Do Christians Go Immediately to Heaven After They Die?

by Jack Wellman on November 20, 2013 · Print Print · Email Email

Where do Christians go the moment after they die?  Is it immediately to heaven and for the unsaved, immediately to hell?  Does the Bible say where the dead go and when?

One Second After Death

What happens in the very next second or less after a person dies?  The destination clearly depends upon whether a person has repented and trusted in Christ or whether they have rejected their only hope of eternal life (Acts 4:12; 16:30-31).  Paul seemed certain that after he died he would be present with the Lord.  To be present with someone obviously means that they would have to be with them.  When I got married, my fiancé had to be present with me or we could not have gotten married.  I know that is a poor analogy but what I am saying is that Paul says to be absent from the body (dead) is in the next moment to be “present with the Lord.”  In 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8 Paul wrote that, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”   I see nowhere in this text where there is a time differential between death and being in the presence of the Lord.

Do Christians Go To Heaven At The Moment of Death

For those who bend the knee, repent of their sins, confess their sinfulness and desperate need for the Savior, and then put their trust in Him, there is a joyous destination awaiting you.

Pauls’ Final Days

When Paul wrote his letter to Timothy he understood that the time of his death was near.  Whether he had overheard this from the guards, an angel of the Lord or Jesus Christ Himself we cannot tell but Paul seemed certain that he was going to die very soon.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8 Paul writes:

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

There are a few things that are important to note in Paul’s words here.  First, he says that his “departure is near.”  This departure being near is written within the context of this paragraph where he says that “there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.”  What day!?  It seems clear that Paul’s departure is near and that then there will be awarded to him “the crown of righteousness” on that day!   Do you see that?  He is near his earthly departure and what awaits him is a crown of righteous to be given to him on that day!  It appears to be the same day that he departs that he will receive this crown. He could have modified this sentence to the effect of saying, “Then, at the Lord’s return, I will receive the crown of righteousness” but he doesn’t. He says that it will be awarded to him on “that day!”

It’s important to note that the books of the Bible are not in the order in which they were written…that is, they are not in chronological order.  This is true of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.  There are many books in the Bible that are in the order in which they were written, but certainly not all of them and so when we see that 2 Timothy is followed by Titus and Philemon, which were also written by Paul, this doesn’t mean that they were written after 2 Timothy.  Most Bible scholars believe 2 Timothy was Paul’s last letter and this may be why he is giving Timothy departing letter.

Lazarus and the Rich Man

When Jesus mentioned what happened to the rich man and Lazarus after they died, there was no mention of a holding period or an interval of time between their death and their destination.  Lazarus lived in poverty and want while the rich man lived in splendor and plenty but when they died, they went separate ways.

In Luke 16:22-24 Jesus said

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” 

  • There is no mention of the false idea of a “soul sleep.”  When the Bible mentions that they slept with their fathers or they had fallen asleep, that meant that they were dead…but not gone (John 11:1-14).

Two important things are in this story.  One is “when they died.” What happened when they died?  The rich man went to “Hades, where he was in torment” while Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The place that Lazarus was at seems to be what is called in the Jewish vernacular, “Paradise.”  Paradise is thought to be the abode or dwelling place of the Old Testament saints.   Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Truly I say to you.  Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 223:43).   Any time Jesus says “truly” or “surely” as some translations say, you can be certain that Jesus was putting an exclamation point on what He was saying.  Jesus said surely or truly the thief would be with Jesus in Paradise.  When would the thief be in Paradise and when?  It would be “today” and he would be with Jesus.  That very day Jesus promised the thief would be with Him in paradise.  After Jesus’ death, Paradise may have been changed into being in the presence of the Lord or in heaven because of the atoning work at Calvary so that the Old Testament saints and those who died in the faith will be present with the Lord (2 Tim 4:6-8).

Another related reading:  What Does The Bible Say Heaven is Like?

Stephen Sees Jesus in Heaven

When Stephen was stoned for proclaiming the gospel, he sees the Lord, Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God in heaven.

We read this account in Acts 7:55-60:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Again, there is no mention of soul sleep.  As Stephen was dying, he actually saw heaven open up and there was “the Son of Man (Jesus) standing at the right hand of God.”  Stephen must have known that he was going immediately into the presence of the Lord for he says “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Here is a dying Stephen, seeing Jesus in heaven and asking him to receive his spirit.”  That sounds like he is immediately being “absent from the body” only to be “present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:6).  How clear that is.

