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Don Stewart :: Did the Old Testament Believers Go Immediately to Heaven When They Died?

Don Stewart
What happened to the Old Testament believers when they died? Did they go to heaven or some other place? When Christ ascended into heaven did He take the Old Testament saints with Him or were they already there?

Place Of Waiting?

Some people feel the Old Testament saints went to a place specially created by God. Until Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross, heaven was not open to them. Their sins were atoned for, or covered up, but they were not taken away. The death of Christ is what took away sin and allowed these saints to go to heaven. At His Ascension, Jesus brought them to where they could not go before - heaven.

Little Information

The Old Testament provides us with very little information on this issue. Yet there are some passages that seem to indicate the belief that the dead would be with God in heaven.

Enoch And Elijah

We know that two Old Testament characters, Enoch and Elijah, did not die but were taken into the presence of God. When Elijah arrived in heaven he certainly found others apart from God and Enoch!

General Resurrection

The idea of a general resurrection of the dead was taught in the Old Testament.

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2)

Yet this hope was always something in the future. It did not speak of the current status of the righteous dead during the Old Testament period.

Righteous With God In Heaven

There are, however, passages that seem to speak of the righteous entering the presence of the Lord. David wrote.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6).

The house of the Lord may be a reference to heaven.

Be With God

The psalmist believed his spirit would be with God in the next world.

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You (Psalm 73:24,25).

Abraham

In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham was alive and content in the next world.

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried (Luke 16:22).

The Book of Hebrews indicates that Abraham went to heaven.

For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10).

Heroes Of Faith

According to the writer to the Hebrews, all the heroes of faith were looking for that heavenly country.

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

These people are now in heaven.

to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all humanity, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect (Hebrews 12:23).

Limbo?

The idea of a limbus patrum (limbo of the fathers) arose in Middle Ages. It was taught that heaven had been closed to humanity from the time of Adam's fall until the coming of Christ. All Old Testament believers were in this state of blessedness. Once Christ ascended into heaven there was no longer a need for this place for He brought all believers with Him to the presence of the Father.

Summary

The righteous who died before the coming of Christ are now in God's presence. As to whether they were in heaven before He came, or in some other place of blessing, the Bible does not clearly say. The information is not sufficient to make any conclusion.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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