Even though I was pretty much brought up in and have lived in the church, there are a few things that I struggle to understand. While I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover, I often wonder about the Old Testament teachings and beliefs. The question I keep asking is, ‘did Old Testament believers go to heaven?
According to the scriptures, the Old Testament believers didn’t go to heaven, which is the dwelling place of God and the Angels, but to paradise. The Old Testament believers, unlike New Testament believers, believed that after death, they went to paradise. Paradise is where their souls would rest since it was a place that provided peace and comfort. Additionally, Old Testament teachings and believers held in high regard the belief of eternal life and held onto the belief that whenever someone died, they’d go up to this peaceful place of conscious existence and comfort.
In this article, I’ll give an in-depth view of the Old Testament belief systems concerning going to heaven after death and how different the Old Testament beliefs are from the New Testament. So, read on to learn more.
Does the Bible say that the Old Testament believers went to heaven?
The Bible doesn’t give straight answers to this question, but it points out that the Old Testament believers and saints believed in and expected life after death. They called this place paradise, unlike the New Testament’s referring to this place as heaven, as is implied in Romans 4:16.
Some of the indicators of the fact that the Old Testament believers went to paradise (their version of heaven), which also suggest that only the righteous went to paradise, have been implied in different verses in the Bible, like Genesis 5:24, about the story of Enoch who went on to walk with God and that God took him – this is often interpreted as Enoch being taken to the presence of God, in heaven. Other verses include 2 Kings 2:11, referring to Elijah’s whirlwind ascent to heaven, Psalm 73:24, and Hebrews 11:13-16. These verses suggest that the Old Testament believers ascended to a version of heaven after death.
What happened to the believers that died before Christ came?
The believers who trusted and honored God went to paradise. Even so, it remains unclear what happened to the souls of the people who died before Jesus Christ came to earth because of the Bible’s revelations implied in 1 Peter 1:10-11 and Psalms 51:11 suggest that few of the people who were alive before Christ had the spirit of God in them. This was the case for individuals and prophets. And so, only the individuals and prophets who had the spirit of God in them are believed to have attained eternal life, in paradise or the presence of God – Romans 8:9-10
Where did the Old Testament believers/saints go when they died?
Old Testament believers are thought to have gone to this place that provided rest after death, but only if they had the spirit of God. Upon death, these individuals who had the spirit of God in them transitioned to this new peaceful place of comfort and rest called paradise or the Sheol. Paradise is a place where all the souls of the righteous are believed to have gone after their death. Paradise was also referred to as Abraham’s Bosom, and this is where the departed souls went to await the Messiah’s arrival. Genesis 25:8
The Old Testament believers also believed that after the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, these souls in paradise would be taken to heaven by Jesus, as implied in Psalm 49:15.
How were individuals/ prophets people saved before Jesus died for our sins?
According to the Christian theological beliefs, the individuals who lived before the time of Jesus Christ received salvation by having faith and remaining obedient to the laws of God. The Old Testament beliefs describe many rituals and sacrifices that the Israelites were expected to perform or be part of to maintain a positive relationship with God. These practices are believed to have given the believers forgiveness of sins, albeit temporarily. Leviticus 17:11 and Exodus 30:10.
The prophets like Moses, Abraham, and Elijah were deemed righteous in the Old Testament because they were faithful to God and were adamantly obedient to the many commands by God. These, alongside their relationship with God and the fact that they received divine guidance and revelations. And so, they got a ‘pass’ straight to heaven.
Did the Old Testament believers have eternal security?
Some of the Old Testament believers believed in the concept of eternal security, others didn’t, and there is no clear consensus regarding the Old Testament believers having eternal security.
Notably, eternal security or the belief that once a person was saved, they couldn’t lose their salvation again. Some Old Testament and New Testament believers believe in this concept, others don’t. Most of the Old Testament believers held on to the belief that their faith and their obedience to the laws of God earned them eternal security. However, others argued that the Old Testament’s sacrificial system only led to temporary forgiveness of sins, and so, the believers didn’t have any form of guarantee around eternal security. Romans 8:38-39, Isaiah 54:10, and Psalm 37:28.
Did the Old Testament believers believe in an eternal destination?
The Old Testament believers believed in eternal destination and life after death, as implied in Genesis 5:24, which is part of the story of Enoch that hints about the possibility of an afterlife.
However, it’s important to take note of the fact that the early sections of the Old Testament do not recognize or rather have a developed understanding of the concept of the afterlife. Although it took time for the Israelites to believe in the idea of the afterlife completely, the age of the prophets made this belief system more developed, as they started to believe in the idea of resurrection after death and also the fact that there would be a final judgement. Daniel 12:2-3.
Is paradise the same as heaven?
Paradise isn’t the same as heaven. Although these terms are used interchangeably. The Bible describes ‘paradise’ as a place of eternal rest, abundance, and peace, and so many associate it with the Garden of Eden, as implied in Ezekiel 31:8-9. Paradise is only mentioned in the New Testament in the book of Luke 23:43 to reference the afterlife as the place of comfort and rest for all the righteous who died while believing in God.
On the other hand, ‘Heaven’ is used to refer to God’s and the Angels’ dwelling place and the ultimate destination for all the righteous; the place of no sin, pain, or suffering – this is implied in Revelation 21:3-4.
So, heaven is this place of peace, glory, and eternal life in God’s presence, while paradise represents the place of comfort, peace, and rest for all people who led a righteous life before their death.
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right? Being raised by Christians significantly impacted my life since I started professing Christ from a young age. My passion for the Christian faith made me pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology. I am a believer and pastor dedicated to spreading the word of God. I have been in the Christian ministry for over a decade and am currently ministering in Life Christian Church. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Please check the About Us Page for more details.