Yes, that’s right. Christians don’t go to heaven when they die. Allow me to explain. If you grew up in a religious background, you’ve likely grown up believing when a person dies, they either go straight to heaven or hell. A simple idea that many of us have been taught, but likely never investigated in scripture because it seemed obvious. However, if we investigate the scripture on where people go when they die, we might be surprised to find that it’s not as obvious as we’ve always been taught. Let’s observe what the scripture states first in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17
1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 states “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Now notice, it said the Lord Himself will descend from heaven, and then it goes on to say the dead in Christ will rise first, and then the rest who are alive will be caught up together with the dead in the clouds to meet the Lord. So according to this verse the dead aren’t already in heaven, otherwise it wouldn’t have said Jesus had to come down from heaven to get them. So then that begs the question, where are they? Well, let’s continue to look through scripture to get as many facts as we can to make an informed conclusion. Let’s see if the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 can help us.
Luke 16:22-26 states “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
Ok, so we see here that Lazarus died and went to Abraham’s Bosom, and the rich man went to Hades. How are these two places defined in the original Greek? Let’s review.
Kolpos (bosom) – front of the body
Hades (hades) – the nether world, an abode for the wicked
Thoughts on these words
Now some argue that Abraham’s Bosom is possibly a metaphor for heaven, but still, the definition of bosom doesn’t say metaphor for heaven, and if it was then it would seem to be in contradiction to Jesus coming down to bring the dead with Him first in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. An interesting thing to note for that translation of hades is that it is NOT the same as the Greek word used for hell. In fact, there is a completely different word used for hell in the Greek, and that word is Geenna. The definition of that word is future punishment akin to the valley of Hinnom in South Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned. You’ll also notice that you’ll find the word fire or fiery next to the word hell frequently.
Rev 20:14 gives us the perfect illustration of this difference which states, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Now yes, in that parable, the rich man said he was in agony in a flame, but the distinction between that fire in Hades and the fire of Hell that people will be placed in during the final judgment, is they will be completely destroyed in the fire of hell. The rich man could still evidently talk in that Hades flame. Remember what Mat 10:28 states ““Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
What does it all mean?
So how do we tie all of this together? Before I offer a conclusion based on all of these facts, it might be helpful to offer insight on two other verses that some say suggest that Christians are in fact going straight to heaven whenever they die. Philippians 1:23 states, “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;” (2 Cor 5:8 states, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Ok, at first glance it would seem as if this is evidence we’re all going to be with Christ in heaven as soon as we die, because that’s what the Apostle Paul just said his desire is, but there are a couple of things that also have to be recognized here.
One, the Apostles said this desire of themselves. The Apostles would seem to be in a different category from us as Christians. Remember what Jesus said about the vine, the branches, and the fruits in John. Following the context that Jesus was speaking to the Apostles when making this statement, He said He was the vine, they were the branches, and that they would bear much fruit abiding in Him (John 15:5). The fruit could logically be concluded to be us, the Christians. John 15:16 states, “You (apostles) did not choose Me (Jesus) but I (Jesus) chose you (Apostles), and appointed you (Apostles) that you (Apostles) would go and bear fruit (Christians), and that your fruit (Christians) would remain, so that whatever you (Apostles) ask of the Father in My name He may give to you (Apostles).” With that to consider, we also have to remember that those two verses (Phil 1:23 and 2 Cor 5:8), as all verses do, have to correlate with every verse in Scripture. So it would again still seem contradictory, to say Christians are going to be in heaven right after they die, when it’s stated Jesus is going to come down and bring the dead first in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
My scriptural conclusion
With all of that said there’s obviously a lot to put together here, but let’s try to see if we can. The dead according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 are not in heaven yet. Now the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a reflection of what happened when those two people died. Perhaps maybe that’s the reflection of what happens to all Christians when they die, and all the dead are in a resting place with Abraham right now. However, if the same fate of Lazarus is true of all people who lived life as Christians, wouldn’t they already be in heaven? According to Jesus, that’s where Abraham is. Mat 8:11 states “I (Jesus) say to you (the centurion was who he was speaking to) that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven;”
Is there a separate resting place with just Abraham first? Another possible idea that we also have to keep in mind is that the parable never said Lazarus was a Christian. As we know from our studies, there were no Christians until Acts 2 when the first people got saved according to the Gospel of Christ stated in Mark 16:15-16. You might stop me here and say wait, are you saying there are non-Christians in heaven? Well, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not in the category of Christians. The command given for all people being able to come to heaven by becoming a saved Christian was given at the end of the gospels. So all those prior to the time the first people became Christians in Acts 2 that ended up in heaven were non-Christians. Now to be clear, Non-Christians can of course definitely not enter heaven now. I make the point to illustrate an alternative idea that it’s possible the parable is perhaps not necessarily a direct reflection of what happens for Christians when they die, but just a continuing illustration to the people around Jesus at that time that they needed to repent. I would say that I’m most inclined to settle my view on that conclusion. Though one other thing also for thought, if one were to believe the parable is a direct reflection of events after an individual dies, then as a result Non-Christians would be currently in Hades until Judgment day, and then they will be destroyed in Hell.
There’s a lot that can be speculated from these verses, and after I came to my own conclusions; I researched and discovered that theologians have had a number of different conclusions on this topic. One thing we do know for sure is that people who have obeyed the Gospel of Christ and remain committed to the faith will be in heaven with Jesus eventually, and I think we can all agree that’s the most important thing that matters. Any thoughts, questions, or comments are welcome as always. If this post enlightened you in anyway, I’d appreciate if you shared this across your social media by clicking one of the “SHARE THIS:” buttons below. Peace to all those who are in Christ.