Over the past month I have been trying to take some time each week and answer a question that I have received by someone in my church. I have received questions from all over the spectrum and am always excited about answering more. Before I get into this question, here are a list of the questions I have already received:
- Why 66 books of the Bible?
- The Ten Commandments and the Sabbath
- Why is Jesus called 'Everlasting Father?'
Question: If there are specific resurrections, why do people believe they go immediately to heaven? Will God raise them at this time? If there is no time with God then are they already there, or does that make it seem immediate to them since that's their next waking moment? I read about the Last Great Day and specific resurrections, not immediate ascension to heaven. It doesn't make sense that you go there and are joined with God but you're just hanging around waiting for your body to be resurrected by itself. What's the point? When Christ was resurrected, he was resurrected.
This question may be a bit confusing, but let me see if I can get to the root of the issue. I think primarily this person is asking about the intermediate state. What happens to us when we die and our bodies are put into the ground. Does our soul go into some sort of sleep and then awake at the resurrection of our body or do we go to some holding place.
The very short answer is that I believe when a believer dies today they go immediately to be with the Lord. I get this from several passages of Scripture. The Apostle Paul told the church at Philippi that it was his desire to depart and be with Christ.
"For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Philippians 1:21-23)
It was very clear to him that if he were to die, he would be with Christ. I really don't think he needed to clarify that, but he does make it even clearer, I believe, in his words to the church at Corinth.
"So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." (2 Corinthians 5:6-7)
What Paul is saying is that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The Apostle Paul makes it plain and simple. But not as simple as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. While He was hanging on the cross, one of the thief's next to Him and begs, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus responds to him by saying, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:42-43). We know that Jesus' body was laid in the tomb and we can assume the same thing happened to the thief. Yet, Jesus said, that day they would be with each other in paradise.
I clearly believe that when a person dies, they go immediately to be with the Lord. What I do not believe is that this is the final place we will spend all eternity. That is why I referred to it earlier as the intermediate state. Randy Alcorn, the author of the insightful book, Heaven, wrote a blog post entitled Intermediate (Present) Heaven vs. Eternal Heaven. I would highly recommend it. Here is a taste of what he has to say:
"When a Christian dies, he or she enters into what theologians call the intermediate state, a transitional period between our past lives on Earth and our future resurrection to life on the New Earth. Usually when we refer to 'Heaven' we mean the place that Christians go when they die. When we tell our children 'Grandma's now in Heaven,' we're referring to the intermediate Heaven."
He goes on to say:
"God's children are destined for life as resurrected beings on a resurrected Earth. We must not lose sight of our true destination. If we do, we'll be confused and disoriented in our thinking about where, and in what form, we will spend eternity. Will we live in Heaven forever? The answer to the question depends on what we mean by Heaven. Will we be with the Lord forever? Absolutely. Since Heaven is where God dwells, we'll always be in Heaven. But will we always be with God in exactly the same place that Heaven is now? No. In the intermediate heaven, we'll be in Christ's presence, and we'll be joyful, but we'll be looking forward to our bodily resurrection and permanent relocation to the New Earth."
I have no doubt that when we die we will be in the presence of Christ. What I don't fully grasp is what kind of form we will be in, body or spirit? Since our bodies are buried, will we have some other type of bodily form or just some sort of spirit form (Alcorn argues that we have some sort of bodily form that is at least recognizable to others).
I hope that makes sense. And I hope that somewhat answers the question that was being asked.