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Used by permission, from the Agnostic Review of Christianity website
One of the most common and popular claims made by many Christians is that when someone (if Christians deem them worthy of eternal paradise) dies, they immediately go to heaven "to be with the Lord Jesus".
Anyone listening to radio, television or reading a newspaper can hear and see this assertion used all the time when certain people die and this claim is employed to make people feel better about death.
For example, when a young child dies from a disease or is killed in an accident many Christians will say, "Oh, they went to be with God and are living in heaven now."
Or perhaps they will say something like this, "The Lord took them home to be with him in heaven." This particular rationalization is used whenever a believer feels that the person who died deserves to be in a place called heaven, which is where God is supposed to live.
Like so many of the claims believers make about their version of God and how the universe is set up, this particular rationalization serves the purpose of putting a nice spin on the rather ugly aspect of death through accident or disease.
It's fluffy and nice to think that "good" people who die are transported immediately into heaven to frolic with Jesus and serve him for eternity.
This rationalization also comes in quite handy to clean up any moral revulsion that can occur when someone reads the Old Testament and asks why God would kill a child for the sin of his father.
An example of this can be found in 2 Sam 12.
King David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba. God declared that he would spare David but will strike the child born to Bathsheba. The child is then struck by the Lord and dies after seven days.
2 Sam 12:13-18
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.
Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.
And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.
David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.
And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died....
It should be noted that if Jesus is God, as many Christians proclaim, then it was Jesus who struck the child with the fatal illness. This is the same Jesus who, according to Christian advertising, is said to love all the little children of the world.
Many Christian apologists will declare that although this may have seemed unfair and cruel, it really wasn't because the child is with God/Jesus in heaven and there is no better place for the child to be.
In other words, this rather spiteful act on the part of God/Jesus, was actually a good thing because God simply transported the soul of the child directly to heaven.
There is nothing in the text which states that the dead child or its spirit was ushered into heaven. The child is simply removed from earth and where it went is unknown. Many Christians simply assume the child went to "heaven" because it makes them feel better and it serves to deflect serious contemplation about their concept of "God".
However, it's not hard to see why this rationalization is so popular.
It makes so many unpleasant "Godly" things neat and tidy that otherwise might be disturbing. Any Biblical attributes of God that call into question the alleged holy and divine nature of this deity are pushed aside and explained away using this method.
Many vocal and devoted Christian Bible believers, who are very often preachers and pastors, whip out and use this rationalization so frequently that it merits some Biblical examination.
How do these preachers know with such certainty that any particular person who dies goes directly to heaven?
Does the Bible demonstrate that these particular claims are accurate or does it throw some cold holy water on this type of wishful thinking?
Is the soul of a "worthy" dead person transported immediately to heaven or is it held in limbo until a designated time?
There is Old Testament scriptural evidence that nobody is going anywhere immediately after death nor is the immediate destination of their spirit a certainty.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
This issue can be better clarified by reading the claims made in the New Testament.
The dead would be resurrected and their spirits awakened at an appointed time.
According to Paul, who expected Jesus to return soon, believers who had died would be resurrected when Jesus made his glorious return to earth. These people would be raised from their "sleep" prior to Paul and other followers being caught up in the air and "raptured" off in the clouds to be with Jesus.
1 Thes 4:13-17
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep(dead), that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep(dead).
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
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.
If dead believers, or those deemed worthy of heaven, were already in heaven as the popular Christian rationalization claims, it makes little sense that what was left of their dead bodies would be "raptured" into the clouds and carried off by Jesus.
Resurrecting and levitating a rotted corpse to unite it with a disembodied spirit which is already in heaven would be of little value and makes even less sense.
This scenario only makes sense if these dead people were not already in heaven but were "asleep" or in a form of limbo until a designated time. In this case the designated time is when Jesus returns and not before.
Nothing is said here about believers or their spirits being immediately transported into heaven right after they die. They wait in a state of sleep, to be awakened, raised, and reconditioned at the appropriate and appointed time.
More scriptural support can be found for the idea that the dead are not whisked off immediately to heaven in the Book of Acts.
King David, who the Bible declares was a man after God's own heart, did not get transported to heaven after he died.
Although Acts 2:29-34 attempts to twist a piece of Psalms into a prophecy about Jesus, the key lines of interest in this case follow:
Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.
