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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

14 April 2006

Post Mortem: More Heavenly Questions

Q: When do you believe we go to heaven? Sometimes the Bible indicates that when we take our last breath on earth we will take our first breath in heaven. Yet it also seems that when we die, we will be dead until we are risen for judgement day. What is your theory or what do you suggest from your readings?

A: The Bible doesn’t speak clearly and completely on what happens between death and the end of the world. We do know that we are entrusted to the Lord’s care and keeping until the resurrection of all flesh, but Scripture doesn’t clearly state our degree of consciousness or comprehension. The martyrs crying out from the altar in Revelation 6:9-11 and the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 imply that perhaps those in heaven are quite aware of things happening both in heaven and on earth.

However, other Scriptures speak of death as more of a time of “sleep” or complete rest in God until the resurrection. For example, Psalm 13:3 says, “Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”

Lazarus, Come OutAt times, Christ speaks of death as sleep (John 11:11; also Matthew 9:24, Luke 8:52, and Mark 5:39). This may be because He knows that people will awaken from it. Two who are thus awakened are His friend Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus, the two referred to in the previous passages. Scripture also promises that all who “sleep” in the grave will be awakened on the Last Day.

This being Good Friday, we also have the words of our Lord to the penitent criminal fresh in our minds: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43)”

It could be that the perspective of “sleep” is particularly accurate from our earthly perspective, while a more active and involved period between death and resurrection represents the view from eternity. This might mean that our bodies “sleep” while our spirits remain in active communion with our Lord.

Ultimately, it matters not how much we know of our surroundings nor how we interact with God and with others. The promise of the resurrection and of eternal life belongs to all believers. So whether we are in some type of sleep or fully aware, we will be with God until we are given new and glorious bodies to wear forever in the kingdom of God.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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