesus has a body in heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; Ephesians 4:8-10; Colossians 2:9; Philippians 3:21; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 1:9-18). But at some point, Jesus must have changed from his earthly body to his glorified body—probably at the ascension. After his ascension, Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus in a manner that Paul could see a light and hear the voice of Jesus, but neither he nor his companions actually saw Jesus in physical form (Acts 9:3-9; Acts 22:6-11; Acts 26:12-19; cf. John 17:5; Hebrews 5:7).
In Acts 26:19 Paul describes what he saw as a “heavenly vision.” This would seem to be an appearance by Jesus in his glorified state. That Jesus’ body had changed into a different one is confirmed by such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:45 and 2 Corinthians 3:17. So, our heavenly body will be more like that of the glorified ascended Jesus, rather than the earthly flesh-and-bone Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49). It will be a body suitable for our eternal existence.
Jesus gave us little specific information about the afterlife, only saying that we will be like angels in heaven (Mathew 22:30). I believe that Paul made as good an attempt as he could to explain it in such passages as 1 Corinthians 15:35-50, 52b, and 2 Corinthians 4:14-5:1-10. Paul uses the terms “heavenly body,” “spiritual body,” and “raised in glory.” Because “spiritual” can itself be a confusing term because of its multiple uses, I am inclined to think that “glorified body” is the most helpful term for the nature of our afterlife.
This is consistent with classical Christianity. “Glorification,” that is, perfection in heaven, is the final stage of the Christian experience: Creation. . . Fall. . . Redemption. . . Sanctification. . . Glorification.
So, who goes to heaven? There are three possibilities as to what happens to people when they die biologically:
- Nobody goes to heaven, thus even believers do not go to heaven. This is atheism.
- Everybody goes to heaven. This view is universalism—a favorite idea of both liberal Christians and hyper-preterists who have a poor understanding of Scripture and a high view of wishful thinking.
- Only faithful believers go to heaven. By default, this is the only biblical conclusion.
Some preterists (see my articles about hyper-preterism), seem to think that after AD 70, God no longer judges in the same way. This seems patently ridiculous to me. God did not change (holy and just), nor did the nature of man (sinful, thus our need for salvation). The New Covenant was initiated at Christ’s First Advent, not in AD 70. And the New Covenant continues indefinitely (Ephesians 2:7; 3:21; Hebrews 13:20). But, indeed, as Paul explains in Romans 4, justification by faith was there all along!
Numerous passages in the New Testament explain that one’s personal salvation is by grace through a living faith in Jesus Christ alone. These passages were written after the initiation of the New Covenant, and there is no indication in them that God’s plan of salvation will ever change. Examples: Matthew 7:13-20; Mark 16:16; John 3:16, 18, 36; 14:6; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 4:10-12; 10:34-35, 43; 13:38-39;16:30-31; Romans 3:21-22; 4:5; 8:1; 10:9-10; Galatians 3:1-29; Ephesians 2:8-10; James 2:14-26; 1 John 1:6-9; 2:23; 5:12. There is no other gospel than the one that Paul preached (Galatians 1:6-10). By the way, these passages are all about our personal salvation, not about corporate salvation as some preterists teach.
Errors of some preterists extend to the subject of judgment too. Just because the Great Judgment is about the punishment of the Jews in AD 70, it does not mean that judgment by God of individuals doesn’t continue. The Bible teaches that we as individuals are judged at death (Acts 10:42-43; Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; 13:4; Revelation 2:10; 14:13). Further, by force of logic, if (a) God is just and holy, if (b) He hates sin, and (c) since we all sin—then He cannot just wink at our sins. His judgment of us as individuals must be ongoing.
Some hyper-preterists have suggested that we have HEAVEN ON EARTH NOW, and that we do not acquire anything new or better in the afterlife. One leading advocate of this view put it this way: “I primarily see heaven as ‘in Christ’ and wherever and whatever He is. . . . We don’t have to have a new inheritance when we shed our physical body. We simply get the opportunity to see and experience more of what we already have.”
In response to this interesting, but outrageous proposal, I suggest that there is a big difference between saying living believers have “heaven now” (a serious error) and saying we have “eternal life now” (which is accurate). So, there is nothing better to look forward to in heaven? Tell that to the quadriplegic that cannot feed his family. Tell that to the Christian living in a 7×7 tin shanty in Delhi, Rio, or Mogadishu. Tell that to the Christian who lives in fear for his life in Pakistan or Syria, who has had loved ones murdered or mutilated by Muslims just for their Christian faith! Let’s tell all these people that if you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, they can look forward to an eternity of misery just like they have now.
This is shameful. If your hermeneutic leads you to such a conclusion, perhaps you should re-examine your hermeneutic.
The Doctrine of Heaven is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. Christians have always believed—based on dozens of passages in the Bible, as well as on our confidence that God is a merciful God—that heaven is a better place than we have in this fleshly life. It is the hope and promise of the Christian faith.
Those, including some futurists, who teach that heaven is on earth call on a few passages in support of their position. For example, the Lord’s Prayer says, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But I think, first of all, that this passage is not equating heaven with earth, but rather making a distinction between the two! Jesus, here, is praying for Godly principles to prevail upon the earth, consistent with the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:28; etc.).
So, what happened at the Parousia in AD 70 relative to these things? This is the story line of my book CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY. In summary, believers who died prior to that date went to heaven per such passages as Daniel 12, John 5:28-29, and Acts 24:15 which literally says there was about to be a resurrection of the dead. At the Parousia, hades was emptied and abolished per Revelation 20:11-15.
The Bible is clear that Christ’s death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins (Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Hebrews 9:15-26, etc.). And his resurrection provided our hope for eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-11, etc.).
Nevertheless, another important thing happened at Christ’s AD 70 Parousia—Christ’s work of redemption and salvation for believers past and future was completed (Luke 21:28; Romans 13:11-12; Hebrews 1:14 (mello); Hebrews 9:26-28; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Revelation 12:10; etc.) The good news of preterism is that believers no longer go to hades, which was abolished in AD 70 per Revelation 20:11-15, but rather go directly to heaven in their new heavenly bodies.
CONCLUSION: AD 70 enhances our understanding of classical Christianity, it does not detract from it or do violence to it.
Charles Meek is the author of CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY: Is Your Church Teaching Error about the Last Days and Second Coming? An Exposition of Evangelical Preterism (available at Amazon.com).
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 “Paradise” in this passage and in Luke 23:43 could also mean hades, that is, Abraham’s bosom, the temporary abode of the faithful until the resurrection in AD 70.