Robert Jeffress - Do Christians Immediately Go To Heaven When They Die?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Just like me, you want to enjoy a long, happy, and fulfilling life, but the reality is, a tragic accident could snatch us away at any moment. So, what can we expect to happen to us immediately after we die? Well, some folks believe that there's a gap of time that separates the end of this life, from the beginning of the next one. So today, I want to share what the Bible says will happen the moment after a Christian dies. Today we're answering the question, do Christians immediately go to heaven when they die? On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
A Minnesota couple decided they wanted to escape the harsh winter weather and take a one week vacation to Florida. At the last minute, the wife had to stay back an extra day, so her husband went on ahead of her to get things ready. Once he had checked into the hotel at Key West, he decided to sit down and fire off a brief email to his wife telling her that he had arrived safely. He didn't notice that he had accidentally transposed two letters in his wife's email address. Meanwhile in Chicago, a woman returned home, a minister's wife after burying her husband of 45 years. She felt kind of alone after the funeral service, lonely and she decided to sit down and check her emails, to see if there were any words of condolences. The first email that popped up, she read immediately. She let out a scream and fainted. Her daughter rushed in to see what was going on, and after the daughter revived her mom, the daughter read the email that caused her mom to faint. And here's what it said:
Darling wife, I'm sure you're surprised to hear from me, I just arrived and checked in, and I wanted to send you a quick note saying, I can't wait for you to get here. The staff has everything ready for you. I'm looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. And if everything goes as planned, you should get here as quickly as I did. P.S. It sure is hot down here, I know you're gonna love it.
Isn't that great? Kind of perverse, but it's great. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said one time, "It's unwise for Christians to claim a knowledge of either the furniture of heaven, or of the temperature of hell". And while it's true there are certain things about heaven and hell we can't know for sure, there's one thing that is crystal clear, and that is, we are all going to die one day, and because of that, we are going to one of two of those destinations, heaven or hell. In his book, heaven, Randy Alcorn observes that worldwide three people die every second, 180 die every minute, and 11000 every hour. If the Bible is right about what happens to us after death, it means more than 250000 people every day, go either to heaven or to hell. That blows our mind, doesn't it?
So many people dying every day. Why is it that none of us gets out of this world alive? Why is it that death is inevitable for every one of us? In Ecclesiastes nine verses two and three, Solomon says, "It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked: for the good, for the clean, and for the unclean: for the man who offers a sacrifice, and for the one who does not sacrifice". That is, it doesn't matter whether you're good, bad, righteous, unrighteous, a believer, an unbeliever, there's one fate for everybody, that is death. We're all going to die. There's one fate, but there are two different destinies, heaven or hell.
Well why is it, both Christians and non Christians have to die? Well we've talked about it before, it's because of the virus of sin we've all inherited. Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death". And you know, not only is there an inevitability of death because of sin, but death brings it's own kind of terror to all of us. Job called death, the king of terrors. In Job 18 verse 14, "He is torn from the security of his tent, and they march him before the king of terrors". The Psalmist said, "My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me". Death is the nightmare of all nightmares, for those who die without faith in Jesus Christ. It's understandable for unbelievers to fear death, but if we're honest, for many who are Christians, there's also a fear of death, because of an unknown.
What is it that awaits us on the other side? What happens to a Christian when he dies? Well that's what we're going to talk about this morning, as we continue our series, A Place Called Heaven. We're going to talk about, what happens to Christians when they die. Do they cease to exist? Do they go to sleep for 1000 years, awaiting some future resurrection? Do they go into a waiting place, a purgatory, hoping somebody will pray hard enough, or give enough money to get them out of that place? To understand what happens to a Christian when he or she dies, it is important that we distinguish between what I call the present heaven, and the future heaven. We've talked about this before, the fact that, when we talk about the present heaven, the third heaven, that is where God is right now, and that is where we go the moment we die. We go into the presence of God.
