Almost all Christians take great comfort in the fact that when loved ones die, they go to be with the Lord in Heaven. There, ALL the saved ones have been singing worship songs to God, who sits on the throne for thousands and thousands of years… Or that is what we believe but what does the bible say?
There are no scriptures in the Bible that tell us that the reward of the ‘saved’ is going to heaven. Solomon wrote about death and what happens to human beings at death: “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20, Gen 1:30; 2:7). Here we find clearly that upon death we do not head to a heavenly destination. In fact, Solomon goes a step further to show that the dead have no conscious state whatsoever: “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
The prophet Daniel also confirms this fact that all will die and enter a grave. “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). We are told that death is like sleep, and those who die are simply ‘unconscious’ in their graves (Matt 27:52, John 11:13, Acts 7:60; 13:36, 1 Cor 11:30; 15:6;18;20 & 51, 1 Thess 4:13-18; 5:10 and 2 Pet 3:4).
Many Christians think of the soul/spirit as an immortal entity within us that goes on living after death. What does the Bible say? Describing the creation of human beings in the beginning, the Bible says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [nephesh]” (Genesis 2:7, KJV). Other Bible translations say, “. . . and man became a living being” (NKJV; NIV). God did not put a soul into man – He formed the body from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed His life-giving spirit into the lifeless body – and the result was a soul, or a living being. When a person dies, the reverse takes place. The breath of life departs from the body, and the soul no longer exists. That’s what the Bible says. “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, NIV). The Hebrew word here for ‘spirit’ is: ru’ach which means ‘breath‘ – God’s breath. The word ‘gave‘ is the Hebrew word ‘nathan‘ which can also mean ‘lend, borrow, entrust’. The Hebrew word for ‘soul‘ is nephesh which means ‘breathing‘ or ‘living being‘.
Thus: God forms the body from the dust, entrusts His breath (spirit) to the body and the body then becomes a living being (soul). Even in the New Testament where Paul uses the three terms together, do we find the Body, Soul (Greek – psuché meaning breathing) and spirit (Greek – pneuma meaning breath) as in the Old testament.
At the resurrection, God reunites the body and His life-giving spirit—and the person lives again. If souls existed as separate entities that lived on after we died, that would mean we have immortality. However, the Bible says human beings do not have immortality. Only God is immortal (see 1 Timothy 6:15, 16). Paul says that the righteous “seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7 & 1 Cor 15:20). If we had immortal souls, why would the righteous seek after something they already have?
So where did the concept of ‘going to Heaven’ begin? The current concept of going-to-heaven-when-I-die did not start during Jesus Christ’s ministry. It actually started thousands of years prior to Jesus Christ’s birth. Ancient Babylonians and Egyptians believed in a heaven for those who died. They were clearly convinced that man had an immortal soul. If the person lived a good life and did more good acts than bad, then his or her immortal soul would be in heaven. However, not only does the Bible not support this idea of what heaven is, it also nowhere says that man has an immortal soul. So how did these concepts catch on? Many contend that Greek philosophy and not Scripture was the main influence for the idea of an immortal soul in Christianity today. Notice this from the influential Greek philosopher Plato’s Phaedo: “Do we believe that there is such a thing as death? To be sure. … And is this anything but the separation of soul and body? And being dead is the attainment of this separation when the soul exists in [it]self, and is parted from the body and the body is parted from the soul. … The soul, whose inseparable attitude is life, will never admit of life’s opposite, death. Thus the soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible”
(Plato the Teacher: Being Selections From the Apology, Euthydemus, Protagoras, Symposium, Phaedrus, Republic and Phaedo of Plato, 1897, pp. 425-426, 449).
While some may feel Plato’s philosophy makes sense to them, there is no scriptural support to back up this humanly contrived belief in the immortal soul. Nor is there support for the belief that souls go to heaven. What did the New Testament apostles teach concerning those who die and the concept of heaven? The apostle Paul spoke of those who were asleep (dead) who would be resurrected upon Jesus Christ’s return to this earth: “…dead shall be raised incorruptible ’at the same time that those who are alive‘ shall all be changed in a moment, in twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Even David, a man after God’s own heart, is not in heaven. Notice the apostle Peter’s words in his very powerful Pentecost sermon recorded in the book of Acts: “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens.” (Acts 2:29-34).
