You've probably asked yourself, "Will I go to heaven?" And what about your loved ones: will they go to heaven? What will happen to us after we die? These are perhaps the most important questions we could ask; after all, the consequences really are eternal.
God will decide our fate, so we’ll use God’s Word - the Bible - as our source of information about what will happen to us after we die. Jesus trusted the scriptures and referred to them many times; we will do the same. Along the way we’ll explore and answer a few other questions that I believe you’ll find interesting. So let’s get started.
We all know that after death and burial our bodies remain in the grave. Whether we are good or bad, our bodies remain buried; there is no record of the bodies of good people disappearing from graves (except Jesus, of course, who was resurrected). And there is no record of the bodies of evil people disappearing and (it is presumed) going to a fiery hell, or someplace like that. So what happens after we die and are buried? Here’s what Jesus said in John 5:28, 29:
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
Please realize what these verses are saying: all who have died will remain dead in their graves until the time appointed for their resurrection. A resurrection from the grave comes first; eternal life is given only after a resurrection from the grave! After their resurrection, some will receive eternal life and others will not. By the way, please note that Jesus did not say anything about souls leaving the dead. Nor did he say anything about going to heaven. Sometimes we can learn a lot about our assumptions by realizing what a scripture doesn’t say…
The Bible shows that those who are in their graves are not in any way alive in “spirit” or in “soul.” The dead have absolutely no consciousness of any kind. The Bible confirms this in Ecclesiastes 9:5: "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing." Upon death, consciousness or awareness stops. While they are dead, the dead have no consciousness whatsoever. In fact, they will have no consciousness or awareness until they are resurrected; only then will their consciousness and awareness be returned to them. There is no mention of a soul or spirit of a person somehow continuing consciousness after death.
So far we’ve answered at least part of the question “Will you go to heaven when you die?” The answer is no: when you die you’ll remain dead, waiting for your resurrection from the grave. Shortly I’ll show you more scriptures that confirm this.
Consider this question: if it were true that we go to heaven when we die then what possible need would there be for a resurrection from the dead? Imagine for a moment that you’ve died, gone to heaven and have eternal life… now what would you need a resurrection for?
Clearly the popular belief that you’ll go to heaven when you die is in conflict with what the Bible teaches: we must await a resurrection after we die, and only after that resurrection can we receive eternal life. Will you go to heaven when you die? Absolutely not: we will not go anywhere until we are resurrected. I won't go to heaven when I die, neither will you, nor Billy Graham nor the pope. To believe in eternal life in heaven when you die is to deny the resurrection from the grave which God has promised in His Word!
Let me show you some more scriptures about death and resurrection. As you read these you will see that the early Christians - the followers of Jesus - believed His promise of a future resurrection from the dead.
The apostle Peter spoke about the afterlife in Acts chapter 2 verses 29 and 34, where he noted that David – “a man after God’s own heart” – still remained in the tomb and had not ascended to heaven:
Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day... For David is not ascended into the heavens...
The fact that David had not ascended into heaven serves to affirm what we’ve learned so far: we don’t go to heaven when we die; rather, we wait for a resurrection from the grave. David was still in his tomb waiting for his resurrection. And note that Peter did not say anything about a soul or spirit of David being in heaven. David had not ascended to heaven, in any form. This demonstrates that the good don’t somehow get to heaven even though their bodies remain in the grave. The dead remain in the grave, and they “know not any thing” until their resurrection.
This also raises an interesting question. We have seen that the body of David was still in his tomb... what about other great men such as Abraham, Moses and the prophets – were they still in the grave too? Had any of them ascended to heaven? Jesus spoke about going to heaven, and what He said may surprise you. Speaking of all righteous men, Jesus said that none of them had gone to heaven. Neither Abraham, nor Moses, nor David, nor any of the prophets like Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Elijah had gone to heaven. Here’s what Jesus said, as recorded in John 3:13:
And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven [referring to Himself], even the Son of man which is in heaven.
That may come as a surprise if you believed that people such as Moses and David are in heaven. But now we know this much: at the time Jesus spoke the verse above, none of the people like David had gone to heaven. Their bodies were still in the grave. They had not yet received the promised resurrection. Among all that have died there is no one who has received eternal life, except for Jesus, who was resurrected: to eternal, immortal life. The apostle Paul confirmed this when he described Jesus as:
...the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom [be] honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15,16 NKJV)
There is no promise anywhere in the Bible that you will go to heaven for eternal life. I’m serious. Search your Bible cover to cover; there is not even one verse that says you can or will have eternal life in heaven. That may seem shocking, even heretical, but the Bible simply does not promise eternal life in heaven for any of us. The Bible, of course, does promise eternal life but it never - anywhere - says eternal life will be in heaven. The Bible does show where eternal life will be spent, and it is not in heaven. I’ll show you the scriptures about this shortly. First, though, I want to give you a few more examples of the early Christians' belief in a resurrection from the dead at a particular time in the future.
