I have been a disciple for 5 years. During this time, a few of our
brothers and sisters have passed away. Many times I have heard either the
lead evangelist, or staff say that, that brother or sister is in heaven.
This has bothered me for some time, so I have begun to study it out to get
conviction. I refer to John 5:28-30, 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 and 35-54,
Revelation 20:4-6. My question is, don’t the dead lie in wait of the
second coming of Jesus, or are they judged immediately after death, and
then go on to their reward? Please provide scripture.

You are correct in saying that at least technically those who say such and
such brother or sister are “in heaven now” are incorrect. I say
technically because one could argue it is principally a matter of
semantics. Of course, for those who are theologically inclined and like to
be careful what they say, this would seem to be a lot more than semantics,
but a funeral sermon is probably not the best time for a preacher to be
developing a careful theology of the after life. The fact is that there is
some room for interpretation here, as God leaves the situation at least a
bit vague as regards exactly what happens to a person between death and
Judgment Day. In fact, some very careful Bible students believe that we
are literally judged immediately upon death and sent to our eternal
destination at that time. Nevertheless, I would say that the weight of
scripture supports the idea that there is some sort of delay between our
death and our entrance forever into heaven or hell.

Many scriptures could be used to support this position. Revelation 20 and
21 certainly seems to describe a future “day of Judgment” as well as a
future revealing of a New Jerusalem out of heaven. The parable of the rich
man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) clearly seems to indicate a time of
waiting in what is commonly called Paradise ( the good waiting place) or
Hades (the bad waiting place). Bear in mind, however, that this is a
parable, so one may want to be careful in pushing the detail too hard. You
mention John 5:28 which clearly teaches a future resurrection, followed by
what appears to be an immediate judgment. One could add 1 Thessalonians
4:13-18 as an example (the dead in Christ will rise first…). I am not
sure about 1 Cor 15:12-17 in this regard, but Rev 20:4-6 clearly points to
a future judgment.

The question is what should you do? Should you rebuke the evangelist and
start a major corrective campaign on this issue? I say this in humor. If I
were a very close friend of the person making such a statement, I might
consider at a later date asking him respectfully if he meant to imply his
statement literally. Again, depending on the response and my relationship
with the person, I might consider showing him some scriptures to explain
yourself, and even humbly ask him to say it more clearly in the future so
as not to give perfectionists such as yourself (again, I say this with
humor) a problem. The most likely thing I would do is silently cringe and
let the mistake slip by, as this is not a salvation issue. I strongly feel
that those who teach and preach should learn to state things carefully and
clearly, and statements such as those you have heard in church concerning
those who have died in the Lord are not clear or careful.

Keep up the thinking and studying.

John Oakes, Ph.D.

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