The Hope of the Patriarchs

Did the "ancient worthies" believe they would live in heaven with Messiah and share his rule as kings? Some feel such men and women, because of their faith, deserve to reign with Christ from heaven.

Some point to Hebrews 11:10, 16, "(Abraham) was looking forward to a city with foundations with The God as its Designer and Maker. ... But, now, they are reaching out for something better, that is something belonging to heaven. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared a city for them."

The phrase "something belonging to heaven" is the Greek TOUT ESTIN ETOURANIOU, which may be "this is of heavenly one," or, "that is to say, a heavenly one." Did Paul mean those faithful ancients from Abel to Abraham were to inherit a heavenly city in which they would become citizens or residents?

What was the hope of the Hebrews and later the Jews? What did the Nazarene teach on this matter? What else do the Christian Scriptures have to say on the hope of the Patriarchs and other faithful servants of God?

The Original "Hope"

What was Godís original purpose for all humankind? A reading of the first three chapters of Genesis is understood by most to indicate Godís original purpose was for a global Edenic paradise where humankind would live forever as His obedient creatures. Most scholarly commentaries acknowledge that the only cause for death was disobedience, therefore, everlasting life was built into the human creature. In other words, our first parents would live forever on earth if they obeyed.

This is alluded to by God Himself when he warns regarding the first human: "And Jehovah God went on to say: ĎHere the man has become like one of us in knowing good and bad, and now in order that he may not put his hand out and actually take [fruit] also from the tree of life and eat and live to time indefinite [forever on earth] ..." (Genesis 3:24 NWT) Likely, the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life would be a reward and a conditional guarantee of everlasting life had Adam been obedient.

It seems a given, therefore, that God purposed mankind in general to live forever on earth. No were in the Old Testament does it teach the thought of either soul immortality or an afterlife in heaven. Indeed, the general thrust is that when humans die they become non-existent and therefore unconscious. (For details on this subject see the publication, Where Are the Dead?) The religious idea of the soul surviving the death of the body originates with pagan religions such as the Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks.

If this be the case, then it may be inferred that those ancients who believed in God held the hope and faith that the original paradise would be restored under the rule of Messiah.

"Hope" in the Old Testament

Actually there is very little in the Bible about the precise hope or expectations of the "ancient worthies" or faithful witnesses of old. Indeed, the most thorough discussion of life beyond the grave is in the Book of Job chapter 14. Some feel the book was written by Moses and the events occurred at some time between Joseph and Moses, or around 1,600 BC. Therefore, it is the oldest inspired discussion of death and the resurrection hope.

1 "Man, born of woman, Is short-lived and glutted with agitation.

2 Like a blossom he has come forth and is cut off, And he runs away like the shadow and does not keep existing. [Non-existence]

3 Yes, upon this one you have opened your eye, And me you bring into judgment with you. [A judgment]

4 Who can produce someone clean out of someone unclean? There is not one.

5 If his days are decided, The number of his months is with you; A decree for him you have made that he may not go beyond. [Psalm 90:10]

6 Turn your gaze from upon him that he may have rest, [Sleep in death] Until he finds pleasure [an ultimate hope] as a hired laborer does in his day.

7 For there exists hope for even a tree. If it gets cut down, it will even sprout again, And its own twig will not cease to be.

8 If its root grows old in the earth And in the dust its stump dies,

9 At the scent of water it will sprout And it will certainly produce a bough like a new plant. [planted in the same soil, earth]

10 But an able-bodied man dies and lies vanquished; And an earthling man expires, and where is he?

11 Waters do disappear from a sea, And a river itself drains off and dries up.

12 Man also has to lie down and does not get up. [revive from death] Until heaven is no more they will not wake up, [they are asleep until ...] Nor will they be aroused from their sleep.

13 O that in She'ol [Hades/hell]/grave] you would conceal me, That you would keep me secret until your anger turns back, That you would set a time limit for me and remember me!

14 If an able-bodied man dies can he live again? [resurrection] All the days of my compulsory service I shall wait, Until my relief comes." [NWT]

This verse by Job makes it clear the dead are asleep and non-existent. They wait in the grave (Sheol/Hades) for the day God will "remember" them. There will be some future "relief" after a compulsory wait. No where does Job express any idea that he expected to go to heaven.

In the third century Jewish Greek Bible, the Septuagint, verse 15 reads: "I will wait until I exist again." The Greek is PALIN GENOMAI -- something like "rebirth." One would judge from his words that this rebirth or new existence would be on earth and not in heaven.

