Did People Who Lived Before Jesus Go To Heaven?

I’m reading a kids book I got for my kids for Easter and in it is this statement that stopped me in my tracks:  “Before Jesus died, no one could go to Heaven.  Jesus changed all of that on the first Easter.”  From The Miracle of Easter by Jean M. Malone.

I immediately thought, That’s just not true!  You can’t tell me all those people are in Hell?  Abraham, Sarah, David, Solomon, etc.  What about Isaiah?  You can’t tell me he’s not in Heaven!

Or are they?

So I set my mind to find out.  But this wasn’t as easy as you might think.  There are a lot of websites out there who “answer” this question but they are really just forums or people guessing the answer.  Most had no scripture to back it up.

Here’s the summation of my thought process based on what I found and I will need your help on this because I am still unsure.

People before Jesus had faith.  They believed in God who dwelled in Heaven and they believed they would be there.  They atoned for their sins through various sacrifices and offerings ordained by God.  Those who lived after the prophets knew of a Messiah to come and they believed in the Messiah before He walked the Earth.

If people (before Jesus, during Jesus, after Jesus) believed in the One, True God and accepted everything God did for them with all of their hearts, then God had a place for them in Heaven.  But only after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven himself would these people rise and take their spots.  Jesus had to be first.  Jesus atoned for those before, during, and after Him, providing the cleansing needed to be with God. Jesus died for everyone before and since so we could all go to Heaven and be pure enough to be with our God.

Jesus himself in speaking to Nicodemus says, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man…the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  John 3:13-14

Where did these people go then while waiting for Jesus to rise from the dead?  Several websites said there was a special place they went kind of like purgatory as they awaited to be fully atoned for.  To me, this isn’t as important as their final destination:  the fact they are in Heaven now.

Like my post yesterday, it all comes down to faith:  faith to be saved, faith you’ll go to Heaven because you have faith in Jesus and accept His sacrifice, faith in God’s promises, and faith in God’s words (through the prophets before the written Bible).

God knew He’d send His son BEFORE He even created the Earth.  You have to have faith He had a plan for those before Jesus.  God is just.  He wouldn’t create a system of atonement that didn’t apply to all of His Creation (all of mankind).  “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

Hebrews 9, 10, and 11 are fascinating with regards to the Old and New Covenant, Christ’s sacrifice for all, and faith.

Here are my favorite sites on this matter.  I’m still not 100 % sure about this with so many different view points out there so I’m hoping all you BSF’ers out there know about this and where to find it in the Bible!!!

This website has a whole lay out on the question with many Biblical quotes.  It’s very hard to read though due to the bright colors:


This site is a forum that starts out on the question but as usual wanders off but I’m including it because the beginning is good and it has Biblical references as well:


Finally, I like the simplicity of this answer.  It draws logical conclusions without heavy thoughts:


So, the kid’s book had been right.  The key word was could.  No one could go to Heaven.  That doesn’t mean they didn’t go to Heaven after Jesus.  This was definitely not explained and only confused my kids (and me!).

I never would have thought about this if this book hadn’t of brought it up.  Aren’t books wonderful?

31 thoughts on “Did People Who Lived Before Jesus Go To Heaven?

  1. What a thought provoking question. I am sorry I can’t contribute anything meaningful but I want to follow the thread. AtoZ, you are such a blessing to me?

  2. I’m not a Christian, but from my study of literature I thought that there was the theory of The Harrowing of Hell, that when Christ died, in the days before the ressurection he descended to hell and unchained the non sinners. I actually asked a religious studies teacher if they looked at these apocrypha at Advanced level in schools and I was told they didn’t look at unpleasant things like that. I don’t think it’s an especially unpleasant concept. I just think she hadn’t heard of it.

  3. The godly who die before the cross go to SHEOL.
    Christ went there briefly Ps 16:10
    Eph 4:8-10 At the time of the resurrection Christ brought the souls of all godly in Sheol with him to heaven. Sheol is also referred to as “Abraham’s Bosom” and “Paradise”.
    This is my understanding.

  4. Try reading luke 16 esp 19-31
    Sounds to me like there was different places or they wouldn’t be where they were…

  5. I have wondered about this for some time.
    In Luke 23:40-44
    When the criminal was crucified with Jesus he asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom. Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
    I take paradise to be heaven.
    Luke 23:40-43 (NIV, ©2011)
    40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
    42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]”
    43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

    I was taught my first year in BSF that Enoch and Elijah went straight to heaven
    Genesis 5:24 (NIV©2011)
    24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away
    Genesis 5:24 (Amplified Bible).
    24And Enoch walked [in habitual fellowship] with God; and he was not, for God took him [home with Him].
    2 Kings 2:1
    [ Elijah Taken Up to Heaven ] When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
    2 Kings 2:11
    As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
    Hope this was helpful

  6. As my Bible teacher explained to us – This is the way she believed which makes sense to me.
    The grave consists of 3 compartments (Luke 16:21-25) -Paradise (Bosom of Abraham), Hades (place of Lost spirits or unsaved), and the Abyss (the bottomless pit).
    All believers who died before Jesus went to the Bosom of Abraham (Eph 4:8-10).
    Then when Jesus died and was raised, they were raised to life (wtih Him (Matthew 27:52-53).
    Then at the 1,000 reign, the dragon and Satan are bound and locked in the Abyss (Rev 20:1).
    In Rev. 20:11-15 the dead (unbelievers) in Hades are judged at the Great White Throne Judgment. Then thrown into the Lake of Fire.
    Jude 6 the fallen angels are also thrown in the Lake of Fire.
    Hope this explains it for you.

