Just had a fascinating chat with some church members about those books that do the rounds every so often about people that allegedly die and “go to heaven” for a bit. They then return and tell us about what they see there. Of course, often there is Jesus who is just plain nice to everyone. But there's always some apparently conflicting parts of the testimony too.
Now I'm a bit of a skeptic about these things – I think my main gripe is that all of a sudden these personal testimonies become authoritative, particularly when it's about topics that we feel naturally positive about. Added to that, I just don't think the whole 'go to heaven' stuff is Biblical at all – at least not as a general destination of the godly when they die. Maybe I'll post on a more Biblical doctrine of the afterlife in a while. But before I do that, a question which is unashamedly rhetorical.
Where in the Bible does it say that the believer goes to heaven when they die?
That should get us started. You know how the commenting thing works – off you go…
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How about Luke 23:43? “And he (Jesus) said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”
Hi Adulcia, thanks for joining us here (how did you end up here?!)
I think you’re heading in the right direction but I think I’d question the premise that the OT doesn’t talk about heaven. Doesn’t it speak of that place where God dwells? (e.g. Job 1-2)
Rog, let me be picky. On what basis would we argue that “paradise” is heaven? Why could it not be somewhere else?
I think the question is a bit of a deliberate category error. Plus you said it was rhetorical so I assumed it didn’t need actual answering.
I’d say 1 Corinthians 15 speaks pretty strongly to the idea of a resurrection where our bodies are raised at Jesus’ return. How that works with what happens when we die and the nature of time outside of our existence is not something I lose a lot of soul sleep over.
I think it’s quite possible that we arrive at judgment day immediately upon our earthly demise, or that we go into some sort of waiting room type paradise (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus perhaps?). But who knows.
I’m more skeptical of these claims because they seem to remove God’s sovereignty over life and death. If they’re still alive, they weren’t dead. At least not from God’s perspective. Man is destined to die once. And face judgment. Right? Lets go with the category “mostly dead” or perhaps “medically dead”…
Yes, I think I do agree.
Now, what about my main question?
What an excellent question! This is off the top of my head, and I’ve not studied theology in any way.
I know there was no concept of heaven discussed in the old testament.
There is the parable of Lazarus, but it would be risky to build a whole doctrine from one parable, which is intended to be allegorical in the first place.
Paul talks about believers “falling asleep” to be later resurrected.
Jesus talked about preparing a place for us.
And John describes a new Jerusalem where believers get to dwell with God, and not experience any death or pain etc.
So when I put all that together, I can’t say that believers get to go to heaven when we die, but we do get there eventually. I suspect we “sleep” and are resurrected to be judged and then enter our reward (or otherwise…). But that’s just my opinion.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:21-24)
In desiring to depart and be with Christ, which is better than living, is Paul suggesting when he dies he will be with Christ…and Christ is in heaven?
Hi David, thanks for the welcome. You know how these things work, a re-tweet here, a blog roll there…
Having a disrupted night being poked by a two year old, an interrupted sleep sounds like heaven in itself!
One thought I did have was about that God, and possibly the place he dwells, might be outside our space-time dimensional universe. This means that although we perceive the passage of time between the death of the believer, and the resurrection of the dead, from the perception of the deceased these events are simultaneous.
Maybe we need a definition of “heaven.” When we say a person goes to “heaven” when they die, do we actually mean “paradise” by definition? Or do we mean that they go to a spiritual realm, whether that place is paradise or not?
thanks people! Some more thoughts.
Kirstie – yes, I think that’s the closest the Scriptures come to the idea.
Adulcia – well, welcome! You raise a popular idea – soul sleep or even some form of “instantaneous” transition. If that’s the case, then I think Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man rather gets in the way – there seems to be some form of consciousness in the “intermediate state”.
Tim – I think that’s half the battle; a lack of precision in our language.
I think part of the problem is that we tend to think about heaven as a place, rather than a realm.
There’s two things that we perhaps must hold in tension:
Paul says that to depart the body is to be with the Lord, yet we have the resurrection on the last day when heaven is joined with earth. So I tend to think that when we die our spirit goes to be with Lord and then with the new creation, the spiritual is joined with the physical and we get resurrection bodies. Tom Wright calls it life after life after death..
If the bible doesn’t say we go to heaven when we die then where did this concept come from and when did it start?
sorry for the delay in getting back to you. To be honest, I’m ignorant on the development of these ideas. Clearly there’s some “heaven” language in the Scriptures and by the time of the Reformation the “going to heaven” ideas are firmly and widely embedded in many “Christian” societies.
Perhaps a classic (if artistic) description is Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Paradiso section.
Here’s a funky little diagram to entertain…
How come Jerusalem is underneath hell? Presumably that’s not the new Jerusalem?
hi Kirstie, I’m not entirely sure. The entrance to Hell is the Dark Wood at Verona. I think the point is more that the entrance to Paradise is on the other side of the world from Jerusalem.
Just thought I’d chime in with a quote from a theologian I’ve found helpful on this topic:
“Heaven is a place on earth.
They say in heaven love comes first …”
– Belinda Carlisle
After that we part ways in our thinking.
If John sees the new Jerusalem descending from heaven, and the dwelling of God is now with man (Rev 21), then could we say that heaven comes to us rather than us going to heaven?
Spot on, I think. All except for Belinda. Let’s just pretend that never happened….