Copyright © 2011 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

When we think of Heaven, we picture a glorified earth — mansions, parks, children playing, flowers, birds flying overhead. We desire to be with our friends and family in a place of no fear or dread. How much of this hope is biblical?

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (I Peter 4:5,6)

As I present this article, I am aware that it contains some concepts that may be new to the reader. Perhaps an introductory thought may be in order. When we think of Heaven, the afterlife, or the spirit realm, what comes to mind is parks and mansions. We picture nature at its best, the inhabitants being free from all dread and concern. What we are imagining, in fact, is the Garden of Eden, which at one time was located in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. Paradise was on the earth at that time.

There are several accounts of the afterlife that have been brought to us by people who have been privileged to see beyond the veil. I read these avidly and find comfort in them. Some of these are:

  • Visions of Sundar Singh of India (Osterhus Publishing House, Minneapolis).
  • Seeing the Invisible (Anne Sandberg, Logos International, New Jersey).
  • Visions Beyond the Veil (H. A. Baker, Osterhus Publishing House, Minneapolis). This is a “must read.” It is a true story of Chinese orphan children.
  • Scenes Beyond the Grave (Marietta Davis, Christ for the Nations, Dallas).
  • Intra Muros (also titled Inside Heaven’s Gates and Within Heaven’s Gates; Rebecca Ruter Springer, Engeltal Press, Jasper, Ark.).
  • Return From Tomorrow (George G. Ritchie, M.D., Chosen Books, Waco, Texas).

I believe these to be true experiences and I take comfort from them. I suspect, however, as Mrs. Springer mentioned, that she did not see what actually is or shall be, but a series of audio-visual lessons:

“Looking back upon it after nearly four years have passed, it seems to me to be more a series of instructions such as we give little children here in a kindergarten. It does not purport to be a revelation of what has been or what will be, in the strict sense of the word….”

I do not believe this is always the case, however. I think some who have had “out of the body” experiences have seen what actually is. Dr. Ritchie’s “after death” experience strikes me as being a view of what actually is true in the afterlife.

Since I believe in Paradise, the place where departed Christians go after death, how can I reconcile this with the view of war and redemption that I am about to present?

You may have noticed that during times of war, such as the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, life in the United States did not change dramatically. The American people went about their business of working, playing, eating, drinking, reproducing, buying, selling, planting, and reaping. Yet at the same time, in Korea and Vietnam, American soldiers were experiencing savage conflict, leaving many of them without arms and legs. Quite a contrast, wasn’t it? I read somewhere that at one point during the Civil War, when the fighting was taking place near a city, the ladies of the city would go out and sit in chairs and watch the men shooting each other.

My point is, the same may be true in the afterlife. Some of the deceased will be wandering about in gardens of delight while others are engaged in spiritual war. Perhaps these are the coming rulers, or members of the army of the Lord.

It is true even today that some Christians are aware of the terrific spiritual struggle taking place, and are preparing themselves for the conflict of the ages, while others are more concerned with whether or not they should add lamb chops to the nightly barbecue.

It strikes me that life on earth is much more similar to what is taking place in the spirit realm than we have thought. This is reasonable, in that the visible scenes of earth are reflecting what is taking place in the heavens. Isn’t it so?

We read in the book of Daniel of the warfare taking place in the spirit world. But it is safe to say that most of the Jewish people in Babylon were unaware of this, and probably did not become aware of the conflict after they died.

I think we have put together a traditional view of the afterlife that may be more wishful thinking than it is scriptural.

My conclusion is that we should maintain our hope of Heaven, and at the same time be listening to Jesus so we are kept aware of the present struggle against evil spirits and of our need for preparation for the return of Christ and the Battle of Armageddon.

Many years ago, I came to the conclusion that the goal of salvation is not eternal residence in Heaven. There simply is no scriptural support for this ancient tradition. The truth is, the Kingdom of God is to be installed on the earth.

I know this may come as a shock to many. But I invite you to read through the Old and New Testaments and find as many verses as you can that clearly teach to be saved is to go to Heaven to live forever.

Actually, our goal is to inherit the Kingdom of God, which is a state of being rather than a place. There are two objectives mentioned in the New Testament that are related to inheriting the Kingdom of God. The two objectives are:

  1. To be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus.
  2. To be one in Christ in the Father, and They in us.

Notice that both of these objectives are states of being, and are true of us whether we are in Heaven or on the earth. They are not movements to a special place.

