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Do We Go To Heaven Immediately When We Die
Rev. Lonnie Honeycutt
According to the Bible Do We Go To Heaven Immediately After Death
I'm writing this to defend a position I mistakenly didn't think needed defending. In perusing several different blogs found on HubPages I've noted several distinct instances of ignorance concerning the Biblical view of life after death. There is, of course, the thought that once we die that's it -- once the physical manifestation of life has ended we simply cease to exist. Normally, however, this view is reserved by those who classify themselves as atheists and therefore it doesn't fall into the scope of my topic since atheists don't 'believe' in the Bible as a book that can tell us anything of value spiritually speaking. Then there are those who believe that we 'sleep' once we die and there, in our graves, await either the second coming of Christ to awaken us or the Judgement Seat (Bema Seat) of Christ or the Great White Throne Judgement (the view one holds depends largely on whether or not a person is a pre- post- or amillennialist in their eschatological belief). The third camp is our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to a purgatory (a type of semi- or demi-Hell) of "temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God's Grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions." Basically, this means that departed souls go to 'burn off' sins until such time as they are paid for (either by almsgiving, fasting, or prayers or those who are still alive or by the suffering 'albeit temporary in light of eternity' of the person who is estranged from the presence of God in purgatory). It is the latter two camps I wish to address in this 'paper.'
What Did Jesus Teach About Death and the Afterlife?
First, I'd like to thank everyone and anyone who takes a stand and attempts to defend your position concerning this issue either privately or on a public forum. So many people disregard 1 Peter 3:15 which clearly tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
With that being said, even if I disregard my own experience in Heaven (detailed in
my book, “Death, Heaven & Back” – available on Amazon.com), my first point
of disagreement comes when it is stated that (paraphrased) " Jesus must have specifically preached and taught that we go to Heaven when we die" and that "such teaching must be found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John." In other words, what we'd need to search for and find is Jesus saying something similar to (or even exactly) "Truly I tell you, the man who dies shall go directly to Heaven or Hell" -- or some other form of the same declaration.
First and foremost I don’t believe that to restrict our search of the Scriptures for statements concerning the afterlife to “the 4 gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” is appropriate (I'll tell you why in just a few lines). Nor do I believe that we should be restricted to searching for a statement that has Jesus saying, "if you believe in me, you'll go to heaven when you die" before we can ascertain that He did indeed preach and teach the same.
For many, in order to hold to the belief that the Bible teaches that we go to Heaven immediately after death we would need to find “a verse in the bible that actually specifically, unequivocally states this belief.” Again, I disagree and, briefly, I'll try to explain why I'm in opposition to the aforementioned objections.
I believe that the last point raised, (i.e., that we need to find “a verse in the bible that actually specifically, unequivocally states this belief”) is the weakest point if one is dealing with Christians. The reason is simply because there are many points of doctrine that we, as Christians, believe that aren’t summed up in a single verse in the Bible. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity. While the Trinity is definitely a correct concept and belief no single verse simply states, “I and the Father and the Holy Spirit are one God.” Eschatology is another issue that, while being debatable even among the most sincere Christians, cannot be summed up in a single verse. For that matter, neither can marriage which, I'd assume, all Christians would agree is a God-given, God-blessed institution.
So, with the necessity of finding a verse that simply and briefly sums up a belief in life immediately after death having been ‘put to rest,’ (no pun intended), I believe we can move on to the other points of contention.
I concede that if we are to hold to the belief that one goes to Heaven (or Hell) immediately after we die that we should find that Jesus speaks about the same. I agree inasmuch as I believe we should look to the words of our Savior for clarification on the matters on which He personally spoke. However, if one insists that the ONLY place for said clarification can come from is the SPECIFIC words of Jesus then I’d have to disagree. The reason for my disagreement, if this is what one would claim, is twofold: 1) The secondary reason I disagree with such a position is that the one holding to it would, by necessity, be bound to require an opposing statement directly from Jesus before their position could be held as valid. In other words, if it is demanded that Jesus specifically state something similar to "The man who dies shall go directly to Heaven or Hell" then we should except to find something similar (or exactly) to: "Truly I tell you, the man who dies does not go directly to Heaven or Hell" -- or some other form of the same declaration. I sincerely doubt that any who hold to the 'anti' position to the one I'm taking would accept such a restriction; 2) The PRIMARY reason I'm opposed to such restrictions is because, as Christians who believe implicitly and explicitly in the Bible, we MUST believe 1 Timothy 3:16-17 which states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
What this means is that we
should search the entirety of the Scriptures (not just the red-lettered words
of Jesus) to determine whether a belief we’ll hold is correct or not because it
is ALL from God. Indeed, even those who hold to perverse, deviant sexual practices often use the rational that 'since Christ didn't speak against it' that it must be okay. Again, should those who hold to that rational be 'forced' to show a verse in the Bible where Jesus specifically condones the practice we (Christians) consider deviant and perverse, they would and should, rightly object. Of course, the point I'm making here isn't an allusion to one's sexual preference but to the preferential of one Scripture over another because of the person it's attributed to when we, as Christians, should treat each word of Scripture as canon because it was inspired by God Himself. At this point I'd like to concede the very real possibility of our encountering people who declare, based upon a strict 'letter of the law mentality,' that since we hold to each word as being 'from God' that we must also hold to those things stated by people in the Bible who are obviously opposed to our beliefs and, in some cases, even to God Himself. For instance, satan makes statements and, though he is accurately quoted, he is the father of lies. This is the case when we read in the Bible (Genesis 3:4-5) concerning whether or not Eve would die if she ate of the fruit that had been forbidden by God, "You certainly will not die!
