When You Die, Where Will You Go? Are Your Sure?

I’ve always been taught that when you die you go to heaven (if you’re a Christian, of course). However, I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the immediacy of that trip. I’ve never been entirely persuaded that I, or any of us, will end up in heaven immediately upon death, without a little stop over in “paradise,” “Abraham’s bosom,” or some other equally-cool name for the heavenly holding tank. But, I must admit, I’m not entirely sure.

Well, yesterday during our Revelation Bible study (specifically 1:17-18), this very question was raised (and not by me), as were a few eyebrows, and more than a few hairs on the back of necks. It didn’t generate an argument, but it did generate a great discussion (a perfect example of brothers and sisters disagreeing without becoming disagreeable). One which will no doubt continue in the hallway of our church, over coffee and lunches, and on the blogs of our church members (here, here, and of course, here at BOB).

So, I ask you, my blogging brethren, where do we go immediately upon death (if anywhere)?

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  1. #1 by Matt on November 4, 2009 - 11:27 am

    I don’t firmly hold to this position (in other words I can be dissuaded if shown evidence), but it is the one that I think makes the most sense biblically. That is the idea of soul sleep (possibly paradise?). When you die, you are “resting in peace” until Christ returns and resurrects the dead. Here comes the issue of pre/mid/post-trib rapture, so I won’t go any further than that. Death -> Soul Sleep -> Resurrection

    • #2 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 11:31 am

      Matt, I think I agree with you (but, I could be dissuaded if shown evidence).

  2. #3 by watchmancurtis on November 4, 2009 - 11:46 am

    The people in Luke 16:19-30 seem to be awake though. Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. If this means that they are actually watching then it wouldn’t be a state of sleep. As you know, Peter, I believe that unbelievers go to sheol and the righteous go to “Abraham’s Bosom” as they await Judgment and the saints their resurrected bodies. Now I am certainly looking at other views. Someone mentioned yesterday that Christ emptied Abraham’s Bosom and I would very much like to see where that idea comes from in the Bible. I’m open to changing my view. I found in Ephesians 4:8-10 where Jesus descends into the lower parts of the earth and leads captives out. My problem with this being Abraham’s Bosom, however, is 1 Peter 3:18-20 where it says that the spirits that Jesus made proclamation to where the disobedient. Also if you were in Paradise (Abraham’s Bosom) how would that be captivity? I’m just asking. Now that opens up another can of worms, but I’m not going there at the moment. It is a very interesting subject and I look forward to what others have to share. I certainly do not claim to understand everything.

    • #4 by Matt on November 4, 2009 - 11:56 am

      The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-30) was a parable though (ie. not a factual news event). As for Hebrews 12:1, I don’t take that to mean that we are dead when we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses since it seems to be talking about persevering in the faith which would be unnecessary after death. How do you take it to mean?

      • #5 by watchmancurtis on November 4, 2009 - 1:29 pm

        It is kind of hard for me to imagine Jesus using a parable based on a false teaching. If there were no such place as Abraham’s Bosom, I would think that Jesus would ignore or reject that idea. To use it in a teaching, however, would be misleading, it seems, if it were not a real place and he did not make that distinction. Not to mention, as has already been brought up, there are some questions as to whether it is a parable or not. The Hebrews 12 comment was more of me just thinking out loud. Not trying to base a defense around it. Just wondering out loud.

    • #6 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 12:09 pm

      Curtis: Eric preached a sermon on Jesus emptying Abraham’s bosom a while back. It was an interesting sermon…a perspective I have never heard before. I’m sure it’s available for download. I’ll search the EFC archives and see what I can find. You’re right, there are plenty of cans of worms to open, but why not open them? Perhaps commenting back and forth is not the best place, but I’m all for opening them.

      • #7 by watchmancurtis on November 4, 2009 - 1:33 pm

        Peter, let me know if you find it. I would be very interested in listening to it. Thanks! As to the worms…well it seems I opened up a big enough one to start. We’ll see if any others get opened up in the process.

  3. #10 by Nick Norelli on November 4, 2009 - 11:52 am

    I think believers go immediately to heaven where they await the resurrection, after which time they’ll reside on earth forever, and unbelievers go to hades where they await the resurrection, after which time they’ll be thrown into the lake of fire where they’ll reside forever.

