Death: Are deceased Christians now in heaven?
In answering this important question, the first thing we need to do is define what it means to be a Christian. In other words, how does one become a Christian? Some may want to point to John 3:16, but there’s not one word about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in that verse or in that passage. This may surprise you, but you won’t find an answer to this question about how to get to Heaven anywhere in the Bible outside the writings of the apostle Paul. So, let’s look at what he says.
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [the good news] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [Emphasis added]
Probably the biggest obstacle to your salvation and your entrance into Heaven is in thinking that salvation is something you can somehow earn or deserve. It is not! That’s why this message is called the gospel. Gospel is a word that means good news. It really is the best news you’ll ever learn about. It is the fact that salvation is free. God did a wonderful work through Jesus Christ to make it free to you or anyone.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Emphasis added]
Salvation comes to us by grace through faith in what God has provided to make it available through what Jesus Christ did on behalf of all.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Emphasis added]
Salvation comes by simply accepting by faith what Christ did for you.
Now, regarding our question at hand—Are Christians now in Heaven? Here again, what do the Scriptures tell us?
II Corinthians 5:1-9
1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle [our present body as believers] were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Please notice! He says that as believers we DO have a home that’s “eternal in the heavens.” In this passage our earthly body is spoken of as a tabernacle [a tent] because it is a temporal body. We will not spend eternity in this body we now have. Instead, we’ll have a new and far better body that’s fit for Heaven [Philippians 3:21]. It will have the basic features of this present body, but it will be perfect and with much greater capabilities.
2 For in this [earthly temporal body] we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house [our new body] which is from heaven:
Our heavenly body will be our present body transformed into a perfect and far superior body. It will not have all the aches, pains, and limitations we may have now.
3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked [without an eternal body].
4 For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
We will have a body that is not only not subject to pain, but even death.
5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit Who now dwells in us was like a down payment on what is to come.
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
To be present with the Lord is to be where He is. And where is that? Answer: Heaven!
9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted [CHARITOO = made acceptable] of him. [Emphasis added]
The apostle Paul tells us even more about this wonderful new status we’ll gain.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
This tells us we need not fear death because our situation in Heaven will be far better than anything we’ve ever known here on Earth.
22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
Knowing what he knew about his eternal future, he then tells us he was torn between living here on Earth and dying physically and going to Heaven.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: [Emphasis added]
It seems that most people want to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die. The believer who knows and believes these truths is no longer concerned or worried about death. He’s confident that his future is good and secure. He knows his future eternal place of residence is in Heaven. Still other passages speak of this.
1 Corinthians 15:42-58
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption [speaking of our natural earthly body]; it is raised in incorruption [speaking of our resurrection body]:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [speaking of Christ] was made a quickening spirit.
46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
47 The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man [who we are now in Christ] is the Lord from heaven.
48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy [unbelievers]: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly [believers].
49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy [having an earthly body now], we shall also bear the image of the heavenly [referring to our new resurrection body].
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God [this earthly body]; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Here he’s telling us that our present earthly body cannot enter Heaven. But he then tells us that the day will come when our earthly body will be changed.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery [a secret, something not found outside Paul’s epistles]; We shall not all sleep [a reference to physical death], but we shall all be changed [get a new body at the time we speak of as the Rapture],
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible [a reference to those who’ve passed away in this present age of grace], and we shall be changed [all this is a reference to the occasion known as the Rapture, our resurrection].
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
He then tells us what our mindset should be, knowing we stand to be rewarded in accordance with the degree of our faithfulness.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. [Emphasis added]
This present age will eventually come to an end. That ending comes with that which is called the Rapture. It is the time when all believers of this present age will get their resurrection body. If you’re still alive when that occurs, you will then suddenly be transformed to receive your resurrection body. For those who die prior to that time, they will rise first in their new resurrection body. But it is their body that is raised. Their soul and spirit will have been in Heaven in that time prior. It is only their new resurrection body that is raised to be reunited with their soul and spirit that’s been in Heaven.
