Pharisees, of the community of Jews, believed in resurrection for they believed this to be the basic teaching of the Scripture, whereas, the Sadducees did not. Lord Jesus, however, has promised eternal life for each and every believer but has also assured of a place in the Father’s house in heaven after death. We witness the body being consigned to fire in cremation or earth through burial but nobody can see the spiritual part. But what happens to the other two parts of one’s being, the soul and the spirit?
God created heaven as a place for Himself to fellowship with the angels but He did not give authority over heaven to them. Then God created the earth (Genesis 1:1) and put man in the best place on earth, the Garden of Eden, and visited them daily ‘in the cool of the day’ (Genesis 3:8). God gave man dominion rights over the earth and all that was in it to rule over it and man was to live eternally in that setting (Genesis 1:28-29). They had all the freedom and the only prohibition over man was not to eat ‘from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,’ for on eating that certain death was pronounced on man (Genesis 2:17).
Man is a spirit with a soul and lives in the body and was created from the dust of the earth and he was turned into a living being only after ‘God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’ (Genesis 2:7). Man being a spirit could then operate in the spiritual realm as well as in the material to exercise control over it. Death as proclaimed is also in both spheres. First was the spiritual death that came immediately as separation from God Himself and knowledge of Him that was available through fellowship and close relationship. The second is physical death that came later at the end of one’s life on earth.
History and life of mankind can be divided into two stages, one before Christ and the second after His sacrifice. The four places or situations mentioned in the Scripture in which an unbeliever will be after death are; hell- the lake of fire into which Satan, his evil angels, unbelievers of all ages and Hades will be thrown into at the final judgments. It will be the second death as final separation from God. Second, Hades or Sheol, a temporary prison where the spirits of unbelievers in Lord Jesus of all ages past are held waiting till their final trial and judgment. Third is the Abyss, a prison for a special class of ultra wicked angels. Lord Jesus holds the key to this place. Fourth is the outer darkness, a term sometimes used as the final abode of the wicked after their final judgment.
The legion troubling the man of the Gerasenes begged the Lord not to send them into the abyss but let them remain in that same region. Satan will be bound in chains and locked up in the Abyss for one thousand years and after being released for a while he will finally be judged and thrown into the ‘lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown’ (Revelation 20:3 & 10). In the Parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lord Jesus taught about the after death situation of both (Luke 16:22-24). The beggar died ‘and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side (bosom). The rich man also died and was buried’. The rich man was in Hades in torment and could see ‘Abraham far away and Lazarus (the beggar) by his side’ with a great divide between the two places. Hades is supposed to be the unseen place where the dead were sent, the supposedly righteous on one side but the wicked in torment. Lord Jesus led all those righteous living separated with Abraham into heaven with Him.
Restoration of eternal life is defined and carried out by Lord Jesus, ‘Now this is eternal life; that they know You (God the Father), the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent’ (John 17:3 & 22-23). He further states in His prayer to God the Father, ‘I have given them the glory that You gave Me’ and this is achieved through His being in the believers in oneness. Eternal life is received by a believer through faith in the Living Word, the Son of God here only and through the indwelling Holy Spirit who also reveals the God given glory in us through daily transformation.
Lord Jesus has promised to prepare a place for a believer in heaven, in the Father’s house, and assured us of coming back to take us there, to ensure that we are there with Him (John 14:2-3). A believer goes to heaven immediately after death. The Savior Lord promised the criminal crucified with Him, ‘today you shall be with Me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43). But He told Mary Magdalene, the first person to see the Lord after His resurrection, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father’ or to heaven (John 20:17). The criminal was present in heaven while still being on the cross, for being in the presence of God, His only Son, is being in heaven.
‘Paradeiso’ means an ‘enclosure, garden or a park’ and Lord Jesus went and preached to the spirits of those already dead before His resurrection, during the three day period of His being in the grave (1 Peter 3:18-19). The thief was probably in the ‘enclosure’ where Abraham and others were, till led into heaven by the Lord. Resurrection of Lord Jesus has been compared by Apostle Paul as ‘first-fruit’ offering to God for all those who have died. It is only after His ascension that the dead could be raised and be led into heaven. Since He has opened the way, now all believers go into heaven immediately after death.
The body that Adam and Eve had before the fall is the body that the Savior Lord was resurrected with and He entered heaven with the body. After resurrection the body of the Lord had no other mark of His earthly life except the healed wounds of the hands and feet and on the side where the Roman soldier had pierced with the spear (John 19:34). Every believer’s earthly body is left here on earth and they receive the same body without the elements of the earth when they ascend into heaven. This new body is free from all infirmities of the earthly life and is fit and perfectly ready to glorify God in heaven.
