And I really believe, and this after years and years of Bible study, that the moment any saint of God died, they went immediately to heaven...whether Old Testament or New Testament. Some people, some Medieval theologians taught that when an Old Testament saint died he went into what was later called limbus patrum(?), the limbo of the fathers. He went into a sort of holding tank, a sort of a nowhere place where you waited until Christ died. And after Christ died and went to heaven, then you could get into heaven. But I don't think the Old Testament really verifies that. I think there is nothing to indicate in the Old Testament that there was a holding tank, or a waiting place. I think when an Old Testament saint died, he went into the presence of God. When a New Testament Christian dies, he goes into the presence of God.
For example, if we were to look at the Psalms, just as a couple of illustrations. In Psalm 16 it says in verse 11, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life." Now here is the psalmist hopeful as he faces death. He says, "The Lord will not let his flesh see corruption. He will not abandon his soul to the grave or Sheol, but You will make known to me the path of life." Then this statement, "In Thy presence is fullness of joy, in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever." The anticipation of the psalmist was that leaving this world he would go into the presence of God at His right hand to find pleasure forever more and fullness of joy.
Look at Psalm 23. In Psalm 23, that wonderful shepherd's Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name sake." Then this, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for Thou art with me." There is no place that you go when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death where God is not with you and heaven is where God is. "Thy rod, Thy staff, they comfort me, Thou doest prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows, surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life," and then what? "Then I will dwell in limbo." No, there's no limbo here. "Then I will dwell in the...what?...the house of the Lord." And where is the house of the Lord? Where does God dwell? He dwells in heaven.
The hope of the psalmist was to be absent from the body to be present with the Lord. Exactly what the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. So I believe that when an Old Testament saint died, he went into the presence of God. If you look, for example, at Matthew 17 and the transfiguration of Christ, you will remember that on that mount where Christ was transfigured Moses and Elijah appeared. They appeared. Keep in mind that Christ had not yet died and had not yet risen from the dead and yet there were Moses and Elijah obviously...obviously safe in the presence of God and brought to that wonderful scene.
Take, for example, Luke 16 where you have Lazarus, the beggar, who died, it says, and when he died he was seen in Abraham's bosom. And both he and Abraham are seen in a place together, a place of blessedness, I believe a place in the presence of God.
Now if you understand what Abraham's bosom means, or Abraham's chest, it might help. The picture is...is a picture of an eastern banquet where they would recline. That was the way they did it. They had couches and a banquet was a very elongated prolonged event where you reclined and you ate and there was feasting and celebration and music and conversation and a banquet could go on for a long time. In fact, a wedding could go on for seven days of eating and eating and...and the guests would stay in the home. And so, reclining at the table was very common. The configuration of the reclining caused the head of one person to be against the chest of another one. For example, let's say that Abraham is reclining this way and Lazarus is reclining this way, Lazarus will be talking to Abraham from just about the level of his chest. That's the imagery. And if you were sitting across the table, it would appear to you as if almost Lazarus had his head upon the chest of Abraham.
Very much the same way that it was John the Apostle who was placing his head on the bosom of Christ at the Last Supper. Having that reclining position overlapping their heads, they would hold conversations that way. You certainly didn't want to hold a conversation with someone's feet and so you would position yourself where two heads were together and then two heads were together over here. And so, to be in Abraham's bosom meant to be reclining at a banqueting table in a celebration of joy. And the picture is the presence of God, the house of God, the table of celebration, that's the idea.
And furthermore, the most honored man in the history of the Jews was what man? Abraham. And if you were reclining near the chest of Abraham, you were seated next to the guest of honor. And here is a beggar who spent all his life with absolutely nothing having personal intimacy with the greatest person who ever lived up to that time...with the exception of John the Baptist. But in Jewish history, the greatest. Here is this no- account beggar reclining next to the guest of honor. The picture then is a picture of a banquet, a picture of a celebration, a picture--if you will--of the house of God and the feast that He lays out for those who have come into His presence. Lazarus may have had a diseased earthly life and he had to beg to exist, but here was the place of highest honor with the greatest father of Israel, namely Abraham. And so you have that place called "Abraham's bosom."
You also have another term used to speak of heaven in the Old Testament or in the time before the resurrection. Look with me for just a moment at Luke 23 and we'll go on from this particular point, but I want to establish it in your mind. Luke 23, now do you remember the thief on the cross? That...this is the account of that. And he says to Jesus in verse 42, "Remember me when You come in Your Kingdom." And He said to him...now keep this one in your mind, we're going to come back to this..."Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in...what?...paradise." Where's that? Somebody says, "Well, that's the same limbo." No, where is paradise? Well, you're going to be there today, you're going to be with Me there today, it's not a post-resurrection place, then, cause Jesus doesn't come out of the grave for a couple of more days, this is paradise. Now what is paradise?
Well, to find out all you need to do is see if you can find paradise somewhere else in the Scripture. And we can in 2 Corinthians 12. This is long after the resurrection, long after the crucifixion. And Paul says, verse 2, "I know a man," he's speaking of himself, "in Christ who 14 years ago whether in the body I do not know or out of the body I do not know." In other words, he had an experience that he really doesn't understand. God knows. "Such a man was caught up to the third heaven. He said, The Lord took me to heaven." He says, "I know how such a man whether in the body or apart from the body, I don't know, God knows, was caught up into...what?...paradise." So whatever paradise is it was before the resurrection and it's still after the resurrection. And the only conclusion you can make is that paradise is heaven. Abraham's bosom is heaven, paradise is heaven. Wherever a saint goes when he dies, it's the presence of God, it's heaven, it's the celebration time, it's the feast time, it's the Father's house and He lays out the banquet and you're there for all the joy that God can possibly provide His saints. Whether you're before or after the resurrection, I believe absence from the body is present with the Lord. I don't think the Old Testament saints went into a waiting place, a holding tank, I think they went into the presence of God. "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever," so says the psalmist.