Lately, I have been pondering what it will be like after we die and pass into the spirit realm. The parks, mansions, flowers, peace, and safety that we associate with Heaven are not described in the Scriptures, Old Testament or New.

The Old Testament speaks of the peaceable kingdom, but it is referring to the earth.

The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:8,9)

Another passage sometimes referred to is actually speaking of the people of the saved nations while they are living on the new earth.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

The two passages above are speaking of the earth. The first, according to my understanding, is the earth during the thousand-year Kingdom Age. The second passage refers to the new earth that comes into view after the thousand-year Kingdom Age.

But nowhere, according to my knowledge, is there any such description of life in Heaven.

According to the Bible, what do we find in Heaven?

  • The four-headed cherubim of glory.
  • The elders worshiping before the Throne of God.
  • The kings waiting to return to the earth.
  • Souls under the altar crying for revenge.
  • People who came out of the great tribulation standing before the rainbow Throne holding palm branches in their hands.
  • How about the street of gold? This is referring to the new Jerusalem which will be located on the new earth.
  • The sea of glass laced with fire.

None of the above may appeal particularly to those who are planning on resting in their mansions. But we must go by the Scriptures, don’t we?

Now read through your Bible and find where it promises that you will be resting in a mansion in peace and joy. Go back through your Bible and find the scriptures that state that those with afflictions will no longer have them after they die. I realize afflictions involve our bodies, but afflictions often have an invisible spiritual source.

I know of no Scripture that says we will be released from pain or spiritual bondage by virtue of dying. It is true we have been set free from the guilt imposed by the Law of Moses when we die, but this does not mean we have been delivered from spiritual bondage by virtue of dying.

To this point, I have just been laying groundwork. What I wish to examine is what does take place in the afterlife, especially regarding Christians.

The following passage started me thinking along the line of what the afterlife really is about:

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (I Peter 4:5,6)

Now, think about the above passage for a moment, and also about the passage in the preceding chapter to which it is referring.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison (I Peter 3:18,19)

It is clear that after the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, and before He came forth from the cave of Joseph of Arimathea, He went to the prison where the people who had drowned during the flood of Noah were kept. He preached the Gospel to them, according to Peter.

Christ had just died on the cross to make an atonement for the sins of the whole world.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2)

It seems reasonable to me that Christ preached the atonement to the spirits in prison so those who would place their faith in Him would have their sins forgiven. And why not? Were they worse than any of the other sinners of the world? Why shouldn’t they have a chance to receive Christ?

If we grant that Christ preached to the spirits in prison, and it appears certain from First Peter that He did, then this opens up to us a whole new understanding of the afterlife.

I notice Peter says God is ready to judge the living and the dead. This was spoken two thousand years ago. I would submit that the Judgment Seat of Christ has been in session throughout the entire two thousand years of the Church Age.

Peter claims that the dead shall be judged during these two thousand years, and also the living. The dead are being judged as though they still were living on earth.

Think about the following passage.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27,28)

Men are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. So we know for certain that believers are judged after they die, because the passage speaks of those who are looking for Him. But Peter says they are judged according to men in regard to the body. This tells me that the judgment of the deceased proceeds just as it does on the earth.

How does judgment proceed on the earth? After we receive Christ we are filled with the Holy Spirit. One of the principal tasks of the Holy Spirit is to lead us to put to death the deeds of our sinful nature.

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13)

We must confess our sins as the Spirit points them out to us, denounce them as wickedness, renounce them by turning away from them with all our might, and then ask the Lord for His Presence in our life so we never behave in this manner again. This is an eternal judgment. Never again shall we answer for this behavior, provided we do not fall back into it again.

Now, if this is how we pass before the Judgment Seat of Christ today, while we are alive in the body, then this is how the judgment proceeds in the afterlife. So instead of relaxing in our mansions, we shall be confessing our sins to the Lord. I think this is what Peter is telling us.

It is my opinion that our physical death is not spiritually significant.

The program of redemption begins when we receive Christ as our blood atonement. Receiving the benefits of the blood atonement by faith can take place on earth or in the spirit realm. Certainly the patriarchs and prophets of old received forgiveness through the blood atonement and were born again hundreds of years after they had died physically.

We see the interest in Christ and His mission when Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30,31)

We notice in the above passage that the holy men of old were acquainted with Christ and interested in what was going to take place in Jerusalem. However, according to our teaching today, Moses and Elijah would not be returning to earth to question Christ about His coming death in Jerusalem, but they would be reclining in their mansions, wouldn’t they?

We receive the atonement by faith. As far as I know, the saints in the spirit realm receive the atonement and the other blessings of God by faith. Merely being in the spirit realm will not remove the need for faith. Satan was close to the Throne of God in Heaven, but Satan never has placed his faith and hope in God.

Notice in Ephesians that the ministries labor until we all come to maturity

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Since it is obvious that numerous believers die before they attain to unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and to maturity as measured by the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, it must be true therefore that the ministries continue after death and shall operate until every member of God’s elect stands perfect and complete in all the will of God.

It appears that we find much the same idea when the new covenant is defined:

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (Hebrews 8:10,11)

Every member of the House of Israel, that is, all of those who belong to Jesus Christ, the true Seed of Abraham, will no longer need to be taught about the Lord. The new covenant will operate in our lives until we have attained to God’s image in spirit, soul, and body.

There is to be a bride without blemish for the Lamb. The churches have not reached unblemished perfection as yet, so the works of sanctification and redemption must transcend our life on the earth.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

Sanctification is the removal of all spiritual uncleanness from us. Redemption is the restoration of man to the image of God.

One of the primary problems of contemporary thinking is the idea that the members of the Bride are brought to unblemished perfection by justification (forgiveness). This means that God regards us as unblemished, so we are unblemished regardless of our actual condition. This sort of thinking is split off from reality. It is spiritual schizophrenia. According to this type of reasoning, if a man is a liar, he can come to God through Christ and God will justify him. This means all his lies are forgiven.

However, to forgive the liar accomplishes little in the Kingdom of God. It is deliverance from lying that is the Kingdom. Deliverance from lying is sanctification.

God justifies the members of the Bride. He accepts them in their worldliness, lust, and self-will. Then the Spirit of God begins the long work of sanctifying the members of the Bride. The Spirit purifies them from worldliness, lust, and self-will. Then the Father and the Son come and dwell in them and the work of salvation has been completed.

Justification and imputed righteousness are not permanent ways of relating to God. If they were, then Jesus would have a Body whose members were worldly, lustful, and self-willed. Can you see that this is not a work of redemption, and does not restore us to the image of God?

It appears to me that there is tremendous confusion today regarding the functions of justification and sanctification. One cannot be sanctified until he has been justified. But to justify someone who then does not go through the lengthy program of sanctification is useless. If an unsanctified, morally untransformed individual were permitted to do so, he or she would bring confusion and discord into the Kingdom of God.

But is it God’s intention to bring His elect to perfection? Notice the following remarkable statement.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 11:39-12:1)

The heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11 died in faith. They now are in Heaven above. Yet, they did not receive the promise of God. So it is clear that the promise of God is not permanent residence in Heaven.

What better thing did God plan for us so that only together with us could the saints of old be made perfect? Can you see that God’s plan is to make all of His saints perfect? Only together with us can Abraham and Moses be made perfect.

The perfection mentioned here includes:

  • Having the sinful nature destroyed and removed from us.
  • Having Christ come to the fullness of stature in us.
  • Dwelling for eternity in the center of God’s Person and will, where Christ is now.
  • Having our flesh and bones raised from the dead and then clothed with a house from Heaven so that we are in the outward image of Christ.
  • Having our personality filled with the fullness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Abraham and Moses do not have such fullness as yet. Neither do we, but we are pressing forward in Christ.

When the Bible says we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, it could be speaking figuratively, referring to the individuals mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11. I do not believe this is the case, however. We have profited from what God brought forth through the heroes of faith, and I believe they (as in the case of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration) are watching us and increasing in knowledge and wisdom as they observe what God is doing through us. We all shall come to perfection together.

Notice how Moses and Isaiah addressed the personages in Heaven:

Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. (Deuteronomy 32:1)
Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Isaiah 1:2)

I believe that Satan and the angels did not know of the laws of righteousness until God brought forth the Ten Commandments through Moses. In fact, I believe all the revelation of God comes forth through earthen vessels, so to speak. We will not learn anything by virtue of dying, unless God continues to use ministers of the Gospel to teach us — ministers who gained the knowledge of the Lord during their lifetimes on the earth. It is through the Church that the heavens learn wisdom.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, (Ephesians 3:10)

Notice the impact on the individuals in the heavens when the saints on earth overcome the accuser of the brothers:

Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:12)

So I have dealt with two related topics in this article. The first is that throughout the entire Christian Era, the Judgment Seat of Christ has been in session. The believers living on the earth, who are cooperating with the Holy Spirit, are going through judgment now. They are confessing and renouncing their sins. It is an eternal judgment.

