This question first implies that the person we are talking about is a Christian.
Jesus told us in John 14:6 that “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Assuming that one believes and trusts in Jesus, then the question of when we go to Heaven is valid.
Does a person go straight to judgment and Heaven or do they “fall asleep?”
Let’s first look at Scripture to understand the text:
- 13 …we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thesallonians 4:13-17
- We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.– 2 Corinthians 5:8
- Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment – Hebrews 9:27
- Jesus said to the thief on the cross beside Him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:43
- I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; – Philippians 1:23
These verses appear very contradictory. Some would claim that the first verse says that once our bodies die, we remain in the ground until the Lord returns.
However, the second verse implies that when we die, we become “absent” from the body and go immediately to Heaven.
The third simply implies that at some point after death, all people will face judgment.
The fourth statement, addressed to the thief, may be understood as a personalized fact dealing solely with that one individual, or a universal truth about everyone.
The fifth statement returns to the implication that once we leave earth (depart) we are with Christ.
Based on these, many experts believe that our spirits will depart our bodies immediately upon death, and go to Heaven (or Hell). When Jesus returns, our bodies will be resurrected, our spirits will join the new bodies, and we all (including those in Hell) will face judgment for eternal sentencing.
I used to be a large proponent of soul sleep. Now I realize that I could have been wrong. I’m not admitting a mistake, just acknowledging that I don’t know for sure. But it might not be the only doctrinal thought I’m wrong on. However…
We don’t need to know the timing of when our spirit faces Jesus or even when our body is resurrected, we just need to know that Jesus is the one who can and will make it happen. I’m leaving the “how” and “when” up to Him. After all, I still don’t know how it’s possible that God just spoke and the world was created, but I know it happened. Thankfully I don’t have to rely on my intelligence to figure it all out.
Think about this, even Jesus does not know what day He will return, only the Father in Heaven, but . . . Jesus knows He’s coming back.
And the good news for those who are unhappy with their current bodies? 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 summarized states that our bodies will be raised imperishable—that is, a perfect body, one without disease, decay, or death. In this life our bodies wear out and die. With resurrected bodies, we will be perfected in Christ and imperishable. That’s right, no more diets! 🙂
The epitaph of Benjamin Franklin when he was young summarizes what we need to remember – it’s not about the details or even the timing, but all about the Author and His plan:
The Body of B. Franklin
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.