For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
Note that even King David was dead and buried and has not ascended into the heavens. There is nothing here to suggest that David's soul or spirit immediately went to heaven to be with God after he died.
As shown earlier in 1 Thes 4:13-17, those dead people worthy of resurrection will be raised at an appointed time and are asleep until such time.
The theme that the dead would be raised at an appointed time is further expressed in John 5.
Verily, verily, I (Jesus) say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
Contrary to the claims of many Christian preachers, it simply cannot be assumed that a worthy dead believer is automatically or immediately transported into heaven to be with Jesus after they die.
And unfortunately for the New Testament, the common theme it presents about Jesus coming back within the lifetime of his immediate followers has proven to be a failure.
Jesus declared he would return in his kingdom with angels and rewards prior to all of his immediate associates dying.
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
The expected quick return of Jesus never materialized as promised.
Further evidence that believers are not transported directly to heaven upon death can be found in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.
Here again, it should first be noted that the opening declaration in this book undermines the credibility of the entire set of prophecy it contains.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:
The prophecies given in this book, which the author declares "must shortly come to pass" have never happened at all.
Nor have the following promises made by Jesus come true in any rational or accurate sense:
Behold, I (Jesus) come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
And, behold, I (Jesus) come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I (Jesus) come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
The theme of an expected quick return of Jesus has simply never materialized.
However, the key purpose of this essay is to address the claim that worthy dead people are immediately transported into heaven, and according to the scripture presented in Revelation, there are two resurrections of the dead.
The first resurrection involves special believers who are deemed worthy.
They will reign with and serve Jesus for 1,000 years and then the second resurrection will take place.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
As these verses indicate, those who are resurrected in stage one are exempt from punishment.
Note that these souls are part of a resurrection and are not claimed to have been placed in heaven as soon as they died on earth.
The second resurrection is where the rest of the dead are resurrected to face judgment.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Keep in mind the popular Christian claim being examined in this essay.
That claim asserts:
When a person deemed worthy of being in heaven dies, they immediately go to heaven to be with Jesus.
Many Christians who advertise the prompt trip to heaven upon death often attempt to apply Luke 23:43 as a universal validation of their teaching. The incident of the thief on the cross, who Jesus was alleged to have pardoned and promised a quick trip to paradise, doesn't change the verses which demonstrate that the dead wait for an appointed time to live again in some form.
Based on the scriptural evidence presented, there is nothing to indicate that any such thing happens.
In fact, the cited verses (particularly 1 Thes 4:13-17) show that dead believers, or those deemed worthy, are
in a state of sleep or non-being until they are resurrected at an appointed time.
Far from being a sure thing, the fluffy teaching of a prompt trip to heaven has little sound Biblical foundation once particular verses are examined.
Christians who use and proclaim this rationalization of the quick trip to heaven are basing their claim on their own wishful thinking, which lacks solid scriptural support. Although they may want to think that a particular person who dies went straight to heaven, they are not in any real position to be telling others that this is true.
Jesus himself stated that just because someone feels that they or someone else is qualified for heaven, wishful thinking means nothing to him.
Matt 7:21 (Jesus speaking)
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
The will of the Father, which Christians are supposed to do to enter heaven, includes following his perfect (Psa 19:7) and eternal law (Psa 119:152,160).
God's laws, which Christians like to think they don't have to follow anymore, are to be kept.
Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.
They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.
Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts (laws) diligently.
Despite what Jesus said about keeping the law of God (Matt 5:18-20) and doing the will of the Father (Matt 7:21), Christians have chosen to follow Paul rather than God.
It was Paul who ignored God and proclaimed that following and keeping the law no longer mattered (Gal 5:18). Christians who ignore God's law in favor of Paul's doctrine of law breaking and candy coated salvation through faith in a human sacrifice are in no position to be telling anyone if dead people are in heaven or when they arrived there.
The popular and boldly proclaimed teaching of the quick trip to heaven is based on expediency and its primary goal is to make people feel better.
While there isn't anything wrong with wanting to make people feel better, there is something wrong when fundamentalist preachers and pastors make this claim and at the same time they proclaim the Bible is the Word of God, and all of it must be believed in order to avoid hell.
Many preachers will wave the Bible around during their sermons to emphasize this point.
Yet, these same preachers and pastors show their capacity to mentally write their own version of the Bible and demonstrate that they have little regard for what the Bible actually says when it conflicts with what they want it to say.