You may know of teachings called “soul sleep.” Those teachings are incorrect. The soul and spirit do not sleep. Deceased people only appear to be sleeping. At physical death the soul and the spirit depart from the body. If they are unbelievers, they immediately find themselves suffering in the fires of hell. Exactly how they suffer then in that state, having left their body behind, is not known. But later they are ultimately given a body in which to suffer forever.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good [unlike now, believers in that day manifested their faith for salvation by their works], unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil [those who rejected God’s means for their salvation], unto the resurrection of damnation. [Emphasis added]
Many of these principles are clearly taught in the story our Lord gave concerning an unbelieving rich man who died. This man’s afterlife is set in contrast to that of a poor man of faith who died about the same time [Luke 16:19-31]. The believer departed in death to be in a place of perfect peace and happiness. In our time, though our present body will decay, it will later be reunited with our soul and spirit into a new resurrection body at the time of the Rapture. This is sometimes spoken of in the Bible as “a day of redemption” for us.
30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. [Emphasis added]
Because our bodies have still not been redeemed, we are still prone to sickness and eventual death.
23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit [that “down payment” I mentioned earlier], even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
24 For we are saved [delivered from our present body of frustrations] by hope: but hope that is seen [already secured] is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. [Emphasis added]
A lengthier description of this event is provided for us in this next passage.
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But I would not have you [believers in this present age of grace] to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [believers who have died in this present dispensation of grace], that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope [a reference to unbelievers].
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again [having believed the gospel message], even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him [a reference to believers who’ve been in heaven before the occasion of the Rapture].
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord [by special revelation from Him, information not given and revealed by the Old Testament prophets or in “the four gospels”], that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord [the occasion of the Rapture] shall not prevent [hinder the resurrection of] them which are asleep [believers who’ve died].
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first [this occurs immediately before those believers who are then still living on Earth]:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air [this is quite different from Christ’s second coming where He comes to the Earth]: and so shall we ever [always] be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words. [Emphasis added]
There was a time when a group of believers, ones Paul had ministered to in an earlier period, who began to think the Rapture had come and that they’d been left behind. The apostle Paul then wrote to correct and encourage them about this.
II Thessalonians 2:1-4
1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him [a reference to the time of the Rapture],
2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ [speaking of the period of Tribulation and more that immediately follows the Rapture] is at hand [had already come].
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [the time of the Tribulation] shall not come, except there come a falling away first [this “falling away” (APOSTASIA = departure) is a reference to the Rapture], and that man of sin [a man often called the antichrist] be revealed, the son of perdition [damnation];
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God [that will have then been reconstructed in Jerusalem], shewing himself that he is God. [Emphasis added].
Then after this period of Tribulation [approximately seven years later] Jesus Christ comes back to the Earth [His Second Coming] and establishes an earthly kingdom that will last for a thousand years. This is often spoken of as the Millennial Reign of Christ.
We saw earlier a very important statement the apostle Paul made about his eternal future.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: [Emphasis added]
Here he says that, for the believer such as himself, his future in Heaven is far better than his life on Earth.
In another passage, we find that Paul was once stoned to death [probably the time of Acts 14:19] and went to Heaven for a short time. His conclusion about all that was that life in Heaven for the believer is far better, far superior to anything he’s ever known on Earth. Here are his comments about that event.
II Corinthians 12:1-7
1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory [boast or brag]. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 I knew a man [here he’s obviously speaking of himself] in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
The Earth’s atmosphere is spoken of as the first Heaven and outer space being the second Heaven. This “third Heaven” is our heavenly home.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise [the third Heaven], and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
5 Of such an one will I glory [boast]: yet of myself I will not glory [boast], but in mine infirmities.
6 For though I would desire to glory [boast], I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear [PHEIDOMAI = restrain myself], lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh [speaking of some physical ailment that caused him to suffer], the messenger of Satan to buffet [slug] me, lest I should be exalted above measure. [Emphasis added]
He was so excited, so ecstatic about what he’d seen and experienced in Heaven that God created some suffering in his body to bring him off his spiritual high and to humble him. All this is telling us that the pleasures of this life pale in comparison to what we will enjoy in Heaven. Being forever with the Lord will be far better than anything anyone has ever experienced in this life on Earth. Having resurrection life in a perfect body WITH the Lord and WITHOUT the suffering of this world will be wonderful. But the pleasure of Heaven is apparently far beyond simply the absence of pain. Furthermore, that situation will last forever.
Don’t you think you need to be sure you’re going to be there to be a part of it? You can be! Accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior is the key to it all. If you haven’t already done that, why not do it now? By doing that, you’ll be assured that your eternal home will be Heaven.