This year I have been to more funerals than any year I can remember. I have seen an uncle die, as well as a long-time co-laborer here at the church, a teenager, a father of a friend, and several others. I officiated some of these services as the pastor, but at others I just sat grieving with the rest of the folks.
Sometimes at viewings I reflect upon the person’s life, and thank God for them. But often I have at least a moment to pause and consider that something is not right. Even though I recognize the body of the person who died, I am aware that the person is not there.
Where has the person gone? Where is he or she right now? Have you wondered about the location of a loved one that has passed on too? Although we talk of heaven in generic terms, does the Bible reveal anything more specific? Actually, it does, and it may surprise you.
Many of the funerals I have attended this year have been for Christians. A true Christian has come to the place of seeing their sinfulness and rebellion against God. Instead of fighting against that sight, as many do in their pride, he or she repented. They put their trust in the Lord Jesus, who out of his amazing love and grace offered a complete pardon based on his death on the cross and resurrection. The believer took it and became a follower of Jesus.
When a person dies, they experience the temporary removal of their spirit (or soul) from their body. That is why a body in the casket never looks quite right. The real person truly is no longer there.
As a believer’s physical eyes close in death, their spiritual eyes open to behold the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ. While in prison considering the implications of a possible death sentence, Paul wrote, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). If his body left the prison to be laid in the ground, Paul knew his spirit would be going to a different place and seeing a different person!
He told the Corinthians, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). The reason Paul could somehow view death as advantageous over a continuation in this world is that he would be with Jesus. That is to say, his spirit, probably in some sort of bodily shape, would be with Jesus.
This state of being is exactly what these people entered into at the exact moment of their deaths. They are with Jesus. The Bible seems to indicate that this is sort of a temporary heaven or Paradise. Jesus told the repentant thief that died on a cross next to Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
I say it is temporary, because the Bible clearly reveals more to come in that final place for believers. The section that gives us the most detail about the temporary Paradise is 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8. I would encourage you to read these paragraphs for yourself in a Bible or on the internet at esv.org.
The setting is the sufferings of life in these bodies. Paul contrasts our outer bodies wasting away with our inner selves being renewed.
He goes on to speak of groaning in a tent–which has nothing to do with camping in Georgia in the summer! He also talks about being naked and then being further clothed. Paul’s point is that we were made to have bodies. The time between a believer’s death and entrance into Paradise, and the final resurrection when Jesus comes back is considered a temporary time of nakedness.
Obviously, this is a metaphorical nakedness, where a person’s spirit is disrobed from his or her body. While these dead believers are rejoicing to be with Jesus, they may well have a sense that everything is not complete. So while I have been thinking about their bodies in the casket, wondering at the incompletion, they may have been having similar thoughts, although in Paradise.
When Jesus returns, he will resurrect Christians’ bodies—the very bodies in those caskets that I was staring at. Jesus will use the stuff of their bodies, but will renew them completely, and then reunite them with their spirits—all this will occur in an instant.
“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
God created the world, and he said that it was good. When Adam and Eve sinned the world fell under a curse, which it is enduring to this day. When the Lord returns the world will be redeemed and resurrected, just like our bodies will be resurrected.
The capital city on this renewed earth will be New Jerusalem, brought down from above (Revelation 21). There will be no more curse. It will be better than Eden. It will be heaven on earth!
These Christians will be there. I will see them again! All real Christians will be with us as well. We will all be with Jesus, basking in the light of the glory of God.
Will you be with us? Heaven is not for good people, because really there are none that truly qualify. Heaven is for perfect people. But the only way you can qualify is to repent of your badness (and your inadequate good works), and trust in Jesus and his substitutionary work for sinners on the cross. He makes the ultimate deal—he trades his perfection for your sins.
The resurrection of Jesus proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus’ deal is absolutely reliable. His resurrection also proves that death is not the end of the story for people. We will also be raised. Then we will all meet God. The only question is will you meet your savior or your judge? “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31).
By John Crotts