Looking at the cross references for John 12:34,

34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

I found several regarding the eternal kingdom of Christ:

Psalm 89:4

‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah

Psalm 110:4

The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Isaiah 9:7

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end...

Ezekiel 37:25

They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.

Luke 1:33

and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Given the wealth of such references, and the seemingly common misconception that the Messiah would bring about an earthly kingdom, it made me wonder: What did the Jews of that time know about heaven, or indeed, about the afterlife? Was it a very concrete thing, was their picture of it accurate (whether somewhat primitive or full and detailed), and was it based on Scripture or on tradition?

  • Why is it a misconception that the brings about an earthly kingdom? "nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”" (Luke 17:21 NKJV)
    – Decrypted
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 15:45

2 Answers 2


I believe the best way to approach this question is to start with the following verse Acts 23:8 (RSVCE)

8For the Sad′ducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.

Thus some Jews in Jesus' time believed in spirits. When one died, their soul went down to Sheol.

All however, did not suffer the same fate, the wicked one, cut off from his people, was tormented in Hades while the righteous one was gathered to his people, into the bosom of Abraham. [cf. Luke 16:23]

Heaven for them was the dwelling-place of God and where his throne was, the angels also resided there, and it was also the firmament, the region in which sun, moon, and stars are placed, and from where rain, the hail, and the lightning came. [cf. HEAVEN | Jewish Encyclopedia]

It should be noted that the Torah focuses on "Olam Ha Ze," which means "this world." That was the main focus for the Jews.

As for the kingdom of heaven? With reference to the Messianic age, it applies to the time when God will be the sole King on earth, in opposition to the kings of worldly powers. [cf. HEAVEN | Jewish Encyclopedia]

Further reading

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cf. Ancient Hebrew Cosmology | Michæl Paukner.

  • Thanks for the answer. The diagram is neat. Is it under one of the links you included?
    – omannay
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 19:39
  • @omannay You are most welcome. I have added the link to the source of the picture.
    – user13992
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 20:52

The Nation of Israel at the time Jesus was preaching, was well versed in the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Psalms, and from those books we find the following Scriptures:

Deuteronomy 26:15 KJV Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.

Psalms 11:4 KJV The Lord [is] in his holy temple, the Lord's throne [is] in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.

Isaiah 66:1 KJV Thus saith the Lord, The heaven [is] my throne, and the earth [is] my footstool: where [is] the house that ye build unto me? and where [is] the place of my rest?

From these Scriptures it would cause one to believe that Heaven was up, as seemingly most people believe it to be today. The Israelites on the other hand might have believed that God's repose was in the Temple based on:

1st. Kings 8:10 and 11 KJV And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 So that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.

And even though the Temple had been destroyed it had been rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah. However the presence of the LORD is more connected to the Mercy seat which is the lid to the ark of the covenant, and that disappeared at about the time of the Captivity of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar according to this article extracted from http://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/when-did-the-ark-of-the-covenant-disappear-faq.htm:

When did the Ark of the Covenant disappear? The last historical mention of the Ark in Scripture is in Second Chronicles chapter 35, where King Josiah (who reigned in Judah c. 640-609 BC) asked the Levites to return the Ark to the Temple where Solomon had originally housed it after completing and dedicating the Temple sometime in the 10th century BC (Second Chronicles, chapter 5). There is no mention as to why the Levites had removed the Ark in the first place, nor is there any indication as to whether or not the Levites acquiesced to King Josiah's request.

In the apocryphal book (that is, noncanonical book) of Second Maccabees, chapter 2 (verses 1-8), we read that the prophet Jeremiah "following a divine revelation, ordered that the tent [i.e. the tabernacle of meeting] and the ark [i.e. the ark of the covenant] should accompany him and how he went off to the mountain which Moses climbed to see God's inheritance [i.e. Mt. Nebo; see Deuteronomy 31:1-4]. When Jeremiah arrived there, he found a room in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense; then he blocked up the entrance." (vv. 4-5) There is some debate as to whether or not this second-hand account (see v. 1) is trustworthy. - See more at: http://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/when-did-the-ark-of-the-covenant-disappear-faq.htm#sthash.MIz6AGn2.dpuf

Since it appears to be generally accepted that Heaven is the abode of God, Heaven would not se a specific place, but would be wherever God is, and not where he goes to.

And since we have no direct information, as to what was the general attitude of the Israelites at that time, any speculation as to their concept of where Heaven actually exists would be just that speculation, unless there is some artifact which can further enlighten us.

Hope this helps.

  • Thanks for the answer. So the texts that the Jews of Jesus' day had access to did not actually give any clear picture of what heaven would be like for those who were in Him? Also, would I be correct in assuming that they had access to all of the books of the Old Testament?
    – omannay
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 19:41
  • @omannay To answer that question would be pure speculation on my part since I have done no research in that area, but I have been told that there was a period of 400 years where there was no new word from the Lord. If that is true all of the books would have been written, but whether they were compiled is worth asking as a new question.
    – BYE
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 20:58
  • The jews at the time of Jesus, did not have access to the KJV and its poor translation of Hebrew concepts...... Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 10:50
  • @IanRingrose So what does that have to do with the price of rice in China?
    – BYE
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 18:08
  • You can't use the choose of words in the KJV to say what they would have believed. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 18:09

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