No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be
opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad." Though this is an accurately quoted statement it is also an accurately quoted lie from satan himself.
But, for the sake of argument, I’ll first apply the words of
Jesus Himself to defend my position that Christians do indeed go to Heaven immediately after we die.
Jesus' clearest teaching on what happens to us after we die came from His own mouth as He was about to die on the cross. Jesus told one of the thieves who was on the cross next to him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) The same Greek word for paradise is used in the Septuagint (which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament), to refer to a park, a garden or a forest. It often refers to the Garden of Eden, (Genesis 2 and 3) and to the garden of God as it will be, (Ezekiel and Isaiah).
That the term 'paradise' means Heaven in the proper sense of the term is certain based upon how the Apostle Paul used the term interchangeably. The Apostle Paul used the term
"caught up to paradise" as a parallel with "caught up to the third
heaven," which is the place where God dwells (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the
third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not
know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows — was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell."). Jesus further expanded his promise of
paradise in his Revelation to the Apostle John, "To him who overcomes, I
will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of
God." (Revelation 2:7)
Also, from the lips of Jesus comes the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It should be noted that this story is not a parable. One must only do a casual search of Jesus’ parables to discover that in no parable does Jesus actually use a specific person’s name. Still, if one insists that the story is a parable one must also admit that Christ ONLY used REAL LIFE situations to illustrate even greater events.
I present to you His words as found in Luke 16:19-31: "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell, [Greek Hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
Other Passages In The Bible That Depict Those Who Are Dead Have A Knowledge Of What's Happening On Earth
In 1 Samuel 28, after Samuel was brought back to life, he was aware of what King Saul did and didn't do. Further, Samuel, who was definitely dead at the time of his conversation with Saul, was able to tell the King about things that had happen in their past ('The LORD has done to you what he foretold through me'), things that were currently happening ('the LORD has done this to you today'), and things that were to happen in the future ('the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the clutches of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines').
"Samuel then said to Saul, "Why do you disturb me by conjuring me up?" Saul replied: "I am in great straits, for the Philistines are waging war against me and God has abandoned me. Since he no longer answers me through prophets or in dreams, I have called you to tell me what I should do." To this Samuel said: "But why do you ask me, if the LORD has abandoned you and is with your neighbor? The LORD has done to you what he foretold through me: he has torn the kingdom from your grasp and has given it to your neighbor David."Because you disobeyed the LORD'S directive and would not carry out his fierce anger against Amalek, the LORD has done this to you today.Moreover, the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the clutches of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines."" (1 Samuel 28:15-19)
This conversation between Saul and Samuel begs the question of how he (Samuel) would have known all of this if he weren't able to follow the events on Earth and if he were simply asleep. Of course, it's possible that the LORD simply filled him with said knowledge but then the text would have read differently (i.e., we would have expected to read something akin to the following, "the LORD has revealed that... etc."). Since the language is conversational in style it depicts personal knowledge of what had happened, what was happening, and what would happen on Earth. Note also, that the knowledge Samuel had was NOT restricted to Saul alone but, instead, covered several peoples and places (Amalek, Israel, Philistines, Saul and his Sons, the army of Israel).
My last argument (at the moment) is found in the last book of the Bible (Revelation). The reason I choose this book is because it depicts dead saints who are ‘currently’ (future tense) living in Heaven and who are aware of things occurring around them as well as on earth. This would be impossible if these same saints were ‘asleep’ (as in Soul Sleep) or simply not in existence at the time of their deaths.
Revelation 6:9-11 “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
Note that in the verse above and below that the people
speaking had been killed AND were aware of the events happening on Earth -- had they not been aware of the events on Earth they would NOT have asked when the Lord Jesus was going to avenge their blood.
Revelation 7:9-17 “After these things I looked, and behold,
a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples,
and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white
robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice,
saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the
Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four
living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped
“ Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
Be to our God forever and ever.
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir,you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
In Revelation 18:20 we see that God's holy people, apostles and prophets are told that they should be happy because God has punished Babylon the great. This assumes that those who are being told about the punishment would be aware of what was happening on Earth -- to some extent at least.
"Be happy because of this, heaven! Be happy, God's holy people and apostles and prophets! God has punished her because of what she did to you."
One might also note that John the Revelator (the one Jesus entrusted to write His Revelation), like Paul, visited Heaven (though in John's case it was most certainly a vision -- albeit an 'open vision'), was allowed to see events transpire in Heaven and on Earth and reported that those he saw in Heaven were aware of the same things he was seeing (both in Heaven and on Earth).
In conclusion I hope that the preceding study has helped you clarity the issue of whether or not those who die are 1) Actually alive and aware currently -- rather than being asleep and unaware of anything; 2) Intimately interested in things that are currently happening on Earth; and 3) Capable of interacting with God about the events that occur here on Earth.
If you have any comments concerning this issue or suggestions for upcoming articles, please feel free to make a comment below.
Rev. Lonnie Honeycutt (RevLon)
Death, Heaven and Back by Lonnie Honeycutt
Death, Heaven and Back by Lonnie Honeycutt
Death, Heaven and Back is a book by Rev. Lonnie Honeycutt that deals with his near death experience after being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer of the head and neck (oropharyngeal cancer). It is the true story of one man's death and resurrection told in a rather unique style. For example, Lonnie Honeycutt (RevLon), uses personal testimony as well as eye-witnesses accounts from third parties (e.g., his wife, many of his friends, etc.) and it includes the actual emails sent to those he knew while undergoing cancer treatment.