Updated: Oct 26, 2019
Within the last several months and among my closest circles of friends and loved ones, I have experienced more deaths and attended more funerals than in the last several years combined. A season such as this always causes tough questions to surface that we otherwise are able to keep ourselves distracted enough from having to deal with.
I'm learning that this one looming question (again, among many others) haunts a lot of people: Right after I die, do I go straight to Heaven?
Let's be real with each other here. A single post could never fully answer the biblical "end-game" applications. On top of that, libraries have been dedicated to soothe the emotional & psychological implications this question invokes when thinking of those who've gone on before us. So our aim in this post is to simply examine and unpack a few thoughts from this one particularly sympathetic passage of Scripture below. I believe it will strike a helpful and hopeful balance for you as you read through the insights it offers.
I'll be pulling on some of the threads found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV).
1. Real Hope Is our remedy
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Paul points to "hope" as the remedy to ignorance. There is nothing wrong and everything right about mourning the loss of those close to us, because we will certainly miss them for a time. A good friend recently told me, "I would think there was something wrong with you if you didn't grieve." However, we should not mourn them in the context of the unknown or in the fear that God might let those repentant and those redeemed by the blood of Jesus "slip through the cracks". Our God doesn't miss and hope in Him is real hope.
2. Jesus started the new Trend
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
Those who've passed on before us - "fallen asleep" - will follow the pattern of Jesus' resurrection through His power over death. Think about it: If Jesus' death was powerful enough to forgive every repented sin, how much more powerful is the impact of His resurrection? It has the power to lift us all up into a blissful eternity with Him.
3. Life After Death After Life
15 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.
We always give those who like to "sleep in", a hard time. "The early bird gets the worm," is the phrase I remember hearing a lot. Well, for all of you late slumberers, here's your verse. I say this tongue-in-cheek but also respectfully, because I know this concern is one of our underlying fears as humans: That we (or someone we love) will somehow be "missed". Not only can you rest assured that those who've passed on before us will be taken care of, but they will be the ones waiting on any of us who are still alive at the time. This ought to encourage us to our core. Our God doesn't miss.
4. A Cry - A Voice - A Sound
16 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.
There is such a beautiful and awe-inspiring word picture painted here. It starts with the cry of command as He comes down - which is so typical "Jesus", coming down to meet us where we're at. Think of Lazarus. "Jesus wept", then He raised Lazarus from the grave. This time Jesus is going to give a shout that calls everyone that belongs to Him. #chillbumps
Then the voice of an archangel, which let's us know some real stuff is about to go down. It's a war cry type of thing. Archangels are in charge of immense, untold numbers of angels being prompted to war.
Last comes the sound of trumpet, which heralds in the culmination of the plan that has been the hope of humanity, and the promise of God, for thousands of years.
It is also important to see the qualifier that they, the dead, "will rise first". That qualifier expresses a type of "prior to". But how much prior to? That is the question, isn't it? I'll express my thoughts on this in the closing.
5. Best Meeting ever
17 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
There is a much anticipated meeting of those that have died with those who will still be alive at that point in time.
Oh... and Jesus will be in that meeting as well.
Oh... and after this moment, we will always be with Him. How truly exciting! This is how we're supposed to encourage one another in time of tragedy and console those who have had family members and loved ones pass on before them.
I believe we think too linearly. What I mean is we think in terms of time. Point A to Point B to Point C and so on. We need to remember that we experience life in the confines of "time" in a way that the angels and those who've passed on before us now do not.
While you're processing that, let me blow your mind even more: The God of the Bible is Himself timeless because He is the creator of time itself. Because of this, He can look at the past, present and future - all at the same time (pun intended). It's hard to argue with the volumes of people who were in near death experiences, as well as those who were on their final death beds sharing their experience of Heaven, angels and the loved ones who died before them. Some even speaking of encounters with Christ Himself. Add to that the many stories and examples in Scripture that tell of a passing from this world and into the immediacy of Heaven. (see - 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, also Luke 23:39-43)
So... "Do I go straight to Heaven when I die?"
I think there might be an even more crucial question... and... Let me ask this lovingly yet bluntly. Whether it's simply taking an extended sleep before or whether it's an immediate entrance right after... My question is:
Are you ready?
I hope so. I want to see you there.
What do you think?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Tell us how this post helped you. Or tell us what we missed. Also, feel free to let us know which topics you'd like us to cover in the future.
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