Ask anyone where faithful believers go when they die and the answer is almost always the same: “Heaven, of course!”
But is the Bible as unequivocal and certain about that as is Christian tradition?
In “The Restitution of All Things: Israel, Christians and the End of the Age,” author Joseph Farah, the founder of WND.com, the largest Christian website in the world, suggests today’s believers assume, on the basis of man’s teachings, too much about their spiritual destiny rather than putting their beliefs to the infallible test of Scripture.
“Honestly, at the very least, I think students of the Bible need to conclude that what comes after death in this world is at least a bit of a mystery,” says Farah. “I’ve looked at this question using only Scripture as the guide and find the case for heaven as man’s destiny ambiguous at best.”
After poring over the Hebrew and Greek scriptures for his new book, “The Restitution of All Things: Israel, Christians and the End of the Age,” with just this question in mind, Farah had to conclude that the case for heaven is more of an assumption than an unequivocal certitude.
What is the biblical case for heaven? Farah sees some Scriptures that seem to suggest heaven as the fate of believers – and others that clearly do not.
- In 2 Kings 2:11, the Bible says Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. But, Elijah was an unusual case – one of only two people mentioned in the Bible who never died a natural death, the other being Enoch. Also, there is the question of to which heaven Elijah was taken. The Bible speaks of heaven and heavens in at least three different ways – the earth’s atmosphere, the space beyond the atmosphere as far as it stretches and the place where God himself dwells. It could be that Elijah was taken to the place where God lives, but, again, Elijah didn’t die. He wasn’t resurrected after death that we know of. He could also have been transported somewhere else through the atmosphere or even through space.
- In Psalm 139:8, David writes: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” That seems to suggest there are only two possibilities for man – heaven or hell. Yet, in Psalm 115:16, David writes: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” This, and many other passages of Scripture seem to suggest man’s true destiny is Earth – in a redeemed form. The Apostle Simon-Peter is quoted in Acts 3:20-24. from which Farah was inspired to title his book: “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days.” Farah points out that this seems to refer to the return of Jesus to Earth where He establishes His Kingdom for 1,000 years. It is at that time, the Bible tells us in Revelation 20:4-6 that the resurrection of the dead takes place and life on Earth continues under the reign of Jesus. Revelation 20:4-6 addresses the first resurrection after the return of Jesus to Earth, a resurrection which is for martyrs who were beheaded for His witness and “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
- Then there is the problem posed by what is written in John 3:13: “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 wrote this many decades after the Resurrection of Jesus,” notes Farah. “At that time, he tells us that no man has ascended to heaven except Jesus. If no one Earthly man had ascended to heaven in the late first century, why would we assume any have since ascended?”
- What about when Jesus told the thief on the cross during His crucifixion as recorded in Luke 23:43: “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” No. 1, Farah points out, Jesus didn’t ascend to heaven the day He died, and No. 2, though the punctuation in that statement would lead to the conclusion that this reunion would occur the same day, there was no punctuation when Jesus made the statement verbally nor when it was written in Greek. “Therefore,” Farah says, “Jesus could just as easily have been saying, “Verily I say unto you today, thou shalt be with me in paradise. That, of course, removes the issue of when this reunification would occur.”
The point? Maybe, Farah suggests, there is another destiny for man – the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. How could the Kingdom of Heaven be on Earth?
Jesus says in Matthew 16:19: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This seems to be a promise to believers of a powerful life in the Kingdom of heaven on Earth, Farah observes.
In addition, he cites Acts 2:34-35, again, a book written late in the first century long after the Resurrection of Jesus: “For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool.” To which Farah asks, “If not even David, a king after the Lord’s own heart is not ascended to heaven, are we to believe others have?”
In Romans 10:6, Paul seemingly explains, suggests Farah: “But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above.)” Jesus is returning to Earth, Farah says, to set up His Kingdom in which His chosen will rule and reign with Him – on Earth.
Farah also points out that the most familiar prayer in the Greek Scriptures taught by Jesus Himself it refers twice to this heavenly Kingdom on Earth: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matthew 6:9-13).
“Again, nowhere in the Bible does it unequivocally state that heaven is the destination of man,” says Farah. “But all of the prophets speak of this Kingdom of God on Earth, as Peter says in Acts 3. There will be a 1,000-year period of a redeemed Earth, followed by a new heaven and a new earth. That’s what the Scriptures unequivocally talk about – in both the Hebrew scriptures and the Greek scriptures. After all, we learn in Genesis 1:26 that man was made by God to have dominion over the Earth. But man fell. Jesus is the new man, and He’s coming back to redeem the earth and restore all things. I don’t expect to be playing harps in heaven after I die. I expect to be ruling and reigning with the Lord Jesus right here on Earth. But, don’t take my word for it. Study the Scriptures like a Berean and make up your own mind.”
Farah cites some key scriptures about this coming Kingdom of Heaven on Earth:
- Jeremiah 23:5: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”
- Isaiah 24:23: “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.”
- Isaiah 32: “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment.”
- Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!”
- Revelation 5:10: “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
- Revelation 11:15: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
- Revelation 19:15: “And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”
- Romans 15:12: “And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.”
In “The Restitution of All Things,” Farah focuses on what Scripture says specifically about what life in that coming Kingdom on Earth will be like and what we can learn from that about how we should be living today – in preparation for that period of rest, justice, perfect peace and abundance.
“I’m not being doctrinaire about where believers go when they die,” says Farah. “In fact, this question is not a major issue in ‘The Restitution of All Things.’” “Indeed, the key issue of the book is that Christians’ assumptions about eternity and other matters may be too reliant on the traditions of men rather than the clear word of Scripture – which is, according to Jesus, exactly what He found in Israel during His ministry on Earth in the first century.”