From what Peter said, I would conclude that God’s elect in Heaven, no matter how long they have been there, are required to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in confessing the deeds of their sinful nature and renouncing them.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (I Peter 4:17)

I do not believe the deceased members of the elect are sinning now. In fact, it would be my opinion that prior to the coming of Christ to the earth, most if not all of them were resting in the spirit realm. Once the atonement had been made, however, and Christ rose from the dead, the deceased saints would begin the program of redemption. This is how I see it, based on Peter’s words.

We are aware that God is going to shake the heaven and the earth. Daniel states, if I am understanding him correctly, that some of the heavenly host will be cast out of Heaven because of their disobedience. Perhaps this is referring to the heavenly host of angels, although I doubt it.

Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground. (Daniel 8:12).

One problem with our thinking is we view the spirit realm, the Throne of God, and so forth, as being far up in outer space. It may be closer to the truth that the spirit realm, including Heaven, is all around us, only invisible. We already have come to Mount Zion. We already — though we are walking on the earth — are at the right hand of God in Christ. What we are seeing and experiencing may be a visible expression of spiritual reality. I wonder whether the two worlds, the spirit and the physical, are not closer than we understand!

Yes — we can be hidden with Christ in God, and then seduced from our position. This is true, I think, whether or not we are alive physically on the earth. After all, Satan and his angels were seduced from their heavenly state although they were not alive physically on the earth at the time.

We are far too blithe today, supposing that after we die, we are out of danger. Perhaps this is not the case.

Over the last several years, many ministers of the Gospel have fallen into sin. These were people who at one time had been seated in the heavenlies with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet Satan was able to seduce them from their positions in Christ.

I certainly do not understand all there is to know about the afterlife. But from what I read in the Bible, I don’t believe the afterlife resembles our traditions. For example, we picture that we would be safe in Heaven. If we will read our Bibles, we will see that our safety is in the center of the will of God in Christ, not in Heaven or any other place. Our safety is in our relationship to Christ, not in our location.

For so long we have been under the impression that it is impossible to be in Heaven and yet have a sinful nature. The truth is, sin originated in Heaven around the Throne of God. A great company of angels, apparently, have rebelled against the Father. Being in the spirit realm does not save us from sin. Sin began in the spirit realm and came from there down to the earth.

Sanctification and redemption, delivering us from Satan and restoring us to the image of God, operate independently of whether we are alive on the earth or living in the spirit realm, as nearly as I can tell.

The second topic, which is related to the first, is that our conception of what happens to us in the afterlife must be revised. Many of us shall not go to Paradise and live forever in a mansion. If I am correct, we shall proceed in the operation of sanctification and redemption from precisely where we left off while living on the earth.

If we have not been faithful in pursuing the program of sanctification and redemption while on the earth, we no doubt will be brought into a place of punishment.

Also, it is likely that some who have been diligent in the work of the Kingdom will continue ministering in the spirit realm, helping others of lesser maturity, just as they do today.

Then too we need to consider preparation for the Battle of Armageddon. According to the Bible, we shall be riding on white war-stallions, following the Commander in Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ. We will need to be prepared for this cavalry charge.

I do not believe we will be lounging in a mansion for a period of time, and then suddenly summoned to mount the white stallions and come crashing down upon the forces of Satan in the earth, having had no training or preparation. This is ridiculous.

In fact, the fervent disciples who are on the earth today (and no doubt those who are in the heavens also) are learning the strict, stern discipline required of those who will be privileged to return with Christ to the earth.

They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings — and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. (Revelation 17:14)

So what I am presenting is biblical and practical isn’t it? Our life of following Christ will continue without interruption when we die. As Jesus said, if we live and believe in Him we will never die, in the sense of ceasing from our normal life of growing spiritually, being ministered to, and ministering.

Where are God’s elect positioned today? Over a wide area, I believe. Notice that when the trumpet of the Lord is blown, announcing His return to earth, the elect are gathered from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. (Mark 13:26,27)

Thus those on the earth will be brought together with those in the heavens. All who are qualified to participate in the first resurrection shall be raised from the dead and be caught up in the clouds into the air to greet the Son of God, as He descends from Heaven to install His Kingdom on the earth.

(“The Afterlife”, 3538-1, proofed 20211114)

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