There is another poetic verse which indicates what this hope is in Psalm 49:9-11, "For the redemption of the soul is too costly; so that he will live for ever [on earth], and not experience death. [HAR] ... Their hope is their houses shall continue for ever." Eternal life on earth is strongly inferred in this verse. It says nothing about the beloved brother dying and going to heaven.

The Nazareneís Teachings

Did Jesus teach that the ancient Hebrew and Jewish faithful would attain to heaven by their resurrection? Some say so. However, there are a couple of verses where the Nazarene seems to say that the ancients of other generations will not enter the "kingdom of the heavens."

First, we can state with a strong degree of confidence that no faithful man or woman mentioned in the Jewish Hebrew Bible ever went to heaven. The Nazarene teaches plainly, "No man has ascended into heaven." (John 3:13) [NOTE: We must look for another "heaven" into which the prophet Elijah may have disappeared in a wind storm. (Consider Genesis 1:20)]

In the context of discussing the greatness of John the Baptist, the Nazarene teaches: "Truly I say to you people, Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist [John is equal to any of the Hebrew patriarchs]; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is [and therefore any of the patriarchs]. But from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press ["heaven" was only a goal from 29 AD], and those pressing forward are seizing it." (Matthew 11:11-12 NWT) This later verse is considered one of the most difficult to translate in the Christian Bible. There are a variety of approaches with none of these completely satisfactory to everyone. However, the first part seems to make clear that John the Baptist was equal to any man ever born. This would include Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah. Yet, the very least -- the most seemingly insignificant, some times meaning the elderly, the young, and women -- "in the kingdom of the heavens" is still greater than John the Baptist. This would seem to mean that John the Baptist would not be included in "the kingdom of the heavens."

Some would be tempted here to interpret "kingdom of the heavens" as the celestial realms above. And, this is a possibility. However, Jesus uses the phrase to also mean his own realm or that domain over which he rules. That is, the Church. He does not necessarily say that these ancient men (and women) will not go to heaven. They just are not part of the Church, or those who will be associate kings and judges during the millennium. (Daniel 7:27; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 20:4) However, many would understand this to mean these ancient worthies would not go to heaven.

There is a particular verse which some take to mean at least three of these patriarchs would reign in heaven. This is found in Matthew 8:10-12 -- "Hearing that, Jesus became amazed and said to those following him: "I tell you the truth, With no one in Israel have I found so great a faith. But I tell you that many from eastern parts and western parts [Gentiles] will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside. There is where [their] weeping and the gnashing of [their] teeth will be."

Jesus made a similar remark in another context as recorded in Luke 13:23-30,
"Now a certain man said to him: "Lord, are those
[? Jews] who are being saved few?" (Jesus) said to them: "Strain every nerve to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able, when once the householder has got up and locked the door, and you start to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Sir, open to us.' [Compare Matthew 25:11, 12] But in answer he will say to you, 'I do not know where you are from.' Then you will start saying, 'We [Jews] ate and drank in front of you, and you taught in our broad ways.' But he will speak and say to you, 'I do not know where you are from. Get away from me, all you workers of unrighteousness!' There is where [your] weeping and the gnashing of [your] teeth will be, when you [Jews] see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown outside. Furthermore, people [Gentiles] will come from eastern parts and western, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And, look! there are those last who will be first, and there are those first who will be last."

What do these texts mean? If we understand the three patriarchs and all the prophets to be literal then only these would be included in the Nazareneís remarks about reclining at the royal supper. It would be a case of speculation that anyone else would be included, such as all the ancient women. However, based on the Nazareneís statement that a) none had ascended to heaven; and, b) those equal with John the Baptist would not be in the kingdom of the heavens, these three patriarchs and "all the prophets" would not be in the kingdom of the heavens. (Note: Matthew uses "kingdom of the heavens" while Luke uses "kingdom of God" meaning the same.)

The Nazarene does sometimes use the phrase "kingdom of the heavens" to be synonymous with his Church, or the realm of profession. This can be observed in Matthew 13:24, 41, "The kingdom of the heavens [the Church] has become like a man that sowed fine seed in his field. ... The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom [the Church/Christendom] all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness." This would seem to confirm that the phrase "kingdom of the heavens" is the same as the field of the Lord, or the Sonís kingdom, realm, or domain. In other words, the phrase "kingdom of the heavens" would refer only to that territory over which the King Messiah reigns beginning in the year 33 AD. Though some will be upset with the proposal, the Ďkingdom of the Soní is the same as Christís kingdom, or Christendom.

