Questions on Heaven and Hell – Part 2


We handled some of the questions we received about heaven and hell in the post last week. This week we answer more of these questions, many of which deal with more details about what heaven is like and what happens between death and the resurrection of the body.

A number of questions were asked regarding what happens between our death and the resurrection of the body. Do you think those who go to heaven before Christ comes again (the saints in heaven now) can see us? Since we get our new bodies when Christ returns, what are we in between? What form is the soul going into heaven? If this heaven and earth will be the new heaven and earth, where are the souls of those that have already passed? Is their spirit here with us in this heaven and earth? Are we sent signs from those who are in heaven to reassure us that they are ok?
A couple of texts point to the idea that believers who have died and are now in the presence of God can see what is happening on earth. For example, Revelation 6:9-10 shows the souls of those who have died crying out for God to avenge the injustices being done on earth, which seems to point to them being aware of what is happening. Hebrews 12:1 talks about a great cloud of witnesses, which could be imagery of an arena in which they are cheering us on. Thus, it does seem possible to say that those in heaven can see what is happening on earth – but are not filled with grief or pain because they are in God’s presence. The fact that they are in God’s presence, though, may also indicate that they are more interested in being with God than with seeing what is happening on earth.

What does seem clear is that the dead do not talk with the living. The practice of trying to call upon the spirits of dead people was forbidden in the Old Testament, and the New Testament parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) seems to point against the dead coming back with messages. The dead in faith do not become angels who come back and watch over us — angels are their own unique being, a completely different species, if you will, of humans. 

The idea of being with God but not with the glorified body is a bit difficult to capture. Some speculate there is some sort of “intermediate” body before the resurrected, glorified body. Christ is in heaven in a body that has ascended, and the language used in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus could point to some sort of bodily state. If this is the case, we need to recognize that this is not the ultimate hope, but the way we can continue to exist as we await the resurrection of our bodies.

Will we first see Abraham when we get to Heaven? Before Jesus’s death, weren’t God’s people who passed away placed in “Abraham’s Bosom” and didn’t go to Heaven until Jesus resurrected?
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) says that Lazarus is at Abraham’s side and has a conversation with the Rich Man and Abraham. I don’t think the imagery necessarily means that we will first see Abraham when we get to heaven. In some ways, Abraham functions similar to imagery we hear about Peter meeting us at the pearly gates. Abraham was the father of Jewish faith, and thus seen as a person in heaven and one whom we would meet when we get there. In other places, Jesus talks about the fact that in heaven and then the new earth we will be with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Luke 13:28 – also mentioning all the prophets); we will be with the fathers and mothers of the faith who have gone before us. So we will see Abraham, but we’re not certain if we will see him first. In addition, Abraham’s bosom was one of the terms used for heaven before Jesus comes; it does not seem to be a different place than what we call heaven (or paradise), just a different term that stresses that we are reunited with other believers.

Concerning what happened to believers who passed away before Jesus died, there are some writers who say that believers were in Hades (or Sheol, the Old Testament term) until Jesus died and then he went down and brought them to heaven. We don’t have a lot of details about what happened immediately after death to believers who died before Jesus. However, since Elijah and Enoch went straight into heaven to be with God, it would seem that believers would be with God when they die. In addition, a number of Psalms speak about being with God forever (see Psalm 23:6; 73:24-25). Part of this is remembering that people before and after Jesus were saved through faith by looking to God’s work to save them. Abraham had faith and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). I like to use the analogy that believers who died before Jesus were saved on “credit” because Jesus had not died yet. Now we are saved by “debit” as Jesus’s death covers our debt, but we are all saved the same way and thus I would think would have the same fate upon death.

Will our human sinful nature change after we get to heaven? What do you suppose that will be like? Will we not be self seeking, prideful, just loving?
Theologians have helpfully distinguished three different effects of Christ’s saving work on us that happen in different ways and at different times. Justification is being declared righteous by God through the work of Jesus and happens when we believe; thus we can say we have been saved. Sanctification is the act of God’s Spirit to put to death sin and make us live more righteously; this is an ongoing work in our lives and thus we are “being saved.” Our final state is known as glorification  in which the saving power of the Spirit is applied to every aspect of our being and thus we are not able to sin any more — our sinful nature has been fully put to death. Thus, we will be marked by the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh. The struggle with sin happens through this life because of the existence of our flesh, the world, and the devil, but all these things are taken away so that there is only righteous living in the new heavens and earth.

