Do we go directly to heaven or hell when we die?

This question is of no importance to readers in this community, but for Christians it should be an interrogative of great concern.

While it seems a straightforward query it seems that Christian scholars cannot provide a "yes" or "no" answer. Instead, they usually start with multiple quotes from the Bible and with good reason, as there is no one place that answers the question directly.

At the death of a loved-one, I don't know how many times I've heard people say, "They're in a better place now" or "They're with God." Are they? Or, are these platitudes nothing but soothing words for the bereaved. Theologians and Christian apologist jump from chapter to chapter of the New Testament to make their case one way or the other. This piece mil approach never gives a direct answer but relies on bits of scripture to build an argument that does not answer the question.

The answer to the question is "no" or "yes" depending on who interprets the meaning of the tidbits taken from multiple places in the New Testament.

Verses from Hebrews 9:26-27, Romans 2:3-10, II Corinthians 5:10 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3-1 to show that Christians will not go to heaven or hell until the second coming of Christ when God "will render to each one according to his deeds." (Romans 2:3-10) Using that verse makes it seem the answer is "no" but that raises another question. Where have "each" been during the time until judgment day comes?

To answer that question requires a leap to another verse that says, ". . . So, it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades . . ." (Luke 16:19-31) which implies there is a holding station that is divided into two sections "torments" and "paradise." (Luke 23:43)

Using a "holding pen" and jumping from chapter to chapter winds up leading back to the original question, "Do we go directly to heaven or hell when we die?" The answer is still "no."

The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection[1].This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there[2].[3]

Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.[4] Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom":[5]"It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell."[6] Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.[7], [8].

Jesus’ sojourn in Hell, Hades or Sheol clearly indicates there were other “souls” there waiting to be released. When he ascended from the depths of Hades three days later, the “souls” were still there and would remain until the dsecond coming of Christ.

"Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29).

Whether "graves" is taken metaphorically or literally the phrase  " . . . all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth . . ." makes it clear that Christians will not go directly to Heaven or Hell until Christ returns. So, when Christians say, "They're in a better place now" or "They're with God" at the very least shows their ignorance regarding the Bible.

On the other hand, they can be forgiven for not taking the time to leap from chapter to chapter in order to make a case one way or the other. Who has that kind of time except biblical apologists or theologians?

In the final analysis, whether Christians go to heaven or hell when they die is a moot point. When you die, you're dead. What happens after that is open to debate as no one has come back to answer the question, including Jesus although it is alleged otherwise. Since no firsthand account exists, it is nothing but speculation or blind faith. Nevertheless, it appears that upon death Christian souls go to neither Heaven nor Hell, the answer is clearly “no.” Maybe.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust"[9]

The end?


(Next: Explanations of Purgatory and Limbo)

[2] Acts 3:15; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:20; cf. Heb 13:20.

[3] Cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19

[4] Cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13

[5] Cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26.

[6] Roman Catechism I, 6, 3

[7]  Cf. Council of Rome (745): DS 587; Benedict XII, Cum dudum (1341): DS 1011; Clement VI, Super quibusdam (1351): DS 1077; Council of Toledo IV (625): DS 485; Mt 27:52-53.

[9] The Burial of the Dead: Rite I, Book of Common Prayer,

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Comment by Aleister Gates on May 19, 2014 at 11:20pm just repeats Theology is nonsense theology is nonsense repeatedly a british accent

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 19, 2014 at 10:19pm

Luara--Interesting. I did a paper on the subject a couple of years ago. Okay maybe it was right after 9/11. I was exploring the paradise of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc. Some are quite perplexing and makes one wonder--who in the hell wrote this crap and what were they smoking. I'll see if I can dig it up.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 19, 2014 at 10:15pm

Michael, I am there with you. I went to Catholic school and I am not a better man for it. The issue for Christians comes from the "Apostle's Creed" where it states that Jesus " . . . Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, died and was buried: He descended into hell . . ." This one phrase has caused numerous issues for Christians. Nevertheless, the line makes it clear that Jesus went to Hell, Hades or someplace unpleasant, but not to his "father." Pretty clear to me. Christians are in temporary quarters until the second coming, which has not arrived after 2,000 years. (Just a bit tardy)

Comment by Donald R Barbera on May 19, 2014 at 10:07pm

Napolean--I got no sound from your post.

Comment by Aleister Gates on May 19, 2014 at 10:04pm

I agree that in this forum...this point is moot...but every mention of heaven or hell I am compelled to respond that an eternity of anything will eventually become.. first  it's opposite and finally indifference altogether..from what I can the only thing that can be considered eternal is ..eternity itself...everything else has a shelf life. By the way Don...great writing...feel free if you are so inclined to visit my blog

Comment by Luara on May 19, 2014 at 10:09am

Hey Don,

If you are so inclined, it would be fun to read about various religions' concepts of heaven. 

What do Catholics think is heaven?  Muslims?  etc.

Comment by Michael Penn on May 19, 2014 at 9:21am

You handled that very well, Don, and your article covers all that I ever learned on the subject. The final analysis would be that you die and go to your grave. Depending on the faith you were brought up in, that answer could vary. I attribute this to the fact that man has 2 states in life, - waking and sleeping. Sorting out reality in each state has apparently become a lifelong struggle for mankind.



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