So if heaven is not the reward of the saved, what happens to the dead? While the apostle Paul spoke of those who were asleep, just like Solomon and Daniel did, Paul also speaks about what will happen to the dead. He tells us very clearly that the dead in Christ will be raised up—resurrected from the dead. When? At Jesus Christ’s triumphant return to this earth. Notice the apostle Paul’s words: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
If the dead saints are resurrected to be in heaven, why did Paul not state that? The fate of true Christians who die is to be resurrected to life. But to do what? To reign and rule with Jesus Christ on earth. “And have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). Notice carefully that nowhere in these scriptural references are we told that the reward of the saved is heaven. Even Jesus Christ tells us that no one has ascended to heaven: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). This verse tells us that years after Jesus Christ had left this earth, John records that no one except Jesus Christ had ascended to heaven.
No human being, except Jesus Christ, has ever ascended to heaven. However, where are God the Father and Jesus Christ? In Revelation 19:1, the apostle John says, “After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!’” (Revelation 19:1). If no human being has ever ascended to heaven, whose voices was John hearing? Revelation chapters 4 and 5 describe John’s vision of God’s heavenly throne. Revelation 4:8-11 states: “The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.’” John adds: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:11-12).
Both of these passages give us a glimpse of God’s heavenly throne. They tell us that while God and Jesus Christ reign on high at the heavenly throne, they are not surrounded by human beings. So whose voices did John hear? The passages in Revelation tell us that it is the angelic host that encompasses God’s throne. Is there a heaven? Yes, but not as mankind has pictured it. Yes, there is a heaven, or, better put, a “heavenly throne” where God the Father and Jesus Christ rule and reign from. It is not a cloud-filled, harp-playing utopian destination for human beings who die. God’s inspired Bible tells us that our destiny is one of glory here on earth—being part of God’s family in His soon-coming Kingdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6; 10 – “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they no longer have a reward [here], for the memory of them is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hatred and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share [in this age] in anything that is done under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead) where you are going.” Job 14:10-12: 10 “But [the brave, strong] man must die and lie face down; Man breathes his last, and where is he? “As water evaporates from the sea, And a river drains and dries up, So man lies down and does not rise [again]. Until the heavens are no longer, The dead will not awake nor be raised from their sleep.”
2 Corinthians 5:8 is best understood to mean that our next conscious moment after death will be with Jesus Christ – not because we are instantly transported to heaven, but because we will be unconscious in death until the resurrection at His return. This understanding is consistently taught throughout the bible, such as Heb 9:27-28, Corinthians 15:51-52, which says that the “dead shall be raised incorruptible” at the same time that those who are alive “shall all be changed in a moment, in twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” This verse would make no sense if the dead were already alive in heaven right now. Consider also 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, which says “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout… and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
If the dead were already living in heaven, there is no need for them to “rise.” Revelation 20:4-5 agrees – those who die in Christ will not live again until He returns to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, while “the rest of the dead [will] not live again until the thousand years [are] finished.”
But what about John 14:2, 2 Cor 5:1, Phil 3:20 and Heb 11:16? Does this not state that we have ‘heavenly citizenship‘ and therefor will go to Heaven one day? The answer lies in Heb 13:12-14 (AMP): “Therefore Jesus also suffered and died outside the [city] gate so that He might sanctify and set apart for God as holy the people [who believe] through [the shedding of] His own blood. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His contempt [the disgrace and shame that He had to suffer]. For here we have no lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”
God is preparing a ‘holy‘ city for the believers in Him. The city needs to remain ‘holy’ in Heaven with God, uncontaminated by earthly sin until He creates a new heaven and a new earth. The heavenly Jerusalem will come down from heaven unto the new, holy earth and He, God will live with us in the new Jerusalem on earth.
Rev 21:1-3 (AMP): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (vanished), and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed like a bride adorned for her husband; and then I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “See! The tabernacle of God is among men, and He will live among them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them“
The idea that our spirit goes to heaven when our flesh dies is not found in scripture. And what happens to the soul? If the soul contains our human emotions as such, then we will have an emotionless time in Heaven!