Where do we go when we die?
[Note: This series of questions about Heaven and the Eternal State were sent in to Lamb & Lion Ministries and answered by Dr. David Reagan, Nathan Jones, and Tim Moore on our television program Christ in Prophecy.]
Dr. Reagan: We are going to focus on questions people sent in to our ministry about Eternity, or to put it another way, questions about Heaven and Hell. The first question deals with when a person dies, whether he or she immediately goes to Heaven or Hell, or spiritually sleeps in the grave until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Their childhood preacher taught them about a concept called Soul Sleep.
Tim Moore: There are some who have become misled when it comes to the concept of Soul Sleep. This concept teaches that our souls are buried with our bodies and we just hang out in some kind of limbo until Jesus returns to resurrect our bodies. But, the Apostle Paul was very clear, and he told us a couple of different times, such as in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 where he states, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight, we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Paul also revealed in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” And, again in verse 23, “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.” Paul said he knew that when he departed his body he would be with Christ.
Dr. Reagan: Those are very good points, but the person who believes in Soul Sleep would come back at you and say, “Okay, if there is no Soul Sleep, then why is it the Bible refers to death as sleep?”
Nathan Jones: That is because we are talking about the body here. What is six feet under is our physical, human body, our earthly body, which naps underground. Can you imagine being a soul trapped in a decaying corpse under the ground with the worms and the bugs and stuff? No wonder so many people are terrified of death! But, no, the Bible says that when we die we will be escorted by the angels up to Jesus Christ. So, the very second that you die, if you believe in Jesus as your Savior, you will then immediately stand before the Lord.
Now, the body still waits under the earth. It waits for the Rapture, or the Resurrection if you are already dead. The earthly body will be resurrected and merged with our intermediate bodies, and then we will at last don our glorified bodies, and those are the bodies that we will indwell for all of eternity.
Dr. Reagan: It is metaphorically true that death is sleep in the sense that the body goes into the ground, or the body is burned, or the body is lost in the ocean, or whatever fate. But, when Jesus returns, a supernatural thing is going to happen. Jesus is going to speak and all of those bodies are going to come back together. The dead are going to awake, in the sense that the Bible uses sleep to refer to the body which remains here, and that the body will one day be resurrected and rise again. At the resurrection, our earthly bodies are going to wake up. The body may sleep, but not the soul. The soul immediately upon death goes to be with the Lord.
Nathan Jones: There are a number of people, especially Catholics, who write in to the ministry and ask about cremation. They ask, “If I were to burn up my body in cremation, then how could the Lord resurrect my body?” The Lord works at the subatomic level. He can put every atom back in place, so don’t worry about it. Trust that your body will indeed be resurrected. After all, the Bible talks about the sea giving up its dead, and the earth gives up its dead. Wherever your body is, even if it was blown into the wind as atoms, the Lord will put them all back together again.
Will we live forever in Heaven or on the New Earth?
Dr. Reagan: A lot of people are surprised to learn that our eternal home is not going to be Heaven but the New Earth.
Tim Moore: The New Jerusalem on the New Earth is going to be Heaven, for what defines Heaven? Heaven is where God is. Wherever God is, that’s where I want to be, and that to me is a heavenly place. It is Heaven. The Scriptures say that the Lord is going to return to reign over the earth. Heaven will come down and God’s glory will fill the earth. When that happens, Ezekiel reveals that Jesus’ name will then become Yahweh Shammah, meaning “the Lord who is there.” The Lord will be there ruling over the earth, and so Heaven will be here. Christians will reign with Jesus on the earth during the coming Millennial Kingdom and then on after into the Eternal State.
Dr. Reagan: Having been raised in an Amillennialism-teaching church, when I first began to believe what the Bible really says about the end times and started the transition to becoming Premillennial in my view, this revelation about Heaven being on the New Earth was one of the things that was the biggest shock to me. I had always been taught that when we died we were going to become like ghosts, we were going to be kind of like spirits, and we were going to float around on clouds and play harps. Heaven wasn’t going to be tangible and material, but an ethereal place filled with spirits. A lot of that kind of thinking is actually due to Eastern religious concepts and not biblical concepts. When I read in the Bible that we are going to be given glorified, eternal bodies and that we are going to live on a new earth, I was shocked. Nobody had ever taught me that, but that is indeed what the Bible teaches.
Nathan Jones: I have always wondered how some can teach that we will be living forever in ethereal bodies, sitting on clouds, and playing harps. Wouldn’t our immaterial hands go right through the harps? Ever since I was a kid, that imagery bothered me.
Rather, John 14 reveals that ever since Jesus ascended to Heaven He has been preparing a place for His children to live. Read Revelation 20-22, for there we learn about this prepared place will be like, and it’s given a name — the New Jerusalem. It’s this super-city that the Lord has been building. And what a structure! John explains that this super-city is going to be 1,500 miles wide, and long, and high. So, it could be a cube or it could be a pyramid. The New Jerusalem will actually come down to a New Earth.
Now, it has been calculated that this city is so big that if it was placed on the current earth the earth would wobble uncontrollably because of the city’s sheer size. So, it’s been estimated that the New Earth might even be as large as Jupiter in order to handle a city of such mass. The New Jerusalem will be Heaven on earth.
Dr. Reagan: This eternal city will descend down to the New Earth just at the end of the Millennial reign. God is then going to take all of those who are believers in Christ and place them in that glorious new city while He refurbishes the planet, burning off all the effects of sin and the curse. Then the city is going to descend to the purified New Earth, and the Father Himself is going to come and live in our midst. We are going to be living in our new bodies, in the New Jerusalem, on a New Earth, living in the presence of our Creator Jesus forever and ever.
Tim Moore: What a glorious picture! Revelation 21:23 further describes the New Jerusalem as “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.” That is what God’s faithful can look forward to, and that will be right here on the earth.
Dr. Reagan: When the high priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat, that was symbolic of the fact that the death of the Messiah — His blood — would make it possible for the grace of God to cover the Law of God, which was in the Ark. But, the priest also stepped back and sprinkled the blood on the ground, and most people overlook that. That act was symbolic of the fact that the Messiah’s death would also result in the redemption of the physical universe. God intends to redeem this universe and place it back into its perfected state as God had originally created. So, yes, there is going to be a New Earth, but it is going to be a perfected earth, and beautiful beyond anything we can imagine.
Nathan Jones: You would have to think, too, how could we be ghosts if we are eating from the Tree of Life? Ghosts don’t need to eat from the Tree of Life. Revelation talks about how the city’s inhabitants will be traveling in and out of the city through its 12 gates. Why would we need to come in and out of gates if we didn’t have bodies? We know then that our glorified bodies will be tangible, they would be recognizable, and they will be physical. We’ll also be wearing clothes. Ghost don’t need to wear clothes, but we will indeed be wearing robes, so our bodies must be tangible.
Tim Moore: Jesus in His glorified body ate with the disciples. He enjoyed the bounty of the catch.
Dr. Reagan: Oh, yes, and that is one of the things I am most excited about. I believe in my glorified body I’ll be able to eat all I want without having to gain a pound. Not even an ounce!
In the second part of this series answering questions about the Eternal State, we will look at the judgments people will face after they die.
This Q&A series is also available in a video album which contains two DVD discs that feature seven television programs in which David Reagan, Tim Moore, and Nathan Jones respond to questions about the Bible and Bible prophecy. These programs are great for both individual and group study and provide an excellent starting point for discussion.