The apostle Paul, in a letter to the Corinthian church, gave more details about the resurrection of the faithful, showing that their resurrection from "sleep" (death) would occur at "the last trump" meaning at the return - the second coming - of Christ to the earth. First, Paul explained that some believers would be alive at the time of Jesus' return. Then they, along with those just resurrected, would receive immortality: eternal life. Here's what Paul wrote:
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15:51-53)
In another letter, Paul again showed that the faithful who had died would be resurrected at the return of Christ, and that the faithful who were alive at Jesus' return would not somehow preclude them or take their place:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)
Consider the account of Jesus' resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus had previously taught Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary about a future resurrection of the faithful. Just before He resurrected Lazarus, Jesus reminded Martha of the resurrection to come. Note Martha's response:
Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. (John 11:23,24)
Martha said nothing about going to heaven: she understood that the dead will wait in the grave for their resurrection "at the last day."
Surely verses such as these make it clear that the early Christians did not believe they would go to heaven when they died. Instead, they believed they would wait in the grave until the return of Jesus, at which time they would be resurrected to eternal life. Paul called Jesus the "firstfruits": the first and only - so far - to be resurrected from the dead to eternal life. Paul wrote that the faithful will have their resurrection at Jesus' return:
But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept... But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20,23)
Some of you will immediately wonder about the Old Testament prophet Elijah: doesn’t the Bible say Elijah "went up by a whirlwind into heaven"? Did Elijah go to heaven? And what about verses like Matthew 5:12, where Jesus said “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven”? And what about Paul’s statement about death saying he had "a desire to depart, and to be with Christ"? Don't these verses show that we'll go to heaven? It is easy to jump to that conclusion, so I will explain each of them in the next few pages of this website. But first let's finish with the main question: will you go to heaven when you die?
Again the answer to the question is no, and now we have two reasons. As we’ve already seen, when we die we will remain dead, waiting for our promised resurrection from the grave. We won’t go anywhere until we are resurrected. The second reason is that there is no promise of eternal life in heaven. Instead, what God has promised is eternal life in paradise, on a recreated Earth, in the "holy city, new Jerusalem" that comes "down from God out of heaven." This is stated in the Bible, in Revelation 21:1-5:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
Why do so many believe they’ll go to heaven when they die? Many of us just believe what we were brought up to believe. Sure, it’s comfortable and heartwarming to believe in heaven. And it’s easy to believe, too, because you can’t readily disprove that someone has somehow gone to heaven after death. On the other hand, it is not so easy to have faith in God’s promise of a resurrection from the dead. After all, the bodies of the dead are obviously still with us, not yet resurrected. It takes faith and patience to wait for that promised resurrection. But God is able to bring the dead back to life. He has promised to resurrect us. He will keep that promise.
- pages about going to heaven -
Will you go to heaven when you die? - home page
Did Elijah go to heaven in a whirlwind? - Is the story of Elijah evidence we'll go to heaven?
Will we be rewarded in heaven? - What did Jesus mean when He said "for great is your reward in heaven"?
Did Paul believe he would go to heaven? - What did the apostle Paul mean when he said he had "a desire to depart, and to be with Christ"? Did he expect to go to heaven when he died?
- other topics -
What God Wants - His plan to create men and women He can live with forever
What is Salvation? - Covers topics such as redemption, salvation, once saved – always saved, immortal souls, grace, works, and what it means to be born again.
What does God Promise Us - A detailed review of scriptures about God’s promises of a resurrection, eternal life, a place in the Kingdom of God and entry into the New Jerusalem on a re-created Earth. See what the Bible says.
What Does God Want From Us? - Learn what God really wants from us
God’s Plan - An overview of God’s plan, explaining why God allows evil and suffering, and explaining what happens to the good and to the wicked
Are You "Saved"? - A deeper look at salvation. What does it mean to be "saved"? What is the difference between redemption and salvation? Did Jesus "do it all" for us? When do you have "eternal security"? See what the early Christians taught.
Historian Edward Gibbon and the Kingdom of God - quotes from Acts and from historian Edward Gibbon
About Jesus - our Creator, Redeemer and soon coming King
The Commandments - quoted from Exodus 20
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man - why the rich man had five brothers
Three Days and Three Nights? - Was Jesus wrong about His time in the tomb?
Jesus, Paradise and the Thief - did Jesus and the thief go to paradise the same day?
The Garden of Eden - an essential message
About Prophecy - some things to keep in mind
Daniel's Prophecy - kingdoms rise and fall, then God's Kingdom prevails
Jesus' Prophecy - an introduction to Jesus' prophecy in Matthew 24
The Revelation - signs of our times and warnings of things to come
2 Thessalonians 2 - the apostle Paul's prophecy about antichrist