We also found that everyone went to Sheol when they died, but they went to different sections within Sheol depending upon their faith in the coming Messiah. After the Messiah came, died, rose, and ascended, we find those who put their faith in the Messiah who came would now be with him in Heaven when they died. Since the entire Bible is true, then something had to have happened to make both of these passages of Scripture true. Somehow, the righteous went from being in Sheol to being in the third Heaven. So, how did it happen?
There is no one Scripture reference that tells us what happened, but there is enough pieces of evidence throughout Scripture which we can assemble into a logical scenario of the chain of events. Let’s explore that chain of events.
Jesus told the thief on the cross he would be with Jesus in paradise that very day (Lk 23:43). We discovered that because Jesus went to Sheol, paradise came to Sheol that day. The long awaited hope all the righteous in Sheol had was now being fulfilled. Joy had come to a non-joyous place. In order to fulfill Scripture, Jesus was in Sheol for three days (Mt 12:40). By rising from the dead, it showed he now possessed the power over death and Sheol (Rv 1:18). Others had died and been resurrected, but they died again. Jesus Christ rose and never died again. He is the Hope for our eternal future (Ro 6:5).
Jesus rose from the dead early on a Sunday (Mt 28:1, 6). Because of the rush to bury Jesus before the coming Passover and the Sabbath arrived (Lk 23:54), the women who had come to the crucifixion did not get to prepare Jesus’ body properly by Jewish standards (Mt 27:59-60; Lk 23:53). Several women came to anoint his body once the Sabbath was over, and they could again travel to the tomb. Art usually depicts three women coming to the tomb that morning, but there were many other women with them (Lk 24:10). These women find the heavy stone already rolled away from the tomb’s entrance (Mk 16:4). Mary Magdalene gets to tomb first (Jn 20:1), but goes off on her own in sadness; she heads back to town slowly. The other women see the angels who tell them to tell Peter and the other disciples Jesus is alive (Mt 28:6; Mk 16:7; Lk 24:6). The women leave; one group runs to the disciples (Mt 28:8); the others travel with Mary (Mt 28:9), Jesus’ mother, who is likely confused and trying to understand the angelic message.
The disciples did not believe the women, but Peter and John ran to the tomb (Lk 24:11-12; Jn 20:3) to check for themselves. When Mary Magdalene saw Peter and John approaching, she ran to them and told them someone took Jesus’ body (Jn 20:2). Mary Magdalene likely ran back to the tomb with them. Peter and John entered the tomb; Peter left confused; John believed (Jn 20:4-9). Peter and John left; Mary Magdalene remained at tomb (Jn 20:10-11). Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mk 16:9; Jn 20:14), but told her he had not yet ascended back to the Father (Jn 20:17). Mary Magdalene went back and told the disciples she had seen Jesus (Jn 20:18).
What was this conversation with Mary Magdalene about?
A sin offering was considered most holy (Ex 30:10; Lv 10:17), and was to be used for atonement (Hb 9:7). Christ was now going to present himself to God the Father for the eternal atonement (Hb 9:12) of mankind. Perhaps something like the following occurred.
Jesus returned to Sheol and announced to all those in Sheol who had died, and, by faith, had looked forward to his coming, “It is time! Come.” And then they were gone. This part of Sheol was now empty. The barrier dissolved, no longer needed. Jesus transported the righteous from Sheol to heaven with him: i.e., led captivity captive (Ep 4:8-10; Ps 68:18). That is why Paul was able to say that now to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2Co 5:8). Christ’s death created a paradigm shift among the living and the dead.
“They’re here! They’re here!” various angles were telling each other. They all scrambled to line the way that led to God’s throne. This was a once in an eternity experience! They were not going to miss it. Jesus led the procession, and behind him, from Abel to the thief on the cross who Christ had promised to be with Him in Paradise just a short time earlier, followed behind Jesus. As Jesus passed, angels genuflected and bowed their heads to show their respect to this One, their Beloved, who had been willing to leave this beautiful, wonderful, home and go to earth to pay the high price God required for mankind’s sin, and be willing to be forever changed from spirit to human form. Jesus headed to God’s throne, to the true Most Holy Place (Hb 9:11-12). When the processional reached the throne, Jesus stated, “Father, I present myself and the blood I have shed to you as the payment to purchase these here with me who have looked forward, by faith, to this day as we had prophesied even before our creation of mankind.” God stated, “My Son, I accept your sacrifice and your blood as payment for these here and for those who, also by faith, will also become yours. No longer is a sacrifice needed. Your payment satisfies the debt due once and for all.” He then turned His attention to those who accompanied Jesus. “My children, I welcome you. Your faith in your Messiah is rewarded. His blood has covered your sins, and I only see you through Him. You are accepted.” At that, all of the angels stood and began to applaud these who had now come to be with them in Heaven, and some of the angels started singing praises to their unique and awesome God.
Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, and God, the first person of the Trinity, continued their conversation. “My Son, go now and finish your work. You have gathered one sheepfold, now is the time to start gathering the second. Go and show the Adversary you have not only paved the way for mankind to overcome their sin, but you have also overcome death itself. Go fulfill our prophecy to Eve that your death is comparable to that of a bruised heel. As a bruise is short-lived, so has been your death. Then the Adversary will know the rest of the prophecy will come to pass. You have served as a prophet, you will now serve all those that trust in your work by faith as their High Priest before Me, and you will one day serve as their King. Our prophecy cannot be thwarted. Go, My Son. I look forward to your return.” At that, as the angles still sang, Jesus was gone.
Jesus next appears to his mother and the other women (Mt 28:9). These women returned to tell the disciples Jesus would meet them in Galilee (Mt 28:10). How could the above have happened between the time of Jesus speaking to Mary Magdalene and him appearing to his mother before she got back to the disciples? Well, Heaven seems to be outside of our normal sense of time (2Pt 3:8). Therefore, one can’t correlate our sense of what can get accomplished with what God can accomplish.
Jesus, later in the day, appeared to Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Mk 16:12; Lk 24:15), and later appeared to all of the disciples (Mt 28:16; Mk 16:14; Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19).
So, the righteous were moved from Sheol to Heaven because of Christ’s payment of atonement for their sins and their faith in him coming to do just that. We now will be with him forever if we accept what he did utilizing that same faith. They looked forward, we look backward. But our faith in Christ is the same. Praise His Name.
Meaning of Son of God
He Will Rise