Do believers go to heaven when we die, or what happens?

Email Received:

I just can't understand what exactly happens when we die. I have begun to think that the conditional immortality ideas of the Adventist make more sense than the dead wandering around heaven in disembodied spirits, waiting for a rapture which for them can only be anti-climatic.

Ted's Response:

Firstly, consider the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The passage indicates that the rich man was in hell, and Lazarus was far away, in another location, with Abraham (16:23). The rich man and Abraham were quite conscious, as they were having a conversation with each other (16:24-31). Presumably, Lazarus also was conscious and aware of what was going on. Thus, none of these men were "soul sleeping" after death. Also, Paul seemed to indicate that after he left his body, he would be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23).

Following the Rapture event, after the opening of the Sixth Seal, there will be a great multitude of believers in heaven (Revelation 9,10). They will be actively praising God during much of the time that they are there. Later, John saw the 144,000 Israelites in heaven, singing and following around the Lamb, Jesus (14:1-4). Furthermore, John foresaw the armies of believers from heaven, when Jesus returns to earth, following Him back (19:14). None of these people will have experienced "soul sleep," a concept that Seventh Day Adventists maintain and promote.

By the way, a few years ago, I attended a three-week seminar hosted by Adventists. I simply was curious to understand what they believed. Although I do agree with their belief that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, I reject virtually all of their other teachings, especially about end-time prophecy. For instance, although I am not a Catholic, I disagree with the Adventists' view that the Antichrist will be a Catholic Pope. In my Beasts commentary, I have a section about the Pope and Catholicism, from an Adventist perspective, in case you have an interest in reading it.

Your perception is that the saved dead are "wandering around heaven in disembodied spirits" and that the Rapture event will be "anti-climatic" for them. I don't know whether you heard/read that from another source, or whether you conjured up that image in your mind. To me, it sounds like a rather boring and monotonous activity for those spirits in heaven. In any case, that is not how I see it.

I see heaven as a glorious, visually appealing, emotionally pleasing place, created by God to delight Himself, since He dwells there (2 Chronicles 6:21, 30:27; Acts 17:24; Hebrews 8:1). I believe that the departed spirits of human believers, who also reside there, are experiencing fresh, assorted, stimulating activities and phenomena constantly, whether praising God, seeing things in heaven that they have not seen before, or understanding aspects and facets of God that they have not known before. Since God is infinite, we will be learning wonderful and magnificent things about Him, throughout eternity.

I definitely do not see the Rapture event as being "anti-climatic" for the disembodied spirits in heaven. Firstly, I believe that these spirits/souls will not feel whole or complete until they have entered their glorified bodies, uniquely prepared for them by the Lord. I am convinced that these new bodies are the "mansions" or "rooms" that Jesus said He would prepare for us (John 14:2,3). I also feel that no one will receive them until the Pre-wrath Rapture. You can read more about this in one of my email responses to someone else: Are the "mansions" Jesus is preparing for us actual buildings in which we will dwell while in heaven?

Secondly, I feel that a person's "mansion" (glorified body) will be one of the magnanimous rewards that believers will receive (Hebrews 11:6; Revelation 22:12). It never will wear out, it never can be corrupted, and it always will be valuable. Even Job looked forward to being with his Redeemer in his new, glorified flesh (Job 19:25,26).

Thirdly, all people now in heaven, and who will enter heaven prior to the Rapture, will be anticipating two supreme events besides the Rapture. One will be the establishment of Jesus' millennial Kingdom on the earth. In this Kingdom, glorified believers will co-rule and reign with Christ (Revelation 2:26,27, 20:4). They will be able to serve God like they never have before, which each of us should be looking forward to with intense anticipation.

Another event will be the establishment of a new heaven and earth, following the Millennium. I do not see this as being a renewal of the present heaven and earth but, rather, as a brand new pristine Creation, out of nothing, which will come into being after this present creation has perished and passed away (Psalm 102:25,26; Hebrews 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 20:11, 21:1,5). More details about this can be found in the old and new Creations section of Part 2 of my Creation commentary.

In that section, I point out how "time," as we know, had a beginning, and it will end at the end of the Millennium. If our one-dimensional time line is thought to continue “forever,” then perhaps "forever" will be the ending of time, as we know it. Then the “new time” of eternity will ensue.

As such, perhaps Adventists are correct in their assertion that the lost, being tormented in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15), simply will cease to exist at some point. If so, I would place that point at the time when the new Creation comes into being. Maybe the lake of fire, and everything in it, will pass away as well. I am not adamant about this; I simply suggest it as a possibility.

On the other hand, maybe this is merely “wishful thinking” on my part, as well as on the part of those not wanting to think about the suffering of anyone for eternity. These verses, at face value, would seem to contradict the idea of there will not be eternal torment for many:

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9)

If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name. (Revelation 14:9-11)
Whatever the case may be, my personal expectations are seeing Jesus face-to-face, as well as receiving my extraordinary glorified body. Besides these things, I look forward to the awesome, indescribable new Creation to come. In that Creation, we will serve God and learn about His infinite nature for all eternity.

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