Does God's Word promise heaven as the reward of the saved? Did Jesus say believers would waft off to heaven? What does God promise as the reward of the righteous — those who believe and obey Him? Does He promise heaven, limbo, purgatory — or will the "saved" inherit a paradise on this good earth? Although millions of sincere people believe otherwise, the Bible says nothing about the saints going to heaven! God's Word declares: "The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men" (Ps. 115:15). And David was inspired to reveal that "those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth" (Ps. 37:9, 22). Furthermore, he said: "But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (verse 11). Does this mean the meek will inherit the earth in this life? No, for it is often the proud, the arrogant, the wicked, the violent who inherit much of this earth during this age. How long will the meek hold a title to this earth? "The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein forever" (verse 29).
Christ Promised the Earth
Some, however, argue that the Hebrew word translated as "for ever" in Psalm 37:29 does not really mean "forever." But let us notice Christ's promise to the meek of the earth: "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5). Later, we shall see that this inheritance of the righteous is for all eternity. But did Christ ever say the righteous would go to heaven or inherit heaven? Some carelessly assume that He did. What Christ actually said was: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). Did Jesus contradict Himself — offering "heaven" in verse three, while promising the "earth" in verse five? No, what Christ meant was that the "poor in spirit" would inherit the kingdom ruled over or governed by (or from) heaven. In other words, He meant they would inherit the Kingdom of God. Only Matthew used the expression "kingdom of heaven," while Mark, Luke and John, as well as the writers of the rest of the New Testament, consistently used the term "kingdom of God." But they both mean exactly the same thing. The "kingdom of heaven" simply means the kingdom of that great Being whose throne is in heaven. God says: "Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool..." (Acts 7:49). This simply means that "heaven" is now the place where God's throne is located. Eventually God Himself will establish His throne on this earth. Christ will dwell with men during the "millennium," and then, later, even the Father will come down and also dwell with men forever. Man isn't going to heaven — God is coming to this earth!
No Man Has Ascended to Heaven
A gentleman once told me that he believed man has an immortal soul that goes to heaven when he dies because, he said, he saw his mother's soul (like a little puff of smoke or a handful of cotton wool) leave his mother's body and waft heavenward when she died. This was the basis for his belief. But we need to have something more solid than this as the foundation for our belief. We must base all our beliefs on the Bible; otherwise, they will come crumbling down sooner or later. Consider Christ's plain words: "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 3:13). (Some ancient manuscripts do not have the words "which is in heaven." Christ was not "in heaven" when he spoke these words, but was on earth.) Yes, Jesus plainly said that except for Himself no human had ever gone to heaven. On the momentous Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter, under divine inspiration, said: "For David is not ascended into the heavens..." (Acts 2:34).
Reward Now Kept in Heaven
We have seen that Christ promised that the meek would "inherit the earth" — not heaven. It is true, however, that the reward of the righteous is now being kept or preserved in heaven. Jesus told those who are reviled, falsely accused and persecuted to "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" (Matt. 5:12). And He admonished His followers to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:20). Paul told the Hebrews: "... Ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Heb. 10:34). The Apostle Peter spoke of "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you" (I Peter 1:4). And Paul assured the Christians at Philippi: "For our conversation [Greek, citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall [at His second coming] change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body..." (Phil. 3:20, 21). These and other scriptures clearly reveal that our spiritual reward, or our crown, is now being kept in heaven. But will it remain there? Will we go to heaven to receive our reward? Or, will Jesus Christ bring our reward back to this earth with Him when He comes? The Apostle Paul wrote: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (II Tim. 4:8). It is at Christ's appearing that this crown will be given: "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (I Pet. 5:4).