How do I know that? Look at what the scripture says about the immediacy of our entry into God's presence. For example in Luke 23 verse 43, Jesus said to the thief on the cross, who had just exercised faith, he said what? Today you will be with me in paradise. Not tomorrow, not 1000 years, today you will be with me in paradise. In acts 7:59, the Bible says, "They went on stoning Steven as he called upon the Lord and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit". In Philippians 1:23,Paul said, "But I Paul am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is much better". To depart this world, is to be with Christ. That Greek word, depart, is the word analuo, it means to loosen. The moment we die, we are loosened from being tethered to this world in this body, and we sail on immediately to be in the presence of God.
But the most seminal passage in all of the Bible, that describes what happens to Christians when they die, is found in the passage I want you to turn to. 2 Corinthians chapter five, beginning with verse six. Paul has just said in verse one, that if this earthly house, which is our body, our tent is torn down, we have a building, a body from God, not temporal, but eternal. Paul says this body is nothing more than a temporary dwelling place. Now having said that, look at what he says in verse six, "Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body", he's saying that tongue and cheek. After saying our body is a tent, this body isn't our home, it's just a temporary dwelling place. "Knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord".
Now here's what I saw this week. In the Greek language, this tense suggests a continuous action. The literal translation of this verse is, while we continue to be in this body, we continue to be absent from the Lord. We can't be in two locations at once. We think this world is our home, it's not. It's not, it is a temporary location. Yes, we have people we like and we love here, yes, God has given us an assignment here on earth, it's very important, but it's temporary. This is a temporary location, and as long as we continue to be here, we continue not to be at home with the Lord. That's what he's saying. But look at what he says in verse eight, "We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord". The tense this is in, suggests a forever completed action in the past. What he is saying is, I prefer to be once for all absent from the body, so that I can be once for all at home with the Lord. And that's what happens to us when we die. The moment we leave this body, we are forever at home with the Lord. That's what happens to a Christian when he dies.
Now, you may wonder, well, what part of us goes home to be with the Lord? No, it's certainly not our physical body. Aren't you glad we don't drag this body we have with us into all eternity. It's not this body, it gets buried, gets cremated, something happens to it. What happens to us when we die? We know our spirit goes to be with the Lord, awaiting that final resurrection body that will occur at the rapture. At the rapture, we're gonna receive that new body. We're gonna receive that brand new body that is forever free from suffering and death. But some people say maybe, until that time, we receive a temporary body until the rapture of the church. Now, the Bible is really silent about that, that is just conjecture, but what we do know, with absolute certainty is when a Christian dies, he is immediately ushered into the presence of Jesus. To be absent from the body, is to be at home with the Lord.
Now, some people may say, well what about those who died before Jesus, what happened to the Old Testament saints? What happened to Abraham, and David, and Jeremiah, where are those people right now? Where did they go when they died? It's an interesting question. First of all, were they even saved? I mean, they lived before Jesus, before Jesus offered his sacrifice. How are the Old Testament saints saved? There's a very simple answer to that. People in the Old Testament were saved just like you and I are saved, they were saved by the death of Jesus on the cross for their sins. Only Jesus Christ can wipe away our sins. But the question is, well how could they be saved by the blood of Christ, before Christ actually died? Have you ever wondered about that? Well it's easy, they were saved on credit.
Now, you understand the concept of credit. You can go to sears and you can buy a washing machine, and the funny thing is, you don't have to pay a dollar for it, all you have to do is take out this little worthless piece of plastic, hand it to the clerk, and guess what, you can walk out with that washing machine, without paying one dollar. It's yours, for free, until the bill comes due 30 days later. Then it has to be paid for, doesn't it? Now it was the same way with the Old Testament saints, they didn't have any plastic credit cards, but what they did have was faith. Genesis 15:6 says, "Abraham believed in the Lord, and God reckoned, literally accounted it to him as righteousness". Abraham, as well as all the Old Testament saints, believed whatever God revealed to them, and their little bit of faith in and of itself, was just as worthless as a plastic credit card.
Faith can't save us, it can't save you, it can't save me, we can only be saved by the blood of Christ. But their exercise of their little amount of faith, and believing whatever God told them, allowed them to be saved on credit. And the bill for their sins, just like the bill for our sins, came due, well, not 30 days later, 2000 years later. It came due on mount Calvary, and Jesus paid that debt for all of us. So where did they go? Where did they go? Well, to understand where they went, you need to understand the concept of sheol and hades. Now, sheol is a Hebrew word, that simply means, covered or hidden. There are a lot of people who believe that before Christ came, there was a dwelling place for both the righteous and the unrighteous called sheol. Think of it like a big duplex, that's divided into two parts, and sheol had two parts, one part was for the righteous, the saved, and it was called Abraham's bosom. The other half was for the unrighteous, in the New Testament it's called hades.
