Do We Go to Heaven When We Die?

Some people ridicule the idea of "going to heaven." However, Paul says that we are already seated in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) — and he wanted to go to be with Christ after he died, and Christ is in heaven (Philippians 1:23). So it would not be unreasonable to think that Paul wanted to go to heaven when he died.

When most Christians talk about heaven, they are simply using the term as a synonym for salvation. For example, some Christian evangelists ask, "Are you sure that you will go to heaven if you die tonight?" Their real point in most cases is not when or where we go — they are simply asking if we are sure of our salvation.

A few people may envision heaven as a place of clouds, harps and gold-paved streets. But such physical things are not really part of heaven — they are figures of speech, suggesting peace, beauty, glory and other good things. They are an attempt to use limited physical terms to describe spiritual realities.

Heaven is spiritual, not physical. It is the "place" God lives. Science fiction fans might say, God lives in a different dimension. He is everywhere present in all dimensions, yet "heaven" is the realm in which he actually dwells. (I apologize for the lack of precision in my words. Theologians may have more precise words for these concepts, but I hope I can get the general idea across with simple words.) The point is that to be in "heaven" is to be in the presence of God in an immediate and special way. The good thing about heaven is not its location -- it is the presence of God.

Scripture makes it clear that we will be where God is (John 14:3; Philippians 1:23). Another way to describe our close relationship with God at that time is that we will see him "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12; Revelation 22:4; 1 John 3:2). This is a metaphor for being with him in the closest possible way. So, when we understand the term "heaven" to refer to the dwelling-place of God, it is not wrong to say that Christians will be in heaven in the age to come. We will be with God, and being with God is rightly called being in "heaven."

In a vision, John saw God’s presence eventually coming to earth — not the present earth, but a "new earth" (Revelation 21:3). Whether we "go" to heaven, or it "comes" to us, is of no consequence. Either way, we will be in heaven, in the presence of God forever, and it will be wonderfully good. How we describe the life of the age to come, as long as our description is biblical, does not change the fact that we have faith in Christ as our Lord and Savior.

What God has in store for us is beyond our ability to imagine. Even in this life, the love of God is beyond our ability to understand (Ephesians 3:19). The peace of God is beyond our comprehension (Phil 4:7), and his joy is beyond our ability to put into words (1 Peter 1:8). How much more, then, is it impossible to describe how good it will be to live with God forever?

The biblical writers didn’t give us many details. But one thing we know for certain — it is going to be the most wonderful experience we have ever had. It is better than the most beautiful paintings, better than the most delicious food, better than the most exciting sport, better than the best feelings and experiences we have ever had. It is better than anything on earth. It is going to be a tremendous reward!

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