    I personally don’t think there’s anything in the NT that supports soul sleep, but there’s some stuff in the OT that if looked at on its own without reference to the developing thought that we see throughout the OT, that can lead people to believe in it.

    • #11 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 12:11 pm

      I agree with you about unbelievers and Hades, but I’m thinking there’s a believers’ equivalent: paradise, Abraham’s bosom, etc. I’m not positive, and I’m honestly asking because I’m not sure.

  4. #12 by ElShaddai Edwards on November 4, 2009 - 11:58 am

    I’ve been meaning to research the little heresy that says that when we die, we immediately find ourselves before the great white throne, e.g. Rev 20. That is, no matter when in history you die, you are immediately advanced to the final judgment – do not pass Go… would be an interesting tie into preterism, which concludes that most, if not all, of Rev 1-19 (and some say 20) was accomplished in the first century AD.

    • #13 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 12:13 pm

      I agree, I don’t think we make it to final judgment before “the” final judgment, and it might be a subtle tie to preterism…which should stir Curtis’ ire :)

  5. #14 by Nick Norelli on November 4, 2009 - 12:16 pm

    Matt: Are you sure that the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable? Some, like Darrell Bock, say it’s an “example story” and not a parable, and others are quite happy to interpret it as a true story (what you’ve called “a factual news event”). But let’s for the sake of argument say that it is in fact a parable; wasn’t Jesus in the habit of taking examples of real things/concepts, things/concepts familiar to his audience, to tell his parables? E.g., Jesus tells a bunch of parables in Matthew 13. Just because the woman who hid the leaven in three measures of meal in Mat. 13:33 wasn’t real we wouldn’t say that leaven, meal, or the kingdom of heaven aren’t real. Likewise, just because there may not have been a Rich Man and Lazarus doesn’t mean that there was no place called Abraham’s Bosom that the dead were believed to have gone to. We can argue that the belief itself was wrong, but the prevailing belief of Jesus’ day among Jews was in the immortality of the soul and consciousness after death. Check out this passage from Josephus:

    They [i.e., the Pharisees] also believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again… But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this:–That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation of anything besides what the law enjoins them, for they think it an instance of virtue to dispute with those teachers of philosophy whom they frequent; but this doctrine is received but by a few, yet by those still of the greatest dignity; but they are able to do almost nothing by themselves; for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them.The doctrine of the Essenes is this:–That all things are best ascribed to God. They teach the immortality of souls, and esteem that the rewards of righteousness are to be earnestly striven for… (Josephus, Ant. 18:14, 16-18)

    The Sadducees were the dissenters and they seem to have been the minority.

    • #15 by Matt on November 4, 2009 - 12:42 pm

      As I said, I can be dissuaded, although being in a conscious state, I don’t think rules out the notion of soul sleep. Before I mentioned that this soul sleep could be paradise, so I think it’s possible (although unsure) that they are one and the same.

      As for the possibility of Lk 16:19-30 not being a parable, it is true that there are elements that don’t seem to mesh with other parables, so I’m open to that possibility as well. However I don’t think that you could say that it IS a true story any more than any of the other parables, perhaps a representation with real elements (Abraham’s Bosom and hades), but not a true story.

      My thoughts may be a little jumbled in there. I’m trying not to burn something on the stove. Let me know if anything needs more explanation and I’ll try to do better in a little bit.

      • #16 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 12:56 pm

        Nick, Matt, Does the parable/not parable question change anything? Whether parable or not, I don’t see how it changes anything.

        • #17 by Matt on November 4, 2009 - 1:10 pm

          If it is simply a parable with no basis in reality then this example doesn’t mean that you go to Abraham’s Bosom or hades. However, if it is a parable/non-parable with a real setting, then it would suggest that you would go there. It doesn’t really affect anything for me though (in this case) since I don’t have much problem equating soul sleep with paradise or Abraham’s Bosom.

  6. #18 by Nick Norelli on November 4, 2009 - 1:07 pm

    Matt: I don’t think I understand how soul sleep doesn’t rule out consciousness or vice versa. Can you break that down for me?

