Do those who accept
Jesus and give
themselves to the
Lord actually go to
when they die?
The biblical truth may
Do we go to heaven when we die?
What does the Bible
What awaits us after death?
Many Christian denominations teach a “ heaven or hell”
afterlife. What does the Bible really teach about this subject?
Nestled in a passage that discusses the role Jesus Christ played in willingly offering Himself as a sacrifice
for our sins, this statement is made: “And as it is appointed for men to die once …” (Hebrews 9:27).
Since death awaits us all, what happens after death is certainly worth considering!
Do those who accept
Only God know what awaits for us
Death is like sleep
In several locations the Bible likens death to sleep. Notice the apostle Paul’s comforting instruction to the believers
in Thessalonica: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those
who have fallen asleep
[those who had died], lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we
believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
Before continuing with this passage, we need to address two matters:
How is death similar to sleep?
And second, if God is bringin these people “with Him,” from where is He bringing
Death is similar to sleep in that no conscious thought occurs when one has died.
Two statements in the book of Ecclesiastes tell us of this reality:
“For the living know that they will die; but the dead know
“Whatever your hand
finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where
you are going”
(verse 10). Psalm 146:4 adds: “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts
perish” (King James Version).
Once death occurs, human consciousness ends. Nothing’s going on in the mind. After his children had died
suddenly, his possessions were taken away, and he
was afflicted with “painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head”
(Job 1:7), Job accurately summed up the
nature of death while longing for it: “Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?
For now I would have lain still and been quiet, I would have been asleep” (Job 3:11-13).
Returning with Jesus?
We have established that death is like a sleep in that a
person is not actively
engaged in any activity—no
conscious thoughts, no
labor, no anything. Now, let’s return to our second question regarding 1
Thessalonians 4:14: From where does God bring these people who “sleep in Jesus” (i.e., people who are dead)?
Some would say He
brings them from heaven. Is this what the Bible teaches?
Jesus Christ said in John
3:13: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is,
the Son of Man who is in heaven.” That seems clear!
Why is it so hard for so
many to believe?
People who have died are not awake in heaven! They are “sleeping” or resting in
their graves. The remaining verses of 1 Thessalonians 4
confirm this. Notice:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we
who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede
those who are asleep [are dead]. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice
of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead
in Christ will rise first”
(1 Thessalonians 4:15-16). When Jesus Christ returns, the dead will “rise.” For one to “rise,” one would have to
come up from somewhere. If
one had died and gone to heaven already, then the individual wouldn’t be rising from the grave when Christ returns. He or she would be
descending from heaven, yet this is not what Paul taught
This teaching of our being raised from the grave at Jesus Christ’s return is reiterated in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52:
“Behold, I tell you
a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and
we shall be changed.”
Jesus Christ Himself also taught the principle of being raised up in John 6:39-40:
“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose
nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is
the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may
have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
It is appointed for all of us to die, but when Jesus Christ returns to the earth at the last day, the followers of
Jesus Christ who have died will be raised from their graves and given eternal life.
While it may be comforting to those struggling to cope with
the death of loved ones to think of them as looking down from heaven, this belief is unbiblical and false.
Instead, God’s Word
comforts us with the fact that there is no suffering in the grave. And since there is no
thought for those in the grave (Psalm 146:4;
Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10), there can be no awareness on their part of the passage of
time. When they are
resurrected, it will be as
though they have awakened from sleep.
We can take great comfort in knowing that when they
awaken, they will rise in a much different world, a world that Jesus Christ and the
resurrected saints will be ruling.
Why isn’t this taught?
Why do many churches not understand this basic teaching? In part, they try to explain away these clear
verses by bringing up other passages that seem to contradict scriptural teaching
on the subject.
One is the story of Lazarus and the rich man—a story often misinterpreted. To read
more on this subject, see article on “ Lazarus and the Rich Man.”
Secondly, they refer to
Jesus Christ’s statements to the “thief on the cross” who was crucified alongside Him:
“And Jesus said to him,
‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise’”
(Luke 23:43). From this statement, people
say, “See, Christ tells the man that he will be with Christ in Paradise that day!”
There are two reasons why we should not draw this conclusion when reading this
1. Jesus Christ very
clearly stated He
would be in the grave
three days and three
nights upon His death
The grave is not
2. In the original
manuscripts of the
punctuation was not
used. Punctuation has
been added by
translators to try to
provide clarity. The
passage could also be
“Assuredly, I say to
you today [comma],
you shall be with Me
To put it in the vernacular,
Christ could have been
saying, “I’m telling you
today that one day you’re going to be with Me in Paradise.” Translated this
way, with the comma after the word “today” instead of before it, the passage fits with the other teachings of
the resurrection found in Scripture.
The Bible speaks of other resurrections that lead us to
discussions surrounding the subjects of heaven, hell and the Kingdom of God, which are beyond the scope of this brief article.
Seeking God’s truth
Are you really seeking to understand the truths contained in God’s Word?
As you learn more about these and other truths in the Bible,
what will you do about it?
It really does matter what you believe, and it really does matter how you live based on what you believe. Christ made this statement to
His disciples: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship
the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is
Spirit, and those who
worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).
For Christ to say there would be true worshippers, it is
implicit that He was saying there would also be false worshippers. Sadly, there are many well-intentioned
but false worshippers in the world today—those who are
not worshipping God in truth.
Accept the challenge of
seeking God’s truth! Pray for God to guide you in your pursuit of His truth. And as
you learn it, be sure to live it. That’s the surest way to life, hope and truth!