If this be the view and we take the Nazarene to speak in a metaphor or parable he means in the two accounts that many of his contemporary Jews would not gain entry into the Church when its first Jewish members were being gathered during that period of grace ending in 36 AD with the first Gentile converts. Therefore, these Jews would still be alive to see the first Israelites or Jews, pictured by the three great patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, gaining entrance into the Congregation (Kingdom; compare Colossians 1:13, 18) of Christ. Note in Lukeís parable the part about being locked out is the same as the parable of the ten virgins. In this parable the five foolish virgins would include those unbelieving Jews who did not qualify for entrance into the Church of Christ. Note their gnashing of their teeth at Acts 7:54.

The triune formula of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" occurs about a dozen times in the Bible. It is generally in the context of Godís covenant promise to the patriarchs of Israel which would be fulfilled in their "seed." (Exodus 2:2, 4; 3:16; 6:3, 8; 33:1; Deuteronomy 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; Numbers 32:11; 2 Kings 13:33; Jeremiah 33:26) This later verse reads: "If it was not a fact that I had appointed my own covenant of the day and night, the statutes of heaven and earth, so too I would reject even the seed of Jacob and of David my servant, so that I should not take from his seed rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I shall gather their captives and will have pity upon them." These references might support the Nazareneís use of the three patriarchs as metaphor for the "seed" of Israel who would gain entrance into the kingdom/church. (Compare Galatians 3:29; 6:16)

Thus, we do not think it unreasonable that the Nazarene speaks in metaphor using the three patriarchs (as well as Lukeís "all the prophets") to mean the Israelite "seed" who would be "the Jew first" within the kingdom/church of Christ. [NOTE: this is similar to the prophetic use of Davidís name for the Messiah. Compare Ezekiel 34:23, 24; 37:24, 25; Zechariah 12:7; Hosea 3:5; Amos 9:11; Acts 15:16] Note this idea in Romans 1:16, "God's power for salvation to everyone having faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Gentile)."

The prophet Daniel foretells that Jewís will be the first to benefit from Messiahís work. Note Daniel 9:26-27, "And after the sixty-two weeks [33 AD] Mes∑si'ah will be cut off, with nothing for himself. ... And he must keep [the] covenant [with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] in force for the many for one week [seven years from 29-36 AD]; and at the half of the week [33 AD] he will cause [Jewish] sacrifice and gift offering to cease." With the anointing of Jesus the Nazarene in the fall of the year 29 AD a period of grace began so that the Jews would indeed be "first" to taste salvation as Paul states. Most of those Jews to whom Jesus spoke lost the opportunity to enter the "kingdom" (or, congregation). However, most of them lived to "see" other Jews (pictured by the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) eating at the Lordís table in the Kingdom. They also lived to "see" Gentiles from all parts of the earth also gain entrance into the Kingdom following the year 36 AD.

Thus, we feel the texts in Matthew and Luke cannot be used to prove the patriarchs would gain heavenly life in the Kingdom of the Father. (Matthew 13:43) At the end of the day, there is little or nothing within the teachings of the Nazarene to indicate that the ancient worthies would inherit the heavenly kingdom. But, what about Paul?

Paulís Teachings on the Hope of the Patriarchs

We believe it likely that Paul was the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Jews). This letter mentions the patriarchs several times. Indeed, "Abraham" occurs 12 times, "Isaac" 5 times, and "Jacob" 3 times. The hope of these men is discussed in Hebrews chapter 11. Let us examine these for any evidence the ancient worthies would go to heaven.

Hebrews 11:8-10 reads: "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed in going out into a place (land) he was destined to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, although not knowing where he was going. By faith he resided as an alien in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise (of the land). For he was awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which [city] is God." What city might this be? Is any "city" mentioned in Godís promises to Abraham? We cannot find such a city in Genesis in any context regarding the three patriarchs.

Paul does mention a heavenly city in Hebrews 12:22-24, "But you [Jewish saints] have approached a Mount Zion and a city of [the] living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, in general assembly, and the congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens, and God the Judge of all, and the (spirits) of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaks in a better way than Abel's [blood]." Is it fair to state that nothing in these verses would directly point to the ancient worthies as part of this heavenly scene? We understand the "congregation of the firstborn" to be that future Kingdom of Saints who will judge the world. (Daniel 7:27; 1 Corinthians 6:2) Those perfected "spirits" are those Christian saints who have been sanctified by their faith in the blood of Christ.

Though the Jewish Saints had "approached" such a celestial City it was something which was still future. For in Hebrews 13:14 Paul writes, "We do not have here a city [Jerusalem] that continues, but we are earnestly seeking the one to come." This city is very likely the same as that in Hebrews 12:28, " ... seeing that we are to receive a kingdom." But, would the ancient worthies share as inhabitants of this future city?