    Peter: It doesn’t, which was my point. Jesus took things known to his audience to make certain points. The point of the story, whether it was a parable or not, has nothing to do with the afterlife, yet he uses the prevailing belief in the afterlife as an element to make his point. Same as his parables about mustard seeds had nothing to do with mustard seeds…

    • #19 by Matt on November 4, 2009 - 1:23 pm

      Perhaps a better term (in my thinking) would be soul rest. That is, the soul would be resting in paradise/Abraham’s Bosom, and awaiting the resurrection of the body. I used the traditional term “soul sleep,” but resting is what I had in mind.

      I should probably point out that what I am speaking of in all my comments here is a dead Christian. As far as non-Christians are concerned, I have no developed thoughts on that other than that they end up in hell (immediately or eventually, I don’t know).

      • #20 by watchmancurtis on November 4, 2009 - 1:43 pm

        I am glad you made the distinction. I can definitely see it as a place of rest while we await the Final Judgment. Being called Paradise I believe it is wonderful and in the “Presence of the Lord”, just not the fully realized glory of heaven that is awaiting us after the final judgment. Hope that makes sense.

        • #21 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 2:48 pm

          Yes, it makes sense (to me, anyway).

  7. #22 by mondaymorningreview on November 4, 2009 - 1:27 pm

    This is the sound of me chewing.

    • #23 by watchmancurtis on November 4, 2009 - 2:30 pm

      Have you swallowed, gagged, or spit out anything yet?

    • #24 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 2:48 pm

      Chomp, chomp, Pastor.

  8. #25 by T.C. R on November 4, 2009 - 1:28 pm

    Yes, the present location of paradise is key. Paul says he was caught up there, and he goes on to use an interchange with the third heaven, heaven that we often refer to.

    After the cross, for the believer, to dies, is to be immediately in the presence of Jesus (Phil. 1:23).

  9. #26 by watchmancurtis on November 4, 2009 - 2:19 pm

    I guess my main point here is that if you believe there is a final judgment yet to take place, what is the point of it if we are already in heaven or hell? Now if you are a full preterist, as someone already mentioned,then I can see where that might change your view. For me, however, the book of Revelation is literal and yet future. The Final Judgment hasn’t happened yet…so it seem that we have to go somewhere until that point. Also, if we go straight to heaven…what is the point in the dead in Christ being raised? 1 Thessalonians 4:15 says that the dead in Christ will rise first. Revelation 20:11-15 says that the dead are brought before the Lord for judgment. Verse 15 says that the those who were not found in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire. Obviously they have not been in hell this whole time, but in a holding place. It seems to me that the judgment has to take place before we can go to either heaven (the fully realized heaven) or hell (lake of fire). If someone is accused of a crime, they await their trial and judgment. They are not automatically convicted or released as innocent. Anyway, just me doing some more thinking. I’ve enjoyed the discussion.

    • #27 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 2:50 pm

      Also, if we go straight to heaven…what is the point in the dead in Christ being raised?

      Bingo! This is the point that has always puzzled me, and, I suppose, led me to my (albeit flexible) conclusion(s).

  10. #28 by sethmehorn on November 4, 2009 - 4:07 pm

    NT Wright’s recent book “Surprised by Hope” has provided a helpful lay level treatment of these kinds of issues (or at least related issues). Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I have not read it yet. Has anyone commenting so far read it?

    • #29 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 4:41 pm

      I have not, anyone else?…

  11. #30 by Nick Norelli on November 4, 2009 - 4:24 pm

    Peter:

    I agree with you about unbelievers and Hades, but I’m thinking there’s a believers’ equivalent: paradise, Abraham’s bosom, etc. I’m not positive, and I’m honestly asking because I’m not sure.

    Yeah, that would be heaven. Remember, hades is the ‘waiting room’ so to speak for the wicked before they go into the lake of fire. Heaven is the ‘waiting room’ for the righteous until they inhabit the new earth.

    Also, about the point of the dead being raised if we go straight to heaven, that kind of is the point, we’re raised to inhabit the earth once more. Heaven isn’t the end of the road, it’s a layover until we reach our final destination.

    Curtis:

    I guess my main point here is that if you believe there is a final judgment yet to take place, what is the point of it if we are already in heaven or hell?

    The point is to determine how much reward the righteous will receive and how much punishment the wicked will receive (see e.g., 2Cor. 5:10) Also, as long as we maintain a distinction between hades and the lake of fire (= Hell) and heaven and the new earth then there should be no problem in understanding the point of the judgment. We wait in one (heaven or hades) until we’re judged to see how we’ll live in the other (new earth or hell).

