Question: I have been challenged on my saying that my husband and my father are in heaven. I am being told that they will not go to heaven until Jesus comes back to earth. But in reading some of the posts I see that it is mentioned that the spirits are in heaven and will be rejoined with the body when Jesus comes back. Is there a biblical basis for my belief. I know part of my belief comes from my desire and from songs and from things heard at church in my youth.
Answer: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is one of the key passages in this matter. Here Paul tells us that,
We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
If God is going to bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep (that is, those who have died), where is He bringing them from and what is He bringing? Jesus is coming back to us from heaven. Our bodies are not in heaven. Our bodies are in the grave. Jesus will therefore come back from heaven with that part of us that is in heaven, our spirits, and resurrect our bodies to be rejoined to our spirits.
Further evidence of this is found in 2 Corinthians 5:6,7, where Paul writes,
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
And again in Philippians 1:21-24,
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
For Paul, death meant the departure of his spirit from his body and the entering of his spirit into the presence of Christ in heaven. This is in agreement with the teaching of Jesus in Luke 16. In verse 22 Jesus depicts the death of the beggar Lazarus and describes the angels taking him to Abraham’s side. Did they take his body or his spirit? His body was in the grave. So it had to be his spirit that they took. When we die our spirits are escorted to heaven if we are followers of Jesus. One day, our resurrected bodies will be rejoined to our perfected spirits and we will forever be the spirit/body persons we were meant to be.