Q. In my reading and after talking to several people I know, I’m wondering about Heaven…as everyone does now and then. My question is: Who goes there when they die? or does anyone?
I ask because the bible has a lot of mention of people “sleeping for a time” until the judgement in Revelation.
It seems that maybe we die and sleep until the judgment, then perhaps wind up in our “prepared place” after the 1000 years of Christ’s reign on earth or something to that effect. But to add to my confusion, Christ says on the cross that the criminal next to him will be with Him in paradise that very day. Christ also says a lot about who will enter His kingdom…and it’s a lot more than faith alone, in Jesus’ words. Can you help me figure this out?
A. In response to your first question, all believers who die leave their earthly bodies behind while their spirits go to be with the Lord. When they’re resurrected at the time of the Rapture they get new, Heavenly versions of their old Earthly bodies.
The concept of believers sleeping for a time came from two errors. The first stems from Paul’s letters. He never talks about believers dying, but only of them “falling asleep” in the Lord. It was his way of saying that while their earthly life had ended, they hadn’t ceased to exist, and would be reunited with new physical bodies at the resurrection.
The second error has to do with the now discredited belief that the spirits of people who die have a time of waiting until the resurrection. This time has sometimes been called soul-sleep. We now know that time is a physical property and only affects physical beings. When your spirit leaves your body time ceases to exist for you because your spirit is not a physical entity. Therefore you will not be aware of the passage of any time between the moment when your spirit leaves your earthly body and the moment when it first inhabits your heavenly one, even though for physical beings several years may have passed in the interim.
It’s a tricky notion of science, made possible by Einstein’s Theory of Relatively. But it proves that someone traveling faster than the speed of light can actually make time go backwards. Spirits travel at the speed of thought. It also explains scientifically how God can know the end from the beginning. He’s a Spirit and not governed by time.
As to who will enter the Kingdom, the clearest explanation is found in Ephesians 1:13-14. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.”
At the moment you first heard and believed the Gospel God saved you, and before you could do anything good to deserve it or anything bad to lose it, He sealed His Holy Spirit within you as a deposit that guarantees your place in His Kingdom. For it’s by Grace that you’ve been saved, not by works. All the good works you’re called to do are meant to demonstrate your gratitude for His free gift of salvation, not to earn or keep it.