Do the Early Christians Talk About Going to Heaven?

Going to heaven is a "main feature of modern belief in salvation." (Quote is from an email I received.) Did the apostles or the early Christians emphasize this like we do?

The Promise lets you feel the danger and power of Mary's pregnancy through her eyes. Biblical and powerful.

Heaven and the Kingdom of God

No, the apostles did not talk about "going to heaven." At least, they did not use those words. They talked about the kingdom of God. After the judgment, the  saints will "enter the kingdom of God," "inherit the kingdom of God," or "receive eternal life."

In the Gospel of Matthew, the kingdom of God is called the kingdom of heaven. Matthew is the only place that the phrase "kingdom of heaven" occurs, and this is almost certainly because the Gospel is written for a Jewish audience. Jews would have used "heaven" in the place of "God" as a matter of habit.

The apostles also talked about eternal life. We will talk about eternal life below. For now, let's go step by step and limit our discussion to the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God versus Going to Heaven?

Jesus and the apostles used the phrase "enter the kingdom of God" or "inherit the kingdom of God" rather than "go to heaven." Examples include:

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

The next verse begins with, "Many will say to me in that day ... " "That day" is always a reference to the future judgment, the "last day" (Jn. 6:39-40; 11:24; 12:48). So Jesus, when he talks about entering the kingdom of heaven, is talking about what we think of as "going to heaven." He is talking about entering the kingdom of God after the final judgment.

Jesus describes this future judgment ...

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon his throne of glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them from one another, like a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. He shall put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

   Then the King shall say to those on his right hand, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ..."

   Then he will tell those at his left hand, "Get away from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt. 25:31-34; 41)

When you read about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, you are reading what Jesus and the apostles have to say about where we will be for eternity.

Peter writes:

All the more, brothers, be diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things, you will never stumble. In this way, an entrance shall be richly supplied to you into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the King. (2 Pet. 1:10-11)

Paul writes:

I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus the King, who shall judge the living and the dead at his appearance and his kingdom. (2 Tim. 4:1)

The Lord shall deliver me from every evil deed and preserve me for his heavenly kingdom. (2 Tim. 4:18)

These are just a few examples. The work "kingdom" is used 150 times in the Gospels and the apostles' letters, mostly to refer to the future kingdom of God, either directly or in parable.

Where Will the Kingdom of God Be?

Perhaps the reason that Jesus and the apostles refer to the eternal kingdom of God rather than going to heaven is because the prophecies of Scripture seem to indicate that in eternity, heaven will come to earth rather than us going to heaven.

Then the sign of the Son of Man shall appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. He shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather his elect together from the four winds, from one end of heaven [or, "the sky"] to the other. (Matt. 24:30-31)

I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. The One that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. ... The armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses ... and out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he might smite the nations. He shall rule them with a rod of iron. (Rev. 19:11,14-15)

Behold, the Lord comes with myriads of his saints to execute judgment upon all and to convict all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds, which they have impiously committed ... (Jude 14-15)

I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will live with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God. (Rev. 21:2-3)

The kingdom and the 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. (Dan. 7:27)

The eternal kingdom, it appears, is going to be here on the earth.

We, according to his promise, look forward to a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 3:13)

The eternal kingdom is a heavenly kingdom in that it comes from heaven, but Revelation, and some comments through the rest of the Scriptures, make it clear that it will be established eternally here on earth.

The Kingdom of God Now

The apostles also talk about the kingdom of God here in the current age.

[God] has delivered us out of the darkness and into the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Col. 1:13)<

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 14:17)

Most of the time, it is easy to tell the difference between references to the kingdom of heaven that we will inherit after the judgment (as described in Matt. 25:31-46) and references to the kingdom as revealed here on earth through Jesus and now through us.

How Do We Enter the Kingdom of God?

This is going to come as a shock to those of you that have been taught that "heaven is a free gift" (Presbyterian Church, Baptist (Link removed. Apparently both Bellevue Baptist in Memphis & the Southern Baptist Convention have backed off this terminology and removed it from their web site.); Evangelism Explosion).

It's not.

The references that say so abound.

Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! (1 Cor. 6:9)

... envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like this, of which I have told you before ... that they who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:21)

For this you know, that no immoral man, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Eph. 5:5-6)

Do you notice the "do not be deceived" in two of those verses? It's as though Paul knew that people would come along saying that heaven is a free gift, and he wanted to protect us from it.

