"And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" Luke 23:43

Where do we go when we die ?

Heaven and Hell and all that

There are many popular misconceptions about "the afterlife".
Most people seem, naturally and reasonably, to believe that there is another life at the end of this one.   
It seems that our human minds do not, naturally, conclude that death is the end of our conscious existence. (I suspect Humanists put a lot of effort into denying this)
People are comforted to believe they will go to a better place of light and sweetness when they die, while all the people they believe to be bad will go to a place of torment.

Expressions like, "She's up there, looking down on us" or "they are angels looking after us" are pure wishful thinking. But do they spring from a poor presentation of the Biblical truth?

What do the scriptures teach?

God created the heavens and the earth and mankind and walked with them in the Garden.
Man sinned and was expelled from the garden and the presence of God to live in a cursed world.
But God initiated a process of redemption to restore mankind to himself and to eventually come down to live with man again (see the end of Revelation)
However, being redeemed and restored is optional. Inclusion in this salvation is dependant on our acceptance of God's offer.

Jesus spoke of going to prepare a place for us

John 14:2 In my Father's house are many places to live. If there weren't, I would have told you; because I am going there to prepare a place for you.

But He didn't specify where it is.

What are the destinations under consideration

# 1 - Heaven - Heavens - Shamayim (Hebrew)
Heaven is where God dwells and from where he operates, where Yeshua the Messiah is now seated in glory and where the angels minister. 

  "The heavens" is also used of the visible sky by day and by night  ( Genesis creation account).
Paul spoke of his revelation experience; being caught up in the third heaven.  This comes from the Jewish view of the order of things.  
(1) the Earth's atmosphere, where birds fly
(2) Outer Space and the stars, 
(3) the presence of God.

The references to Heaven in the New Testament are mostly to "the Kingdom of Heaven"
Matthew 5:19 - Entering the Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew 16:19 - The keys of the kingdom of heaven
Matthew 19:16 - Kingdom of Heaven - synonymous with eternal life, salvation

(The Kingdom of Heaven" is a term for "the kingship of God" but one that stems from Jewish practice of avoiding pronouncing the name of God, out of reverence for the Name.
Clearly, for the believer, the kingdom of heaven is entered by an act of will; of commitment and submission to the kingship of God (Father, Son and indwelling Holy Spirit)  
This decision to surrender the rule of our lives to God, which is usually referred to as repentance and/or salvation, is a voluntary entrance to the Kingdom (or kingship) of God.   Becoming a subject of God the king.
We become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, while living outside Heaven.   We are like ambassadors for the Kingdom of Heaven in an alien land.  
The Kingdom Heaven is not a geographical location - it is the presence and ruling of God.

The problem with an expectation of Heaven is that those who refuse to accept the kingdom of heaven in this life have no grounds to expect to find themselves included in Heaven when they die.  
Why would they, logically; unless they want Heaven without God.
God respects our free will, including a decision not to accept His offer.  
Also, Heaven (the presence of our holy God) is perfect and we can only enter without spoiling it if we have first put off our sinful nature and taken on the nature of Jesus. 

What is Heaven like ?

This may surprise people, but the Bible does not end with us Christians sitting on fluffy clouds in Heaven, playing harps.

The Bible does not teach a future existence as a disembodied spirit.
The idea of heaven floating on clouds like, or as, angels comes from some Biblical imagery mixed with Greek and oriental thinking; not from the Bible. This Greek and oriental thinking says, FLESH = BAD - SPIRIT = GOOD. A redeemer will take us out of hateful physical to the spiritual realm.
The Greek view of redemption in terms of being liberated from the body to exist in Spirit can be heard in some sacred liturgy.
Hebrew thouht does not separate flesh/body/spirit but views us as whole beings.
Jesus' gospel promises us resurrection bodies, to live on the new earth with our God and with Jesus.
If we were to spend eternity sitting in the clouds playing harps, we would not need resurrection bodies, and Jesus would not need his resurrection body.
But Jesus was careful to show that he had a resurrection body, and that body is the firstfruits - our reason to look forward to resurrection bodies.

Jewish/Hebrew/scriptural perspective sees the person as a combination of body and spirit.
The concept of a physical resurrection is exclusive to Jewish and Christian faith. (Although the Saducees did not believe in resurrection)

Job appreciated resurrection long ago...

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes--I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Job 19 v25-27

BUT Heaven is not our final situation !

