Does a Christian go straight to Heaven?

Christians are often told that their destiny is to go to Heaven. After their death they will go straight up there. This is supposedly written in the Bible (e.g. Jh 14:3-4; 2 Cor 5:8; 1 Th 4:17; 2 Th 2:1; Rev 3:21). However, in the Bible there are not many details about Heaven and life after death. This seems to contradict the heavenly prospect or at least should give some doubts. Therefore, there is good cause to question whether that what is often told is really true.

Marco van Putten

The difference between Heaven and earth
The creation of Heaven preceded that creation of ‘the earth’ (Gn 1:1). This is not a coincidence. These are two different worlds. Heaven is where spiritual creatures dwell, like the angels. ‘The earth’ is where the physical creatures dwell, like man. Heaven shall always continue to exist as a separate world. Likewise ‘the earth’. Even after the recreation of creation which will happen in the end of days (Is 65:17; Rev 21:1).

The Hebrew word raqija’ used in the Bible can mean ‘heaven’ but also ‘sky’ (Gn 1:8). This article however is only concerned about heaven, since the sky is just a part of planet earth. The quotes at the words ‘the earth’ are put there to emphasize that in Biblical sense it represents something much bigger then only planet earth. Careful reading suggests that it can represent the whole physical creation; the universe.

Some people think that God created heaven for Himself to live there (e.g. Acts 7:49), but that is nonsense. God already existed before heaven was created. He doesn’t need a place for Him to dwell. Others think that heaven is a mirror of ‘the earth’ (Mt 6:10). Based on that, they believe that ‘the earth’ can only exist by the grace of heaven. That’s also nonsense. Still, heaven is not separate from ‘the earth’ (Gn 28:12). Angels control ‘the earth’ continuously a behalf of God and report about its status to God in heaven. Heaven is also a ‘safe haven’ for the earth. When, for example, the Temple service on earth was discontinued for a long time (1st century) this Temple service was continued in heaven. This guarantees the wellbeing of God’s people (Rev 11:19). Therefore the Lord Jesus needed to ascend to heaven. Heaven is also a command post for the armies of angels (Rev 19:14). God sends angels out from heaven with missions to fulfill on earth (Mt 24:31). Heaven therefore now (after God’s Presence left the earth) functions as residence of God, the King of creation, until He again can dwell on earth.

Heaven is not only different from ‘the earth’, but also has its own different function in its service to ‘the earth’. Therefore, if it is said that Christians go straight to heaven, the question needs to be raised why this supposedly so. Hence, what has the world of the spirits in common with the world of the physical beings? The physical beings are from birth blind for the spiritual world and even when they are ‘reborn from the Spirit’ they have difficulty appreciating that world of the spirits and can only partially and with difficulty apprehend it. Thus, that physical creatures, like human beings, supposedly have a place or function in heaven seems hardly evident or logical (Ps 115:16).

Centrality of ‘the earth’
God made it clear that He wants to live among the believers on ‘the earth’, in the Land of Israel, and He will (Ex 25:8). He has thus for some time, although at a curtain distance (in an inaccessible room (the Holy of Holies)), lived among the Israelites in the Land of Israel. However, He was forced to leave them due to their crimes and uncleanness. But God shall eventually again live among His people in Israel. For ‘the earth’ is the God-given place for physical creatures to live. The fact that in the Bible life on ‘the earth’ is central leads to the logical conclusion that for God ‘the earth’ is central and therefore it must be also for man (1 Cor 15:46). Detesting anything physical and glorifying everything ‘heavenly’ or ‘spiritual’ goes against the will of God. The aim in the Bible is rather that what is heavenly and spiritual must receive a place in ‘the earthly’ or the physical.

Hierarchically seen ‘the earth’ is, according to the Bible, the most important creation of all the worlds that God created. This goes against most pagan beliefs, like that of the Greek philosopher Plato, in which the spiritual world is put dominant to the physical world and regard it as being ‘above’ it.