    • #31 by watchmancurtis on November 4, 2009 - 4:44 pm

      The Judgment I’m talking about is the Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11-15. Here the dead are judged as to whether they receive eternal life or thrown into the lake of fire. It is my understanding that the rewards judgment of the saints (Bema Seat of Christ) is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10. Those are two seperate events it seems to me.

      • #32 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 4:52 pm

        Curtis,

        Those are two seperate events it seems to me.

        I agree.

      • #33 by ElShaddai Edwards on November 4, 2009 - 4:58 pm

        But why have two sets of books in Rev 20:11-15? There is the small book of life, on which names are written and – I believe – only names. Then there are the other books with recorded deeds. You could have done great and good deeds, but if you’re not in the book of life, so sorry. Or you could be the most apathetic person, but if you’re in the book of life, then you’re in, but only by passing through the fire and losing everything (1 Cor 3:10-15).

        • #34 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 5:15 pm

          ESE, In these threaded comments, I’ve lost track of who you are responding to, is it me?

          • #35 by ElShaddai Edwards on November 4, 2009 - 6:01 pm

            No – I was responding to watchmancurtis on the distinction/separation between Rev 20 and 2 Cor 5. Your reply came in while I was writing!

    • #36 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 4:49 pm

      Nick, Perhaps it is just a matter of semantics (although I doubt it), but I agree we will be able to inhabit a new earth, but I’m not sold that heaven is the holding tank. I think heaven is an ultimate destination in itself – which we will have access to. Let me make it clear: I am not clear on what I specifically believe the Bible says. I can honestly see about 3 different angles of the argument, and I feel totally comfortable in that (for now). I do not, however, see a definitive passage in scripture I can point to and say heaven is the holding tank, but if you will point me to one, I’m happy to reconsider.

  12. #37 by ElShaddai Edwards on November 4, 2009 - 4:41 pm

    There are two types of judgment in Rev 20:11ff, yes? The first separates the goats from the sheep — believers from non-believers, i.e. those not found in the book of life — while the second is a judgment of reward for believers (cf. 1 Tim 6:18-19, 2 Cor 5:10, 1 Cor 3:10-15) based on the record of deeds found in the other Rev 20:12 books. Both our faith and works will be judged, but our admittance to New Earth is only based on the former.

    • #38 by Peter on November 4, 2009 - 4:53 pm

      ESE, Yes, I think so.

  13. #39 by T.C. R on November 4, 2009 - 5:55 pm

    I love this discussion. EE, just summed up my eschatology.

  14. #40 by Nick Norelli on November 4, 2009 - 7:32 pm

    Curtis: The “judgment seat” of Christ is the “throne.” It’s possible to interpret the judgments as separate events, most pre-millennial dispensationalists do, but it’s not a necessary interpretation. One could also interpret it as ElShaddai has, as distinct types of judgment within the same event.

    Peter: Well, let me answer your question with a question: where is Jesus now? Wherever that is is where we’ll be also when we depart (2Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23-24).

    • #41 by Peter on November 5, 2009 - 6:48 am

      Nick, I know, this came up during our study, Christ ascended into heaven, and when we die we’ll be in His presence-which is what has me struggling…

    • #42 by watchmancurtis on November 5, 2009 - 10:22 am

      I guess this is where we will just have to agree to disagree since it looks like we are looking at this from two different perspectives. I have enjoyed the discussion though. Thanks to everyone for the challenging thoughts. One last thought that I would add is that while Jesus is at the right hand of God I do not believe He is chained to that seat. He is also preparing a place for us. I would think that He could visit those in Paradise whenever He wished and therefore they would be in His presence. Thanks again for the discussion.

      • #43 by Peter on November 5, 2009 - 11:20 am

        What if I’m still not sure who I’m agreeing to disagree with? ;)

        Or, for that matter, who I agree (or disagree) with?

        • #44 by watchmancurtis on November 5, 2009 - 11:24 am

          heheh…well I was specifically referring to Nick since I think the disagreement extends beyond just where do we go when we die. Sorry for the confusion.