Read Revelation 21 and you will notice that John saw a new heaven and a new earth (v1) with a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven (v2) Verse 3 says, "...God's sh'kinah (glory / presence) is with mankind and he will live with them......"

In the Garden of Eden - the world that God created (before mankind fell and death entered in) God delighted to walk in the garden - to be with the man and woman He had created. When Creation perfection is restored at the end of the story we read of God coming down to earth (the new earth) to be with his children. Revelation 21
Jews, and particularly Messianic Jews will talk of their destination after this life as Gan Eden - the Garden of Eden. This connection makes a lot of sense.

Paradise

Paradise is from a Persian word for pleasure gardens.  In terms of prophecy, it is the state of bliss or delight which will exist when God restores us to fellowship with Himself.   The Song of Songs is written in these terms.

It is well known, or it should be, that the Islamic concept of Paradise is a place where delights denied on earth will be granted. It is described in terms of watered, green gardens, hence classic Islamic gardens and the green that figures in flags, (Saudi Arabia and Hamas)
Then there is the now notorious Islamic teaching of 72 virgins for those who die fighting for Islam (this is very potent for young men in such a sexually repressed society) NOTE The presence of Allah is not promised. - We are not talking about this Paradise.

Jesus' familiar promise to the penitent thief who was dying alongside Him was that "this afternoon you will be with me in Paradise."    In Luke 23 v 43
In David Stearn's Complete Jewish Bible  this reference is rendered as "in Gan Eden"  the Garden of Eden - restored as it was before mankind's fall.

In Revelation chapter 2 Paradise is where the Tree of Life grows.   In 2 Corinthians v12, Paradise is synonymous with the Third Heaven; where God dwells.
In the Talmud  (Jewish commentaries on scripture), Paradise is the home of the righteous, a place of blessedness to which the righteous go to await future vindication.
Since Jesus promised to meet the penitent thief in Paradise before He was resurrected, it seems clear that Paradise is the place where our spirits will go to await our physical resurrection (new physical bodies)

It can be perplexing that Jesus gave us this insight into Paradise, while Paul spoke of those who had died as having fallen asleep. Are they conscious and with Jesus, or asleep? The author's considered opinion is that those who have died in Christ are alive in Paradise as Jesus promised. But, reading Paul's words in context, they appear to be asleep from our perspective as those who remain behind.

Where Paradise is is not explicitly explained, but if Jesus is in Paradise and Jesus is in Heaven, perhaps the two are synonymous for now. But Paradise in Heaven is not the last word.

What about the unrighteous and unsaved ?

This concept of waiting - between death and Judgment Day brings us to the Old Testament concept of  . . . 

She'ol

The Hebrew word, She'ol is often translated as "the grave" or "the pit."

She'ol is the realm of the dead, the nether world where departed spirits live.   (Job 3 v16 ponders the possibility of having been stillborn and going straight to She'ol   (ponder the issue of abortion in this context) )  In Psalm 30  David cries "out of the depths"  (She'ol, Hades, grave, pit) with all the associations of silence, darkness, destruction, corruption and dust.    The writer of the Proverbs (ch2 v18)  speaks of the deceased being in She'ol, the chambers of death.  And in Kohelet he has a very gloomy picture of death being followed by complete oblivion (Ecclesiastes 9:9&10)
Much of the Hebrew scriptures appear not to  divide the destinations of the righteous and the unrighteous, as New Testament does. Although, Job spoke of a day after death and corruption, when he would see God in his flesh.

Our topic seems to be one where God's progressive revelation can be traced through scripture.
She'ol appears in Old Testament writing, to be (at best) a neutral waiting place for the departed.  With the coming of Jesus, announcing the Kingdom of God, the destination of departing souls appears to be strongly differentiated. 

Does being in She'ol mean having a conscious existence there ? Jesus' parable about the rich man and the beggar at his gate appears to teach that.

The Greek word Hades is equivalent to She'ol, and is personified in Revelation 6 v8 as the pale horse; having the ashen appearance of the dead.   In Matthew 16 v18 Sheol / Hades, the Gates of Hades, the power of Death are all forces opposed to Jesus the Messiah.

