Before Jesus, no one went to heaven when they died. No one even considered such a possibility. Rather, people went below to a place called Sheol. Everyone went there – good and bad. This is what the Bible records.
While there were many things about the resurrection of Jesus Christ that were startling to the minds of antiquity, perhaps the most startling was that resurrection meant being raised not just back to earth – but all the way to heaven! Our modern minds have been hearing about resurrection and heaven for hundreds of years and so we’re dulled to the striking sound of the idea. It was staggering to first century minds and explains much of their wildness of joy at the hearing of the gospel.
When the ancients lost a loved one, they had a hope of seeing them again if they had a hope of resurrection. Prior to Jesus, however, that hope had no specific shape. No one knew what a resurrection would look like. When Jesus said that in the resurrection that humans would not marry and would be like angels in heaven, people were stunned. Aside from the astounding glory of it, they now had a defined hope for seeing deceased relatives – it would be in heaven.
Therefore, death which had previously been the ultimate judgment of man’s sin, now became to the doorway into an eternity with God in the heavens. Oh, can’t you hear the crowds listening to the apostles teeming with excitement over this turn of events! Through Jesus Christ, God had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a way that has never been equalled…nor ever shall. Oh my, oh my, what a God we serve!