Articles home page

Where people go when they die

(Garth D. Wiebe, March 2015, Rev 20:11-15 added Aug 2016, John 5:28-29,6:39,40,44,54 added Apr 2017)
[most scriptures quoted in this article from the NIV'78]

Most people haven't given this subject much thought, but just have parroted out what they have been taught, although there are obviously more important things we must focus on.  Yet the scriptures do address the issue, so we can, too.

Most of what you hear, and probably what you were taught, is Roman Catholic doctrine and dogma, or else what is just a slightly "Protestant" "Reformed" version of that Roman Catholic doctrine and dogma.

To the Roman Catholic Church, all the heavenly things revolve around, and are constrained to the time frames of earthly things; therefore, people have to be active and conscious somewhere when they die.  That would be heaven, hell, paradise, purgatory, or limbo.  Of course, the "saints," who were special and godly, were said to go straight to heaven immediately upon death.  The "protestants" eliminated paradise, purgatory, and limbo, based on the fact that you are either saved (by faith alone) or not.  So, that left heaven and hell.  And, I imagine that the Protestants were motivated by having a better story to tell, to improve upon the Roman Catholic dogma by saying that, since all believers are "saints," then all believers likewise go straight to heaven when they die, from the least to the greatest, including Protestant Saint Uncle Bob, the plumber, who went to glory when the kitchen sink fell on him, bless his soul.

I often wondered about that.  If everyone who has died is now in either one of those two places, why don't Protestants talk to and pray to all those "saints" in heaven, and ask them to pray for us, etc.?  Something to think about.  Think that the Bible forbids "consulting the dead"?  No problem.  They are not "dead" but "alive" up there in glory, right?  You are not speaking over some dead body in a grave, but everyone "up there" in glorified "spiritual" bodies with Jesus, from Protestant Saint Uncle Bob, the plumber, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, right?  Think!

Once again, what you need to do is just wipe all the church doctrine clean and go back to what the Bible says and doesn't say.

If you will do that, then, once again, things get simple.  Really simple.  That is, if you stick with the scriptures that actually teach on the subject of what happens when you die and when you are raised, not other scriptures that teach about something else.

You can read in 1 Thess 4 that Jesus is going to come again and raise all those who are "asleep in Christ," and then those who are still alive at that second coming will be joined with them in the same event.  It seems the Thessalonians, under the prevalent assumption that Jesus was returning very soon, within their lifetime, were concerned about those who were dying and were being buried in the meanwhile.  The apostle Paul says,

"13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.  18 Therefore encourage each other with these words." (1 Thess 4:13-18)
So there you have it, as plainly as it can be taught.  Jesus comes back, raises all the "dead" Christians, and snatches all the "alive" ones in the process.

Isn't that simple?

Notice he doesn't say that the "dead in Christ will come down from heaven."  Nor does it say that "the saints alive in heaven will come down from heaven and meet their own resurrected bodies in the air."  He says the "dead in Christ will rise."

Then there is a whole chapter of teaching to the Corinthians, some of whom were saying "there is no resurrection" (1 Cor 15:12).  So, in anticipation of some saying "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" (1 Cor 15:35), he takes the rest of the chapter to explain just that, ending with,

"51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:  'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'" (1 Cor 15:51-54)
Again, the dead "will be raised" (not "brought down from heaven").

So again, focus on the passages that actually teach on death and the resurrection, not the ones that teach on something else.

This is a repeated theme in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, people were buried and said to "rest with their fathers," and in the New Testament, those who die were said to be "asleep in Christ."  There's the "asleep" part, and then the New Testament just adds the "in Christ" part.  (But we are already "in Christ," so that doesn't change upon physical death.)

Daniel says, speaking of the end times,

"Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." (Dan 12:2)
Jesus echos this same thing in the New Testament:
"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5:28-29)
Just to make sure Jesus is talking about those who believe in him specifically, he says four times in the next chapter:
"And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day." (John 6:39)

"For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:40)

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44)

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:54)

What don't people understand about Jesus raising us up from the grave when he returns?

What don't people understand about "asleep," especially given that we sleep every day?  Here we have a living, daily reminder that should teach us something.

Now, let's get one thing straight.  The bodies in the graves are dead.  Ask any doctor.  Dig one up and see for yourself.  The body is dead.  It is not asleep.  It is dead.  To be made alive, it would have to be "resurrected."

In any case, we know that "we" are not the "body."  We have bodies.

We are also told by Jesus to "raise the dead."  We do not "call down the dead" (from heaven).  We raise the dead.

The prophet Samuel, a righteous man, was "called up" from the ground (his "spirit," in this case, not his body; this is not a "resurrection"), by a witch.  He said, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"  He rebuked Saul, an unrighteous man, and told him that he would be with him the next day.  Where?  In the grave.  They both ended up in the same place.  The righteous and the unrighteous.  That account is in 1 Sam 28:7-19.

So, if he went back to the grave, and it has been a very long time since then, you might be wondering if Samuel is bored while waiting for the resurrection.  But notice what happens to the perception of time passage when you sleep at night.  You know what eight hours feels like when awake, but how long does it seem when asleep?  Yet there is some passage of time to a person's nightly sleep, as they go through sleep cycles and so on, more or less, depending on the person, and how deep of a sleeper they are.  But those of you who have had general anesthesia, for surgery or whatever, know that from the point of time of the mask going on your face to waking up seems instant.  I remember the anesthesiologist lying to me (I was ten years old at the time) about the mask being "oxygen to help me breath," and then immediately, it seemed, I was in an elevator being wheeled to my hospital room afterward.  It was six hours later, but it sure seemed instantaneous to me!