You remember the story Jesus told, two men died, one man was a poor man, his name was Lazarus, and when he died, he immediately went to Abraham's bosom. Now, he didn't go to a place of blessing because he was poor, there's nothing righteous about being poor necessarily. He went there, because he trusted in God, in fact, that's what the name Lazarus means, God is my helper, that's why he was welcomed into the place of the righteous. The rich man died and he went to hades. Now look at verse 22, "Now it came about, that the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom, and the rich man also died and was buried. And in hades, the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torment and he saw Abraham", now underline this, "far away, and Lazarus was in his bosom. And he cried out, and said, father Abraham have mercy on me, send Lazarus that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame".
You know, this passage reminds us of a couple of things. First of all, not everyone goes to the same location when they die. There's not one destiny, there are two destinies. Remember, Jesus is the one saying this. There is a place of blessing, and there is a place of judgment. And secondly, this passage reminds us, that when we die, we immediately begin experiencing, either God's blessing, or God's wrath. There's not a waiting time for the future, believers go immediately into God's presence, and while we are there, we're awaiting that creation of the new heaven and the new earth, that will be our permanent destination. Now that leads to the question, well, what happens to unbelievers when they die? Just like believers have a current destination, the third heaven, and a future destination, the new heaven and new earth, so there is a temporary and eternal destination for the unsaved. The unsaved immediately go to this place called hades. Hades is the temporary waiting place of the unsaved dead. It's not purgatory, it is a place of horrible torment, that begins the moment an unbeliever dies. That's where the unbelievers go right now, to this place called hades. But that's not their final destination, their final destination is the lake of fire.
Turn over to Revelation chapter 20, verses 11 and 15. John talks about what happens after the Millennium, before the new heaven and new earth. John says, "Then I saw a Great White Throne and him who sat upon it, and whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, and the great, and the small, were standing before the throne, and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life, and the dead were judged from the things written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it", and look at this, "And death and hades". The temporary place of all the unsaved since the days of Adam. "Hades gave up the dead which were in them: and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and hades were thrown into", where? The lake of fire.
"This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire". It is a place of eternal suffering. People aren't destroyed in the lake of fire. We have satan, the beast, and the false prophet, are all thrown into the lake of fire, before the Millennium, 1000 years later, they are still alive, and they are still burning and being tormented, so it will be with all unbelievers. It is a place of forever suffering. Right now, when an unbeliever dies, he goes immediately to this terrible place called hades. The common experience though, in both the temporary location, hades, and the ultimate place for the unsaved, the lake of fire, is agony, physical pain.
Notice again in Luke 16:24. The rich man says, he is in agony, because of the flames. Second Peter 2:9 tell us, "The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the Day of Judgment". What Peter is saying, is right now, those who die without Christ are in hades, awaiting their final judgment, the Great White Throne judgment. Here is the basic truth everyone needs to understand. When we die, we immediately begin experiencing either God's blessing, or God's judgment. And while it's true that at some future day, believers will change location, from the third heaven, to the new heaven on this new earth, and while it's true that unbelievers will also change location from hades into the lake of fire. A change of location is not the same, as a change of eternal destiny. Heaven and hell are eternal choices.
My friend Erwin Lutzer says it this way, five minutes after you die, you will either have had your first glimpse of heaven, with it's euphoria and bliss, or your first genuine experience of unrelenting horror and regret. Either way, your future will be irrevocably fixed, and eternally unchangeable. In those first moments, you will be more alive than you have ever been. Vivid memories of your friends and your life on planet earth will be mingled with a daunting anticipation of eternity. You will have had your first direct glimpse of Christ, or you will have had your first encounter with evil as you have never known it, and it will be too late to change your address. If you wait until you die to choose your destination, you will have waited one second too long. Hell and heaven are forever choices.