Most people think that we go right to heaven when we die. I can see where they get this idea. Elijah got to go straight to heaven on this super cool chariot of fire being pulled by horses of fire. How awesome is that? It’s hard to forget that story.
Also, at the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah. Elijah didn’t die, but Moses did; and they both went to heaven and were present at the transfiguration. Interesting.
They both went straight to heaven. But does everyone get a straight and instantaneous ticket there?
Let’s look at what Jesus said when at a young girl’s funeral.
Mathew 9: 24 he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep” But they laughed at him.
Ummm. First, I don’t recommend laughing at Jesus. He knows a little more than us and I think he’s not going to be the one looking foolish in the end. But to move on; this girl was definitely dead, yet he referred to her as only sleeping.
I’m sure some might find a way to argue about this story, so let me give you one more bible story to show not everyone goes straight to heaven, but they go into a “sleep” until they get raised at the judgement.
1 Samuel 28: 3 Now Samuel had died and all Israel had lamented over him and had buried him in Ramah, his hometown. In the meantime, Saul had removed all the mediums and magicians from the land.
Samuel was buried in his hometown, so he definitely was dead.
King Saul was afraid of the Philistines, so he went to a medium (or witch) of Endor to have her bring up Samuel so that he could find out what to do. (Even though Saul ordered all the mediums and magicians to be removed, he later sought to find one and get their advice.) This is part of the conversation between Saul and the medium:
1 Samuel 28: 13 The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid, but what have you seen?” The woman replied to Saul, “I have seen a divine being coming up from the ground!”
We get some good information here. She refers to Samuel, who was coming up from the ground, as a “divine being.” He wasn’t rotted and covered in dirt and he didn’t look like the ‘living dead.’ He looked divine. Some people worry about the weirdest things like: “Will I have worms crawling all over me?” Maybe your dead body will, but you won’t be there. Your soul will be somewhere else having a peaceful sleep – and you will be divine.
1 Samuel 28: 15 Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul replied, “I am terribly troubled. The Philistines are fighting against me and God has turned away from me. He does not answer me anymore—not by the prophets nor by dreams. So, I have called on you to tell me what to do.”
Next, Samuel lets Saul know that God is angry with him and that tomorrow he and his sons would die.
1 Samuel 28: 19 The Lord will hand you and Israel over to the Philistines! Tomorrow, both you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand the army of Israel over to the Philistines!”
Hmmm. From what I’ve read about Samuel and Saul, my assumption is that Samuel will go to heaven and Saul will not. Yet, Samuel tells Saul that he will be with him. That tells me that in this place of “sleep” will be both those who are saved and those who are not. At the Judgement is when everyone will come to life, be given a new body and they will stand before the judgement throne.
If you’re not familiar with this story, I recommend you read 1 Samuel 28. It’s interesting. There is a lot you can learn from that one chapter. First, don’t try to wake up Samuel. He’s enjoying his sleep and he’s cranky when it gets interrupted. Second, not everyone goes straight to heaven when they die. Most go into a “sleep” and they will be there until it’s time to be judged and receive their permanent destination.
We see from Moses and Elijah that God does make exceptions. They went right to heaven. They didn’t get time to chill like Samuel; they got to be with the Lord right away. We know from other scripture that God has future plans for Elijah, so that’s my guess why Elijah was an exception. Moses was another exception, but we weren’t told why. God knows what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, so that’s good enough for me!
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
It’s going to be unbelievable folks!