So, don't fret about being "asleep in Christ," with your body six feet under the ground.  You die, and then the next thing you know you will be hearing that loud trumpet call.  Unless someone raises you from the dead before that, or some other, temporary exception occurs, such as with Samuel with Saul and the witch, people having experiences of heaven or hell when they are dying, or whatever, as I will explain when dealing with the usual objections below.

But again, keep things simple; keep things Bible.  Everyone is either walking around on the earth or is buried in it.  Everyone is either "in Christ" and saved from the wrath of God to come, or not "in Christ" and not saved from the wrath of God to come.

For all you "die and immediately go to heaven to be with Jesus" advocates (which I realize is 95% of you out there, mostly by default, because you just haven't yet taken the opportunity to give the traditional status quo much thought), what's the use of the coming resurrection then, if everyone is already fine and dandy up there in glory?  What you have been believing is the equivalent of immediate resurrection upon death, a tradition that nullifies the purpose of the second coming, which, among other things, is to raise us all up.  But how can we be raised if we already are?  And, why would anyone care about whatever is left of the dead bodies on earth at that point?  The second coming becomes somewhat of a mere formality or questionable ceremony, since you already supposedly have a heavenly spiritual body (since you are already in heaven).  What's the point?  You must also ask yourself, that if believers are up there with Jesus "in glory," then how can physical bodies add to that "glory"?  Or is it not quite "glory" up there, and there is a bit of a curse left of people only being disembodied spirits?

Also, what's the point of the coming judgment if all the unbelievers went straight to hell upon their death?  You can't throw people into hell if they are already there.

Then, there is the issue of Jesus telling his disciples to raise the dead.  If those asleep --er, rather, "awake in Christ" (?) are in heaven, in a "better place," then why bring them back?  What if they don't want to come back?  Now we start to wonder whether "raise the dead" will work in each case.  Now it isn't clear anymore whether we "should" raise the dead, as Jesus told us to.

[Note:  I realize that the notion of Christians "raising the dead" may be foreign to some reading this article, and I acknowledge that it is currently a rare thing to hear of a person getting raised from the dead, rare enough that many are are either ignorant of it ever happening, or dispute that it happens at all.  That is a different discussion.  I must address this article on the basis of principle, based on that all of Jesus' disciples are supposed to do what Jesus did and said to do likewise.  See Matt 10:8 and John 14:12.]

It gets worse.  If believers die and immediately go to be with Jesus in heaven then, really, you would not want to raise them from the dead --er, rather, call them down back to earthly life, since they are in a better place.  Death becomes a good thing, causing them to "go to heaven" sooner rather than later.  On the other hand, if death is evil, a thing of the devil, then you understand that they are being prematurely put out of commission, being deprived of their earthly livelihood, their earthly life snuffed out and stolen from them, by the one who comes to "steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10).

Those who believe in "going to heaven immediately upon death" must say, to be consistent, that earthly death is a good thing, a thing to be coveted.  This is compartmentalized thinking, to covet life, yet death, at the same time.

But, Jesus says, "Raise the dead."  So, we are supposed to "raise the dead."  It does not say to recall people from heaven.  It does not say to try to get someone in heaven to "come back down."  It does not tell you to wonder if they would want to "come back."  It does not make you wonder if you should even "raise the dead" person since, if they were up there in heavenly glory right now, it would be a better place for them.  None of that kind of language is in the Bible, and Jesus and the apostles only spoke of raising people, not lowering them or bringing them back down.

All those hindrances and complications need to go away.  The people who have bodily died are asleep.  They are not in this decision-making process.  So, we command their body to be restored to health and wake them up!

Otherwise, this can all degenerate into the status quo teaching of popular contemporary churchendom, where people get sick and die and then this is seen as a good thing because "they are in a better place," and there are all these "celebration" memorial services where people celebrate that the person is now "promoted to glory" (as if they weren't already) and is now "with Jesus" (as if they weren't already).

It's quite a tangled mess that the Roman Catholic Church made, and unfortunately the Protestant Reformation didn't really clean it up.  They just said "We're saints, too, so we get to go straight to heaven when we die, too, all of us, including Protestant Saint Uncle Bob, the plumber, who went on to glory last year when the kitchen sink fell on him, bless his soul."

Rather, those asleep in Christ are out of commission, and can do no more work on this earth for the Kingdom of God, so that is a victory for the devil, and those asleep who are not in Christ have no more opportunity to be saved, are irreversibly doomed, and that is also a victory for the devil.  Unless you raise their dead bodies.  Death is an enemy, categorically, period, and will be abolished at the end (1 Cor 15:54-55, Rev 20:14), by being thrown into the lake of fire.  Meanwhile, we contend with death, and it is not a good thing.

The Roman Catholic Church is wrong.  The "saints" are not up there.  Not even "the Blessed Virgin" Mary is up there.  Otherwise, what is wrong with the Roman Catholic idea of talking to Mary or any other "saints in heaven" and asking them to pray for this person and that?  Shouldn't we all be praying for one another?  And, what would be wrong with Mary or any other of the saints of heaven talking back, if possible?  Even Protestant Saint Uncle Bob, the plumber, who went on to glory last year when the kitchen sink fell on him, bless his soul?

