Perhaps no other doctrine more clearly exposes the effectiveness and thoroughness of Satan's deception of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). Jesus plainly states in John 3:13, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of man who is in heaven." Yet, most of the Christian world believes that immediately upon death a person's soul wafts off to heaven to be with others of the dearly departed.
This verse does not stand alone; many scriptures confirm Jesus' testimony. Peter says regarding the highly respected, man-after-God's-own-heart David, ". . . he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens . . ." (Acts 2:29, 34).
Other scriptures remind us that, when a person dies, he is without consciousness:
For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. . . . Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10)
Psalm 146:3-4 adds, "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans [thoughts, KJV] perish."
Jesus identifies Himself in Revelation 1:18 as, "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen." He says something similar as He begins His message to the church at Smyrna: "These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life" (Revelation 2:8). Who are we to believe, a God who never lies or the tales of false prophets? Was Jesus telling the truth when He said He was dead - that He was not off in heaven during those three days and three nights, conversing with the Father, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses? If we believe the Bible, the answer is beyond question.
The gospel Jesus Christ brought reveals the Kingdom of God as the Christian hope. The Bible teaches that a person must remain in his grave, unaware of events in the conscious world, until a resurrection occurs, when his life is renewed (just as Jesus' was), his body is changed to spirit, and he enters God's Kingdom.
In I Corinthians 15:50-54, the apostle Paul teaches that the resurrection does not occur until Christ returns. Then, those who "died in Christ" will be resurrected from their graves with spiritual bodies, and the living saints will also be changed, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. . . . [T]he dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (verse 52).
Galatians 3:29 speaks about our reward: "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise," confirming that those who are true Christians - "in Christ" - will receive the same inheritance Abraham was promised. Romans 4:13 establishes beyond doubt what Abraham will inherit when he is resurrected: "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith."
Furthermore, regarding those who will be resurrected with Abraham, Revelation 5:10 adds, "[You] have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth." Later, Revelation 11:15 says, "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'"
Many centuries of pagan tradition have convinced people that heaven is their "home" and their reward when they die. Nevertheless, the biblical record is unassailable: God's Kingdom will be established on the earth He created for mankind, and it will be an everlasting Kingdom with Christ as its King.
In awe of what he saw, John declares in Revelation 21:1-4:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven [to the earth] from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
The Bible contains much more on this facet of the gospel. Yet, with just this small sampling of verses, there should be no doubt remaining that the gospel teaches that the inheritance of Christians is this earth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 3:13: