Last week, I preached that folks don’t go to heaven when they die. Somehow I didn’t get stoned to death. Probably because I told people not to accept what I say. Mostly, I just want people to crack their Bibles open and really think about this. And maybe challenge me on it.
If You Don’t Go To Heaven, Where Do You Go?
In short, we rise from the dead. It’s what Jesus went on about. And all of our theology is supposed to center on the idea that Jesus is the first to raise and we’ll all follow suit. Crazy? Well, I don’t think it’s crazier than us all losing our bodies and floating up to the sky.
If our hope is to be with Jesus, he promises that He’s the next thing we experience after death – but he’s talking about here on Earth – at the mass resurrection at His return. Our citizenship is heavenly. But God designed Earth to be our home from the start when He called it good.
I guess I should support that with some Bible now, huh?
Everything You Need To Know About Our Resurrection
Just go read 1 Corinthians 15.
Done reading it? Good. Now you know everything! I kid. I kid.
More Bibleness about Mass Resurrection
John 5:28-29 – “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
John 11:23-26 – “Jesus said to [Martha], “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Matt 22:31 – (Jesus defends the Resurrection to the Sadducees) “About the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Luke 14:14 – “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Acts 24:15 – (Paul explains his message in front of Pharisees) “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
Philippians 3:10-11 – “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”
Revelations 20 – (Talks about the First Resurrection (good) and the Second Resurrection (bad)) – Just go read the whole chapter.
Wait, What About the Heaven-When-You-Die Verses?
It seems to me that only assumptive reading suggests that we go to heaven as disembodied spirits. Here are the texts that seem to indicate our souls float up to heaven after death:
1. Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:40-43) – Jesus says “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” What if you change that comma and Jesus is just saying he promises the thief right there and then that the next thing he sees will be the Resurrection of the righteous?
2. Paul, “To Die is Gain” (Philippians 1:20-26) – Paul says he prefers to be with folks on Earth, so that more will come alive in Christ, but that if he dies he gets to be with Jesus. Pretty sure he knows that that’s gonna be when Jesus comes back at the Resurrection – next thing he experiences.
3. Moses and Elijah with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3) – So was this the Moses and Elijah that are hanging out in Heaven presently? Were they in bodily or spirit form? Did Moses already resurrect? Is Elijah hanging out in heaven with all the heavenly creatures and no other humans other than Enoch? I have an answer for you: I don’t know.
4. The Great Multitude in White Robes (Revelations 7:9+) – This one has me a little stumped. All I know is that it could be heavenly hosts (angel armies). It could be a metaphor for how the people who aren’t yet resurrected feel. It could also be people who are literally dead in heaven, thus trumping my thesis. Not really sure.
5. Jesus talks about room in the Father’s House (John 14) – Read this again and question if Jesus is literally talking about going to Heaven or something deeper. Just for fun, try reading this section as if Jesus was talking about returning and bringing the dead into a resurrection life here in a Resurrected Jerusalem. Tell me what you think.
5. Away From Body, At Home With God (2 Cor 5) – Read this in it’s entirety and I think you’ll see he’s actually talking about our resurrection bodies.
Heaven Is Tied to Earth?
The language related to Heaven gets defined by it’s relationship to Earth. It literally means sky. Can sky exist if there’s no ground? Also, whenever you read the earliest Biblical text on Heaven, they seem explicitly tied together and always referenced at the same time (Gen 1:1, 2:1, 2:4 – “Created Heavens and the earth…,” etc.).
In Exoddus, God literally speaks to Moses from the sky (“Heavens”). Side note, do you think the text wants us to think of Heaven as a place in the sky?
When Jesus breaks into the scene, first thing he says about Heaven?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:2, 4:17) So do you think he’s saying that heaven is available to citizens of Earth? I suggest it’s much more than that: that the Father of Heaven wants heirs on Earth who will walk out all he intended Earth to be.
Ever Hear of “New Heavens and New Earth?”
It comes up a few times. (2 Peter 3:13, Isaiah 65:17, Rev 21:1) Do you think that God doesn’t like Heaven and wants to create a new one? Or that the way He related to us is going to change when we resurrect? Sorry. I’m leading that point a bit. Something to chew on at least.
Does God Want Disembodied Spirits?
How much does God talk about going to heaven (in spirit form) in the Old Testament? Hebrews were taught to see us as integrated beings – body, mind, spirit. Not separate parts that can stand alone. Why would God want us to be body-less if he made us with bodies and said it was good?
So What’s the State of the Dead Right Now?
There’s a possibility that I’m mostly wrong and that all dead folks are in the spiritual realities of heaven quite presently. But I seem to get from the scriptures that when we die, the next thing we experience is Jesus’ return and the mass resurrection. So, sleep. Kinda. Like perfect uninterrupted sleep. It might be metaphorical to some degree, but this idea comes up throughout the whole Bible:
Dan 12:2 – “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.
John 11:11-14 – “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples therefore said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep<, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead”.
Matt 9:24 – “He began to say, “the girl has not died, but is asleep.” And they began laughing at Him.”
Matt 27:52 – “Tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;”
Mark 5:39; Lk 8:52 – The child has not died, but is asleep.
Acts 7:60 – “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, Stephen fell asleep.
Acts 13:36 – “For David … fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay
1 Corinthians 15:6,18,20,51 – “Some have fallen asleep…,” “those who are asleep,” “we shall not all sleep, etc.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 – “Those who are asleep…” “…have fallen asleep in Jesus”
2 Peter 3:4 – “Ever since the fathers fell asleep..”
Maybe I’m Wrong
Please take all of this with a grain of salt and absolutely feel free to challenge me in all of this. I just want to focus on what Jesus wants us to focus on, which I believe is a resurrection preoccupation.