Hell

At this point, an explanation of the word "hell" is in order.  This is an English religious word that has no one, direct, single counterpart in the Bible.  Several different words are used in the Bible in different contexts:  "Hades" in the Greek and "Sheol" in the Hebrew was just "the place where the dead went," and there wasn't much teaching about what happened to the dead, or about the place that they were in, other than that they were in that place, which was "unseen" (also literally implied by the word).  "Gehenna" was the "Valley of Hinnon," a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where people threw their garbage and was continually burning, so it was used illustratively by Jesus eleven times, and once by James.  "Tartarus" is only used once, in 2 Pet 2:4, and is a place mentioned also in 1 Enoch (pseudoepigrapha) where angels were incarcerated.  The "lake of fire" is spoken of several times in Revelation chapters 19-21.  So, there are many different words with different meanings, not one.

"Hell" is an English term.  "Lake of fire" or "lake of burning sulfur" is the final place we hear about in the Bible, in Rev 19:20, 20:10,14-15, 21:8.  When people say "hell," that is usually understood to be the "final place" of eternal torment.  Most people don't realize that there are a number of terms in the original language that are translated one way or another, often lumped together in translation as "hell."

Rev 20:14 explicitly says that the "lake of fire is the second death."  Rev 21:8 explicitly says that the "fiery lake of burning sulfur" is the "second death."

In Rev 20:14, "death and hades are thrown into the lake of fire," showing that these are different terms with different meanings.  That means "hades" is not the "lake of fire," or else you have that "hades" is thrown into "hades," or the "lake of fire" is thrown into the "lake of fire."

"αδης" = "[h]ades" = "[h]a+eido" = literally "un-seen," but usually refers to the grave, where people go that is "unseen."

So, this makes perfectly logical sense that "death" and "the grave" are going to end up getting thrown into the "lake of fire," banishing both forever.

But here again, this just illustrates what I am saying.  After death, believers are raised at the second coming and are exempt from the "second death."  Unbelievers are raised for the judgment and end up in the "lake of fire" which is the "second death."  Where are the unbelievers raised from?  Not the "fiery lake of burning sulfur," which is what most people identify as "hell," when they use the term.  No, the unbelievers are raised from their graves to face the judgment.

In the mean time, only Jesus has been raised from the dead the way it says that we will be raised from the dead when Jesus comes again.  In the mean time, only Jesus has a glorified body.

Now, that all said, there will be many objections brought up, mainly based on emotional arguments, but also based on "proof-texts" from passages that teach about other things.  Most people simply will not part with the Roman Catholic dogma, that "saints" must go straight to heaven upon bodily death, and sinners must go straight to hell.

Objection:  In Phil. 1:21-24 Paul writes:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
This doesn't teach anything about where people go, but rather about Paul's attitude about living vs. dying.

Paul isn't describing death, being asleep in Christ, the second coming, or resurrection in Phil 1.  He is talking about living vs. dying in his situation (in prison), that he was content to live or die, but saying that it was better to carry on for their sake.  If you want teaching on death, being in the grave, the second coming, or the resurrection, then first go to the scriptures that teach on that subject, such as Dan 12, 1 Thess 4, 1 Cor 15, and so on.

But even looking at what he said and didn't say, he is not saying that he wasn't already "with Christ."  In fact, he just finished saying, two verses before, "...to live is Christ..."  He says the latter choice is to depart and "συν χριστω ειναι" = "sun christo einai" = "together to-anointed to-be" but he doesn't say that he wasn't already.

He also does not say that he will not sleep.  And, I've been pointing out that if the "sleep" is deep enough, a thousand years will seem like an instant to the one sleeping, anyway.  Everyone here already experiences that to a large extent on a nightly basis.

Objection:   "What about those who physically died, were on their way to heaven, and saw this thing and that?"

No problem at all!  I don't doubt that many of those are valid visions of heaven and etc. The endorsement is simple, and it is in the beginning of Rev. 4, where the apostle John saw an "open door" to heaven, was told to "come up here" and that he would be shown "what will happen after this."  Obviously, the rest of the book of Revelation describes all sorts of end-times events.  John "went to heaven."  Yet, he obviously "came back" to write the book of Revelation for us to read.

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.  And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."  At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me..." (Rev 4:1-2)
So, there is no need to debate about the potential validity of other people's heavenly excursions.  The apostle John already had one, and it is right there in the Bible.

The next 19 chapters (4-22) were "future time," all the way to the very end of end times and the age to come.

In the account of Stephen, the first martyr, Stephen said, "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:56).  But at the end, a few verses down, scripture says "he fell asleep." (Acts 7:60)  It does not say "he went to heaven."

There are also plenty of testimonies from people who physically died for a while and were shown (taken to) hell, with people there suffering in agony.  If people who have died go straight to hell, then the Bible is wrong and there is no coming judgment where people are thrown into hell, since they are already there.  Or perhaps will the coming judgment pull everyone out of hell, determine that they are destined to hell, and throw them back into hell?  Both are silly propositions, but people often don't think about this.  Here's what the Bible says about it:

"And I saw a great white thrown, and the one sitting upon it, from whose face earth and heaven fled, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne.  And scrolls were opened.  And another scroll was opened which is the scroll of life.  And the dead were judged by that which is written in the scrolls according to their acts.  And the sea gave up the dead in it, and death and hades [αδης = "unseen" (the grave)] gave up the dead in them.  And they were judged, each according to their acts.  And death and hades [αδης = "unseen" (the grave)] were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And if any was not found having been written in the scroll of life he was cast into the lake of fire."  (Rev 20:11-15)
Objection:  What about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)?