Adam and its opponent (satan)
The man Adam, God’s son, was originally on behalf and in the service of God the head of creation. When he was found to be corrupt and fell-away from God by giving his authority to satan, then satan became tyrant of creation (Jh 16:11). However, satan, the tyrant, is not in the service of God, but opposes Him. He became head of creation unjustly. As a result, the whole of creation became corrupt and in labor (Rm 8:22). Since then man has the urge to return back to the state before Adam fell-away from God. The ideal image of that is called ‘heaven’, ‘paradise’ and ‘the garden of Eden’. But that ideal image is something else than heaven, the world that God created next to ‘the earth’. The two are mixed up. On the one hand heaven, that God created, and on the other the future pleasant state in which the believer will be with God in the new recreated creation. But a recreation means that paradise will not be in the old, current creation. Even when the faith question of this article is rewritten as ‘A Christian (that dies) goes (straight) to paradise’ doesn’t fully match what is written in de the Bible. Something else is written in the Bible about what happens when people die.

The realm of the dead and hell
Next to heaven and ‘the earth’ other worlds are mentioned in the Bible which God created and are important for the question of this article. Also these worlds will prove to be not separate from heaven and ‘the earth’.
First there is the realm of the death. In Hebrew this is called Sje‘oel meaning ‘Claimer’. This is also wrongly named ‘the underworld’ (Gr: Hades) or ‘the realm of death’. According to the Bible this world is reserved only for people after they have died (Job 17:13). The realm of the dead is far from a paradise, but quite the opposite (Job 10:21-22). But in the Bible it is written that all man shall rise from the death, whether or not someone is a believer or not (1 Cor 15:52). This has to mean that people only stay in the realm of the dead temporarily and that they not really die but exist for ‘eternity’.

Next to that there is a place called ‘the lake of fire’ mentioned in the Bible. This world is meant as a continuous torturing place for satan and its allies. The world is only just mentioned at God’s final judgment in the latter days (Rev 19:20). This world is also wrongly named ‘hell’. Some people even mix-up the lake of fire with the realm of the dead and think that these are one and the same. This is not so. Death and the realm of the dead will at the end be destroyed (Rev 20:14), but not ‘the lake of fire’ (Is 66:24).

The right question of this article is: ‘Where does a Christian go after God’s judgment in the latter days?’. The answer is: either to ‘paradise’ or to the lake of fire.

In the above article it became clear how important it is to understand the cosmology (the logic of creation). The subject of this article brought cosmology in connection with anthropology (the logic of man) and eschatology (the logic of the latter days). There is much confusion about the worlds God created, but which are hidden for the living on ‘the earth’. The confusion starts with mixing up wordings and concepts.

If it was really true that Christians have the guarantee that they will go straight to ‘heaven’, then God were to be regarded as unrighteous, because:

Justice is that all man will undergo the same judgment (Rm 5:12; 2 Cor 5:10; Heb 9:27).

God would then send Christians, which He calls His sheep (Mt 25:32), to a world (i.e. heaven) which is not

central to creation. He would, in so doing, disadvantage them and ‘park them away’ in a ‘safe harbor’. Hence, heaven is a less important world for God then ‘the earth’, which He created for man and the physical creatures. In heaven man has neither home nor function.

When God would send certain Christians to heaven, then He would separate His people from each other.

Namely in a part that would remain in heaven (i.e. the Christians that God ‘saved’) and a part that would remain on ‘the earth’ (i.e. Israel that returns from its exile and shall convert together with the some heathens). The two parts of God’s people would not be able to share the blessing of honoring and working for God. This is the worst imaginable unrighteousness, that goes totally against God’s will that want His people to be united (Rm 12:5; 1 Cor 12:20; Ef 2:16).

Additionally, when Christians would really go straight to heaven, they would by-pass the realm of the dead, whilst God has fixed this world as the place for all the dead. So, this theory denies God’s order in creation. The realm of the dead is impossible to by-pass. This theory also conflicts with one of the central beliefs in the Bible; the resurrection. Therefore this theory needs other theories, like about the separation of body and soul, to stay connected with the core Biblical truth of the resurrection. These theories confuse Christians. This theory (that a Christian goes straight to heaven after death) is not just a small lie for peace of mind sake, but this goes against the reality God created and gives a disturbing wrong image of the order of creation, God’s people and the future of believers. This theory is a caricature. It is better (i.e. more in line with the Bible) to state:

Whoever dies (believing or not) goes straight to the realm of the dead awaiting the resurrection from death to undergo God’s final judgment in the latter days. God will then decide who will receive a place with Him on the new ‘earth’ and who doesn’t.