Interesting reading: What is a Spiritual Body?  (What is your body going to be like in heaven?)

Conclusion

If you are not born again, then you will have no opportunity to go to heaven when you die but will the very next moment be in torment.  You will wait in torment, like the rich man is still waiting today.  You will await the Great White Throne Judgment where all who are in their graves and those unbelievers still living at the time of Christ’s return will be judged (Rev 20:11-15) but God has provided a way for you to be redeemed.  For those who bend the knee, repent of their sins, confess their sinfulness and desperate need for the Savior, and then put their trust in Him, there is a joyous destination awaiting you.

For the Christian, death is not a problem because we know that 2 Corinthians 5: 1- 6, 8 speaks about our eternal destination:

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 

That is where you’ll be one second after you die…that is if you are born again.  A person that’s born twice (born again and a natural birth) will never die but a person who is born only once (a natural birth but not born again) will die twice; once in their mortal body and then in the lake of fire (Rev 20:11-15).  I pray you choose the former.

Related Post: Where Is Heaven? Where Is Hell? Does The Bible Say?

Resources: New International Version Bible (NIV) THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide



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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry Garrison November 20, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Good teaching brother jack I had not seen that about pauls departure and crown tho I may have read it many times before – thanks for revealing that .

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Jack Wellman November 20, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Thank you so much sir. I truly thank God for you sir…I often see that you share these articles and I am so grateful to call you…more than a Facebook friend but a godly brother in Christ. I so appreciate your kind words and think you have the same gift of encouragement that Barnabas has.

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Peter November 20, 2013 at 11:15 pm

Hey Jack,

Just want to clarify one thing in your conclusion. You say “You will await the Great White Throne Judgment where all who are in their graves and those unbelievers still living at the time of Christ’s return will be judged (Rev 20:11-15) but God has provided a way for you to be redeemed……….” — are you saying those who go to torment can actually be redeemed after death while in torment if they repent and bend their knee? That’s how it reads to me?

Thanks
Peter

Read more: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/do-christians-go-immediately-to-heaven-after-they-die/#ixzz2lFn6VrWZ

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Jack Wellman November 21, 2013 at 9:49 am

Thank you Peter. The Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15 shows that there is no other chance to be saved at this point and you can read these verses to see that their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and so no, there is no chance for redemption if a person doesn’t repent and trust in Christ before death or before Christ comes again. I am sorry. Apparently I didn’t word it very well and so my apologies to you and the readers sir. It is clear that Heb 9:27 says as much as the writer says “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”

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Peter November 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Jack,

Thanks for the prompt answer.

Peter

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Jack Wellman November 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm

My good pleasure my friend.

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Linda November 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Hello Jack, I was so happy to see your headline as Ive always struggled with this. I agree too after reading Pauls departure umpteen times, but then when I get to the section in John 11:11-13 where Lazarus is sick and dies and is dead for 4 days and Jesus says he is only sleeping. So did he not seconds after he died go to heaven? Again Jesus brought back the little girl who also died, and Jesus said she was only sleeping. I get confused, could you clear this up for me once and for all so that I can move on. As always, love your articles, Thank you so much Jack.
Yours,
Linda

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Jack Wellman November 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Hi Linda…if we back up in this story, we see what Jesus meant when he said that “he sleeps.” In John 11:11-13

After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

Sleep is a synonym for death and that is the way Jesus used it and this is the way the Jewish culture says it when the kings of the Old Testament speak of death, i.e. in 2 Kings 2:10 “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.”

Cleared up? Hope so Linda, Thank you.

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Linda November 21, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Absolutely, nice and clear, thank you Jack,
Linda

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DocReits November 23, 2013 at 12:30 am

Hi Jack,

I have always believed, as you, that the saved will go into the presence of the Lord at the moment of death. Having said that, I certainly understand those who suggest that there is a wait until “That Day”… meaning the consummation of the age when Christ returns.

Prominent folks like Martin Luther believed in “Soul Sleep”. I think there is a better Scriptural case though, as you have shown, which argues more for the believer’s immediate presence with God upon death and the un-saved in the torments of Sheol OT) or Hades (NT) (being that place within the depths of the earth).

I know the following are more controversial portions of Scripture, but they are major proof texts(for me) for the position that our souls do not sleep.

