After Jesus rose from the dead, we would expect Him to take to heaven the good, and send the rest spiraling into hell, right? That is, certainly, what the disciples thought would happen.
They also thought He would establish His kingdom on earth, right there in Jerusalem. But Jesus didn’t do that, either.
Instead, Jesus mysteriously showed up to His disciples at random moments in random places for various reasons across 40 days. Then He ascended into the clouds while His disciples were watching, wondering what to do next.
Some angels told them to go back to the city and wait until they would receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus told them that, when receiving the Holy Spirit, they would preach with understanding and power. So, though confused, afraid, tired, they did as they were told.
We haven’t seen Jesus since He ascended. What is Jesus doing? Didn’t He fix things, or save us, or do something positive when He was here? This world certainly doesn’t seem fixed. Murder, hate, disease, evil, pestilence. Where is God in all this?
Even though it seems like everything should have been finished at the cross, there are actually more pieces in the work of salvation than just the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus Himself said as much. On the final night before Christ was crucified, He was eating with His disciples the famous last supper. At that time, Jesus said some words that most of us sooner or later have heard (perhaps at a funeral?):
“Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
Now, if this is the same God who created the universe by speaking the words and BAM! it existed, then it seems like it shouldn’t take 2000 years to build a few billion or trillion houses. But Jesus isn’t spending His time building houses. (Besides, the text says that there are, already, many dwelling places in His Father’s house.)
God is, yes, preparing a place for us. Meaning that He wants us to dwell with him (Revelation 21:3), but something in the heavens needs to be prepared.
What is it?
As we saw, God became human so that He could completely understand humanity’s joys and woes. He lived a perfect life, never breaking the law. In fact, not only was He perfect in not breaking God’s law—He was perfect in fulfilling it. He then died in humanity’s place, nailing our sins to the cross.
When Jesus rose from the dead, He spent 40 days teaching the disciples and others everything that the Old Testament had said about Him and salvation (Acts 1:3). He made sure that the small group understood things because He put the entire message of love and hope to the world in their hands (more on that crazy idea later). Then, Christ went to heaven to further unite heaven with earth.
After Lucifer spread lies about God and accused God of a self-centered authority, there were many questions in the minds of angels and others in the universe about these accusations. Though their questions about God and His love were answered, for the most part, at the cross, other questions lingered. Such as about humans. God was going to bring a bunch of “former sinners” to heaven? To the angels and others in the universe, this could be a potentially scary prospect. Not to say that they didn't have faith in God, but God is seeking to leave the universe free from questions so that every knee will bow in full agreement.
So, they wondered: Who should come to heaven? Who should not? Was heaven a safe place for repentant sinners? Would they pollute heaven with lies, as Satan had done? Would evil arise in one of them? And what is the appropriate sentence for the selfish people on earth?
Trust the Process
There were so many other questions, too, that needed answering. But now God was better able to answer these questions because He could identify with the human experience and advocate appropriately for each human case. Yes, you read that right. Every human life that has ever existed would be reviewed. All the questions by all intelligent beings in the universe would be answered. And judgment would begin with those God planned to bring to heaven. So, the books were opened (Daniel 7:9, 10).
Jesus had work to do. One part of the job was on earth; one part was in heaven. He was the perfect person to do this because He could identify with people in both places. On earth, He was to help this small group of Christ-followers, Christians, tell the rest of the world that they could be saved and live with God if they wanted (Matthew 24:14). In heaven, He was also going to judge the world (John 5:22, Acts 10:42) in the presence of the Universe and advocate for those who would be safe to bring to heaven and live forever. Jesus, their high priest, can perfectly understand every experience of humanity (Hebrews 2:17, 18). He best, in an open and authentic judgment, can explain each person’s case before the bar of heaven.
God already knew who He would bring to Heaven. He had no obligation to prove His decisions to anyone. But that is what makes God different from all we know on earth. God is love. He wants to open up His decisions to the scrutiny of the universe so that all will sing His praises. Every tongue will confess, and every knee will bow before a God who is who He says He is and does what He says that He will do. Even the condemned will admit God’s justice and love (Romans 14:9-12).
This work of salvation and judgment was set out everywhere in the Old Testament, literally and symbolically. It would happen in stages. Leading up to Jesus, it was all based on faith in the future Messiah via the death of animals. It didn’t begin to be fulfilled until Jesus came to earth and started putting the plan into action.
Think about it this way: The Old Testament drew a picture and a blueprint of a house God wanted to build, while the New Testament explains the blueprint and starts the actual construction of the house. Jesus says that He came to fulfill the blueprint (Matthew 5:17-20)—which means that He came to explain it and begin construction. But how?
The blueprint is simple, at least on one level: Jesus would live perfectly, die in humanity’s place, prepare heaven for humans and humans for heaven, judge the world, come a second time, answer the questions of the saved during millennium, then destroy evil.
The blueprint is also intricate: God wants to be transparent before the universe, so He has provided illustrations and explanations in detail of how the plan of salvation works. If you want to go deep into the blueprint, click here.
The primary tool that God used to convey the plan of salvation to humans was with the Jewish Tabernacle. The message that God wanted to send was I love you and I want to be with you.
That is the singular message of God to His creation throughout the Bible. I love you and I want to be with you. Because God wants people to one day come live with Him in His house, He basically asked people to build Him, on earth, a version of His house in heaven. Moses was told to build the earthly one based on the heavenly pattern (Exodus 25:9). You can read a basic description of God’s heavenly home in Revelation 4 and 5.
Also, because God wants us to live in His house with Him, He made His house in heaven the central hub where salvation would take place. After Jesus did His work on earth, He went to His heavenly home to finish the work that He started on earth.
When the question is asked, “What has Jesus been doing for 2000 years?” The answer is: For 2000 years, Jesus has been preparing people for heaven, and preparing heaven for people.
But God has also been doing something else. He has been allowing time for evil to mature and to show its true colors. When God finally destroys evil, He wants the lines to be clear. He wants there to be no mistake between good and evil. He wants both to appear to the universe just as they are, good in all its goodness and evil in all its evilness. He wants there to be no desire for evil to ever rise again (Nahum 1:7-9).
When Jesus' work in heaven is finished, there will be a transition to the next step of salvation. Jesus will answer the paradox of how He could be all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and evil still exist. Heaven and earth will be prepared to praise God for His work of judgment and justice.