This is a parable, meant to teach something else.  Parables aren't an explanation for anything other than what they intend to specifically teach.

In reality, there was no historical beggar, no historical rich man, Abraham is not the Christ, nobody went to be literally "in Abraham's bosom," especially those who died before Abraham was even born (from Adam all the way through the patriarchs), there is no earthly water available for the beggar to dip his finger into and put on someone's literal tongue, and salvation isn't a matter of rich people going to hell and beggars going to heaven.  Likewise, there is no such "heaven" as described by the parable, nor is there any such "hell" as described by it, or any implication of time frames.  If you take any of the parables and apply everything hyper-literally, things get complicated really fast.

Jesus just made up the story, like the other parables.  It is the last of series of parables from Luke 15 on that address two issues brought up:  justification and money:

Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."  (Luke 15:1)
That produces the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son (starts a money theme), the shrewd manager, and Jesus' statement that "You cannot serve both God and Money."  (Luke 16:13)

Then we go from red-letter to black-letter briefly again, and it says,

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. (Luke 16:14)
Jesus then hits the Pharisees with the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.

Now remember, the current thinking at the time was that wealth was categorically a sign of favor from God, and poverty and sickness was categorically the result of sin and punishment from God.  That's why we have even the disciples amazed when Jesus makes the statement that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," (which does not imply that Jesus ever envisioned anyone trying to put a camel through the eye of a needle, by the way,) and they exclaim "Who, then, can be saved?" (Matt 19:24-25, Mark 10:25-26).  For the case of sickness, the disciples asked, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2).

So, now we have another story that Jesus made up for shock value.  He flips the status quo thinking around, sends the rich man to "hades" (the "unseen") in fiery torment and the poor beggar to "Abraham's bosom" in comfort.  Abraham was the father of the patriarchs, so that adds to the insult.

The profound statement at the end, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead," of course, was fulfilled in that the Pharisees did not repent even after Jesus was raised from the dead.

So, there you have it.  But as I have already pointed out, Jesus isn't teaching that Abraham was the Christ, or that rich people go to hell, or that poor sick people go to heaven, or that comfort is the reward for poverty and sickness, or that torment is the penalty for being wealthy.  No one goes to be literally in "Abraham's bosom," especially not all the people who died before Abraham even existed, from Adam all the way to the time of the patriarchs, and so on. You can't take these parables hyper-literally, but must understand what principle they are illustrating and teaching.

Now, I'll throw this back on the "go straight to heaven on death" folks:  What do you do with Luke 16?  For it also clearly denies both the rich man and Lazarus the opportunity to come back from the dead.  How then could Jesus, or the apostles, or anyone else have raised anyone from the dead?  Or, how do you deal with the following passage:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split.  The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.  When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happend, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matt 27:51-54)
A hyper-literal reading of Luke 16 contradicts this.  You might suppose from the parable that it wouldn't do any good anyway, because "If they did not believe Moses and the Prophets, they wouldn't believe even if someone rose from the dead."  Yet the centurion and others because of all this "were terrified, and exclaimed 'Surely he was the Son of God.'"

Or, what about the parable of the Ten Virgins?  Are there Ten?  Are we all virgins?  Do we need lamps?  Oil?  Will we all become drowsy and fall asleep?  Is it a "trumpet call" or a cry, "Here's the bridegroom!"  Will the unbelievers try to "buy oil"?  Will the believers tell them to?  Who are those that "sell oil" at the second coming?

Then, oh!  The virgins all fall asleep!  Which parable are you going to believe now?  The one where it seems people die and instantly go to heaven/hell (Luke 16), or the parable above where they all "fall asleep" (Matt 25)?   So, now, the story of the Ten Virgins, taken hyper-literally, contradicts the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  Which will you believe now?

Just like with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, you use the picture for what it is intended to teach, not for what it is not intended to teach.  1 Cor 15 and 2 Thess 4 teach about death, resurrection, and the second coming.  The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches about money and caring about the poor/sick, rebuking the Pharisees.  The parable of the rich man and Lazarus doesn't preach a "gospel" that the rich are destined to be punished in hell and the poor/sick are destined to be rewarded in heaven, nor that Abraham is the Christ, nor does it teach where people immediately go when they die, or that it would be pointless for them to come back from the dead.

Objection:  What about the thief on the cross?

That's in Luke 23:42-43.  It literally says "Amen I am saying to you today with me you will be in the paradise."  I left the "comma" out of that sentence intentionally, to highlight that there is no comma in the original Greek text.  That word "paradise" is used only two other times in the New Testament: 2 Cor 12:4 and Rev 2:7.  2 Cor 12:4 is about the guy who was "caught up to the third heaven," and equates that with "paradise."  Rev 2:7 is talking about the one "overcoming/conquering" who would be given the "right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."

