There are some confusing passages in the Bible that talk about people “sleeping” when they are dead. I find it funny that even the disciples were confused when Jesus used this euphemism:
After He had said this, He told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will get better.” They thought that Jesus was talking about actual sleep, but He was speaking about the death of Lazarus.
So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”John 11:11-14
Sometimes when there are confusing beliefs, I choose to believe the thing that gives me the most joy and peace. In this case, I have chosen to believe that believers in Jesus immediately go to Heaven when they die. If I get to Heaven and learn that I was wrong, I’m okay with that because I know that God always chooses what is best.
Below are a few of the scriptures that I believe support the idea of Heaven immediately after death:
○ One of my favorite Biblical descriptions of the death of a believer is “he was gathered to his people.” I like how it sounds like going Home and being reunited with other believers. One example:
When Jacob had finished instructing his sons, he pulled his feet into the bed and breathed his last, and he was gathered to his people.Genesis 49:33
○ This verse says we are “surrounded” by “witnesses” which sounds alive and active:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us.Hebrews 12:1
○ Shortly before raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus told Martha:
Living and believing and never dying sounds active… not skipping a beat.
○ This passage talks about how we would rather be at Home with the Lord than in our bodies and how being away from our earthly bodies means we will be at Home with the Lord. Our desire is for Home. It also talks about how we have a goal to please the Lord even when away from our body. Working towards the goal of pleasing Him implies activity once we leave our body:
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please Him.2 Corinthians 5:6-9
○ Paul describes departing as being with Christ:
I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.Philippians 1:23
○ Jesus tells a story about two men who died who are awake and speaking in Luke 16:19-31
○ Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that he would be with Him “today” in Paradise:
And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”Luke 23:43
○ There is a lot we can learn about Heaven from the Mount of Transfiguration story in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:1–13 and Luke 9:28–36.
I’ll share what I gathered from just these two verses:
Suddenly two men, Moses and Elijah, began talking with Jesus. They appeared in glory and spoke about His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.Luke 9:30-31
- They appeared suddenly. They were visible. They lived in time and space. They had physical bodies that were seen by the disciples’ physical eyes and recognized as men.
- “Moses and Elijah” were themselves, “Moses and Elijah.” They did not lose their identity. They were known by name. It amazes me that the disciples knew who Moses and Elijah were although they lived hundreds of years apart.
- I believe we will recognize and know each other in Heaven. We will be ourselves, just glorified like Jesus because we will have seen Him.
- Moses and Elijah had voices, knew Jesus, and spoke to Him. They were not “sleeping.”
- They knew God’s plans and that Jesus was going to “accomplish” our salvation by dying on the cross for us and that the time was drawing near. They were aware of time and happenings on earth.
– The Bible doesn’t say explicitly, but I imagine that this meeting on the mount was arranged by God partially to encourage Jesus as He was facing the things to come in Jerusalem. Just as remembering that we are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” helps us throw off everything that might encumber us and run the race set out for us with endurance, I imagine that seeing and talking to His old friends, Moses and Elijah, was a fresh reminder of the joy that enduring the cross would bring: saving and enjoying those who believe in Him for eternity (see Hebrews 12:1-2 below).
○ I believe the Bible teaches that saints in Heaven are cheering for us and praying for us (not sleeping) and that it brings all of Heaven joy to see us following Jesus’ example by enduring for the joy to come. I believe God, the angels and those “in the presence of God’s angels” rejoice over our repentance and endurance:
In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not need to repent. …In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”Luke 15:7, 10
The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.2 Chronicles 16:9
For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison.2 Corinthians 4:17
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.Hebrews 12:1-3
○ I’ll share one last passage. I don’t understand everything about this passage, but love the imagery of our current bodies being like tents, temporary dwelling places. When they are “dismantled, we have a building from God, an eternal house in Heaven, not built by human hands.”:
1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is dismantled, we have a building from God, an eternal house in Heaven, not built by human hands. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our Heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 So while we are in this tent, we groan under our burdens, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed, so that our mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 And God has prepared us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a pledge of what is to come.2 Corinthians 5:1-5
I love how it says our mortality will “be swallowed up by life.” I love that “God has prepared us for this very purpose” (not we ourselves). I love how He’s given us His “Spirit as a pledge.” I also love that it acknowledges the groaning and longing we feel for Heaven while living in these “earthly tents.” I believe that people who are not groaning and longing are not awake to the reality of how broken our world is. Romans 8:22-27 talks about how the whole creation groans, those who have the Spirit groan and the Spirit groans “as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
We groan and long for life in our heavenly dwelling. We are not longing for “sleep” or to be found naked. God has prepared us for an eternal house in Heaven, a heavenly dwelling, for our mortality to be swallowed up by life, for us to live and never die. In the meantime, when we don’t know how to pray as we ought, His Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.
Father, we thank You for the gift of life and salvation through the gift of Your Son! We thank you for giving us Your Spirit as a pledge. We thank You for meeting our groans with the promise of eternal Home in Heaven with You and all who love You. Strengthen us as we commit ourselves fully to You and good Your pleasure.