I routinely run into Christians who carry anxiety that when they die God will deny them entrance to heaven based off of Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven; only people who do the will of my father in heaven." Maybe, these Christians anxiously tell themselves, I only think I'm a Christian, but God knows better and will reject me.
But if you're going to make any sense of Jesus' teachings you have to remember—The Kingdom of Heaven is NOT a place you go to when you die. The Kingdom of Heaven is not about the afterlife; it's not a place souls escape to as they abandon the physical creation. Rather, the Kingdom is this-worldly, available now, today.
Look at how the phrase is used in Matthew's Gospel:
- "The Kingdom of Heaven is coming" (3:2)
- "The kingdom of heaven is arriving!" (4:17).
- "May your kingdom come, your will be done as in heaven, so on earth" (6:10)
- "As you go, declare publicly that the kingdom of heaven has arrived" (10:7)
- "If I'm casting out demons because I'm in league with God's spirit—well, then, God's kingdom has arrived on your doorstep" (12:28)
So we can confidently say Jesus is talking about who does or doesn't get to "go to heaven." Rather, Jesus is making it clear who gets to experience the reality of God's rule and reign today. On this planet.
And those that receive that experience are not those who merely claim the right name. It's those who do to others as they want done to them. It's those who bear good fruit. It's those who consider their own faults planks and the faults of others specks.
If you're looking for the answer to "Who goes to heaven when they die?", you'll have to look elsewhere. (Hint: 1 Corinthians 15:22 might have a clue. "All die in Adam, you see, and all will be made alive in the Messiah.")