So, what happened?  Did the thief get a glimpse of heaven with Jesus when he died, as many others who I was just mentioning above have also?  He couldn't be "with Jesus" too long, because Jesus was going to be "three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" ("sign of Jonah" in Matt 12:40), and then he was going to be resurrected and come back to appear to his disciples on the earth.  And, for those people who believe that Jesus went to hell, now you've got another contradiction:  Which is it, hell or paradise, that Jesus went to when he died, that the thief on the cross accompanied him to?

In any case, rest assured that the thief, too, is now asleep.  He's buried somewhere, and Jesus will raise him up, too.  Jesus said that he would be with him "in paradise."  Jesus did not say that he would not sleep.  And again, if he is asleep, then he has no perception of the passage of time, so from the thief's point of view, being awake with Jesus will appear to him to be immediate.

Objection:  But didn't Jesus go to hell in 1 Peter 3:18?

Regarding 1 Peter 3:18, this is the "Jesus went to hell" verse that is popular in some circles, where everyone in hell who has already died supposedly gets another chance, since they were supposedly unable to hear the "gospel" of the New Testament that Jesus would later preach. (Oops.  That contradicts some people's claim about the Rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16!  Shouldn't that rich man in hell get another chance?)

However, men have always been saved by faith, or doomed for lack of it, even in the Old Testament, and here it is specifically referring to the days of Noah.

It is very simple:  Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was preaching to all the people of Noah's day "in the Spirit" through Noah.  Noah was the visible Christ figure.  Noah built an ark that could save anyone who would believe the message of God's coming wrath (the Flood, in this case) and go in and be saved.  They were "disobedient," did not go in, and now they are all "in prison" and it is too late.  The only ones who were saved were Noah (the "righteous" man of faith, according to Gen 6:9) and his family, who by faith in what Noah was preaching willingly went into the ark and were also saved.

So, read 1 Peter 3:18 again, slowly, and you will see:

Christ "in the spirit" preached "during the days of Noah" to the "stubborn" who are now "in prison."

Get it?  Read it again.

Objection:  Revelation 6:10 "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?'"  Who are "they" who are crying to the Lord to avenge their blood on them that dwell on the earth?

Remember, first of all, that Rev 4:1 explicitly places all that John sees after that in the future: "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."

Second, there are exceptions to things here and there.  In the case of our nightly sleep, we almost always sleep the eight hours or whatever and then get up in the morning.  But what if there is a knock at the door at 3 a.m., or something as simple as a couple of cats getting into a cat fight at 3 a.m. right outside your bedroom window?  You wake up, deal with it, then get back in bed and go back to sleep, because it's not time to get up yet.

Now read Rev 6:10 quoted above, along with the very next verse:

"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."
Also, think about what these martyrs are saying.  "Judge" the inhabitants of the earth and "avenge our blood?"  We don't say that.  We are "ministers of reconciliation" (2 Cor 5:18) who plead for more time to reach more people of the "inhabitants of the earth."  But when this age of grace is over and the day of the Lord comes...  Also, note that these martyrs are "each given a white robe," which of course stands for the righteousness of the saints (Rev 19:8).

Objection:  Luke 9:30 "Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus."

At the transfiguration Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus.  Were they in their earthly bodies, or were they appearing in spiritual bodies?

This in some ways resembles the account of the prophet Samuel that I mentioned, who said to Saul and the witch, "Why did you disturb me by bringing me up?"  Except that now it's obviously not a witch, but a glorious appearing.  So, no, they weren't in their earthly bodies.  Jesus was the first earthly person to come back in his resurrection body (1 Cor 15:23).

But notice in this account, Jesus is transfigured, as well.  So, we have another heavenly excursion happening.  Jesus did not have a glorified body during his ministry on earth.  He had a body like ours, as many scriptures, such as described in 1 Cor 15, describe. So, you cannot explain the appearance of Moses and Elijah without explaining the appearance of Jesus on the mount of transfiguration.

Objection:  Matthew 22:32 "'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

Again, you can be alive and asleep. You can be asleep and "in Christ."  You do that every night anyway.

The passage above was intended to rebuke the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection.  The Sadducees needed to understand that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not annihilated, but were just asleep, "resting with their fathers," as the Old Testament phrase is often used.  "Asleep" people wake up.  Annihilated people don't.

Objection:  James 2:26 "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

Keep in mind that this is the long "faith vs. works" passage.  James is not expounding on what happens when the body dies.  It is talking about "faith" being "dead faith" without the effect of works manifesting from it.  So, now the illustration that James interjected makes perfect sense!  If someone says they have "faith" and there are no works to accompany it, then that is likened to a lifeless corpse, a body without the breath of life manifesting in it, which at first, from outward appearance, looks like a living being, but accomplishes nothing, because it is just a lifeless corpse.  The word for "spirit," "πνευ-μα" = "pneu-ma" has as its root "pneo," and that root means to "breathe" or "blow."  Adding the "-μα" = "-ma" ending makes it the "effect" or "manifestation" or "working" of the whatever a root word is.  So, "πνευ-μα" = "pneu-ma" literally means "breathe-effect" or "breathe-manifestation."  This of course is reminiscent of Genesis 2:7 "Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living life."

Objection:  What about 2 Cor 5:6?

