Mankind, as a whole, believes that, following this mortal experience, there is another world, another life awaiting us.
The Scriptures explain that God, who created us, “has put eternity” in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We each anticipate that there is more than what we can see with the eyes and that our spiritual existence will continue into eternity.
Jesus, who came to Earth from Heaven, affirmed that there was a life to come, teaching that there would be a general resurrection of men, saying, “the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28-29; NKJV)
The personal resurrection of Jesus from the dead affirmed the truthfulness of His teaching and thus we trust in the promise of Christ that He will return one day and take His followers to an eternal home in Heaven. (cf. John 14:1-4)
But, if we trust that Jesus knows what He was talking about concerning the reality of a life to come, then we must also trust that Jesus knew what He was talking about concerning who would actually find a home in Heaven. It seems as if many want to trust the promise of Jesus that there is a life after this life, but they figure they can ignore what He says concerning how one obtains that life. Quite a few people take for granted that Heaven will be open to all and sundry, even though the One who came down from Heaven, being the same One who will take men with Him into Heaven, has said that it is not so.
So who did Jesus say would be in Heaven? It is a question worth answering for those who want to be with Christ eternally.
Jesus said that those who did God’s will would enter His Kingdom. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven … I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21, 23; NKJV) Those who harden their hearts, rebelling against the commands of God should not expect that same God to welcome them into His eternal home. Rather, as the Scriptures remind us, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34)
Jesus said that those who were born again would enter the Kingdom and be saved. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5 NKJV) and “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16a) Baptism, that is immersion in water in the name of Christ for the remission of sins (cf. Acts 2:38) brings us into Christ, and into contact with the death of Christ, apart from which, there is no forgiveness of sins. (cf. Romans 6:1-5; Acts 4:12)
Jesus said that those who practiced love for others would have eternal life. He explained this love through the illustrations of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. He also said that those who failed to do such things would have no part of the heavenly reward. (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)
Jesus said that those who are prepared for His coming would be the ones who would enter into life, while those who were ill prepared, and caught off guard when He returned for them, would fail to enter in. He explained this truth with the Parable of the Ten Virgins (cf. Matthew 25:1-13) and concluded that His followers should always watch and be ready for that day.
There should be no doubt that Jesus wants as many as possible to be in Heaven; this is, after all, why he died for the sins of mankind. But Heaven is the realm of righteous God, and men must have their sins forgiven to obtain it. To obtain this mercy, we must seek the Will of God in our lives, join ourselves to Christ in Baptism, live as servants to others in love, and always be living in such a manner as to be ready when the Lord returns. If we do these things, then when someone asks, “Who will be in Heaven,” we can say with full honesty, “I will, through the grace of God and the blood of Christ.”
The church of Christ is comprised of individuals who are seeking that heavenly home by submitting ourselves to the One who died for us, and we invite you to join us on that journey, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.