Do We Go Straight to Heaven After We Die?

Question from a Site Viewer
I read this passage this morning and I am confused. I thought that when we die we are either present with God or in hell. This passage says to me that when we die we will be stuck in our grave waiting to be called. Can you help me understand?  Don’t we go straight to heaven after we die?  This is what I read:

25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 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. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me . . .
John 5:25-30

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question concerning John 5:25-30. You raise the question about whether this passage teaches that we will be stuck in the grave after we die until the resurrection or if we will go straight to heaven. If so, what of the teaching that when we die we go to be with Christ? Based on this and other passages, some groups including the Seventh-Day Adventists teach that believers, when they die, are in an unconscious state until the resurrection. Most of Christianity, however, does not agree with this teaching for the following reasons.

First, in Christ’s teaching on the rich man and Lazarus, both the rich man and Lazarus were fully conscious immediately after their death (Luke 16:19-31). Abraham also was very much conscious in the words of Jesus. Some may take this account as a parable, which I do not. But even if taken as a parable, Jesus is not known to give parables of matters that may convey bad theology. In my view, we must understand Jesus as contemplating the dead as being conscious. Second, on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah openly appeared and spoke with Jesus (Matthew 17:1-8). These two individuals clearly were not in some unconscious state awaiting a future resurrection. And though we might account for Elijah on the basis that he was caught up to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11-18), we cannot so account for Moses because Scripture tells us of his death and burial (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). Third, Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 that if our body dies we have a body from God that is immortal and that we are well pleased to be absent from our present body and to be present with the Lord. There is no sense of some intermediate state of unconsciousness in Paul’s view. Fourth, in Philippians 1:21-24, Paul expresses his great desire to depart from this life and be with Christ which is “far better.” Again, this statement does not make sense if Paul thought that he would be for an indeterminate time in an unconscious state. Fifth, in Revelation 6:9-11, we find souls of those who had been slain in heaven crying out to God. These are conscious, living beings. Sixth, in 1 Samuel 27:14-20, we find Samuel returning from the dead and talking to King Saul. We know that this was not merely an apparition, because Scripture tells us that it was Samuel who spoke with Saul and Saul was dreadfully afraid of Samuel’s words. Samuel was very much conscious. Seventh, in Hebrews 12:18-24, we are told that in heaven, at the present time, there is the general assembly and church of the firstborn and there are the spirits of just men made perfect. These individuals are not lying in some grave awaiting the resurrection, but are seen to be in heaven.

What then do we do with passages such as John 5:25-30 or Daniel 12:2? I think the best explanation for these is found in an understanding of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In that passage, Paul is addressing the troubles that some believers had with the concept that certain of their fellow believers had died before the coming of Christ. Paul tells them not to be troubled. Paul tells us that Jesus “will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Paul also tells them that when Jesus comes, the dead will be the first to rise (1 Thessalonians 4:16). How is it possible for those who have died both to come down from heaven with Jesus and be raised from the earth to meet Jesus? I believe that Solomon has given us the answer. In Ecclesiastes 12:7, we are told that when we die the dust returns to the earth and the spirit goes to God. Death is a separation of the body of man from the spirit of man. This is also what we find in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 and Philippians 1:21-24. But we also know that this separation is not an eternal affair. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that our bodies will be preserved blameless at Christ’s coming. We are told in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 that the dead bodies will be raised and changed. Our bodies are important to God and form an integral part of us. Often, in the Old Testament, when people died, we find the words that they rested or were buried with their fathers (see for example 1 Kings 2:10; 1 Kings 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:28; 22:50; 2 Kings 8:24). There is a real sense that their bodies were as much them as were their spirits. When the angel appeared to the women at the tomb after the resurrection of Jesus, they told the women to see where “they laid Him” (Mark 16:6). In the Matthew account, the angels stated that the “Lord” had laid there (Matthew 28:6). Though Jesus was dead when He was buried, that body was still Him. We are not of those who make some false separation of the physical from the spiritual and glorify the spiritual and disdain the physical. In Christianity, physical life is an important part of our humanity and of spirituality. This is why I see Paul praying in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 that God will sanctify our spirits, souls, and bodies.

Thus, when we presently die, we who trust in Christ go to be with Him in a conscious state. At that moment, we are not disembodied beings. Rather, as Paul states, we have a spiritual body, eternal in the heavens. But our physical bodies remain on this earth. In the resurrection, our physical bodies are raised, changed and rejoined with our spiritual bodies and we then live forever after with Christ. So, in John 5:25-30, what I see is the resurrection of the bodies, which are as much a part of people as are the spirits. The bodies are raised, the spirits rejoined with the bodies, and the judgment pronounced.

I trust this provides some assistance to you as you think through this passage and these matters.

May the Lord Jesus continue to guide you and be the the center of your love.

a fellow pilgrim,

tim

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>