What Does the Old Testament Teach about the Inheritance of the Saints?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

As we’ve discussed before on the blog, there are two kinds of inheritance for Christians: 1) entrance into heaven and 2) reigning (rewards) in heaven. Many evangelicals mistakenly interpret all New Testament (NT) passages about the believer’s inheritance as referring to entrance into heaven, when this is clearly not the case (see this post and this post).

Theologian Joseph Dillow, in his magnificent book The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Destiny of Man, explains that the concept of two kinds of inheritance originates in the Old Testament (OT), in particular with the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and eventual entrance and possession of Canaan. The NT writers had ancient Israel in mind when they spoke of the inheritance of NT believers.

Dillow lays out several principles about inheritance that can be taken from the OT:

1. There is a difference between inheriting the land of Canaan and living there. The former refers to ownership and the latter to mere residence.

2. While Israel was promised the inheritance as a nation, the condition for maintaining their inheritance right to the land of Canaan was faith, obedience, and completion of one’s task. The promise, while national, was only applied to the believing remnant within the nation. Even though many within the nation were not born again, the New Testament writers use the nation as an example (1 Cor. 10:6, Gk. typos) of the experience of the born-again people of God in the New Testament.

3. The inheritance is not to be equated with heaven but with something additional to heaven, promised to those believers who faithfully obey the Lord.

4. Just as Old Testament believers forfeited their earthly inheritance through disobedience, we can also forfeit our future reward (inheritance) by a similar failure. Loss of inheritance, however, does not mean loss of salvation.

5. Two kinds of inheritance were enjoyed in the Old Testament. All Israelites who had believed and were therefore regenerate had God as their inheritance but not all inherited the land. This paves the way for the notion that the New Testament may also teach two inheritances. We are all heirs of God, but we are not all joint-heirs with Christ, unless we persevere to the end of life. The former refers to our salvation and the latter to our reward.

6. A child of Israel was both an heir of God and an heir of Canaan by virtue of belief in God and resulting regeneration. Yet only those believers in Israel who were faithful would maintain their status as firstborn sons who would actually receive what had been promised to them as an inheritance.

Dillow then connects these conclusions to the NT:

The relevance of these conclusions to the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance [in the NT] is obvious. First, if this is in fact the Old Testament view, it surely must have informed the thinking of the New Testament writers. If that is so, then many passages, which have been considered as descriptions of the elect, are in fact conditions of obtaining a reward in heaven.

For example, Paul warns the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” If “inheriting the kingdom” means “going to heaven,” then Paul is saying no wicked person can go to heaven. Such an interpretation would be consistent with the [Calvinist] system which says that the permanently carnal Christian is a fiction.

If, on the other hand, “to inherit the kingdom” refers not to entering heaven but to possessing and ruling in the kingdom as it does in the Old Testament, then an entirely different interpretation of the passage emerges. Instead of warning merely professing Christians that they may not be Christians at all, he is telling true Christians that, if they do not change their behavior, they may be in the kingdom, but they will not rule there.

Were the NT writers concerned with people getting into heaven by expressing trust in Jesus Christ? Obviously. That is the gospel message in its simplest form. But, they were also extremely concerned about what a person who has placed his trust in Christ does with the rest of his life. How you, as a believer in Christ, conduct your life determines your rewards in heaven.

There is no point in winning the lottery if you do nothing with the money after you win. Likewise, the person who places their trust in Christ, but then fails to follow Christ for the rest of their life, is like the lottery winner who receives the check in the mail and then sticks it under the mattress.