Hebrews 11:13-16 may point the way, "In faith all these died [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.), although they did not get the [fulfillment of the] promises [inheritance of the land of Canaan], but they saw (these promises) afar off and welcomed them and publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land [of Canaan]. For those [patriarchs] who say such things give evidence that they are earnestly seeking a place of their own. And yet, if they had indeed kept remembering that [place in Ur] from which they had gone forth, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they are reaching out for something better --- of a heavenly (source). Hence the God is not ashamed of them, to be called upon as their God, for He prepared a City for them." Nothing here precisely states these ancient worthies will go to heaven. Though there are phrases here which are rendered differently by translators -- generally paraphrasing some parts -- it may be possible that though the ancients longed for the fulfillment of Godís purpose it was perceived that a Celestial City would bring this about. The final verses of chapter 11 clarify the matter somewhat.

Hebrews 11:39, 40 concludes, "And all these [faithful of old], although they had witness borne to them through their faith, did not receive the promise, (for) the God had foreseen something better for us [Christian Saints], so that they (ancient worthies) might not be perfected apart from us." Depending on the exact translation, some would view the "promise" as that original one in Eden -- a paradise earth. Thus, God in the wisdom of his eternal purpose, had purposed beforehand that the Jewish Christian Saints would receive something better than this original Edenic promise.

What does Paul mean by "perfected"? The word "perfect" occurs about nine times in Hebrews. A couple apply to the perfecting of Christ. Most though deal with the justified and sanctified state of the Saints. (Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; 7:19; 9:9, 11; 10:1, 14; 12:23) The Greek word TELOS from which these are drawn means "end" and may be used for mature, complete, perfect, fulfilled. Paul seems to mean that God foresaw an earlier perfection or bringing to completion some group other than those ancient worthies. It seems reasonable that this is the Church. [For more details see the Nazarene Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews.]

That the ancient worthies are of a different order or class is seen in Matthew 19:28, "Truly I say to you (apostles), In the new genesis, when the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Does it seem fair to conclude that there are two groups here? The judges and those judged. Here those judged include the twelve tribes of Israel. This would seem to include all those from "Israel" or Jacob and all those born thereafter, including David and all the prophets. Also, the twelve apostles would not be alone in this judging for Paul shows the Gentile Corinthians would also share. (See 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 20:4, 6)

Revelation 20:4 describes those who are the judges: "And I saw thrones, and there were those who sat down on them, and power of judging was given them. Yes, I saw the souls of [1] those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and [2] those who had worshipped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand. And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years." John sees the judges and he identifies them as belonging to at least two periods: [1] the Christian martyrs, and [2] those Christians who are alive during the history of the Wild Beast when the mark 666 is being enforced upon mankind. (Revelation chapter 13) Nothing here would indicate the "ancient worthies" would share in this, otherwise they would have also been included.

Clearly, the judges must be prepared or perfected before those who are to be judged. Thus, these ancient worthies must wait in sleep until the Church is perfected in its heavenly City, New Jerusalem. Thereafter, "the rest of the dead," including the ancient worthies may be raised to their own judgment. (1 Corinthians 15:23, 24; Revelation 20:5, 12-14)

Just so the Bible teaches that the King will return in his foretold Parousia and thereafter judge his own Household of Faith. (Matthew 24:24-25:46) Later, in what Paul calls "the end" (1 Corinthians 5:24), and what John describes at the end of the Thousand Years, the ancient worthies will be judged and rewarded with everlasting life on earth.

Here on the earth there will already be a "city prepared for them" -- the New Jerusalem. This City will have its tops in the heavens of outer space where now satellites travel around the earth. This City will accommodate Jesus, the angels, and all the Saints --- surely in those lofty upper areas considered "heaven" by the ancients. However, this City has gates through which access may be gained to its "Broadway" -- on the ground floor as it were. Into this City earthlings may enter if they are "holy." (See Revelation chapters 21, 22)

We speculate here, but surely some of those who gain entrance into the City by its gates will include persons like Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, Job, Moses, and many other thousands of "ancient worthies." It such a real way Godís original promise in Eden, as well as to these patriarchs, will be fulfilled. What a blessed time this will be? What communion will obtain between the Saints in the New Jerusalem and the blessed ancient worthies is not declared in the Bible. It seems to create no harm to assume there will be communication and interchange between the judges and those they have judged. [For details on Revelation see the publication Nazarene Apocalypse 2000©.]

There will be those who have a different view or opinion from that contained above. We respectfully acknowledge their right to their own interpretation of matters. We provide this article so that others may examine these different perspectives and draw their own conclusions.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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