Worthy of the Kingdom of God

We boast about you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and trials that you endure. This is an apparent sign of the righteous judgment of God, so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer. (2 Thess. 1:4-5)

Worthy? Can we really be worthy? And is this worthiness a requirement for entering the kingdom of heaven?

Jesus told the church in Sardis:

You have a few names, even in Sardis, who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white. The one that overcomes, that one will be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. (Rev. 3:4-5)

Revelation 3:4 is a very direct statement that we must be worthy of the eternal kingdom, just in case we were unable to draw that conclusion from 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Gal. 5:19-21, and 1 Cor. 6:9-11.

Today, we like to teach that we cannot be worthy of salvation or of the kingdom of God. We cannot earn our salvation, nor can we earn our entrance into the kingdom of God. However, we can and we must be worthy of that entrance.

There is a difference, and it is an important one.

This year I gave all my employees a Christmas bonus. I wish I had enough money to have given them more. They did not earn their Christmas bonus. They earned their wages, which I promised them in exchange for labor that helps the company earn money, but they did not earn their Christmas bonus. The Christmas bonus was a gift from a grateful employer who has an exceptional and reliable crew.

But while they did not earn that bonus, they were worthy of it. I gave the gift because they deserved it. Because of their hard work, we had exceptional profit two months in a row. I gave them all the excess profit over the amount I needed to keep the business stable.

They did not earn that gift, but they were worthy of it. They did deserve it.

The Gospels and the apostles letters are replete with commands to be worthy:

  • Into whatever city or town you enter, inquire in it who is worthy, and stay there until you leave (Matt. 10:11).
  • He that loves father or mother is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:37). (Thus, it follows that those who love him more than father or mother are worthy of him.)
  • I ... beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you are called (Eph. 4:1)
  • [Paul praying] ... that you might walk worthy of the Lord to fully please him, being fruitful in every good work (Col. 1:10).
  • [Referring to the Thessalonians persecution and suffering] ... so that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer (2 Thess. 1:5)
  • We always pray for you that God would count you worthy of this calling (2 Thess. 1:11)

Don't let anyone tell you that you are not or cannot be worthy. None of us are truly worthy of the great love and sacrifice he has shown to us because it was while we were yet sinners that Jesus died for us. Nonetheless, he has determined that there is a reward, abundant entrance into his everlasting kingdom, that he has determined to give to those who are worthy, who have not defiled their garments, and who have pursued holiness and peace, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).

We don't like to face those things. Most churches find ways to explain those verses away, thus violating what all churches believed throughout the early centuries of Christianity.

We prefer the verses that say that justification or salvation is apart from works.

But wait! Why would the Bible says that we have to be worthy in order to inherit the kingdom of God, yet also say that we are saved by faith apart from works?

Justification vs. Inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven

Paul's Gospel was being challenged by Judaizers from Jerusalem, men who taught that even Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised, keep the Sabbath, and eat kosher to be saved. Because of this, Paul had to carefully explain his Gospel, more carefully than was required of Peter, John, or even Jesus.

Thus Paul carefully outlined what his Gospel meant. I am not going to take the time to prove that the outline I am about to give you accurately reflects Paul's outline. I don't believe I need to. I am confident that anyone who reads Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians will see the truth of what I am saying the next time they read those books.

Admittedly, Paul's explanation of the Gospel is far deeper and more nuanced than this simple outline, but the outline is visible in his writings.

As you look at this outline and compare it with Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, I ask you to notice the tenses used. When Paul says "not of works," he is always speaking in the past tense. He is talking about being born again, that moment in the past when we were transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son. This is the time of our justification, our deliverance from sin, and our entrance into the life of our King. That salvation really is a gift given to those who repent.

For example:

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom. 3:28)

If you look through the context of that verse, both in chapter 3 and 4, you will see that Paul is talking about being born again, of our deliverance from sin.

When he talks about our entrance into King Jesus and our deliverance from the world, he always talks about faith, and he always says that becoming a new creature happens apart from works.

There are some who say that Paul only means the works of the law, but that does not ring true to me. When he says "not of works" in Ephesians 2:9, he does not mention the Law of Moses. In fact, in Titus 3:5, Paul says, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he has saved us." No mention of the Law there, but only a mention of our own works of righteousness.

But notice the past tense in Titus 3:5, as well as in Ephesians 2:8-9. Paul is talking about being born again, not "going to heaven" or, as Paul would have said, entering the kingdom of God.