What is heaven like? – Since God created the Garden of Eden to be with man, heaven, where God’s throne is, would definitely be greater than all that is visible. Apostle Paul quoted Prophet Isaiah, ‘What eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). All such wonderful gifts pertain to this as well as the future eternal life with God. His Son is the greatest gift for this life, then the i9ndwelling Holy Spirit and finally God Himself is the gift in heaven along with His Son. Apostle John was given a revelation of the New Jerusalem, the Holy City which will descend to the earth as God’s abode on earth (Revelation 21:9-26). ‘The wall was made of jasper, and the city itself was made of pure gold as clear as glass’ (verse 18). And there was no temple in the city, ‘because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp’ (verses 22-23). Also there will be no night in the city and the twelve doors of the gates of the city are made of pearls and it is beyond our limited knowledge to be able to understand the opulence of heaven. Apostle Paul was lifted up into the ‘Third Heaven’ where he heard things which cannot be put into words’, things that human lips may not speak’ (2 Corinthians 12:1-4).
There is a story of an American reaching in Russia just before the Second World War and getting arrested by the police and sent to a Gulag in Siberia. After sometime he married a local lady and had a daughter and they lived in great lack with little food. The American would tell his young daughter about his country and the abundance of everything but the little girl could never fully comprehend for it was beyond her imagination. Finally one day the girl asked her father, ‘In America do they get two potatoes to eat for dinner?’ For the young child abundance meant eating just about enough. Likewise we who are born in this fallen world will never be able to understand the grand beauty of heaven.
While mention has been made about hell and the fires therein, there are little details of heaven in the Scripture. The four living creatures, around the throne of God, had six wings, and they were covered with eyes , inside and out all over. And they never stop singing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and who is to come’. They receive a new revelation of God every moment to start singing with fresh devotion. Their might is in their wings for they use only two wings to fly and wisdom is from their eyes, representing their physical and spiritual insight. A believer in heaven will have the major role to worship and glorify God with the angels.
Will we meet in heaven those who are already dead? – Yes, but each one will be so overwhelmed by the light of God’s glory; the focus will always be on God for no one has entered there on his own efforts but with God’s grace. Though we will recognize each other the focus will be on God and not each other or those left behind.
Does a dead person return to visit the living through dreams or visions? – Angels are ministering spirits to heirs of salvation but will this ministering be specific to earthly living only or continue in heaven, is not clear. Apostle Peter after having been released from the prison by an angel reached the house where others were praying for him but they perceived that the angel of the Apostle had come (Acts 12:6-11). Possibly the angel of the living believer or of the departed one may comfort a relative here on earth, through a dream. There is no mention of a person coming back to bless the living relatives though Scripture does mention about Prophet Samuel being called back by a medium in answer to King Saul’s call (1 Samuel 28:14-19). May be God permitted this to inform Saul about his final rejection by God and his death. Divination, looking for omens or using spells or charms or consulting spirits of the dead is expressly forbidden by God, for this amounts to attempting to preempt God and fight against His will (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
Do the dead in heaven pray for the living relatives? – No one has ever been able to enter the presence of God on his own merit and it is by grace and one is saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The dead will be direct witnesses of the working of God’s grace in heaven for ‘there is joy in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents’ (Luke 15:10). Since God is merciful and loving but just, the dead would probably be so awed by the functioning of God’s government in heaven that there would be no need for them to pray for the living here on earth.
Necessity of holding special prayers for the dead – All religions preach holding a prayer meeting for the dead, with a threefold aim – first, seeking God’s intervention for a place in heaven for the departed soul; second is about seeking eternal peace for the dead and finally seeking solace for the living to bear the loss. A believer family, though grieving for the dead, holds a memorial service with a different threefold aim for the place in heaven and eternal life is already assured. First, to thank God for the life of the departed and for granting him a place in heaven, that was already assured by Lord Jesus, second, to remember the goodness and strong faith of the person for teaching of others to emulate, and finally to help and console the grieving family to bear the separation. The memorial service thus is a celebration of the life of the dead and thanking God for His blessings on his life. It is not about mourning the dead and seeking God’s blessings for entry into heaven, for that has already been assured by Lord Jesus (John 14:2-3).
Does our grieving over a long time hurt the dead? – Through faith in Lord Jesus ‘we have passed from death to life’ and this change that happened here on earth is fully lived in heaven by the believers (1 John 3:13-14). At mid day, when the sun was at its zenith, Saul was blinded by the power of the Light of Lord Jesus’ glory and in that newness of life which he received, he forgot all about his erstwhile friends. How much more will be the effect of the greatness of God’s glory and the beauty of heaven on one who is taken there to live? King Solomon understood about life after death, to preach, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going’ (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It is not that the dead would become fools in heaven but they would realize the fullness of God’s grace and love that nothing would take away their joy of being in heaven.
The only chance that we have is now, for it is never too late to accept Lord Jesus as Savior and surrender to Him, for who knows about the guarantee of next breath. It is only the Son of God who can and will take us into heaven and grant us eternal life, and that through faith and not as a reward for something we do for Him. Filled with this assurance we reach out to others with this great message to lead them into God’s presence while we can. We do this, filled with the love of God, to join in the celebration in heaven for every sinner who repents. Heaven for every believer is then here on earth itself, for God lives in us to strengthen and guide and empower us.
The Savior, Lord Jesus, did not just affect reconciliation with God, the Father, through forgiveness of our sins, but provided a direction and purpose to our very life itself. In this new life and new role, we start to reach out to others to tell them about God’s love, His promises and a place in heaven till eternity. Those who fail to realize this are blinded by the ‘prince of this world’, Satan, and are doomed to destruction.