In this first article in the series what does the Bible say about it we are asking the question; do we go straight to heaven when we die? Before we answer that question, we should know what the options are. Some say yes absolutely, when we die, our bodies are transported to heaven and we rest with the Savior. Some say that when we die our bodies go into the ground, but our souls go to heaven. Some argue that we just go to sleep and wake up when Jesus comes back. But the question is what does the Bible say?
I should point out that we will primarily be looking at what the New Testament says because while the idea and concept of the afterlife is present in the Old Testament it is not as developed as the New Testament. The New Testament has a great deal to say about the matter because we have Christ who has conquered death and ascended into heaven and the promise for believers is that we will join Him.
First, we should look at the term sleep because the Bible uses this term to talk about death. It is one thing to talk about death in an abstract way but if you have lost someone you love then death feels a little harsh so to soften it the Bible uses the word sleep a fair amount of the time. In 1 Corinthians 11:30 when Paul talks about taking Communion in an improper way, he says some have fallen asleep. In 1 Thessalonian 4:13-14, Paul talks about the brothers and sisters in the church who sleep in death. The church in Thessalonica was facing this very question about what happens when someone dies. Paul lets them know that we as believers in Christ have hope. Psalm 139:8 says that even if we make our bead in Sheol or the depths we are not out of God’s field of vision. Death is sleeping but what kind of sleeping is it?
We could look at each option and prove or disprove them, but this is not a scholarly paper. I think the best approach is to look at what the Bible says concerning our question and look at 1 Corinthians chapter 15 because there is a lot of information for us there. The thing we have to understand is the resurrection and as N.T. Wright often says we have to go back to the resurrection. The first thing is that Jesus was raised from the dead. He was dead and now He is not. He was put in the ground and now He lives. He was buried and now He sits at the right hand of the Father. This tells us something very important; there is a bodily resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 says that if Christ was not raised neither are we. If Jesus was only a spirited resurrection, then we are still in our sins. There is no hope, no freedom, no way out from sin in this life but He was raised. The resurrection of Christ was God’s stamp of approval on Christ’s sacrifice saying yes, the debt is paid in full! It is a marvelous and wonderful thing. Oh, how I could get sidetracked here but the important thing for this discussion is to remember that Jesus was raised from the dead and was raised in His body.
The next thing to take notice of is that we will be raised in a different type of body. This is a point when many get confused and have questions. Sadly, the Bible is silent on exactly what type of body, but it will be different in some way. What we do know is that what is sown in corruption will be raised in incorruption (1 Cor 15:42). What does this mean? Again, we do not exactly know but what we do know is that the new body will not die, decay, or ache. My body aches all the time (mostly at night) but the new body will be perfected and not have the same problems because it will be made new. Here is an example of how you can be in a body, but it is a different body. My wife has stomach issues. She felt her stomach all the time. She switched to a gluten-free diet and remarked the other day that she does not feel her stomach anymore. She knows she has one, but she does not feel it. Get the picture. In this life and in this body, you might have an ailment of some kind but in the new resurrected body it will be free.
Jesus looked the same but still had the crucifixion scars but at the same time, it was different. He could still eat but He could also walk-through walls. He walked but still disappeared and reappeared somewhere else. He was still in a body, but it was different. Will ours be the same? I have no idea, but I do know that Revelation talks about the new city, and Revelation 19 it uses banquet feast language so maybe there is food (although I lean towards a vegetarian meal). The important thing to note and remember is you will have a perfected body when Jesus raises you from the dead.
So where does this leave us? 2 Corinthians 5:8 says that to be present with the Lord is to be absent from the body. Death sends us straight to heaven. When we tie that into what we just looked at we get a picture of what it looks like when we die. Our bodies go into the ground sleeping until the resurrection and then when Christ returns, we are reunited with our bodies which are now perfected and no longer die, decay, or ache. We will be with Him forever. There are other aspects of this we could look at like what is it like in heaven or what do we do. The Sadducees tried to trip Jesus up with these questions (Matt 22:30) but Jesus moved on to the more important topic.
Death happens (for now) but for the believer, it is not the end, it is a switch in the mode of being. Those who confess with their mouth and believe in their hearts that Christ was raised from the dead temporarily lose their bodies when they die but they live in heaven with Christ. When Jesus comes back, and He is coming, they will be reunited with their bodies, and it will be amazing. If you are worried about cremation, or those lost at sea don’t be worried. God is going to do what He does best which is more than we can ask think or imagine.
Just a thought,