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Where do we go when we die?

Postby Uzi » Tue Apr 10, 2018 3:10 pm

As a Christian it has become my understanding the more I read the Bible that the whole western idea of dying and going to heaven does not match scripture. The Hebrew people believed in the concept of Sheol, the place of the dead. This is counter to what so many Sunday school teachers thought me growing up. If you are a Christian who believes that we die and immediately go to heaven then what scriptures are the basis for this belief?

Re: Where do we go when we die?

Postby jimwalton » Sun Apr 22, 2018 6:23 am

According to the Bible, heaven is a spiritual realm untainted by sin and is where God's presence dwells. The Bible only ever discusses heaven in abstract and figurative terms because it's not exactly something we can easily understand. It's very different from our physical world. It is not a place, exactly. It's not a part of our universe (the Hubble telescope will never find it). Heaven is usually mentioned in the Bible in one of two ways. On one hand, it's the vantage point from which God rules: His presence and righteousness are there in full force, and it is called his Kingdom. Jesus often talked about it, and about God's kingdom coming to Earth.

Biblically speaking, heaven is not our ultimate destination. Jesus didn't come to lead us away from Earth and off to heaven. He died physically and was raised back to life as something new, but still physical. The book of Revelation talks about how there will be a new heaven and new Earth in the end, that God's presence will be on Earth just as it is in Heaven, and that we will live (in resurrected bodies like Jesus's) on the new Earth. So the common equivalency between Heaven and the afterlife is a bit of a mistake. Heaven was being used in this sense to refer to God's kingdom in general, but it became twisted into this idea that we would just leave Earth and spend eternity in heaven. That's not biblical. Our ultimate destination is a new (perfected in some way, but still physical) Earth.

Summarizing, in the OT, heaven was a throne on top of the dome that they called the firmament, and God sat on that throne. By the time we get to the gospels, Jesus speaks of it as the vantage point from where God rules over his kingdom—a more abstract reference than anything we see in the OT. By the time we get to Revelation, heaven is the "ideal" place where God, his purposes, his people, and eternity merge. God's people will spend eternity on a renewed earth, not up "in heaven."

The Jews believed that when people died they spent time in a holding tank (sheol), not to wait out the rest of their purification (Purgatory), but just waiting until the final resurrection when they would enter the spirit world as spirit beings and spend eternity in a spiritual state. Jesus's resurrection postulated a new eternity: a new physical body that came back to earth. 1 Corinthians 15 says he was the first fruits of our resurrection, and that our spiritual bodies will still be bodies, as his resurrection body was, not just a ghost.

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