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  "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." - Mark 16:15 


Bible Facts About Heaven

Dr. John R. RiceBy Dr. John R. Rice


3 - Heaven Immediately Follows Death for Christians

     Among many unscriptural doctrines invented by Roman Catholic church leaders is that of purgatory or limbo.  Catholics believe that at death the souls of ordinary Christians descend into purgatory.  Loved ones of the departed are taught that they should pay the priest to say masses for the dead and pray for the souls in purgatory.  Eventually, if enough masses are said and prayers uttered, the soul may pass from purgatory into Heaven.

    But that is not taught in the Bible.  It is based on a doctrine of salvation by works and by the church instead of redemption by the blood of Christ.  It is used to extort money from those who hope to shorten the period of suffering of their loved ones that they may the sooner enter Heaven.

    But not one word in the bible indicates that anybody at death goes to an intermediate state between Heaven and Hell.  The terms "purgatory" and "limbo" are not found in the Word of God, nor is any other term of similar meaning.

    There are others who teach soul-sleeping.  They think that at the death of a Christian, the soul is put to sleep and does not waken until the resurrection of the Christian's body.  Perhaps that idea arose from the Bible use of the word sleep for the death of a Christian.  In I Thessalonians 4:14 God says that, at the coming of Christ to raise the Christian dead and receive the Christian living to Himself, "Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him."  It is said of Stephen that "he fell asleep" at his death (Acts 7:60).

    However, only the body sleeps.  The body rests.  Those mortal, physical eyes do not see nor the ears hear nor the tongue speak nor the brain know.  The bodies of saints are asleep, safe in the arms of Jesus our Lord who will raise them up at His coming.  Many Scriptures make clear that the soul does not sleep at death.  Death for the Christian is not oblivion, not darkness, not forgetfulness, but the entering in of a bright new day of perfect and glorious life.

    Sweet assurance of this truth is given.  In Luke 23:39-42 we see how the repenting thief turned to Jesus on the cross beside him and said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom."

    No doubt he had in mind the truth so clearly taught in the Old Testament, that the Messiah would sit on David's throne at Jerusalem and reign over Israel in Palestine.  When the Saviour was promised to Mary, the Angel Gabriel said, "The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32,33).  Jesus is now seated on His Father's throne  (Rev. 3:21).  But "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:" (Matt. 25:31).

    The dying thief confessed that he had made an utter failure of his life.  Acknowledging his sin and appealing to Jesus as the Lord, he begged, "Remember me"! This criminal knew little about Heaven, but he knew about the promised kingdom of Christ the Messiah.

    With loving forgiveness, Jesus turned to the penitent sinner and promised salvation not only in the distant day of His kingdom but "to day," said Jesus, "shalt thou be with me in paradise."  That very day the dying thief entered into the Paradise of God with Jesus or, in the term to which we are accustomed, entered Heaven that day.

    There are those who believe that Paradise and Heaven are not the same, but we think they are mistaken.  On the cross Jesus said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46).  He went to be with the Father, and the dying thief went with Him that very day into Heaven!

    The Apostles' Creed, quoted by many, states that Jesus died and "descended into hell."  In the English language that statement is misleading.  When Psalm 16:10 says, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell" (speaking about Jesus), it literally means that God would not leave the spirit of Jesus in the place of the dead, a very general term which included both Heaven and Hell under the Hebrew word sheol, simply meaning the unseen state or the place of the dead.  The Father received Christ's spirit and that of the dying thief the very day they died.

    "Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him."  In simple language, Enoch went to Heaven.  God took him, so Enoch went to be with God at once. 

    When Elijah went to Heaven, he, like Enoch, took his body with him.  He went at once, without any sleeping of soul, any intermediate state.  "And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (II Kings 2:11).

    Jesus gives an even clearer teaching that the soul of a Christian at death goes immediately to Heaven and that the soul of the unconverted goes immediately to torment.  In Luke 16:19-31 a rich man is pictured who fared sumptuously every day, and a beggar named Lazarus laid at his gate full of sores.  "The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom," Jesus said. "The rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments." 

    The real Lazarus (not that poor, frail, diseased body, but his spirit) was carried by the angels of God straight home to Heaven where Abraham was.  Christ revealed the conversation that took place between Abraham in Heaven and the rich man in Hell immediately after Lazarus and the rich man died.  No soul sleeping there, no purgatory either, for the words of Abraham to the rich man are given: "And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence."

    Paul said in II Corinthians 5:8, "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."

    Every saint who is absent from the body is present with the Lord Jesus in Heaven.  At death the soul of the Christian is carried by the angels of God straight Home where Christ and the Father are. 

Contents                                                                                                                                Chapter 4

Published 1940


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