In Luke, Jesus speaks of the place to which the wicked go to await final judgment.   The torment is evident from the plight of the rich man who found himself separate from Lazarus the beggar who, in life, had sat at his gate.  
Is it possible that Jesus was looking at She'ol and Hell at the same time - knowing that Hell awaited the rich man after the resurrection of the dead (from Sh'ol) and Judgment. Luke 16 v19

Final destinations before or after Judgment Day

The idea of our destiny being decided at the day of Judgment seems to be contradicted by Jesus speaking of the rich man and Lazarus, and the repentant thief, because the consequences of their lives were immediate.
After many years of thought, I have come to the conclusion that Judgment day is more a matter of passing sentence than considering evidence of guilt or righteousness. God knows our state when we die and is able to send us to the appropriate place.

Hell   - the worst news
There appears to be an overlap in the terminology concerning Hell and Sh'ol, even though Hell is distinct from She'ol / Hades.
Most references to Hell are in the New Testament.

Jewish scripture and Christianity both adopted the “valley of the son of Hinnom” (Gei ben Hinnom or Gei Hinnom in Hebrew - which became Gehenna in Greek) - as a metaphor for hell, horror and fire.
The reason is confirmed by extra-biblical sources documenting the human sacrifice rituals of the Canaanites.


Picture by Nehemia Gordon - Tofet in the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem, -
Hell,  is associated with this place where children were sacrificed in fire to the heathen god Molech. 
 

Notice the lake of Fire / sulphur, that appears in Revelation 20 v10 and 14 is not Satan's emporium - it is God's punishment waiting for Satan, and for Death and Hades!    This is the final, eternal Hell.    References to Hell are in terms of Fire (Rev 20),  Agony (Rev 14 v11)  and Separation (Matthew 8 v12).

Separation appears to be a key concept in thinking about Hell.    Hell is the place to which man goes if he refuses God's offer of Heaven.   Hell offers eternity to regret the decision to refuse the kingdom of God.

Remember, Hell is not just something for Christians to threaten non Christians with.   Most Bible warnings about Hell are addressed to Christians.  (the exceptions being addressed to Pharisees)   Christians are exhorted to keep trusting in order to keep clear of Hell.   "Once saved - always saved" is not found in the Bible.

"Hell" is occasionally used of the presence or powers of evil in a comparable manner to the use of "Heaven" or the "Kingdom of Heaven" referring to the presence, rule, authority of God.
James 3 v6 speaks of "the tongue set on fire by Hell".
Jesus said to Peter ".....and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (RSV and Greek) or Sh'ol (CJB) or Hell (NIV) will not overcome it." (Matthew 16 v18)
I am struck by the pictures conjured up by this assertion. This is not a promise of defence - gates do not attack one - but of Jesus' church breaking down the gates of Hell to release souls from Satan's power.

The final destination of the redeemed of God

Jesus seemed to be saying that we go to Paradise to be with him, but we know Jesus is seated in Heaven at the right hand of God. So perhaps this distinction should not be seen as being too sharply defined.

But - Remember, at this stage the believer is still in an unresurrected state - while Jesus is the only man to have received his resurrection body.
Jesus emphasised that he had a real body by sharing food, but it was a different body; one not constrained by the natural laws governing our bodies.
If we were destined to just float around on clouds, we would not need bodies - they would even be a liability.
But Jesus and his apostles promise that we will be resurrected - that Jesus, being resurrected on the feast of Firstfruits, is the firstfruits of all that sleep (1 Cor 15)
So, where will we need physical bodies?
On the New Earth at the end.
Dwight Pryor points out that our present bodies are are animated by the soul but the new body will be animated by the Spirit.

We need to read the following verses carefully; not casually through spectacles of inherited Greek philosophy.

2 Corinthians 5:1- We know that when the tent which houses us here on earth is torn down, we have a permanent building from God, a building not made by human hands, to house us in heaven.
For in this tent, our earthly body, we groan with desire to have around us the home from heaven that will be ours. With this around us we will not be found naked.
Yes, while we are in this body, we groan with the sense of being oppressed: it is not so much that we want to take something off, but rather to put something on over it; so that what must die may be swallowed up by the Life.
Moreover, it is God who has prepared us for this very thing, and as a pledge he has given us his Spirit.
So we are always confident—we know that so long as we are at home in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord; for we live by trust, not by what we see.
We are confident, then, and would much prefer to leave our home in the body and come to our home with the Lord.

Is there another place - a half way house ?

The Catholic church developed the teaching of "Purgatory." See here for more detail
www.catholicculture.org/culture/library (excerpts below)

God created man that he might possess his Creator forever in the beatific vision. Those who die in the state of enmity toward God are deprived of this happiness. Between these extremes are people who are neither estranged from God nor wholly dedicated to Him when they die. What will be their lot after death?

