Jesus said, ”And no man hath ascended up to heaven…” (John 3:13a). Only Jesus has been to heaven and back (John 3:13b). In fact, King David a man after God’s own heart is not only not in heaven today he is dead and buried (Acts 2:29,34). Not even Jesus went to Heaven the day He died as He was dead (Rev. 1:18). Jesus went after his resurrection three days and three nights later. Why then do Christian churches teach when the “good” people die they go to heaven? As we shall see the answer is they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire plan of God. They do not understand what the reward of the saved truly is.
There are three distinct HEAVENS mentioned in the Bible. It is vital to our understanding to know and understand each one of the heavens in the Bible.
-First Heaven is: The sky and atmosphere of the planet. Psalm 147:7-8; Job 35:5; Jere.34:20. It is what we breath, the clouds and wind. Birds fly in this first heaven.
-Second Heaven is: Outer space, stars, planets, solar systems, Galaxies the entire universe. The final frontier of where man wants to travel. Out of and above our earthly atmosphere. Psalm 8:3; Gen. 26:4; Isa. 13:10.
-Third Heaven is: The spiritual realm where God and His angels reside. Not a physical place but a spiritual place. Paul tells us of the “third heaven” in II Cor. 12:2-4. See also I Kings 8:49; II Chron. 6:30, 39; Rev. 19:14; 14:17. Where is the “third heaven”? The exact location is not revealed in scripture but Psalms 48:2; Isa. 14:13 indicate it may be in a northerly direction. This is the heaven “no man has ascended to” according to Jesus.
So where are the dead? First off the dead know nothing, they are “dead” and are sometimes referred to as “sleeping (Ecc. 9:5, 10; Psalms 115:17; 146:3-4; Acts 2:29,34; I Thes. 4:14). See the article CSCOG7 – Immortal Soul for more details concerning the dead.
All people will eventually die and they do NOT go to heaven as is so often taught today. What then is the reward of the saved? We clearly read in I Cor. 15:23-24, 51-54 about the resurrection of the dead to then live with Christ on earth. I Thes. 4: 15-17 states that those who are alive and dead will rise up to meet Christ in the air (first heaven) as He returns to earth from the Third Heaven. The saints will then be given immortality (those who were alive and dead) to live and reign with Jesus in His Kingdom of God here on earth (I Thes. 4:16).
The crowning event of all the universe is found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Without Jesus we will all “perish” (stay dead) but with Jesus we can have “everlasting life.”
When we understand there are three “heavens” we can begin to understand why we do not “go to heaven” at our death. Our sequence of human life is this we are, born, die, and await the resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6). No place in the Bible does it say we go to heaven, in fact just the opposite. Our reward is not in Heaven but on earth with Jesus after His return.