6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  7 We live by faith, not by sight.  8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  9 So, we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.  10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
This is very simple, too.  Jesus, the person, has an actual body.  It was a body of flesh at the incarnation, and he walked around on the earth in that physical body, just like we are now.  Then he died and rose from the dead.  It was that same physical body that died and rose, but it was glorified and made incorruptible, imperishable, immortal.  He went in and out of this world as he was making appearances to his disciples for 40 days, then he ascended in that body (Acts 1:9) while his disciples watched, and the angels said he was coming back some day (Acts 1:11-12) right there to the Mount of Olives (Zech 14:4 says this, also).

So, his body is in heaven now.

As 1 Cor 15 describes (read the whole chapter), we have earthly bodies that will be glorified and become incorruptible, immortal, imperishable, at the second coming.  They will be just like the body of Jesus became when Jesus rose from the dead, as it is written,

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. (1 John 3:2)
Note that's "when he appears," not "when we die."

So, although we say that we are "in Christ," and "Christ is in us" (Col 1:27) and we have the Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering us, and communion with the Father, and are the "body of Christ" on earth right now, and are "seated in heavenly places" (Eph 2:6) and so on, sometimes scripture refers to the actual physical body of the person of Jesus.  We don't physically see that body of Jesus right now, because we are on the earth, he is in heaven, and we have no capability to go to heaven (1 Cor 15:50) in these bodies.

So, like 2 Cor 4 says, we have this "treasure in jars of clay" (2 Cor 4:7).  We are physically, bodily, away from the physical presence of Jesus' physical, glorified body, because he is physically in heaven and we are physically not.  By faith, we say we are "with Jesus" now, "in Christ," "Christ in us," and so on.  But, we do not perceive this with our physical eyes.

I'll quote a larger context, which explains this:

2 Cor 4:18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.  4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.  5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.  6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.  9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.  10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ...
Objection:  "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in belly of a huge fish, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Mat 12:40)" Jonah was not asleep.

Jonah in the fish was a picture of something, not the reality.  Jesus didn't go to literally be in a fish.  Jonah didn't literally die, nor was he literally in Sheol.  The fish spit Jonah out on the land, whereas God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus didn't need to repent of running away from what God wanted him to do, especially not when he was "in the heart of the earth".  The "like picture," the "sign of Jonah" (Matt 12:40), was that just as Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights, Jesus was in the ground three days and three nights.  Jonah prayed from inside the fish, saying he was in "Sheol."  Since he was in a fish, not "Sheol," it was a prophetic statement.  Jonah knew he was in a fish, so why did he say he was in "Sheol"?  Because he was a prophet, and was prophetically speaking of Jesus being in "Sheol."

Jesus was in the grave for three day and three nights, then God raised him from the dead, the firstfruits of those who would be later resurrected.

Objection:  Luke 23:46 "And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost." (KJV) The spirit of Jesus went to be with God.  His body was not yet glorified.

In the Luke 23:46 passage quoted above, his spirit was committed to "the Father's hands" because it was now going to be out of his (Jesus, the Son's) hands, if he was going to die.

"Gave up the ghost" is a bad translation, as well, and I can prove it.  The Greek word is "εκ-πνεο" = "ek-pneo" (inflected "εξε-πνευσεν" = "exe-pneusen") in both Mark 15:37 and Luke 23:46, and literally only says "he expires" where "ek/exe" means "out" and "pneo/pneusen" means "breath hard."  The centurion in Mark 15:39 sees him "expire" (same exact word used there), so you know the centurion is not observing his "spirit/ghost" go anywhere, since he wouldn't be able to see such a thing with his physical eyes.

You can check for yourself and see that there is no word in there for "gave," no word for "up," no word for "the," and no word for "ghost." "Gave up the ghost" is a King James-era figure of speech for someone dying, which is left for modern English speakers to misunderstand, 400 years later.  The word is "expire" (literally "out-breath").  Furthermore, the centurion watched it happen (Mark 15:39), which he could not do if it was a non-physical, non-earthly thing!

Here's where Jesus went when he died:

Matt 12:40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jonah 1:17-2:2 But Yahweh provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.  From inside the fish Jonah prayed to Yahweh his God.  He said: "In my distress I called to Yahweh, and he answered me.  From the depths of Sheol I called for help, and you listened to my cry."

Psalm 16:10 because you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

Hebrew "לשאול" = "Sheol" = grave (i.e. the place of the dead)
Greek "α-δης" = "[h]a-des" = literally "un-seen," but commonly referred to the grave, where people go that is "un-seen."

Now read this same Psalm 16:10, quoted in the New Testament in Greek, which substitutes Hades for Sheol:

Acts 2:25,27,31 David said about him: "...because you will not abandon me to Hades, nor will you let your Holy One see decay..." [Psalm 16:10] ...he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his body see decay.
So, there you have it.  Jesus did not go to heaven when he died.  He went to Hebrew Sheol = Greek Hades, meaning, the grave.  Then he rose from the dead, after three days and three nights.  Then, he immediately says,
John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
He ascended to heaven later:
Mark 16:19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

Acts 1:9-11 ...he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

1 Pet 3:22 ...Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand..."

Objection:  Soul sleep is a doctrine taught by Jehovah Witnesses, and many Christians consider it heresy.

Whatever is meant by "soul sleep," that is not what the Jehovah's Witnesses believe.  The Jehovah's Witnesses teach annihilationism. They believe that while there is a body, we don't have souls, but "are" souls, and that the "spirit" is just the "active life force," or "breath."  Therefore, they say that when a person dies there is nothing left of the person in existence.  They are annihilated and only exist "in God's memory."

