The Bible does not teach that when a Christian dies he goes to heaven. Let us be certain we understand the truth as pointed out in the Scriptures.
First, the Bible is very clear what happens to a person at the time of his or her death.
In Ecclesiastes 9:4-5 we find the following:
“But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten.” Their memory (the faculty of remembering) ceases to exist (See the marginal notes in the Companion Bible).
Verse 6 continues: “Also their love, their hatred; and their envy have now perished…”
Psalm 146:3-4 illustrates that the day one dies, his thoughts perish.
(For a further discussion on this topic, see our booklet, “Do We Have an Immortal Soul?”)
Once a person dies, he no longer has a part with the living, as long as he remains dead!
On the other hand, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and John 14:2-3 are often used in an attempt to prove that when a Christian dies, he immediately is taken off to heaven to spend eternity with Jesus Christ. It is claimed that such is his reward for having lived his life according to the way taught in his faith. But what do these passages really say?
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 reads: “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 shall 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 shall always be with the Lord.”
Here, Paul was referring not to the day of a person’s death, but to the time of the resurrection of the just, which occurs at the time of Christ’s Second Coming; and to what is to happen then to those who have a part in that resurrection (vs.16). Those who have a part in that resurrection will also have a part with Christ as He re-establishes God’s government here on earth (compare Revelation 5:10).
Christ said in John 14:2-3: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
The Greek word for “mansions” refers to dwelling places. It literally means, “dwellings” (compare the margin of the New King James Bible). The same word is used in John 14:23, where it is translated as “home.” According to the Nelson Study Bible, “Everybody has a longing for a permanent, secure place. Such places have already been set aside for all of God’s children.”
As our booklet, “The Gospel of the Kingdom of God” points out, Christ is preparing for us places or positions of rulership, depending on our conduct in this life.
But the passages in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and John 14:2-3 don’t mean that we go to heaven, when we die. Not even righteous King David went to heaven when he died (Acts 2:34). Christ told Nicodemus that “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man…” (John 3:13). Christ will return to this earth to bring our reward with Him (compare Revelation 22:12).
We will be resurrected or changed and meet the returning Christ in the clouds, in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Then, we will descend with Him on the Mount of Olives. When Jesus ascended to heaven, from the Mount of Olives, the angels told the apostles: “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
Zechariah 14:4 shows that in that day, Christ’s feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which is located on the earth! This is the “dwelling” place Christ will have prepared and where He will be at that time! We will be ruling with Christ when He rules here on earth (compare Revelation 20:4-6). “…thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We will be where Christ will be (compare John 14:3) — here on earth. After all, Christ’s disciples are to “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
Christ is coming in all His glory, with His holy angels, to begin a millennial rule upon the earth (Matthew 25:31-32). The saints of God, who will have been resurrected from the dead at that time, along with those saints still living, who will be changed to spirit at that time, will be given power to rule with Christ (Revelation 2:26-27).
The saints will have positions as Kings and Priests, and will reign with Christ during the 1,000 year period on the earth. The rest of the dead, who had no part in this resurrection, will await in their graves for a future resurrection (Revelation 20:5).
No Biblical passage tells us that we go to heaven when we die. Rather, we will rule with Christ here on earth, when He resurrects those of us who died, or when He changes those of us, who are still alive at His Coming, from mortal to immortal.