If we all go straight to Heaven when we die, then why do we need to be resurrected from the dead?
This question has puzzled many believers over the years. From our understanding of the Scriptures, we believe that we go straight to Heaven when we die. We also believe that those who have died in the Lord before us are waiting for us there. We picture them living in mansions, walking on streets of gold, and living in the realm where angels dwell and Jesus can be seen every day.
In the following passages we can see what happens when we die:
“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” (Philippians 1:21-23 NKJV)
The Apostle Paul also wrote:
“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV)
Finally, the writer of Hebrews wrote:
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in Heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:22-23 NKJV)
Notice that this great assembly of people in Heaven consists of the “spirits of just men made perfect.” This means that these people are only spirit beings; they have not been resurrected yet. Therefore, when we depart from our bodies, our spirits go to be with Christ in Heaven until the day of our resurrection.
What does our spirit look like? It looks very much like we do here on earth. In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31, the rich man who was in Hell recognized Lazarus who was leaning against the bosom of Abraham. Both Lazarus and Abraham looked like they did here on earth, even though they were spirit beings. The same thing can be seen in the account of the transfiguration: both Elijah and Moses looked the same as they would have appeared in their physical bodies. Some may argue that Elijah was taken up physically into Heaven, but we know that Moses actually died, and his body was buried. Those who have gone before us into Heaven look very much like they did when they lived in their physical bodies, although very much younger in appearance and full of life.
This still leaves us the mystery of the resurrection, as described by the Apostle Paul:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NKJV)
In the preceding verses, Paul wrote that those who have died in Christ will come with Jesus when He returns. The bodies of these people will be raised first. Then those who are alive on earth will be caught up to join them in the air. Their bodies will also be transformed, as Paul wrote in another passage:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NKJV)
When the saints who have come with Christ return, they will be reunited with their bodies. They will have new resurrected bodies that will never die. Then those who are alive on the earth will be caught up to meet them in the air, and their physical bodies will be changed instantly. They will also have incorruptible bodies that will live forever. Millions upon millions of believers will be in this great cloud of saints to join the Lord in His triumphant return.
After the return of Christ, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, as described by the Apostle John:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.” (Revelation 21:1 NKJV)
Therefore, the purpose for the resurrection is so that we might live in our new bodies here on earth. It will not be the earth we know today, but a new earth. And we will reign together with Christ forever and ever.
You are holy, dear saint!
P.S: I did not mention the many accounts of people in our day who have had near death experiences and have seen what Heaven looks like. I chose to only write about what we read in the Word of God.
[All Scripture quotations have been taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson Inc.]