It is a popular belief that those who belong to the Messiah will go to Heaven when they die, and remain there forever. But we need to check every doctrine against Scripture to make sure it is really true. (Acts 17:11)
The first principle of Bible interpretation is to let the Bible interpret itself. The only "Bible" in Yeshua's day was the Hebrew Scriptures. What do these foundational writings tell us about Heaven?
"The heaven and the heaven of heavens are YHWH's, but the earth He has given to the sons of men." (Psalm 115:16)
So mankind's assigned dwelling-place is earth. There is mention of a "third heaven" and a "seventh heaven" which do have more of a symbolic significance. But in both Hebrew and the Greek of the New Testament, the term for "Heaven" is no different from "sky", so whichever you hold as an authority, the doctrine does not stand up to scrutiny.
Yeshua told the repentant thief who was dying beside him that he would be with him that same day in Paradise. But he had also said that during the next three days and nights he would be "in the heart of the earth". (Mat. 12:40) He did not ascend to any heavenly altar with his blood of atonement until after the resurrection (John 20:17), so we may surmise that this Paradise where they both went is not in Heaven as such. In Hebrew, what Paradise (pardes) means is an orchard or garden, and in a special sense refers to the restoration of the Garden of Eden in the Messianic Kingdom. Apparently at death, this man simply "awoke" to find himself in that Kingdom, without having sensed the time lapse in between.
John 3:13 tells us, "No one has ascended into heaven". At least at the time John wrote this, no one had ever been in Heaven. No one who had died had gone there.
Yeshua's words at his final Passover (John 14:2) are commonly thought to refer to Heaven:
"In my Father's house are many chambers... I am going to prepare a place for you..." (John 14:2)
(King James says "mansions", but in King James' day that simply meant rooms, not luxurious homes.)
"The Master Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout... The dead in Messiah shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds, to meet the Master in the air, and thus we shall be with the Master forever." (I Thess. 4:16-17).
The Greek word for "air" here means "atmosphere", i.e., the realm of the living and breathing, as contrasted with the dead who had been "under the earth" and are now raised up to join those in the land of the living--not necessarily somewhere up in the sky. And the main point of "meeting the Master in the air" is that we be "forever with him". If this is not our motivation, there is no point discussing the finer details. If it is, then wherever he is, whether in Heaven or on earth when he brings the kingdom here, we can be with him forever. And that, not a "mansion" in Heaven, is what really matters.
What we think of as “spiritual” mostly relates to loving and obeying YHWH, but His commands are concrete. Think of “eternity” not so much as another time or an extension of time, but an unseen dimension. In Hebrew it’s olam—“what is hidden”. That could mean in the distant past or farther ahead than we can see. But where we are now is such a horizon to people in other times or places. So heaven meets earth here, too. It’s always parallel to us, not separate, though we can only see it in our peripheral vision, so to speak.
Yeshua's brother Yaaqov (James), his “successor to the throne”, summarized "true, undefiled religion" as "aiding the widow and orphan in their need, and keeping oneself unspotted by the world". (James 1:27)
That “world”, too, does not refer to the earth, the home we have to preserve for our descendants. When Yaaqov says that whoever befriends the “world” (or more literally, “the order”) makes himself YHWH's enemy (James 4:4), it’s in the context of becoming an insider with the rich while unjustly stepping on others in the process—just one more face of selfishness. So the enemy is not some mysterious demon out there; it’s right within our hearts too. Don’t blame a “devil” for what results from our own attitudes and actions.
In Revelation we see holy people from every tribe and tongue and nation being present around YHWH's throne. But these "clouds" of holy ones also come back with Yeshua to conquer the rebellious nations when he returns to set up his kingdom. So they all end up back on earth, for Yeshua tells us to pray that Yahweh's Kingdom may come "on earth as it is in Heaven". (Matt. 6:10).
The final state of redeemed mankind is this:
"I saw a new heaven and a new earth, because the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... And I... saw the holy city--"'New Jerusalem'--"coming down from Yahweh out of heaven, like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven say, 'Behold, the dwelling place of Yahweh is with men, and He will live with them, and they will be His people, and Yahweh Himself will be with them, and be their Elohim." (Rev. 21:1-3)
Thus mankind's final dwelling place is on earth.
An important principle of ancient Hebraic interpretation of prophecy is "That which has been is that which will be". (Ecclesiastes 1:9) In other words, history (especially Israel's) has a direct correlation with what will occur in the end times. One prophecy about Israel in the latter days is that "David My servant will be prince among them." (Ezekiel 34:24; Jeremiah 30:9) Y'shua, being David's descendant, is thus sometimes referred to as "David". So David's reign is a foreshadowing of Messiah's. The first seven years of David's reign were in Hebron until he was able to move his capital to Jerusalem. This hints that the Messiah will be crowned and begin His reign somewhere other than in Jerusalem.
