Did Moses Go to Heaven or Hell When He Died?

According to the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Moses is in heaven. In the story, commonly called the Transfiguration, Moses and the prophet Elijah appear to Jesus Christ. Matthew 17:3 reads, “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (ESV). Moreover, according to Luke’s account, Moses appeared in glory as he spoke with Jesus, confirming his presence in heaven. Additionally, Moses was with Elijah, who the Bible affirms went to heaven (2 Kings 2).

The Transfiguration is one of the most pivotal moments in the Gospels and in Jesus’ life because it confirms his identity as the Son of God. It’s one of the few times that people hear a voice from heaven confirm who Jesus is: “A bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him'” (Matthew 17:5). Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John, are at the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah are also there.

Moses and Elijah died in two very different ways, yet they are both in heaven. The deaths of Moses and Elijah are quite different from each other, as the Bible tells each story. The Israelites didn’t see Moses die and didn’t even know where he was buried (more below). Elijah, on the other hand, never physically died. God took him to heaven in a whirlwind: “And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).

Moses Mount Sinai
Did an angel and the devil really wrestle over Moses’ body? See below (Mt. Sinai pictured)

Does Moses’ presence with Jesus and Elijah at the Transfiguration mean he went to heaven? Yes. The Transfiguration is a supernatural story, but it’s not a figurative one. Elijah and Moses were really there. Moses really spoke to Jesus and anticipated his death on the cross for sin. Moses was Messiah-like; Jesus was the Messiah himself.

Do Bible scholars believe Moses is in heaven? Yes. Bible commentaries on Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t necessarily argue that Moses went to heaven; they assume it. For example, one of the most well-reviewed commentaries on Matthew begins its explanation of the Transfiguration, stating, “Jesus’ otherworldly appearance is underlined by the presence with him of two well-known inhabitants of heaven.” [2]

Does Jude teach that Moses went to heaven?

Even some of the most acclaimed Bible commentators today admit that Jude 9 “is a difficult verse.” [1] It says that after Moses died, Michael, the archangel of God, fought with Satan for his body. “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you'” (Jude 9).

The meaning of Jude 9 isn’t to fill in the gaps and respond to readers’ questions about Moses’ eternal destiny. Jude is addressing people who had blasphemed angels. He says that not even Michael commanded a fallen angel when vying for Moses’ body. Instead, Michael said, the Lord rebuke you.

Most scholars on Jude teach that Satan mistakenly believed he could intercept Moses’ body and deny it a legitimate burial. The verse doesn’t say what the implication would have been for Moses’ eternal destination if Satan had won the tug-of-war. Speculation on that is arguable because Satan didn’t have a right over Moses’ body. Michael’s petition for the Lord to rebuke the devil, which he did, confirmed God’s plan for Moses’ body.

Moses death promised land
Why did Satan try and steal Moses’ body? See below (Mt. Sinai pictured)

What does Moses’ death teach about his eternal destiny?

Tragically, Moses’ story doesn’t have a fairytale ending in the Bible. God commissioned Moses to be Israel’s leader, not just to free them from slavery in Egypt, but to guide them to the land that God had promised long ago to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-3). Yet God didn’t allow Moses to step foot in the Promised Land because of a terrible mistake he made.

Numbers 27:12-14 reads, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go up this mountain of the Abarim range and see the land that I have given the Israelites. After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was; for when the congregation contended in the Wilderness of Zin, both of you rebelled against My command to show My holiness in their sight regarding the waters.’ Those were the waters of Meribah in Kadesh, in the Wilderness of Zin” (ESV).

Sad endings in life don’t necessarily mean that faithful people go to hell. The end of Moses’ life on Earth is bittersweet. His death was bitter because he didn’t get to step foot in the place he strived to reach for a large part of his life. It’s sweet because God let Moses see the land with his eyes. Moses’ death doesn’t rewrite his entire story. His rebellion against God’s command in the Wilderness of Zin resulted in discipline but not damnation.

The book of Deuteronomy teaches that God buried Moses. “And the Lord said to him, ‘This is the land that I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I said, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you will not cross into it.’ So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, as the Lord had said. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab facing Beth-peor, and no one to this day knows the location of his grave” (Deuteronomy 34:4-6, ESV).

The phrase “and he buried him” is commonly interpreted as “and God buried Moses.” The passage also reports that no one knows where his body was buried (v. 6b). The unusual circumstances surrounding Moses’ death may have led people in later centuries to speculate about his death, as well as his life after death. The books of Numbers and Deuteronomy explain how and why Moses died. However, theologians often cite the Gospels to affirm that Moses went to heaven.

[1] 1, 2 Peter, Jude by Thomas Schreiner. New American Commentary. P. 458.
[2] The Gospel of Matthew by R.T. France. New International Commentary on the New Testament. P. 648.
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Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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