The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: H

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For countless centuries many "believers" have been comforted by the teaching that, when they die, their "immortal souls" will go to heaven. We know that the Bible teaches that no one has an immortal soul, or any spark of immortality. No person goes to heaven at death; nor does any part of the person (body or "soul") go there.

How did the heaven-going "theory" develop?

When the Lord, as an introduction to his Sermon on the Mount, recited what has become known as the "Beatitudes", he said to the disciples, in Mat 5:10: "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Then in v 12 he adds, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven."

When death stares a person in the face, it is a great comfort to have those words repeated to him -- or used at the funeral of a loved one who has died. It is quite common to hear an officiating minister claim that, since the Lord Jesus promised the "reward in heaven", then we can be assured that the "immortal soul" of the person being buried has already found its way to heaven. No doubt his soul is looking down on the funeral ceremony! That the Bible does not teach such simplistic ideas never occurs to many who hear them.

Many present-day Christians are under the impression that their "immortal souls" go straight to heaven at death -- there to praise the Father for all time.

However, a study of the Bible shows that the disciples and apostles believed that:

  1. all life and memory and thought ceases at death,
  2. man returns to the ground, from which he was created in the first place, and
  3. the breath of life given to him at his birth goes back to God who gave it (Ecc 12:7).
What then is the state of mankind in death?

The Jews believed that before the child breathes at birth it is a dead soul, but that immediately when God gives the child the breath of life it becomes a "living soul" (Heb "nephesh" = "a breathing creature": Gen 2:7). It is obvious that when that person dies the situation is reversed... he becomes a dead soul, or person, as he was before the breath of life came into his nostrils. The writer of Ecclesiastes wisely pointed out: "The living know that they shall die, but the dead know not anything" (Ecc 9:5).

This teaching is confirmed by the words of David in Psa 104. There he speaks of many of the living things the Father created, and he says, (v 30), "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created". Also, in v 29, "Thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust."

In Psa 6:5, David relates death to the grave: "In death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave who shall give thee thanks?" Obviously his perception of death was simply that of which he spoke in Psa 115:17: "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence (the grave)." Surely if David was indeed a "man after God's own heart", he would know the truth about death and "life after death". And he did -- his view of death was very clear and is expressed in Psa 146:4: "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth: in that very day his thoughts perish." These simple truths show clearly that when man dies he goes back to the ground to silence, not to heaven to praise God. The Apostle John confirmed this: "No man hath ascended up to heaven" (John 3:13).

The Apostle Peter, preaching on the Day of Pentecost, plainly declares: "David is both dead and buried and his sepulchre is with us unto this day... David is NOT ascended into the heavens: (Acts 2:29,34). Peter was saying that David's bones were still in the sepulchre in Israel and that NO part of him was in heaven.

Does any part of man go to heaven at death?

The only part of man that "goes to heaven" at death, or, to the Father, is the breath of life He gives us in the first place. "The spirit (Heb "ruach" = breath) shall return to God who gave it" (Ecc 12:7).

The Bible says nothing about Abraham going to heaven. Gen 25:8 says "he was gathered to his people" -- where were they? In the same place as he was... in the grave, certainly NOT in heaven. Gen 35:29 says the same about Isaac, as does Gen 49:33 about Jacob. Like David they all went to the grave; David said, "O God...thou shalt quicken me again and bring me up again from the depths of the earth" (Psa 71:20). Surely if David thought he was going to heaven he would have asked God to bring him down, NOT UP!

The prophet Daniel apparently did not believe people went to heaven at death... he believed people were in the grave and said, "Many of them that SLEEP in the dust of the earth, shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2).

The Apostle Paul did not teach that people had immortal souls, which would go to heaven to praise the Father eternally. No, he said that when the trumpet blows at Christ's return, "this mortal must put on immortality" (1Co 15:53): no man or woman possesses any spark of immortality...nor any immortal soul to dwell in heaven.

The Apostle John apparently did not believe that the "saved" went to heaven either, for he recorded the following words of Jesus: "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). Why would Jesus say he would raise people up, if they were already in heaven. Obviously he did not teach they would be in heaven, but rather, in the grave, from which they would be raised.

One of the last messages of hope the Lord Jesus left was, "Behold I come quickly and my reward (eternal life) is with me to give every man according as his works shall be" (Rev 22:12). If a person is in heaven enjoying the reward of immortality, what is the use of the second coming of the Lord Jesus and the resurrection of the body? The simple truth is that no part of man goes to heaven... he sleeps in the grave until called forth by the Lord Jesus, as he did when He resurrected Lazarus. Lazarus "slept" in the grave, not heaven (John 11:11).

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