  15. #45 by Jim Dempsey on November 4, 2009 - 7:48 pm

    I don’t have a firm opinion. I just know I’m going to Heaven when God decides. Frankly; I don’t think any of us have a long time to wait…

    • #46 by Peter on November 5, 2009 - 10:07 am

      Well said, Jim.

  16. #47 by Mulled Vine on November 5, 2009 - 7:33 am

    I am generally ignorant on this topic but why should that prevent me sharing an opinion? Two things I think: (i) we need to be careful in drawing too many conclusions from the Abraham’s bosom parable since it is a parable, and (ii) when we die, presumably time is no longer relevant, so there is no issue with what happens while we wait until judgement day, because there is no wait … just one very long “now”.

    But as I said at the beginning, what do I know?

    • #48 by Peter on November 5, 2009 - 10:09 am

      I think your second point is quite key. We are very limited by our human concept of time, which we haven’t taken into account in this discussion at all. So, whether immediately or over a long period of time will probably be irrelevant to the one in the afterlife, but it is fun to think about, isn’t it?

  17. #49 by Nick Norelli on November 5, 2009 - 12:54 pm

    Curtis: Perhaps. I think we’d both have to say a lot more before we really see how the other is looking at it all. But it was fun.

    Peter: These threaded comments are confusing, which is why I never use them. ;-)

    • #50 by Peter on November 5, 2009 - 1:05 pm

      Nick, knowing Curtis personally and you through your blog, I think you guys would agree about much more than you would disagree about, but it was fun. Thanks.

  18. #51 by wilma on November 5, 2009 - 9:07 pm

    Interesting topic….Peter I believe “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. The thief on the cross, Jesus said, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” I remember about 45 years ago when my sister died, I was 25 years old and I was grieving over the cold snow covered grave where we put her earthly body. I was reading the word and I really felt God gave me the scripture from Hebrews…”a cloud of witnesses cheering us on”. My sister was 10 years older than me and I really look up to her. In my heart of hearts (wherever that is) I took that verse to mean “my sister was cheering me on.”. I have peace with these verses that I will be with Jesus in Paradise and I will be among the cloud of witnesses (unless we all are caught up to meet him in the air first. LOL Enjoyed the discussion.

    • #52 by Peter on November 5, 2009 - 9:44 pm

      Yes, Wilma, wherever or whenever, it will be great. Thanks for jumping in, we missed you guys this last weekend.

  19. #53 by Jody O. on April 1, 2010 - 3:50 pm

    I believe we wake up on the first mansion world after we die.

  20. #54 by Chris Pieper on April 2, 2010 - 6:36 pm

    Just as it is impossible for our mortal minds to ever fully grasp the true nature/essence of God, it is equally impossible for any mortal to truly know anything beyond speculation about the afterlife. Belief and knowledge are two distinct and often non-overlapping epistemologies.

    However . . .

    I BELIEVE that religion and science are two lenses on the same ultimate reality, and contemporary science is increasingly pointing to the irreducibility of matter and energy. More precisely, that it is impossible to totally destroy either one. They are transformed into one another. Elementary thermodynamics.

    If we subscribe to the notion, as most Westerners do, that a human being is body and soul (at least), or in my terminology, matter and energy, then there is good REASON to think that the energy emergent from bodily processes (i.e. consciousness/mind) must go somewhere. More than half of the world’s population believes it either returns here in another incarnation — which, incidentally, was common theology during the early Christian period until excised by the Council of Trent, if I’m not mistaken. That is one novel and scientifically reasonable way to understand eternal life, though strictly mortal.

    I’m also open to the idea of immediate awakening/Heaven/breaking the cycle of Samsara etc. in the sense that the consciousness of the individual may attain a sufficiently high level of evolution that bodily incarnation is no longer necessary and another dimension of existence is available (Nirvana, Heaven, Paradise, and the like) OR, even more radical, the consciousness is then ready to advance to another form of existence altogether (angelic, superhuman, Bodhisattva, etc). I don’t know, and in the final analysis, neither does anyone else.

    Whatever happens though, it needs to fit all the cultural interpretations of this experience that humans have described of it for 10,000 years, 95% of which depict a major transformation and an ongoing existence rather than mere nothingness.

    Oprah, by the way, believes you get whatever you think you’re gonna get, which is both liberating and terrifying.

    Good convo, peeps.

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