Sheol was that place reserved for the souls of the righteous and unrighteous dead prior to the death and Resurrection of Christ. It was there where your referenced parable took place between Abraham, Lazarus and the rich man. They occupied different sections of Sheol or Hades, the two in the part of Sheol referenced “Paradise” and the rich man on the side of Sheol reserved as a place of torment.

Luke references Jesus’s own visitation to Hades when he, in Acts 2:31, quotes the Psalmist as saying:

“he, foreseeing this… concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (NKJV).

When then did Christ’s soul go to Hades?

“Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[, into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)”(Eph 4: 8-10)

Jesus did this after His death. His Blood allowing access to the Father and His Resurrection destroying death and the grave. “O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:55)

“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Rev 1:18)

Christ’s Blood secured access to the Father and He led the captive’s including Abraham and all of the believers, (banished since Adam’s sin from heaven), into God’s presence, from Paradise(Sheol), forevermore.

The unbelievers are still filling Hades today, joining all of the OT unbelievers, until Hades shall give up her unrighteous dead (Rev 20:13).

Finally, continuing on this same theme, Scripture makes very clear,

“then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous UNDER PUNISHMENT for the day of judgment”(2 Pet 2:9)…(emphasis mine)

Now, how will(has) all of the above, the leading of the Righteous captives into heaven, and the continuous keeping “under punishment” of all of the dead unbeliever’s souls(until the day of judgment), take place…. while they are asleep?

Thanks for another thought provoking article Jack! You always make me think…;-)

DocReits

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Jack Wellman November 23, 2013 at 8:42 am

Thanks my brother. I wish you a blessed and most Happy Thanksgiving.

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DocReits November 23, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Thank you Jack! I pray the same for you and yours.

DocReits

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John Harris (UK) November 25, 2013 at 5:19 am

Hi Jack,
I have heard and read convincing arguments on both sides of this issue. I am not disagreeing with you but there are some practical difficulties with what you say. For instance, where was Lazarus and others while they were “dead”? If we go immediately to heaven, one by one as we die, we are separated from our loved ones if we die first. Would this make our joy less than perfect. I think the problem here is trying to comprehend the difference between time and eternity. Whilst we live on earth, we are in a capsule of time in which change takes place and we progress through our lives. But then we enter a state of eternity where there is no time. God himself is outside of time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. That is why He knows everything from the beginning to the end of time. I know He is Alpha and Omega but that is as far as our human existence is concerned. The more you think about the time related practicalities, the more you can get confused. I always think of the disciples and Thomas in particular wanting to know the practicalities of getting to the place Jesus was going to prepare for them. In effect Jesus says to them “Don’t worry about the details, trust me. I am the Way.” As christians, I believe that is exactly what we should do. Not worry about what might or might not happen when we die but have absolute trust in our Saviour.

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DocReits November 25, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Hey John,

I’m sure Jack will respond to your question but here are a few thoughts. (Jack, please do not reply to my remarks as I know you are busy with school and these are just my speculations).

I agree John, with what you wrote and I have often thought the same….ie, “God made us and He is able to make all things good for the believer, so no worries” but I have been questioning my previous notions of God being outside of time.

In the cosmological notion of first cause, there was a beginning of creation and God “began” our universe. It makes rational sense that He did not make something He was already “in”, so He must have been outside of what He made….ie outside of our universe. Since all things begin at some point in time and since our universe began, it must have begun at point T = 0.

My previous thinking was , as you said, very difficult to even try to comprehend…. a world in which time did not exist, since every aspect of our existence is shrouded in time. We are always(a time word) in this pool at the bottom of the waterfall of time. The water, right before it hits our face being the future, as it hits us, the present, and as it leaves, the past. Sometimes it is hard to separate the droplets as they become the not yet/present mixing with the present/past.

We know how God invaded our world in the form of the Incarnation which we will celebrate next month. We know that God likewise poured out His Spirit at Pentecost to inhabit believers. God is present in our time/space. The Father is Spirit. He is a personage of the Trinity and is in a place Christ refers to as Heaven. “Our Father who art in Heaven…”

The angels exist there also. They worship before His throne. Satan was thrown out but has access to this “place” of God(Job 1:6,7). The demons (fallen angels) wage war in our heavens(sky?) with the good angels(Dan 10:13), in time(days ibid). Even though these angels have taken on human form throughout the OT and NT we cannot see them at most times because they are invisible(Col 1:16)…we struggle not against flesh and blood…but against evil spiritual forces(Eph 6:12).

