Bible Question:

One searches the New Testament in vain for any reference to “going to heaven.” I believe we die and wait for the future. I have put together a study guide on the nine instances in which a revival from the dead occurred. Interestingly, none of the revived had anything to say about a consciousness or experience while he/she “was gone.” This is most notable in the account of Lazarus (John 11). I also search in vain to find anything about what Jesus was saying or doing, in spirit, during His burial. As a result I believe that when we die we enter a “suspended immortality” . . . it does not matter to me how that hundreds or thousands of earth years might follow my suspended consciousness, i.e. physical death, while God saves countless scores of others. My awakening to that new day will . . . be only like a fraction of a moment anyway, like one's arousal from surgical anesthesia.

Bible Answer:

The explanations about the nine instances where men and women returned to life after their physical death are very brief. It is important to remember that scripture does not try to give us all of the details about an event. Each portion of scripture is written for a purpose to send us a message. The goal is not to answer all of our questions. The gospels are a great example of this. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John usually provide information the others do not. They report different pieces. If we read only the gospel of John, we would not know that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We have to read Matthew or Luke to discover that. What we can learn from this is that the Bible does not try to record everything for us. The last few verses of John says this,The explanations about the nine instances where men and women returned to life after their physical death are very brief. It is important to remember that scripture does not try to give us all of the details about an event. Each portion of scripture is written for a purpose to send us a message. The goal is not to answer all of our questions. The gospels are a great example of this. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John usually provide information the others do not. They report different pieces. If we read only the gospel of John, we would not know that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We have to read Matthew or Luke to discover that. What we can learn from this is that the Bible does not try to record everything for us. The last few verses of John says this,

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written. (NASB) John 21:25

This is important when we look at those nine instances. Maybe they did see and experience something and the Bible did not record it. We just do not know. To arrive at a conclusion because the Bible does not say anything is called an agreement from silence in theology. A person can come to many wrong conclusions using this approach. What we want to search for are statements that the Bible does make.

Life After Death

There is another principle one must use when it comes to trying to understand a topic in the Bible. We must consider all of the passages that might apply. Here are a few that apply to your topic.

Heavenly ExperiencesPassage
Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.2 Kings 2:11
And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”Luke 23:43
. . . was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.2 Cor. 12:4
‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’ He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”Matt. 22:32

The first passage says that Elijah went up to heaven. Now someone may say that only means he went up into the sky and not to heaven. But the Hebrew expression for the sky, outer space, and heaven is the heavens. It is a plural ending. That was the expression the apostle Paul used in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Here Paul talks about three heavens with the last one being paradise. Paradise is another term for heaven according to 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Paul says that he was caught up to that heaven and was told not to not talk about it.

. . . and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (NASB) 2 Cor. 12:4

This should tell us that people who really do visit heaven are not allowed to talk about it. Is it possible that the stories about near death visits to heaven are hallucinations as many in the medical field suggest? Finally, in Matthew 22:32 Jesus refers to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, men who have been dead for a long time. Then Jesus adds that God “is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Jesus is saying that they are alive. They are in heaven just as Jesus promised the thief on the cross – “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Now was Jesus lying?

Conclusion:

When Christians die, we leave this earthly body and immediately go to heaven just as Elijah, but not in a chariot. What a wonderful promise. Scripture does not teach soul sleep.