When Paul talks about inheriting the kingdom, he always speaks in the future tense because that kingdom, though it is revealed on earth through us, is yet to come. And when he speaks of entering that kingdom he speaks of works, consistently and repeatedly.

We have already looked at the verses about the kingdom that is to come. So you already know that each and every time, the issue is works.

It is true that works are the product of our faith, as taught by all the apostles. Nonetheless, it is our works which will be judged, not our faith. Perhaps another way of expressing this would be, "Our faith will be judged by our works." We will not be able to justify our evil works by an appeal to faith. Instead, our works will prove at the judgment whether we had a worthwhile faith at all.

Paul has an surprisingly clear description of this process in Romans 5:9-10 ...

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Notice the startling differences here. We were justified and reconciled. This happened by his blood and by his death. We shall be saved from wrath. This will happen through him and by his life.

Jesus died to purchase us for God. By faith, we obtain  grace which delivers us from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), teaches us to live godly (Tit. 2:11-12), and makes us a new creation (Eph. 2:8-10).

Once we are born again, by his blood and by his death, we rise to newness of life (Rom. 6:3-11). That life is his life, and it saves us, every day on an ongoing basis, as long as we walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-14; Gal. 5:16-23) and in the light (1 Jn. 1:7). To people like this, the Lord will not impute sin (Rom. 4:4-8).

I know that's frightening to some. It ought to be. Peter tells us that the judgment should cause us to fear throughout our life (1 Pet. 1:17). The fear, however, should be a godly fear, not a foolish one. I will now give you Paul's outline and add a couple statements 1 John 1:7-2:2. Assuming you are a born-again Christian walking in repentance and obedience before God, this should allay any foolish fears and leave you only with the godly fear that Proverbs calls the beginning of wisdom...

  1. We are born again by faith, apart from works, delivered from the power of sin (Rom. 6:14), and made new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).
  2. We live this life on earth by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14; Rom. 8:2-4; Gal. 3:3; 5:16-18; 6:7-9), who is the life of Jesus within us (Gal. 2:20). As a result, we live a life of holiness and constant forgiveness of our sins (1 Jn. 1:7; Rom. 4:7-8).
  3. We appear before the judgment seat of the King, spotless and blameless, both because we have lived lives of obedience to Jesus through grace (Tit. 2:11-14) and because his blood has been washing us every day (1 Jn. 1:7-2:2).

Grace

This is all easier to understand if we correct the terrible habit we have of interpreting "grace" as "mercy." We often say, "I was really angry at that person, but I chose to give them grace."

No, you didn't. You gave them mercy. Only God can give grace because grace is the power of God that transforms men into sons of God. You can make sure that your words are God's words, communicating grace to the hearers, but grace comes from God because it is power.

When you forgive someone, that is mercy, not grace.

There are four passages that define grace all by themselves ...

  • Sin will not have power over you because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)
  • The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sensibly, righteously, and godly in this present age. (Tit. 2:11-12)
  • Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may find mercy and grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
  • As everyone has received a gift, serve it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracle of God. If anyone serves, let it be with the ability which God gives.

In case these don't just speak for themselves, let me simply reiterate. Grace ...

  • ... breaks sins power over us.
  • ... teaches us how to live.
  • ... helps in time of need.
  • ... is the power behind spiritual gifts.

How Grace Works

A proper definition of grace is important because it helps us understand the Scriptures. Difficult verses begin to melt away, and the words of Jesus, the letters of Paul, and even James' letter slide right into place.

As an example, note how well and how concisely Ephesians 2:8-10 describes the outline of Paul's teaching on salvation once we have properly defined grace as the power of God for salvation, for life, and our works of service.

For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one may boast. You are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.

"Are you saved" is an interesting construction. "Are" is in the present tense, but "saved" is in the "perfect" tense. That means something "done in the past with present results" (ref). The way I have heard this explained to me by pastors and Greek teachers is: "By grace you are in a state of having been saved."

It is grace which saves us. Grace is what we obtain by faith (here and Rom. 5:2). The grace that brings salvation, when it appears, "teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly, looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, King Jesus, who have himself for us, so that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works" (Tit. 2:11-14).

All of this process is gift of God, not of works, but now that he has equipped us by grace, he expects us to walk in the good works which he has prepared for us to do. (The word "it" in "it is the gift of God" cannot refer back to grace or faith because "it" is the wrong gender for either word. It can only refer to the whole process of salvation.)

