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Abraham's Bosom

The question we received was: “Before Jesus died on the cross and opened the gates of Heaven, where did people go when they died? What’s Abraham’s Bosom?”

I love the way the person framed this question.  It indicates an understanding that only by Jesus’ finished work on the cross, His shed blood, can anyone go to Heaven.  That includes Old Testament saints.  They didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. But they did after.   Jesus’ finished work, paying for the sins of mankind with His pure blood, opened the way to the Father in Heaven.  So where did the Old Testament saints go at death?  Let’s first consider sin atonement under the Old Covenant.

Old Testament Salvation

While people in the Old Testament were saved by the grace of God when they trusted in Him (saving faith), their sins were not yet washed away by the blood of Jesus. Their system of atoning for sins was through animal blood — a sacrificial system given to Moses after God delivered His people from Egypt.

Lev 17:11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul.

Animal sacrifice was not to pay for sins. The blood of an animal could never fully atone for the sins of a man.  And the works of men, including sacrificial works, could never fully satisfy God.  Therefore, a human, with perfect and sinless works and pure blood, was needed to pay the penalty of sin.  

So God gave His Son (John 3:16) in His perfect time to be incarnated as a man (Gal 4:4-5), to live a pure and sinless life (Heb 4:15, 1 John 3:5b), and to die (Rom 5:8), shedding His blood as the perfect Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  Only Jesus could be that sacrifice.  And praise God, Jesus laid down His life for us (Isa 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24) in submission to His Father’s will (Mat 26:39, Luke 22:42, Acts 2:23), and His blood was acceptable in God’s sight (1 Pet 1:18-19).

So, where did Old Testament saints go before Jesus’ finished work?

We know that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Jesus].”  (John 14:6)   Prior to Jesus’ atonement, the way to the Father was closed.  Old Testament saints could not go to Heaven at death. But God provided a resting place until the Door to Heaven was opened.  It is described in Luke 16 when Jesus told of two distinctly different places where man’s soul went at death:

1.  the place of comfort called Abraham’s Bosom for those who died in faith in God
2.  the place of torment that we call Hell for those who died without faith in God.

1)  Abraham’s Bosom Was Not Heaven.

Heaven is defined as the place where God dwells.  Geographically we think of it as being “up above.”  It is beyond the heaven that we see, where the birds and airplanes fly (the first heaven).  God’s Heaven, His dwelling place, is even beyond the heaven where the sun, moon, and stars are hung (the second heaven).  It is considered to be the highest of heavens (Luke 19:38), the “Heaven of heavens” (Deuteronomy 10:14, 1 Kings 8:27), and it is referred to in the Bible as the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2). (Read: Three Heavens? Where is the Third Heaven?)

Where was Abraham’s Bosom?

Abraham’s Bosom was located below all three heavens and in the depths of the earth.  Jesus referred to it as the “heart of the earth” in Matthew 12:40, and it was the abode of the righteous dead before Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.  Jesus also referred to this place as “paradise” when He promised the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that same day in paradise. (Luke 23:43)

What was Abraham’s Bosom?

Abraham’s Bosom was a place of comfort and a place of waiting. The sins of Old Testament saints were remitted by the Levitical system of atonement using the blood of animals.  Since this was insufficient to atone for their sins, those who died in faith went to Abraham’s Bosom and waited until their sins would be paid for completely.  They waited for the promised Seed, the Rescuer, the One who was promised in the Garden (Genesis 3:15, Galatians 4:4), the One promised to their father Abraham (Genesis 22:17-18, Galatians 3:16), and promised again to their most exalted earthly King, King David (2 Samuel 7:12-16, Acts 13:21-23).

When Jesus offered Himself in payment for the penalty of man’s sins, His shed blood made the complete and final atonement for sins.  And, when Jesus ascended into Heaven, 40 days after His resurrection from the grave, He led the Old Testament saints from Abraham’s Bosom to their new dwelling place with Him in the Heaven of heavens (Ephesians 4:8).

2) The Other Place – The Place of Torment

Since the time of Jesus’ ascension, Abraham’s Bosom remains empty.  At death, the souls of Christians go directly to Heaven through the Door (Jesus).  There now only remains the place of torment as an abode of the dead in the earth.  We call this place “hell,” which is an English translation of the Greek word “hades’ and the Hebrew word “sheol.” “Sheol” and “hades” mean “the world of the dead, the grave, or the pit,” Remember, prior to Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, all who died went into the earth, the grave, the pit — into sheol/hades — either to Abraham’s Bosom or to the place of torment.  But since Jesus’ ascension, only the place of torment, Hell, remains. So, when we refer to Hell, we only refer to the place of torment.

The place of torment is similar to Abraham’s Bosom in one aspect.  It is a temporary abode, just as Abraham’s Bosom was temporary. However, the final destinations differ. The righteous were received into God’s Heaven when fully redeemed.  But in the place of torment, the unrighteous await a final judgment yet to come, which is the Great White Throne Judgment described in Revelation 20:11-15. 

At that time, all the souls in hell will be bodily raised, judged, and sent to their eternal destination, the Lake of Fire (Revelations 20:15).  

Fatherly Comfort

In Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:22), the Old Testament saints were comforted by Father Abraham. But now they are in the comfort and rest of God the Father in Heaven, and in the presence of their Messiah and Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Heaven is the eternal resting place for all who die in faith, having had their sins forgiven and washed away by the blood of Jesus (Rev 7:14, 7:14).


At death, the souls of Old Testament saints awaited Jesus’ atonement in Abraham’s Bosom. When Jesus ascended to Heaven after his death, burial, and resurrection, He took all who were in Abraham’s Bosom with Him (Ephesians 4:8).

At death, New Testament saints ( those who live in the age of the Christian Church– also known as the age of the indwelling Holy Spirit)  go immediately to be with Jesus in Heaven. (2 Corinthians 5:8).

It’s amazing to think that our souls will be transported above the heavens of our atmosphere, beyond outer space, to the Heaven of heavens where God the Father and Jesus the Son dwell.  We will join the multitude of saints who have gone before us.  In the words of the popular Christian song…

~ I Can Only Imagine ~

I can only imagine what it will be like. When I walk, by your side.
I can only imagine what my eyes will see. When your face is before me.
I can only imagine
Surrounded by Your glory. What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in your presence? Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.
I can only imagine when that day comes.
When I find myself standing in the Son.
I can only imagine when all I would do is forever.
Forever worship You.
I can only imagine

Songwriter: Bart Millard, Mercy Me
Album: Almost There (2001)


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