What Happens When I Die?
John 14: 1-3 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
If we believe that human beings were created to live forever, it should be important to find out what happens when we die and if there are preparations that we need to make before we die. If we believe in God and in the Bible, life after death is one the major themes of scripture.
Most of us even though we believe in heaven have very little idea about what its like, what we do, where it is and our relationships there. The vast majority of Christians see heaven as an out of body spiritual experience where we float around on clouds, play a harp and have a never ending church service.
As I began to research this topic over the past several weeks, I have been astounded to learn how much the Bible does talk about heaven and how different it is then the typical stereotypes.
The scriptures speak of heaven in three different ways: There is the atmospheric heaven – look up and see the sky and sun and moon and stars and speak of them as the heavens. Limited in our scope.
There is the cosmos heaven – with the advent of powerful telescopes, we have been able to see things in the universe we couldn’t before – galaxies – vastness of God’s creation. The Psalmist says: the heavens declare the glory of God.
There is the celestial heaven – the dwelling place of God – the eternal home of believers. Stephen saw the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of the father. Our father who art in heaven. The word heaven is used in different contexts throughout scripture.
There are three different perspectives about heaven in the Scriptures. One – there are certain things we know for sure. John 14: 1-3
Two: - there are things hinted at which people can interpret in different ways: What does it mean that there will be a new heaven and a new earth- spiritual or literal?
Three: there are certain things we just don’t know. Where exactly is heaven? Will there be golf in heaven?
Will I like beets in heaven?
But what we do know shows us that we are headed for the most exciting, fulfilling, and meaningful adventure we have ever known. In light of that, we must hold firm to the things the Bible teaches for sure; we can debate/discuss about the nature of things hinted at but we should not make them a matter of fellowship with another believer and we can forget the things that are impossible to know.
Here are some things we know:
One: Satan wants to blind our minds to the realities of heaven.
Rev. 13:6 “He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander His name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.” Satan slanders God’s person, God’s people and God’s place. He can’t convince us that heaven doesn’t exist so he tries to convince us it will be boring. Satan is a liar and will try to deceive, confuse, and bring disharmony among the people of God.
Two: The things pertaining to heaven are spiritually discerned. In I Cor. 2:9 says: “as it is written, no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.”
The doctrine of heaven is not developed in just one chapter explaining it in detail, there are snippets of its meaning throughout scripture and it is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle – but when the picture is complete – it is quite amazing.
Since we can’t experience it yet with our senses, we must recognize it as a spiritual reality and trust the scriptures are true.
Third: Heaven will be better in every area of life than we enjoy on earth. Hebrews 8: 3-6
As I have shared with you before, Hebrews explains to us that the new covenant of grace is greater than the covenant of the law. Talks about the coming of Christ, he says: these are just a copy or a shadow of what is in heaven.
a. new bodies no bulging middles or balding tops; no cellulite or thunder thighs; no cancer, heart problems, deformed bodies or useless appendages. In this world our bodies are under constant decay gradually lose their vitality and strength. Phil. 3: 20-21 “will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like his glorious body.” Bodies destroyed by fire, disease, or decay will be quicken by the spirit of God into new models.
Don’t know exactly what they will look like but according to I Cor. 15 they will be imperishable and uncorruptable by sin.
b. new heart Psalm 51:10 even though we have been cleansed of our sins by the blood of Christ, we still live in a fallen world – we have temptations that beset us; still have emotions that sometimes get the best of us; we still groan to be released from those things that so easily trip us up.
In heaven we will have a perfect love for God and people. The process of refining that began with our conversion will be completed by Christ at the resurrection. A heart not tainted by greed, lust, prejudice, ill will, jealousy, or any of the other destructive emotions that surface.
c. new mind I Cor. 13: 12 “now I know in part, then I shall know fully even as I am fully known.”
Some of you have children, family members or acquaintances that have mental problems. I have a granddaughter that is autistic. Mental issues are the result of the fall and the curse and will be with us until the second coming of Christ. We are told in Phil. 2:5 to have the mind of Christ – we try but we can never quite get there. In heaven we’ll get there. The mysteries of mankind will be made known. Heightened sense of understanding, knowledge and wisdom.
Fourth: there is an intermediate state between death and heaven.
So what happens when I die? Russell Byrun in his book on Christian Theology states: “Between the close of the present life and the beginning of the final state, the spirit is in a condition different from that of this life or that beyond the resurrection. The fact of an intermediate state is certain”
Jim Lyon: “When you die, you will immediately be translated into a new, wonderful, fully conscious reality with Jesus.”
As I have done this research, it has sharpened my understanding of heaven. Long held beliefs even if they are wrong are difficult to dislodge. People don’t change their minds but they do make new decisions based on additional information. I hope you will keep an open mind as we go though this series.