We are empowered to do exactly that. We have everything we need. We have became partakers of his divine nature, and we have "great and precious promises," so that through these we might be escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

It does not, however, happen automatically. Paul tells us that it is our choice to sow to the flesh or to sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:7-8; Rom. 8:12-13). One will produce corruption, and the other will allow us to reap eternal life.

The Testimony from the Apostles' Churches

Those of us who are used to talking about the Kingdom of God here on earth will be a little surprised that the early Christians exclusively spoke of God's kingdom as something to be inherited in the future. The kingdom on earth is rarely, if ever, mentioned.

I know I was surprised by this. Most of the references to the kingdom in Scripture concern the eternal kingdom as well, but there are several references to our being in the kingdom already on earth (e.g., Luke 11:20; 17:21; Col. 1:13).

All generations from Adam even to this day have passed away, but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly and shall be revealed at the visitation of the kingdom of Christ. (Clement, 1 Clement 50, AD 96)

As long as [the old covenant] endured, he permitted us to be carried along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not because he delighted in our sins, but he simply endured them. Nor did he approve the time of working iniquity which then was, but he sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us. And having made it apparent that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. (Anonymous, Letter to Diognetus 9, c. AD 100)

In him, though now you do not see him, you believe, and believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Into this joy many want to enter, knowing that by grace you are saved, not of works, but by the will of God through King Jesus. ...

   He who raised [Jesus] from the dead will raise up us also, if we do his will, walk in his commandments, love what he loved, and keep ourselves from all unrighteousness. (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians 1-2, c. AD 125)

This second part of Polycarp's quote would be prone to be questioned by modern Christians, but is it not almost exactly what Jesus says in John 5:28-29?

To him who is able to bring us all by his grace and his goodness into his everlasting kingdom, through his only-begotten Son, Jesus the King, to him be glory, honor, power, and majesty forever. (Martyrdom of Polycarp, an encyclical by the church of Smyrna, ch. 20, c. 155)

We wish you, brothers, all happiness, while you walk according to the teaching of the Gospel of King Jesus ... for the salvation of his holy elect, after whose example the blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose steps may we too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ. (Martyrdom of Polycarp, an encyclical by the church of Smyrna, ch. 22, c. 155)

Do not err, my brothers. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 16, c. AD 110)

Consider, brothers, that the sojourning of the flesh in this world is but brief and transient, but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful, even the rest of the kingdom to come and of life everlasting. By what course of conduct ... shall we attain these things, but by leading a holy and righteous life and by deeming these earthly things as not belonging to us and not fixing our desires upon them? For if we desire to possess them, we fall away from the path of righteousness. (Anonymous, An Early Christian Sermon (also called 2 Clement) 5, AD 100-150)

I could go on and on. If I did, you would find that the early Christians spoke of the kingdom of God exclusively in the future, as a kingdom to be entered after the judgment. You would also find that, like Jesus and the apostles, they spoke consistently of doing the will of the Father and turning away from unrighteousness as requirements for entering that kingdom.

Eternal Life

People like to talk about what "the Bible" says, but sometimes it matters what Paul or John or Peter or Jesus said.

As an example, we discussed above how Paul carefully analyzed and took apart the plan of salvation. He divided it into steps, speaking of our justification and being born again as being by faith, and speaking of our going to heaven, or entering the kingdom of God, as being by the works that are produced from a grace-inspired life.

James, on the other hand, was not being attacked by Judaizers. He was not on the defense. He did not have to carefully explain the steps of salvation, peeling them apart to expose them to his detractors. Instead, he spoke straightforward and generally to his hearers. He said, in no uncertain terms, that justification is by faith and works.

You see then how a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (Jam. 2:24)

No matter how much we moderns try to change that into "we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone," James is saying that the whole course of salvation is not by faith alone. It is by faith plus works.

This is no different than Peter telling us that we need to add to our faith in order to enter the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:5-11). Yes, he tells us in verses 3-4 of that chapter that the power to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to our faith comes from God's "great and precious promises" and the grace that has made us "partakers of his divine nature." Nonetheless, Peter outlines a path of faith plus works because he is not carefully dissecting the Gospel the way Paul was forced to.

The same is true of apostolic use of "eternal life."

We need to address this because "eternal life" is another way that Jesus and the apostles sometimes speak of going to heaven.

There is no one that has left house, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or lands for my sake and the Gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that those who believe in him may not perish but have everlasting life. (Jn. 3:16)

Now, being freed from sin and become servants of God, you have your fruit for holiness, and the end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)

These all clearly reference to life in eternity after death, or at least after the judgment.