My point, these invisible angelic beings are invisible, occupying our time and space, yet having access (the good angels and Satan) to the Father’s location of Heaven. My thought(speculation) is that God the Father is not in a timeless void but in a sphere that is in a different dimension or universe from our own.

His immortal angelic creation I believe has access between these dimensions and come into and out of our time. How else could they access the Father’s presence and our world? This is just speculation. I believe this dimension is the location of both Heaven(God’s presence) from which He made our world and perhaps a different dimension where Hades is at and all the unfaithful departed souls. Do they sleep there? Who knows. As I said previously, it would be hard for them to be suffering torment until judgment day if they are asleep.

Regards,

DocReits

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John Harris (UK) November 26, 2013 at 4:13 am

Hi DocReits,
Wow! To quote an American politician, “There are things we know we know and things we know we don’t know”. To me most of this speculation about what exactly might happen to us when we die comes firmly into the “don’t know” category. Maybe God in the form of Jesus wanted his disciples and wants us to trust him without knowing the details. Surely that is where real faith comes in.

with every blessing,
JOHN

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Jack Wellman November 26, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Thanks again John. There are some things we don’t know but those things revealed in the Bible we can know so what did Paul mean when he wrote, “2 Corinthians 5:6, 8 Paul wrote that, “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Deuteronomy 29:29 The Secret Things Belong Unto The LORD Our God: But Those Things Which Are Revealed Belong Unto Us and so what is revealed, i.e. in 2 Cor 5:6,8 and the other Scriptures we can believe John, right?

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Jack Wellman November 26, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Thanks John. No, it wouldn’t make our love less perfect for we will be finally perfect in heaven with all vestiges of sin gone and all sorry removed. Please forgive me, I had two 11 hour days the last two days. you said “where was Lazarus and others while they were “dead”. Where was Lazarus and the others while they were dead? God is the God of the living and not the dead. We have eternal souls and we are not really dead but removed from the body for a time but we do not cease to exist. I am sorry if I am not understanding your question. We are IMMEDIATELY with the Lord at the split second after death. That is what all these verses in this article testify to my friend. I am sorry, maybe I have a thick head and am dense at times as I work, pastor a church, write for this site, am in seminary, and have a family too so please forgive me.

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John Harris (UK) November 27, 2013 at 9:28 am

Dear Jack,
I am amazed that you are able to reply so quickly to all of us who comment so please don’t apologise. I am sure your other duties are more than enough to keep you very busy. Of course we can and do believe scripture but the point I was really trying to make was that dwelling too much on the detail of exactly what might or might not happen when we die is not particularly helpful and could be confusing. Yes, whatever the means we shall be with the Lord forever. That is our faith. Thomas said “We do not know where you (Jesus) are going so how can we know the way?” Jesus said “I am the way”. That’s all you need to know.
Thank you again for all your hard work Jack.

with every blessing,

JOHN

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Jack Wellman November 28, 2013 at 10:10 am

Thanks again John. I do agree that we should not be wasting a lot of time dwelling too much on what might or might not happen after death but we have had so very, very many ask about their dearly departed ones who died in the faith and we thought it was appropriate to answer this to those who wondered where their loved ones are now…the same reason that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about their loved ones who died. They mistakenly thought that they’d miss Christ’s appearance and be lost because they died before Christ came back.

We have so many who click on “Contact Us” with the question of what happens to their beloved friends and family…i.e. husbands, children, mothers, etc. after they die in the faith and wanted to know where they are at now that we thought it important to address this. Thanks John.

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Nicholas November 27, 2013 at 3:35 am

I SEE WHERE IT SAYS THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE FIRST , AND JESUS TOLD THE THIEF THOU SHALT BE WITH ME IN PARADISE , IS THE SOUL SEPERATED FROM THE BODY — A NEW BODY , CHRIST WAS HARD AT FIRST FOR TO RECOGNIZE — BUT HAD THE SCARS — I HEARD DAVID JERIMIAH HE WOULD HAVE THE SCARS AS A CONSTANT REMINDER IN HEAVEN AND WE WOULD BE COMPELLED TO WORSHIP HIM …….

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anna October 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm

i really want to know

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