Some of you believe that this intermediate time is soul sleep – you die – wake up – 100 years later in heaven but it seems like a moment. I believed that for years. It comes from I Thess. 4: 13 when it says about those who have died: “brothers we do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” There is another possibility that I want you to at least be aware of.
There is an intermediate heaven – or paradise- or sometimes called the present heaven. This is the dwelling place of believers between the time of their death and the culmination of history in the second coming of Christ. Upon our death, we immediately go into the presence of God in heaven.
II Cor. 5:8 Paul says to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.
Phil. 1: 23 Paul is trying to figure out whether it is better to stay alive and continue his ministry or to die and be with the Lord and he says: “I am torn – I desire to depart and be with Christ.”
There is no evidence in scripture that this intermediate heaven is a place where you can be purged of your sins – that happened on the cross.
There is no evidence that this gives one a second chance to accept Christ – it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.
No evidence that you can change locations
No evidence that we can communicate with people in that state.
This present heaven will be in Christ’s presence, a place of joy where we await the final redemption of mankind. We will rejoice that our future place in the eternal heaven is secure.
Why would you say this: what is the scriptural evidence?
But there are several places in scripture where this state is mentioned or implied so we need to look at it.
In II cor. 12: 2-4 Paul talks a man was caught up to heaven and two verses later says caught up to paradise.
Todd Burpo caught up into a heavenly experience.
There is a story about Lazarus and a rich man who both died – one was buried and found himself in hell and one was carried to Abraham’s side or paradise. (luke 16: 22-31). A lot of people think it is a parable but it doesn’t say it’s a parable – it doesn’t say once upon a time –Jesus normally introduces his parable with a preamble: the kingdom of heaven is like . . . or let me tell you a story; but in this case it simply says there was a rich man. If it is a parable it is the only parable where the person is given a name – Lazarus. Is it possible he was a real person with a real story? Both Lazarus and the rich man were in a state of consciousness knowing what was going on.
To the thief on the cross, in Luke 23:43 Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 75 times in the gospels Jesus uses those words: I tell you the truth or I say unto you; in none of those does he say I tell you the truth today. He says I tell you the truth and then introduces a truth he wants to tell us. These examples gives us two characteristics of heaven:
Immediacy and community.
Rev. 6: 9-11 story of those martyred for their faith – I realize Revelation is a vision and filled with symbolism and does not always mean a literal interpretation. But they are pictured in heaven and cry out: “how long Sovereign Lord, holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” In the eternal heaven, there will be no such thoughts.
In addition to those scriptures: there are three examples of witnesses in referring to paradise.
Hebrews 12:1 since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, run with perseverance the Christian life. Who are those people? Angels probably – others who have died in the faith – possibly as well.
Luke 15: 7 and 10 the chapter on lost-ness and God finding people. Lost sheep – more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety nine righteous – parable but the implication is there is rejoicing in heaven over someone coming to Christ. If this was the eternal heaven, that’s not happening – the context is present tense happening now, they rejoiced – who? Doesn’t say but just that they rejoiced.
Verse 10 repeats the principle: this time it adds: there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Doesn’t say the angels rejoiced – there was rejoicing in there presence. Could it be that those
Matt. 17:3-4 at the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared to Christ, Peter, James and John. They weren’t sleeping – they appeared in recognizable yet different bodily form.
Biggest impediment to this is that people will say: for people in heaven to be happy, they can’t know what’s happening on earth.
God knows what is happening on earth but it does not diminish his joy. The angels know what is happening on earth and it doesn’t diminish their joy. Jesus knows what is happening on earth and it doesn’t diminish his joy. Couldn’t we in the presence of the Lord be aware of what was happening and have it not diminish our joy?
God and the Holy Spirit are still troubled by events before the completion of heaven.
Acts 9: 4-5 he says: Saul, why are you persecuting me?
Ephesians 4:30 it says: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
There will come a time when there will be no more grieving, no more tears, no more sorrow according to Rev. 21:4 - that time will come when God returns and the dwelling of God is with men.
Joy is not the absence of pain or suffering. Paul tells us that. Joy is the ability to know that my redeemer lives and in the midst of all of this, I have victory through Jesus. Joy is a matter of perspective. Those who live in the presence of Christ in a sinless environment with the rich fellowship of believers and surrounded by the presence of God will be filled with joy and there will come a time when all of those earthly emotions will be banished.
You are free to disagree and I still love you but it gives me great comfort to know that by grandfather, my father, Lisa, Gary, Don, Brenda and countless others whom I have known are in heaven looking down on me and encouraging me. If Jesus is praying for us ever interceding before the throne of God, why shouldn’t those loved ones be praying for us as well.
I think some of our friends have gotten in backwards – we can’t pray for them but they can pray for us. And somehow through the supernatural presence of Christ, the issues we wrestle with does not destroy their joy in the presence of the Lord.