There are also references to our having eternal life right now, before we ever depart this earth.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in me has eternal life. (Jn. 6:47)

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (Jn. 6:54).

Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 Jn. 3:15)

I know that last one is a negative reference, but the description gives us a picture of John's thought. Those that do have eternal life have it "abiding" in them, or living in them.

John explains this by saying, "This is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and that life is in his Son. He that has the Son has the life. He that does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 Jn. 5:11-12).

To the apostle John, we can have eternal life already because we have Jesus living in us.

We like to use his terminology, and we should feel free to do so. It is important that we speak as the apostles spoke. Saying what they say is a key to overthrowing traditions of men that we have built up over the centuries.

However, we should also know that John is the only apostle who uses "eternal life" this way. For all the other apostles, eternal life is something that will be given to us after the judgment.

For example, Jesus says in Matthew's Gospel:

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal (25:46)

This is at the end of the judgment of the sheep and the goats. You will never find Jesus saying we already have eternal life except in John's Gospel.

The same is true of Paul. We tend to put John's meaning in Paul's words, but we should avoid doing so. There are several places where Paul's use of eternal life is not clear, but wherever it is clear, he is always referring to a reward we receive at the judgment, not something we possess now.

To those who, by patiently continuing to do good, seek for glory, honor, and immortality, [God will reward] eternal life. (Rom. 2:7)

But now, being made free from sin and having become the servants of God, you have your fruit for holiness, and the end, eternal life. (Rom. 6:22)

He that sows to the Spirit shall, from the Spirit, reap eternal life. Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not lose heart. (Gal. 6:8-9)

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of King Jesus ... in hope of eternal life, which  God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Tit. 1:1-2)

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Tit. 3:7)

John, too, does not consistently use eternal life as a current possession. He sometimes speaks of it concerning the next age in the kingdom of God:

He that loves his life shall lose it, and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it for life eternal. (Jn. 12:25)

Why would Paul and John use eternal life differently (and Peter, James, & Jude not at all)?

When Paul talked about the life of Jesus being in us now, he simply used "life." He did not call it eternal life. The life of Jesus was nonetheless at the center of his message:

I have been crucified with the King. Nevertheless, I live. Yet not I, but the King lives in me, and the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

When the King, our life, appears, then you will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:4)

For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Rom. 5:10).

If the King be in you, then the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. (Rom. 8:10)

We who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake so that the life of Jesus might be revealed in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor. 4:11)

John spoke of eternal life being in us because the Son of God is in us (1 Jn. 5:11-12)

I have always interpreted it this way. We can have eternal life on this earth, the life of Jesus, inside of us by having Jesus inside of us. After the judgment, however, God is going to give eternal life to us as well. Eternal life will be in us, just like it is in Jesus. We will become immortal.

We don't tend to think of immortality as a promise of the Gospel, but it Paul mentions it several times (Rom. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:53-54; 2 Tim. 1:10).

The early Christians mention it even more:

Such is the life and immortality, which this flesh may afterwards receive because the Holy Spirit cleaves to it. No one can express or utter what God has prepared for his elect. (Anonymous, An Early Christian Sermon (also called 2 Clement) 14, AD 100-150)

How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness! (Clement, 1 Clement 35, AD 96)

When the adversary of the race of the righteous, the envious, malicious, and wicked one, perceived ... the blameless life [Polycarp] had led from the beginning and how he was crowned with the wreath of immortality ... he did his utmost that not the least memorial of him should be taken away by us. (Martyrdom of Polycarp, an encyclical by the church of Smyrna, ch. 17, c. 155)

The Word exercises an influence that does not make poets. It does not equip philosophers or skilled orators, but by his instruction he makes mortals immortal. (Justin, Discourse to the Greeks 5, c. 155)

Again, I could go on and on, but I will spare you. Starting with the quotes on this page, I will add an immortality quotes page and a kingdom of God quotes page to the site. I will give a bigger set of quotes there.

Did the Early Christians Talk about Going to Heaven

No, but as you can see, they did talk about the kingdom of God, which will some day rule the earth. They also talked about eternal life, a reward which will be given to us at the judgment.

On another page, coming soon, I will talk about what the apostles and the early Christians said about what happens to us between our death and the final resurrection and judgment.

I do have a short explanation of that early Christian belief on the Purgatory page.

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