Most people have some element of confusion when it comes to life after death. Popular belief is that the final, ultimate “resting” place after we die or when all is said and done is “heaven.”
But is this true? Is this what the Scriptures teach?
This belief is often more informed by pop culture than the Scriptures. Sometimes preachers are so hell-bent on “saving” you – going to heaven when you die – that they forget to tell you the whole story, making it sound like the only “saving” we need is from hell, and the only benefit of salvation is heaven. Or sometimes it is because in light of not having the truth, you simply fill in the gaps with what you think the Scriptures say on the issue.
I write to offer the hope of resurrection “as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-25; 6:5).
The Bible teaches that, before Christ returns, all believers who die will be with God in heaven in a conscious, immaterial (non-bodily) state (2 Cor. 5:6-10). You see, that is exactly what death is. Death is the separation of the immaterial (your soul) from the material (your body). God created humanity with bodies and souls. The soul is not more precious than the body, nor is the body more precious than the soul. A person’s soul is not the “real” you. The real you is what you have right now: body and soul. When a person dies, the body separates from the soul. This is why death is such a formidable enemy. Death defiles humanity of the dignity that God created us to have. Death tries to “uncreate” us.
God’s restoration and redemption of humanity is not focused on “saving” your soul and leaving your body to perish. This would give death a half victory and God a pitiful rescue.
God defeated death on the cross through Jesus Christ, the Righteous.
God is in the business of total restoration and complete redemption.
So when a believer dies before the return of Christ, that person is present with the Lord but absent in body in heaven (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). So, yes, we do go to heaven when we die, but this is not the final, ultimate place of rest. All the saints who have died before are eagerly anticipating the day of redemption, the return of Christ when we will be united with Him in our resurrection.
Christ will return and bring consummation to all things, eventually creating a new heaven and new earth. When all has come to pass, we will be reunited with a body, a new heavenly body – precisely what Paul speaks of when he says that we are “glorified” in Romans 8:28-30.
This is the fullness of redemption. We were made human with a body and, in the future eternal state, we will continue to be human with bodies – we will be the image bearers we were created to be. There will be no more possibility for sin and no more death, and our humanity will be what it was created to be. What death tried to uncreate, God will recreate.
Redemption is not a deliverance from the material world, but the reestablishment and sanctification of it (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-27; 22:1-21). God saves us in body and spirit through the incarnation, perfect life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ who will return to raise our mortal, corruptible, shameful bodies to be like His glorious, incorruptible, immortal body unified with our purified spirit now fit for the kingdom of God on the new earth (1 Cor. 15:42-49).
Read Part 2.