Immediately after Y'shua said, "In My Father's house are many chambers", he said:
"I am going to prepare a place for you, and if I go..., I will come again and receive you to myself." (Jn. 14:3)
These words are taken from the ancient Hebrew betrothal ceremony, the first stage of a marriage. After this, the groom would go away for an undefined period of time (though the approximate time was known) to build a house or otherwise make all the preparations, then return for His bride, usually at midnight and with an element of surprise ("like a thief"), and they would go to the groom's father's house for the actual wedding and enter a special wedding chamber called a kheder, where they would stay for seven days. After that, they would come out and celebrate a feast with the invited guests, then move to the groom's own residence.
A bridegroom was also seen as a king, so the wedding is Y'shua's coronation day as well. Seven days in the kheder suggest that, as with David, the first seven years of his reign will be in "his Father's House".
Where else do we see a seven-year period in prophecy? In the latter part of Daniel chapter 9:
"[The Prince to Come] will confirm the covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will bring a pause in the sacrifice and offering until the consummation..."
After 69 "weeks" (sets of seven years, thus 483 years), the Messiah did indeed do much to accomplish the "end of sin". But the 70th "week" comes after a long pause on the time-clock--"just before the consummation of the age. During this final "week" the earth will finally be cleansed of wickedness. As with Noah's ark, Yahweh has set aside a special place of safety for His beloved ones during that time:
"Come, my people, enter your CHAMBERS. Close your doors behind you; hide for a little while until the indignation is past." (Isaiah 26:20)
"Chambers" here is kheder, telling us that this is the time of a wedding. "Closing the doors" is a major theme in the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement, a "rehearsal" of the final judgment day. The same theme is seen in Yeshua's parable of the ten virgins. (Matt. 25) "The indignation" is a common synonym for the "birth pangs of the Messiah", this period when men are being pushed to repent before the gates close. But some will not need to experience the pressure or persecution that others will encounter during that time:
"Because you have carefully guarded My order to remain loyal [without swerving amid great temptations], I will also be careful to keep you away from the hour of testing that is to come upon the whole civilized world to prove the quality of those who dwell upon the earth." (Rev. 3:10)
Just before this, many special blessings are promised to "those who overcome". They are permitted to be forerunners--"the choicest "building materials" for His Temple made of "living stones". (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Cor. 3:10-17)
When it is suspected that someone has leprosy, he is to present himself to the priest. (Leviticus 13, 14) Some are cleared immediately, because it is plain from the start that the symptoms are not those of true leprosy (just as selfishness usually leads to sin, but not always).
Who are they? Those who prior to this time of testing both "have faith and are zealous for the Torah" (Acts 21:20 )--""those who keep the commandments and have the testimony of Yeshua." (Rev. 12:17) In James' words, those who have both faith AND works, not just one or the other. Yeshua said those who really love Him prove it by keeping His commandments. (Jn. 14:15) Those who keep the Torah (instruction given through Moses) and direct others to do so will be called "greatest" in His Kingdom. Those who do not will be called "least". (Matt. 5:19)
If the priest cannot determine if the man in question has leprosy, he assigns him a seven-day, quarantined waiting period. Then a final verdict of "clean" or "unclean" is made. David spoke of teaching "sinners" the ways of Yahweh. (Psalm 25:8; 51:13) These are the fence-sitters whom Yahweh has not yet placed in the category of wicked ones (to be destroyed) or righteous ones (to be salvaged). They are given one last grace period. During these seven years, everyone is prodded to make a final decision to be either "hot or cold". By the end, they must be one or the other:
"Do not [yet] seal up the contents of this prophecy, because the time is at hand: whoever is unrighteous, let him go on being unrighteous; whoever is defiled, let him go on being defiled; whoever is righteous, let him go one being righteous; whoever is holy, let him go on being holy." (Rev. 22:10-11)
For seven years the "five virgins" who were not ready for the bridegroom may be allowed to prove, through much suffering, where their true loyalty really lies. The King will return to Jerusalem and rescue these who prove not to have leprosy after all. Though they missed the wedding, they may at least become servants in his Kingdom--"on earth.
So we must conclude that nowhere in Scripture does it say that we will be in Heaven forever. It seems there is a period of seclusion for Israel in the Father's presence, but this seems to simply be a special place of being hidden away in safety, away from the kingdoms and armies of the earth, as suggested in Daniel 11:41--not a place up in the air. (cf. Rev. 12:13-17; Mark 13:14; Isaiah 35)
If so, His Dwelling Place will still be there among them, as in the Tabernacle of old. Indeed, before Y'shua establishes his throne in Jerusalem, the reunited Houses of Israel and Judah will together crown "David" (probably through his descendant, but maybe the resurrected David himself) as their common king in this set-aside place. (Ezek. 37:24; Isaiah 16:1-5)
Then they will not just be in the "Father's house", but will be His Dwelling Place made of "living stones". And THAT is what He desires most.