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What Really Happens When We Die?

There's some debate today in theological circles about the rightness or wrongness of talking about salvation in terms of “going to heaven when you die.” It’s said that the emphasis in all of Scripture is on Jesus’ return to this earth to set up the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth on the last day. However, a very important question is…

“Where will I go when I die?” OR “Where do my loved ones go when they die?” 

Scripture isn't silent about death. We’re forever bifurcating truths that must be kept together in order to understand the whole counsel of God. Like the cross and resurrection—most evangelical Christians emphasize the cross more than the resurrection (the proof that the cross was more than an instrument of a martyr’s death). Both truths are equally important. Jesus died, and he rose from the dead. If you place emphasis on the fact that he died on the cross, then maybe you end up discussing he was just a great teacher who was martyred for what he taught about love and power structures. But, a dead Savior is no Savior at all. If you emphasize the resurrection over his substitutionary death on the cross, then you can end up talking about the resurrection as a symbol of good triumphing over evil. You have to have both. The same is true with overemphasizing the truth of “going to heaven when we die,” and the truth of “Kingdom come.”

In Acts 3, Peter talks about “heaven” and the “final restoration of all things.” In Acts 3:21, Peter says, “For he (Jesus) must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets.” That’s it! The story of Scripture is that God will have in the end what he always wanted in the beginning—a kingdom in which “he will be our God, and we will be his people”—a very good world in which we enjoy a personal relationship with God and with one another in peace, harmony, and shalom. 

But right now, Jesus is waiting in “heaven” for God to call “time out,” so Jesus can come back. Right now, “the dead in Christ” are with Jesus in heaven, waiting with him until the time of final restoration (as Paul said, “absent from the body/present with the Lord.) It’s not either/or, or, one more than the other; it’s both/and. Both truths are important aspects of our living hope that carries us through the present because it’s anchored in the future God has planned and promised for us. And, it’s most definitely something we greatly rejoice in today.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.*

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Written by Charlie Boyd