Christ's Second Coming
But when is this appearing? The doctrine of the "second coming" is well known, and the Bible certainly teaches it. Notice how Paul explained this: "... And unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb. 9:28). Remember, Christ said: "I go [to heaven] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again [to this earth], and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2, 3). Some erroneously assume that since Christ was shortly going to heaven (where He would prepare the places or positions), He was also going to take His disciples to heaven. But Christ plainly told the disciples He would "come again" — back to this earth. The disciples were well aware of Christ's plain teaching that He was coming back to this earth, else they would not have asked: "What shall be the sign of thy coming?" (Matt. 24:3.) Christ likened His coming to "lightning" — "so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matt. 24:27). Jesus then told His disciples that a great tribulation would be followed by heavenly signs (verses 21, 22, 29). Then, after the heavenly signs, "shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (verse 30). Christ then mentions His coming six more times in this same chapter (verses 36, 39, 42, 44, 46, 48). There can be no question that Christ plainly said He would go to heaven, but He would also come back to this earth to receive His saints unto Himself, then to rule all nations through them. Christ plainly said "all the tribes of the earth" shall see him "coming" with great power and glory. "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (verse 31). This same momentous event is described in I Corinthians 15:51-54, I Thessalonians 4:13-17 and Zechariah 14:1-5. Paul gave the Thessalonians a vivid description of Christ's second coming: "For this we say unto you... we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them which are asleep [dead]. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thess. 4:15-17). Notice that we are to be caught up in the "clouds" to meet the Lord "in the air."
Back to Heaven?
But does Jesus then take the saints back to heaven? Speaking of the second coming of Christ, when He will fight against His enemies at Jerusalem, Zechariah said: "Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives.... and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee" (Zech. 14:3-5). This scripture reveals that Christ's feet will again stand upon the Mount of Olives, and "all the saints" will come with Him. This same truth is also taught in the New Testament. After Christ's resurrection, He was standing on the Mount of Olives when He was taken up from the disciples into a cloud. "... While they [the disciples] beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). Two dazzling angels appeared to the disciples and told them: "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (verse 11). And they were then standing on the Mount of Olives (verse 12).
Christ Brings Reward With Him
Christ plainly taught that He will bring His reward with Him at His second coming: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12). But just what will that reward be? Will it be golden harps on which the saints can play heavenly music for all eternity? Notice the reward which Christ will give to all overcomers: "But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron..." (Rev. 2:25-27). Daniel also prophesied of the time when Christ and the saints shall rule this entire world: "... And, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven.... And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:13, 14). This "Son of man" will not rule this earth by Himself: "But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever" (verse 18). This rulership will be worldwide: "And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him" (verse 27). Truly, in that day, "the Lord [Christ] shall be king over all the earth" (Zech. 14:9). Christ will sit on David's throne. Where will that throne be located? "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it" (Jer. 3:17).
Saints Rule on Earth
The saints, who at that time will have been redeemed from this earth, will finally exclaim: "And [God] hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:10). Notice that the saints will not rule in heaven, but on the earth. One of Christ's parables reveals where the saints shall rule. The disciples mistakenly thought the "kingdom of God should immediately appear" (Luke 19:11). Christ gave the disciples a parable to show that it would be quite some time before He would return to this earth to set up His kingdom: "A certain nobleman [Christ] went into a far country [heaven] to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy [utilize] till I come" (Luke 19:12, 13). Those who were industrious and who gained a good return on their master's money were given rulership over "ten cities" (verse 17) and "five cities" (verse 19). This shows that the glorified saints in the Kingdom of God will be given rule or authority over the nations of this earth. When Christ and His glorified saints sit on thrones governing the nations of this earth, then there will be peace, happiness and prosperity for all nations. No man, nor man-devised government such as the League of Nations or the United Nations, will ever be able to bring real peace to this earth. Finally, however, the "government [of the whole earth] shall be upon his [Christ's] shoulder..." (Isa. 9:6). And, "Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice..." (verse 7).
A Utopian Earth
The wonderful world tomorrow, the utopian age, will at long last dawn upon this earth. Christ will judge the world with righteousness (Isa. 11:1-5). Then wild, ravenous and deadly animals and reptiles will dwell at peace with the domesticated animals. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (verse 9). At that time, "The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose" (Isa. 35:1). "... For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert" (verse 6). The nations of the earth will at last receive a " pure language" (Zeph. 3:9) and will not be cursed with the confusion of the tongues extant today. Then "the plowman shall overtake the reaper.... and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them" (Amos 9:13, 14). Men will not have to live in crowded, dirty, inhospitable, cursed cities where they don't even have a backyard in which their children can play. And there shall be no more war! "And he [Christ] shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid..." (Micah 4:3-4). What is the reward of the saints? Rulership with Christ right here on this earth! The saints will assist Christ in governing all nations, in bringing peace, happiness, prosperity and joy supreme to all mankind.