They pretend to believe in resurrection, but what they mean by that is that God will recreate the "worthy" people with new bodies (discarding what remains of the old) which, again, is done completely from scratch based on God's "memory" of them.

The purpose for annihilationism is the selling point that there is no hell, no possibility of punishment after death.  The wicked are said to be annihilated forever.  They just cease to exist.  They base all this on their emotional arguments about whether the existence of hell is either justified or fair.

They would vehemently deny "soul sleep."  There is just no tying anything like this to the Jehovah's Witnesses, even if "guilt by association" was a valid argument, which it isn't in the first place.

Ironically, it is the "144,000" special Jehovah's Witnesses who they claim immediately go to heaven upon death and live there in "spirit bodies."  So, Jehovah's Witnesses have the equivalent of "144,000" Roman Catholic "saints" in heaven.  If, therefore, an argument is to be made according to guilt by association, then what about the Jehovah's Witnesses' idea of 144,000 immediately going straight from death to heaven?  Taken to the extreme, if Jehovah's Witnesses "pray," then are we like the Jehovah's Witnesses because we "pray?"  If Hindus "pray," are we like them, too, because we "pray"?

Objection:  It would not be right that we sleep until then.  For over 2,000 yrs people have been sleeping.  I don't think that's right.  Telling anyone when they die that they sleep "until" ... and never wake up for 2,000 yrs is not what I think they were told in the OT.  That would create fear and not peace or joy, neither would it for anyone living now.

This is just an emotional argument.  But even so, you're already going unconscious for eight hours a day and losing all that productive time, for no good earthly reason that anyone can come up with, and you've accepted that as normal, and not in the least bit evil, even looking forward to it after a productive, hard day's work.

Yet Daniel says just that very thing in the Old Testament:

...But at that time your people -- everyone whose name is found written in the book -- will be delivered.  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." (Dan 12:1-2)
Anyone reading this would have to conclude that people had already been sleeping for thousands of years.

Nor did scripture in the Old Testament ever indicate fear when it repeatedly told of people being "buried" and "resting with their fathers," in addition to the multiple times that people like Job, David, Solomon, and others spoke of it.

Here's something else to keep in mind, for folks who are saying "it would not be right that we sleep...2000 years..." or "...then God supposedly puts us into a spiritual coma..."

Death is orchestrated by the devil, not God.  To blame the effect and consequences of death on God is like blaming the effect and consequences of sickness on God.

If you so abhor the thought of being "asleep for thousands of years," (although I keep pointing out that you are at rest, at peace, and pain free in any state of unconsciousness, not perceiving the passage of time, making it moot), if you do not like that, then blame the devil, not God.  God never intended man to die in the first place.  He has put his Spirit in us to raise the dead, Jesus himself will one day come back to raise the dead and glorify our bodies, and death and the grave will be thrown into the lake of fire in the end, along with the devil.

Death puts us out of commission while there is still work to do, and causes heartache for loved ones, who desired for us to remain.  That is bad.

Meanwhile, we ought to be raising the dead, left and right.  We need to stop telling each other how wonderful it must be that so-and-so has "gone on to heavenly glory" in paradise and ecstasy and eternal reward, singing heavenly Hillsong choruses in the grand assembly, and instead fight the fight of faith against death and raise them from the dead if they die.

Death is bad, all the time.  Resurrection is good, all the time.  The devil is bad, all the time.  God is good, all the time.  What we fail to fix, as commissioned sons of God, in terms of sickness and death, Jesus will, when he comes.

Objection:  "Sleep" is just a euphemism for "death"

We need to keep this Bible and keep it simple.  "Sleep" means sleep.  "Raise" means raise.  Attributing these to a "euphemism" is a "prism" through which you choose to look at scripture, where scripture never indicates an intention to do so, and where both the Hebrew and the Greek have words that explicitly mean "death," and are used ample times.  If you presuppose that "sleep is a euphemism for death," then there is now no way that scripture could convince you otherwise, since whenever it said "sleep" you would use your "euphemism" prism to re-interpret it as death.

Except perhaps for this:

In Matt 9:24, Mark 5:39, and Luke 8:52, Jesus tells the crowd

"She is not dead, but asleep."
Now, if you apply the "euphemism" prism, this interprets to
"She is not dead, but dead."
Which would make no sense.

So, there goes the "sleep is a euphemism for death" theory.

Also, in Luke 8:55, 3 verses later, here is another point.

Jesus says "be-you-being-roused and upon-turns the spirit of-her"
The word for what happens to her spirit is:
"επι-στρεφο" = "epi-strepho" = literally "on/upon-turn"
In the 39 times that epi-strepho (G1994) is used, plus the 18 times that "strepho" (G4762, literally "twist" or "turn around") is used (without the "epi-" = "on/upon-"), in both cases they always mean to turn around, in place, either literally (like a person turning to face the other way) or figuratively (like a person changing their course of action).

