Did people go to heaven before Jesus?
Heaven is defined as both the area of the sky and also the dwelling place of God. But it is always acknowledged that even all of heaven cannot contain God.
When it comes to our understanding of "going to heaven," however, Christians have a different understanding than the original Hebrew beliefs. The Hebrew people believed that only very special or holy people went to heaven. (For example, Enoch and Elijah are thought to have been raised to heaven. See Genesis 5:24 and 2 Kings 2:1-18.) In early Hebrew thought, people's souls went to Sheol after death. (Sheol was not the same as Hell. It was just the place where all souls -- good or bad -- went after death.)
But with Jesus' resurrection, these beliefs changed. In Christian thought and belief, it is hoped that all disciples who follow Christ will join Christ in heaven. With Christ's resurrection from the dead, there came the promise and hope that believers will be with Christ for eternity.
So Jesus' life created a new understanding of heaven and the destiny of humans after death.
Beth A. Richardson
The Upper Room