My mother and my sister taught me that people go directly to heaven or to hell immediately after they die. They also taught me that there would some day be a resurrection of our bodies. As a young boy, I accepted this and held to it throughout my teen years and into my early twenties, though I often wondered what the purpose was of having our bodies resurrected. Wouldn’t we be perfectly happy in heaven, if our “souls,” which I understood as being our true selves, spent eternity with God and with other people who had been saved from hell? Why have a material body in which to live?
Later on, as I probed deeper into Bible study, I came across this shocking sentence written by the apostle Paul:
What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we
die." (I Corinthians 15:32 ESV)
Paul seems to imply that unless the dead are raised, we may as well eat, drink, and be merry. We might as well as enjoy ourselves as much as possible during this brief life, for after we die, there is nothing more for us.
However, many people believe that when we go to heaven after death, THAT IS the resurrection about which Paul was writing, and so that concept does not conflict at all with 1 Corinthians 15:32.
But Jesus was the FIRST to experience a personal resurrection. He was “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). However, HE did not go to heaven immediately after He died. Even after God had raised Him from the dead, He said to Mary:
_“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” _
Also, His body was missing from the tomb, and so He must have experienced a BODILY resurrection. Furthermore it was the SAME body. He showed Thomas the wounds He had received during His crucifixion.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:25-27)
Yet, although it was the same body, it was a changed body. For He was then able to enter a room whose doors were closed and locked.
So, as I understand it, we will not go to heaven after we die until we are raised to life in the resurrection. I would be pleased to read any thoughts you may have about these matters.
I know one cannot establish truth by subjective experience, but I would like to share one of mine anyway from a few years back.
In the morning I attended the funeral of the father of a close friend. The speaker at that funeral said, “Mr. H. will live again!” As he said this, a thrill went through my entire being. I went to another funeral in the afternoon. The speaker at that funeral said, “Mrs. K. didn’t die; she just walked through a door.” To me, that statement did not express any reality.