Here are all the places both words are used: "Strepho" is in Matt 5:39, 7:6, 16:23, 18:3, Luke 7:9, 44, 9:55, 10:23, 14:25, 22:61, 23:28, John 1:38, 20:14, 16, Acts 7:39, 42, 13:8, Rev 11:6. "Epistrepho" is in Matt 9:22, 10:13, 12:44, 13:15, 24:18, Mark 4:12, 5:30, 8:33, 13:15, 16, Luke 1:16, 17, 2:20, 31, 8:55, 17:4, 22:32, John 12:40, 21:20, Acts 3:19, 9:35, 40, 11:21, 14:15, 15:19, 36, 16:18, 26:18, 26:20, 28:27, 2 Cor 3:16, Gal 4:9, 1 Thess 1:9, James 5:19, 20, 1 Pet 2:25, 2 Pet 2:21, 22, Rev 1:12 (2x)

Look them all up and see for yourself.  No motion is implied.

In the account of Jesus' friend Lazarus, he said he had "fallen asleep" and that he was going to "wake him up" (John 11:11).  He did that by saying "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11:43).  Where was Lazarus?  The body was dead, but he was "asleep."  I'm just reading the words it says.

In Dan 12:2, it says "...multitudes who sleep....  There is a Hebrew word for "die/dead" and "death," and my ISA software counts them up as occurring just under a thousand times in the Old Testament.  So, they don't need to use the word "sleep" if they meant "die/death" and had a word for it.

The word in Dan 12:2 for "sleep" (H3462-3) is the same one used where David comes across Saul asleep and does not kill him (1 Sam 26:7), Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal, that maybe Baal is "asleep," the two women arguing in front of Solomon whose baby it was, where the one said that the other took her baby from her when she was "asleep" (1 Kings 3:20, and replaces it with the "dead" baby in the same verse), Samson sleeping while Delilah has his hair cut off (Judges 16:19), God putting Adam to sleep while getting his rib out (Gen 2:21), Pharoah sleeping and dreaming the dream that Joseph will interpret (Gen 41:5), and many other places.

One place, Psalm 13:3 says "Do look! Answer me, O Yahweh my Elohim; Do enlighten my eyes lest I should sleep in death."  So, that has both words.  It does not mean "lest I should die in death" or "lest I should sleep in sleep."

Objection:  Only our physical, fleshy bodies sleep at night.

Ironically, our physical, fleshly bodies are the one thing that do not sleep at night!  "You" sleep at night.  Your body doesn't.

I have six children of different ages.  Once in a while they have faked sleep as a ploy to get out of school work or chores.  It's nearly impossible to tell the difference, if they act it out right.

Go to a sleeping person and check out their vitals.  The heart rate is a little on the low/relaxed side, but that is just because they are lying there and not moving any muscles, so no need for extra blood flow to them, and so on.  While awake, you could take certain medications that will slow down your heart rate even more than that, yet still be awake.

The breathing is relaxed, and on the low side, but just for the same reason.  You're not moving, so you don't need extra oxygen.  While awake, you can hold your breath and stop breathing altogether for a minute or so.  You will be very awake and uncomfortable about it the whole time, before you decide to breath again.

The breathing of a sleeping person has got a particularly regular rhythm to it, but my teenagers can fake that to try to make me think they are asleep.  (They don't have the eyelid routine down yet, but please don't tell them I said that.)

Put a bunch of electrodes on a sleeping person's head and take an EEG, and maybe a doctor will point to it and say, "this electrical activity is characteristic of sleep."  But we, not being doctors, would look at the same thing and say that we couldn't tell the difference.  Active, squiggly wave patterns while awake; active, squiggly wave patterns while asleep.  Brain cells and electrochemical activity quite pronounced.

Throw a bucket of cold water on a sleeping person, and see how fast they wake up!  But the cold water does not do anything immediately to the body.  It is the sudden sensation that wakes them up.  You can normally also quickly wake up a person by yelling at them to do so, which also does nothing of significance to the physical body.

So, it is not really the body that is "asleep" at night.  "You" are asleep.

I'm not pulling this out of anywhere in the Bible this time.  I'm just challenging anyone to tell me why this isn't intuitively obvious.  Or, if you say the physical body is "asleep," why?

From what I can tell, the physical body itself is either alive and healthy, afflicted, or dead.

At night we go to sleep, not to heaven.  Take five sleeping pills, instead of one, and you will go to sleep for a very long time, but you will not go to heaven.  Have surgery and the anesthesiologist will put you to sleep, but you will not go to heaven.  Die on the operating room table because the anesthesiologist miscalculated, and you will go to sleep and never wake up, but not go to heaven.

The way that you get to heaven is that Jesus comes back and raises you up in a glorified body.  Otherwise, some person who raises you up back to earth in your earthly body, because he followed Jesus' instructions, when he said, "Raise the dead." (Matt 10:8). Otherwise, you are "asleep in Christ."

Now, I realize there are exceptions.  A witch managed to conjure up the prophet Samuel without a body (1 Sam 28) for a few minutes or something like that.  The apostle John visited heaven "in the spirit" (Rev 4:1) and we wonder what the state of his earthly body was, because he doesn't tell us about that.  There are likewise many testimonies of people in modern times going to heaven or hell and coming back to tell about what they saw.  The apostle Paul said "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."

"We" sleep at night, in Christ.  In bodily death "we" don't go to heaven, "we" go to sleep.  In the Bible, "sleep" means sleep, and "raise" means raise.  When Jesus comes again, he will use a "loud trumpet call" (Matt 24:31, 1 Cor 15:52, 1 Thess 4:16) to wake "us" up, and he will raise "us" up.

No copyrightI grant this work to the public domain.