Do certain biblical passages tell us that we go to heaven when we die?


As we explained in the previous Q&A, the Bible teaches nowhere that we ascend to God’s third heaven after we die. Some insist on the opposite, quoting a few passages which supposedly support their belief in an afterlife in heaven after death.

One of those passages is Philippians 1:23-24.  They claim that Paul said that he wanted to die, depart from this earth and be with Christ in heaven. The Nelson Study Bible interprets the passage to mean that “he wanted to go right away to heaven and be with Christ.”

But Paul did not say that he wanted to be with Christ in heaven.

As we explain in our free booklet, “Paul’s Letter to the Philippians,” Paul did not believe that he would join Christ in heaven. Paul raised the thought that it would be better for him to depart from this life and this physical mortal body, by falling asleep at the time of his death. He concluded, however, that it was better for the church’s sake to keep on living for a while.

He knew that once he died, he would be in the grave in an unconscious state until the resurrection from the dead at the time of Christ’s return to the earth. He knew that this would occur when the seventh or last trumpet would be blown (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

He knew that at that time, he would be resurrected to immortality–but he also knew that for him, his resurrection would be within the next split second of his consciousness. He was aware and taught that he would die, and within the next split second of his consciousness–within a moment or the twinkling of an eye–he would be raised and always be with the returning Christ—not in heaven, but here on earth.

A similar passage, which is often misused to justify the unbiblical belief in life after death in heaven, is 2 Timothy 4:6. Paul says that he knew that his departure was at hand. Again, some claim that he was thinking that he would die soon, depart from the earth and ascend to heaven.

But Paul does not mention heaven. He says that he is going to depart soon. The Broadman Bible Commentary explains that this is just a metaphor for death. And reading on, Paul says in verse 8 that Christ will give Paul his crown of righteousness “at that day” of His “appearing.” Again, Paul is referring to his “departure” from this life, in anticipation of his resurrection to immortality at the time of Christ’s return, when he would also be honored with an incorruptible crown.

Perhaps one of the most often quoted passages for the erroneous teaching of life after death in heaven can be found in John 14:1-4. In that passage, Christ informs us that in His Father’s house, there are many mansions; that He was going to prepare a place for His disciples; and that He would come again to receive them “where I am.”

Those who teach life after death in heaven omit to mention the fact that Christ spoke about His return to the earth. They only focus on His statement that in His Father’s house there were many mansions and that He went to prepare a place for the disciples in His Father’s house, assuming that He was speaking of a dwelling place for His disciples in His Father’s house in heaven.

First, let us understand what Christ meant with “many mansions” in His Father’s house. The Greek word for mansion, “mone,” means a room, a place of staying, an abode, a chamber. It is only used one more time in the New Testament, in John 14:23, where it is rendered as “home” or “abode.” Christ said that the Father and Christ will make their home or abode with a disciple who loves Christ and keeps His words.

“The Father’s house” could refer to the physical temple of God in Jerusalem, with which Christ’s disciples were of course very familiar, and which was called the holy place in Acts 21:28. In John 2:14-16, Christ expressly referred to the physical temple in Jerusalem as “My Father’s house.” Compare Isaiah 56:7.

In the future, Christ will rule from Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of David, and as Ezekiel 40-48 informs us, there will again be a temple in Jerusalem. God’s temple had and will have chambers (Jeremiah 35:2; Ezekiel 42:1), which are lodging places. A “chamber” can also refer to a bridal canopy (Psalm 19:5).

Jeremiah 35:2 tells us that there were different chambers for people with different positions or responsibilities. Some chambers were situated above other chambers—showing the hierarchical structure of positions within the temple of God. Each chamber designated the residence or position or office, where the resident could be a doorkeeper or a prince. David said that he would love to be a doorkeeper, as long as he could be in God’s temple.

Christ told the church in Philadelphia that its members would become pillars in the temple of God, and they would go out no more (Revelation 3:12). That is, they would always be in God’s temple, being a part of it and connected with it. The Church of God is called the temple of God, and it is also the Bride of Christ.

Christ is using figurative language to say that His disciples would always be part of His Father’s house—they would never be disassociated from the Father.  He said that while He was in heaven, functioning as their Mediator and High Priest, He was preparing a place for them—that is, He would prepare individual positions of responsibility for each of His disciples, depending on their works (Revelation 22:12). But they all would be in God’s Kingdom (Matthew 25:34)—part of the Family of God and the Bride having made herself ready—born-again members of God’s spiritual Temple.

But Christ did not say that after He had prepared a place of rulership and responsibility for His disciples in God’s Kingdom and Family, He would receive them up there in heaven. Quite to the contrary, He said that He would return or come again and receive them to Himself, “that where I am, you may be also.”

When Christ spoke these words, He was here on earth—not in heaven.  And when He returns to this earth to establish God’s rule and kingdom over all of mankind, His disciples will be with Him here on earth also—in the Kingdom of God—ruling under Christ in their respective functions and positions as kings and priests over ten cities or five cities or two cities—which fact is signified by the different chambers in the Father’s house.

None of the Scriptures quoted above tell us that the dead will go to heaven when they die.

(To Be Continued)

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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