  7. Yes I agree that the people that lived before Christ and had faith like Abraham did indeed go to heaven. Look at the theif on the cross, he went to heaven with Christ.

  8. Research your bible for “Abraham’s Busom.”. You’ll find it in the new testament. It’s also known as Paradise (not the one with Adam & Eve).

    1. I remember a pastor explaining us that those like Abraham etc. had been in so called limbo (or limbus patri) until Jesus came for them and brought them to Heaven. This happened between Easter Friday and Sunday.

  9. read I Thessalonians 4:13-18 The dead in Christ shall arise first.
    Luke 23:43..Jesus told the thief on the cross, today you will be with me in paradise! We don’t know where paradise is, but wherever Christ is, that’s where we will be.

    If you google, The Dead in Christ Shall Arise. or Absent from the body, present with the Lord,you will see several sights to read. Confusing I know. But, sometimes the Lord won’t give us all of the answers in our life here on earth. Continue to have fun with the Word and try not to get bogged down! I’m still studying and I’m 63 now!

  10. Sheol is a hebrew name meaning place of the dead, translated Hades in the Greek New Testament. It is divided into two sections, Abraham’s bossom and hell/ lowest pit. Paradise was situated in Sheol before the death and resurrection of Christ, there was a great gulf fixed between Abraham’s bossom/paradise and the place of torment/hell. John 14, Jesus said in my fathers house are many mansions, i go and prepare a place for u meaning the new paradise, 2 corithians 12 Paul was taken to see the new paradise now situated in third heaven. Abraham and all the righteous were transferred to heaven at the ascession of Christ Jesus.

  11. What about the humans born into heathen, tribes (before Christ) in the regions of the earth where there were no prophets? How is it just to condemn those who never heard of God?


    1. Hey John,

      I am not condemning anyone. I am merely quoting the Bible. God is the one who judges and condemns. Read Romans 1:20 and see post HEREfor more information.

      1. I should have worded it differently. I know it my heart that God is loving and just. He sent his only, son to pay for what we have done. Praise be to Christ our SAVIOUR! The main reason that I posted that question is because in all my years in church I have never heard a sermon on this topic. My son will be going off to college next fall and I know from experience that he will meet very, intelligent, people who are non believers many of whom are very, knowledgeable about things in the bible that Christians are not taught. My son is a Christian and he does stand up for what he believes. When this subject came up between he and I, my answer to him was that I really could not specifically point to a scripture on humans who never had the opportunity to hear about God before Christ came to this world. My belief based on what the bible does say about our Father being all, loving and just, is that these people I speak of are his children and somehow (even though there is no written history about it) had or will have an opportunity to be shown the way. God bless you and have a happy new year!

  12. What about people who had never heard of God, such as the very early humans, alive thousands of years before Christ. They didn’t worship anything. Where do they end up?

  13. @Bill & John, Romans 1 tells us that God made His invisible attributes known through nature so that no one has an excuse. Yet men (heathen people’s who never heard the gospel) chose to worship creation instead of the creator. Gen tells us that God warned Cain about sin prior to his killing Abel and yet Cain went ahead and disobeyed. People are not going to hell for lack of knowledge, but for ignoring, or rebelling against the knowledge they do have. I believe that all mankind has had some revelation, however small or great, of God and if they have chosen to humbly “pursue it”, God has provided them with more and more until they have come to know HIm – however, imperfect such knowledge may be. The ethiopian baptized by Phillip or the Macedonian man are examples of men whom God brought from little to complete revelation as they humbly accepted the knowledge they were given. Those of us living in Christian lands have been given much, and we should be thankful, yet know that our neighbors who reject Christ will bear a heavier burden, for to whom much is given, much will be demanded. Sorry for the lack of bible refs. My 2 cents.

  14. Romans 2:9-16 I believe will help support your conclusion that God declares all those who are righteous, and obeyed the law that was written on their hearts will go to heaven. This includes the good people who died after Jesus who were not introduced to Jesus.

  15. Now that you have made it clear who and how those before Jesus get to heaven, please explain where the children who are too young to comprehend and the mentally deficiant go and at what age they are able to decide wheteher or not to believe. Also, do the unborn go to heaven or must you be born first so you can be a born again Christian?

    1. Peter said [paraphrase], at a time when Christ had died and gone to heaven, “For David did not ascend to the heavens. He is dead and buried and his grave is with us to this day”. How do I arrive at that David is in heaven?

  16. First of all; how could a G-d who is neither good nor bad, but all of the things involved, have you go to hell? What about the good persons who live all over the earth? Because they did not know of the Torah, but had a guide of their own, they would go to hell? This is not the G-d who introduced Himself to Humanity at Sinai explained it.He said He is One, and there is no other. Also, He alone, was from the beginning, and there is no other. So what we have is Hellenic religion, unpressed on a Torah formatThis post is anti-any religion, but to clarify what these people thought, and believed.(accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth of.
    accept the statement of (someone) as true.
    be convinced by trust have confidence in consider honest consider truthful regard as true accept as true accept be convinced by give credence to credit give credit to trust put confidence in count on rely on depend on swallow swallow something hook line and sinker fall for go for buy take as gospel) I take what G-d said, which the Gospel contradicts. Gospel; gods are the Trinity and Lucifer, the Greek god of the under-world, for example. All who live nominally decent lives, and atone for wrong doing Murder is out, because you cannot get forgiveness from a dead person, but stealing is possibly in, as you can return or pay for what you stole, and seek forgiveness. Gospel way, I see as a lazy way to do what you are responsible for.

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