In spite of what church tradition teaches today, the way into heaven was still not fully open to the saints prior to 70AD. The Heavenly New Jerusalem / Kingdom was still in the process of being established by Jesus and hadn’t come in all its fullness.
No man other than Jesus could go to heaven:
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. ~ John 3:13
Jesus said that the Saints could not go to heaven.
Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ ~ John 13:33
But Jesus promised that He was going to heaven to prepare a place for His disciples and then one day would come back and take them to Heaven to be with Him forever.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. ~ John 14:2-3
In the meantime, while Jesus was away preparing a place in Heaven for them, He would send a helper, The Holy Spirit.
But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. ~ John. 16:7
…so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ ~ 1 Corinthians 1:7
But here’s the conundrum. If Jesus has still not returned to receive His disciples to Himself, then John 3:13 is still standing and not one of us goes to heaven when we die!
But that’s not what we hear from pulpits every single week:
Preacher in Church on Sunday – “The resurrection has not happened yet!”
Preacher doing a funeral on Monday – “Little Johnny has gone to heaven to be with the Lord.”
- Can you see the conflicting message here?
Now if I was to ask you where you will go when you die, you’ll most likely tell me that you’d go to heaven. But if the dead have not yet been resurrected including the disciples, which happens at the Second Appearance/Coming, then no one is yet in the full presence of God in heaven!
- So what’s going on?
The Here Now, But Not Yet Kingdom
You see the Kingdom was ‘here now but not yet’ prior to 70AD when the apostles wrote their letters. The way to have direct access to God was still closed during the Old Covenant age i.e their present age.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.~ Hebrews 9:6-10 ESV
Paul wrote in Hebrews that it was: “a symbol for the present time”. Not our time in the 21st century, but in the time of Paul’s pre 70AD audience.
Paul told the Hebrews that the temple still standing in Jerusalem was symbolic for the time they were living in, i.e the Old covenant Age. Paul said that the physical temple would remain until the time of reformation.
Some of the bible translations say ‘until the time of a new order’, ‘until a better system could be established’, or ‘until God would establish a new way of doing things’. The apostles called this future time when a new way of doing things would happen, ‘the age to come’.
In Hebrews 8:13, Paul said that the Old Covenant “was becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away”. So until the Old Covenant age ended, the Jerusalem temple would still be standing in the city. It had lost all of its power at Calvary, but the physical shell of the building still remained.
Please note that Paul kept the law as long as the temple was standing but he was not under the law. He wanted his fellow Jewish believers to keep the law better than the Pharisees so that they could share the gospel with the Jews. An observant Jew would never associate with someone who was lawless, so the Jewish Christians kept the law so that the Jews couldn’t give any excuse for not accepting the gospel.
Paul also described that Old Covenant age he was living in as like ‘seeing through a mirror dimly’.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NASB
In other words, during this 40 year period up until 70AD, the ‘here now but not yet’ Kingdom was still limited, as like a dim mirror. No one could be in God’s full presence until Jesus came back and the New Testament believers eagerly awaited His return.
Deliver us from evil
Paul said that ‘the hour had come’ and that their salvation drew nearer:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. ~ Rom 13:11-12
Peter told his listeners that their salvation was not yet complete, but would be revealed in ‘the last time’.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ~ 1 Peter 1: 1-5
- Salvation was ready to be revealed, when?
Paul wrote that Jesus was our supreme sacrifice at Calvary and his reappearance a 2nd time was not to deal with sin but for deliverance i.e salvation. This salvation was a different thing to the salvation at Calvary i.e forgiveness from sin etc. Jesus would save the believers from their Jewish enemies when He came in judgment, in answer to their prayers.
so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save (Gr sōtērian) those who are eagerly waiting for him. ~ Hebrews 9:28
Noun – Accusative Feminine Singular
Strong’s Greek 4991: Feminine of a derivative of soter as noun; rescue or safety.
When the disciples were taught the Lord’s prayer they prayed ‘thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven … deliver us from evil’. Each day the Saints eagerly awaited that deliverance/rescue.
The dead were promised a resurrection i.e salvation that would deliver them from Abraham’s bosom when they would receive their rewards, receive their new individual spiritual body, and enter the New Jerusalem.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:15
The souls of the martyrs who were ‘under the altar’ were promised that their deaths would be avenged. But they had to wait a little longer and rest until the full number of their fellow servants was complete.
Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. ~ Revelation 6: 11
While those who were still alive on earth were promised that they would be caught up to meet the resurrected dead in the air.
Paul spoke of the Old Testament figures such as Abraham, Noah etc as being a great cloud of witnesses who would not receive their rewards apart from Paul and this fellower believers who he was writing to in Hebrews.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Even Paul thought he might be among those still alive at Christ’s coming when he used the word ‘we’ to include himself with his audience. They were promised that they would be rescued from their persecutors and redeemed without having to die. They also were promised that they would have their bodies changed and to be with Him face to face forever.
Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
As Jesus had told his disciples ‘I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also’ in John 14:2-3.
Redemption, deliverance, and rest from their Jewish enemies were promises that were drawing near for the first-century church. They eagerly awaited it and also vehemently prayed that their enemies would be avenged. They had faith that they would get all that they had been promised including the redemption of their bodies.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, ~ Phillipians 3:20
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”~ Luke 21: 27-28
it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation, those who are troubling you, and to give to you who are being troubled, rest, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven ~ 2 Thessalonians 1:6
And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads ~ Rev 22:4
- They were delivered from evil and the Lord’s prayer was answered!
For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever
Old Jerusalem was destroyed when the Kingdom came in power.
Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near….So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” ~ Luke 21:27, 28 & 31
For 40 years only a remnant of Jews became believers in Jesus. The rest hardened their hearts and as a result, were cut off from the true Israel of God. While Gentile believers who never kept the law were grafted into the tree instead.
However, The New Jerusalem was not ready until the Second Appearance / Coming, because salvation was not complete until Jesus returned to save His saints, deliver them from evil, avenge their enemies, reward the saints and take them back to Heaven.
The 144,000 were the first fruits of the wheat harvest to enter Heaven and I’ve written about this in this post: The Song of Moses 8.
If you want to study this in greater detail I’ve written another article called Hades, The Resurrection, and The Rapture.
In the future I will write about the Barley harvest. It was the first harvest of in the Jewish agriculture year. Matthew is the only writer to mention these saints who came out of their tombs after Jesus was resurrected.