They will go to Purgatory
When we speak of the souls of the just in purgatory we are referring to those that leave the body in the state of sanctifying grace and are therefore destined by right to enter heaven. Their particular judgment was favorable, although conditional: provided they are first cleansed to appear before God.

The poor souls in purgatory still have the stains of sin within them. This means two things. First, it means that the souls have not yet paid the temporal penalty due, either for venial sins, or for mortal sins whose guilt was forgiven before death.

What about our complete forgiveness (only) through the atoning work of Jesus ?

The exchange at the cross

The Catholic church appears to have had to devise these teachings in order to justify other non-biblical teachings and corrupt practices, like selling indulgences.

Hebrews 9:27  And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: KJV

Our standing at Judgment depends on our state of righteousness at death. NOT the quantity of our good deeds.

And our righteousness is a matter of our trusting in the completed atoning work of Jesus the Messiah in his death and resurrection. If we haven't got right with God when we die - there is nothing anybody can do for us.

What is the sequence of our journey to our destination?

I would suggest, from what we considered earlier, is that when we die, we (the believers) go to Paradise where we will meet Jesus. As far as those left behind are concerned / aware, we will be asleep and out of contact. This is my rationalisation of what for many years I thought was a contradiction - those who have died are asleep only from our point of view.

We will remain in Paradise until Judgment day.
That was another thing that took me a long time to come to terms with......
How could the redeemed go to Paradise and the wicked go to She'ol before they have been judged?
My conclusion is that God has no trouble knowing who is righteous and who is not, when they die and he can assign them accordingly. Judgment day is more a matter of passing sentence than weighing the evidence of guilt or innocence.

So, when will we get to Paradise?
When we die, obviously.

But when Jesus comes again - that will change everything.

1 Thes 4:17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
(Taken alone and out of context, this could lead us to the harps in the clouds scenario.)

Jesus' coming like this brings us to the contentious doctrine of the RAPTURE.
The rapture - meaning our being caught up is scriptural enough, but there is contention between those who assume this rapture occurs before the great Tribulation and those who believe that scripture is not explicit about when this rapture occurs.

Jesus warned about the folks who were carrying on as ever and were left out - like the foolish bridesmaids. But I suggest he was telling these teachings exactly so that we, who have the eyes of faith, will not be taken by surprise. He spoke of "when you see these things happening......."

This is why I am so concerned that most of the church is apathetic about Israel at best, or downright hateful at worst.
Israel is the stage on which God played out his grand plan in the past and where he will conclude this present age.
We have all the prophecies and can tick off the 88% (I believe) that have been fulfilled and see the rest as they happen on our TV screens.

I suggest that, if you follow the threads through the old and new testaments, you can tie "meeting the Lord in the air" of Thesalonians with Zechariah's prophecy of the coming of Messiah when things are at their blackest for Israel, and he shall stand on the Mount of Olives (return as you saw him go). "Then YHVH my God will come to you with all the holy ones." Zechariah 14:5
We aren't just being whisked up for a big party, but to be with Jesus the Messiah as he comes back to take over the world from sinful mankind.

What has Jesus come to set up at that time?
Not Heaven for all the good guys, but the MILLENIUM of his Messianic thousand year reign on earth - presumably from Jerusalem, Israel.

There is then some divergence about who will be resurrected at that stage, and who must wait a bit longer.

Rev 20:5  (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were over.) This is the first resurrection.

But the next thing at the end of the Millenium is RESURRECTION
This is our hope - that we will have a resurrection body like Jesus has.

The idea that, because Jesus died to take away my sin so that I can go to Heaven when I die - with or without the clouds and harps, is a very poor Gospel.
Jesus' resurrection is just as important as his death - it is what proves that Jesus has overcome death.

1 Corinthians 15:20 - CJB - But the fact is that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died.
Or KJV  But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
(note the slept and died translations)
And an appreciation of the Feasts - God's appointed times Moedim, reminds us that Jesus was indeed resurrected on the day of the feast of Firstfruits!

Where do we get to live in our resurrected bodies?

Rev 21:1  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had passed away, and the sea was no longer there.

And God comes down to live with us
Rev 21:2  Also I saw the holy city, New Yerushalayim, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
Rev 21:3  I heard a loud voice from the throne say, "See! God's Sh'khinah is with mankind, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and he himself, God-with-them, will be their God.

God living on a re created earth - with his people - it is like a restoration of Eden

 

Posted 11/11/18

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