What will be our meaning/purpose in heaven? Will it be to solely praise God, or is there more? Since God made each of us unique/special on earth with special skills and talents, will we praise God in Heaven each in our own way? In other words, will we use those same gifts that He gave us on earth and praise God in those special ways? 
Instead of thinking of heaven as a place of singing in the clouds, we should think of heaven (our final state) as the new earth like Eden, based on what we read in Revelation 21-22. Thus, it seems that just as Adam and Eve tended the earth before their fall into sin, so we will be tending the earth; we will serve God (see Revelation 7:15) and reign (Revelation 5:10; 22:5). It seems that we are doing creative things to extend and reflect His glory. We will praise God in song, but also it appears by doing things, using the gifts that He has given us uniquely — not to glorify ourselves but to draw attention to Him and His glory. And while we might all be singing the same song, the fact that we are still the same people points to the idea that we will sing in our own particular way (and maybe style?) using God’s unique gifts and design of us to praise Him.

Since there is no night [see Revelation 21:24; 22:5]…will there be sleep?
This is an interesting question I had never thought about before. There are references to no night, which I think are meant to help show us that there is no danger or fear; the gates do not need to be locked (which would happen at night) because no one would break in, etc. In terms of sleep, it seems plausible to me to say that our resurrected bodies might not need the refreshment that happens when we sleep. Or there might be an element that it is so exciting and glorious that we would not want to even miss a minute. I know some people like sleep, so we should recognize that heaven will be even better – you wouldn’t miss sleep and actually could constantly feel like you just had a refreshing night of sleep. That said, because we have resurrected bodies, we still might sleep (just as we might eat and drink – see Luke 14:15 and Revelation 19:9 as well as Jesus’s comments at the last supper about eating anew in the kingdom). This is definitely one of those things that we can’t give a firm answer on, but have to think through various strands and elements of what we see in Scripture that point to a certain way or key principles – knowing we might not have a definitive answer.

What does it mean when the Bible talks about a new heaven and new earth? Will this be one all encompassing place? Just confused why we’d need a new heaven or earth when Jesus has come back. Isn’t heaven our home?
Heaven is the place where God is and where the souls of believers go upon death. The Bible says this is not our final destination, but rather that God will make new heavens and a new earth (see Revelation 21) and that we will have resurrected bodies.We need new heavens and a new earth because we are beings who are body and soul (not just souls that are trapped in bodies) and this world needs to be transformed. Thus, there is a sense in which heaven is our hope but not our ultimate home – our final home is the new heaven and the new earth. The imagery we see in the Bible of this new heaven and new earth is like the Garden of Eden. The phrase “new heavens and new earth” could be reflective of the reality that the whole system of physical existence (earth and sky) needs to be overhauled for the eternal state.

If we believe in the resurrection of the body, does that mean people should not be cremated since that destroys the body? Will we be properly restored if cremated? If your ashes are spread all around somewhere, those will all come together too when our bodies are reunited with our souls?
Traditionally, Christians have buried their dead (in fact, burial replaced cremation as the common practice in Europe when Christianity spread). This is because of symbolism of the resurrection of our bodies being like a plant being sown as a seed (see 1 Corinthians 15:43 – what is sown is imperishable but what is risen is imperishable), the connection of returning to the ground from which Adam was created, and the example of Jesus who was buried; this was following the Jewish custom. That said, cremation does not present any logistic problems with resurrection, as God is able to raise up the various ashes in different places – and we should note that most bodies buried decay so they are also in various pieces (in some ways, cremation is just speeding up that process!). While some Christian teachers will advise against cremation because they believe it is connected to non-Christian practices, most of the time someone chooses cremation, it is not tied to seeking to dishonor the body or any sort of pagan reasons; it is often logistical or financial. Therefore, I prefer to say that Christians have historically buried their dead and there is symbolism, but cremation is not forbidden and there may be particular logistical reasons for preferring this option. For more on the topic, see this blog post from a few years back.

It is so comforting knowing God will be in heaven with Jesus at His right hand. Where will the Holy Spirit be in heaven?
While the focus of the vision of heaven in Revelation 4-5 focuses on God (the Father) and on the throne and Jesus (the Lamb) being at the right hand, there is also a reference to the Holy Spirit: “before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 4:5). Thus the Holy Spirit is said to be present. We should acknowledge that there is much more focus and attention on the Father and the Son, but this could be tied to the fact that the work of the Spirit is to bring honor and glory to the Son who brings honor to the Father (as described in the Gospel of John). 

But Wait, There’s More!
We still have a number of questions to look at but we will save them for next week which I believe will be the last post in this series (unless a bunch of new questions come in). 

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