Did Jesus Die and Go to Heaven?

By John Drury

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A lot of Christians use the phrase "die and go to heaven." Though it may hold some truth, it is a misleading phrase. Why? Because the only concrete clue we have about our future is the first-fruits of our resurrection: the raised body of Jesus. And Jesus certainly did not “die and go to heaven.” If he didn’t, why should we expect to? The fact of the matter is, Jesus died and went to hell. Now he went to hell for us, but that does not mean we just die and flitter off as disembodied souls. No. We die and are raised like him. So although we may consciously experience our heavenly future immediately, the fact of the matter is that our hope lies in the restoration of our bodies, not just in our souls going to heaven after we die.

If there is one consistent thing across the resurrection accounts, it is that the post-Easter Jesus had a body, and it was his body, the same body that had died. Was it changed? Certainly. It was a transformed and glorified body. That’s what makes it good news for us. But this transformation is a predicate of his same body. The resurrection is not some replacement of our identity or a leaving behind of this life altogether. If so, then it wouldn’t really be us who are experiencing it. The resurrection is the transformation of this life. That’s what makes it good news for us.

Of course, the phrase “die and go to heaven” does not necessarily need to be abandoned. That is the bottom line. But it helps to be complemented by the phrase, “die and yet will be raised like him.” Such speech reminds us that we are not just imprisoned souls awaiting the end of this embodied life. Rather, we are embodied souls awaiting the redemption of all things, including our own bodies.

What implications does this have for how we relate to our bodies?
Once we have retrieved the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, how do we continue to speak coherently about the “soul”?
Am I missing something major in this account?


At 10:01 AM, September 15, 2005, Amanda said...

die and yet will be raised like him.”

I like that addition.

When I was little, my biggest question was, "What age will I be in heaven?" (to which a nervous Sunday school teacher would reply, "Uh...whatever age you were the happiest at.")

The question on my mind now is, if Jesus is resurrected with earthly scars, will we too bear marks of pain of earth? Will crippled feet still look crippled? Will we be relieved from pain but still bear the marks?

If only my Sunday school teacher were here now to say, "Uh...whatever stage you were the healthiest at." :)


At 10:33 AM, September 15, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

You were the little girl who always stumped the sunday school teacher, weren't you?!

Some inconclusive thoughts:

Age presupposes two things which will be transformed in the eschaton: corruption and time. If we will have incorruptible bodies (I Cor 15), then they will not "age". If our time will be characterized by eternal life, then we will not pass through ages and aeons, though we will remain time conscious in some sense as embodied creatures.

It is crucial to remember that what is resurrected is our whole earthly life transformed anew. So we won't be raised at a certain stage (last time, best time, worst time, conversion time). Rather, our whole life histories will be raised anew in the presence of God. This is how I understand it at least.

As for scars, we may very well bare the marks of our former corruption (other wise we wouldn't be ourselves), but these marks will no longer impede our full incorruptible life. It seems to be that this is how the scars function for post-Easter Jesus: he has them so that his identity is contiguous with him pre-resurrected self, yet they do not keep him from walking around and even walking through walls. In other words, they don't bleed. So does this mean the man with palsy will still have a bend hand a limp foot, yet will be able to write and run and jump with these very marked hands? I don't now, since I am just speculating at this point. But it seems to be an educated guess that is coherent with Christ our firstfruits.


At 11:58 AM, September 16, 2005, Anonymous said...

Just a quick question. Is Acts 2 the text that's used to explain Jesus' descent into hell, or are there other passages. I'm not trolling here, but I've always been confused on that Biblical account. Thanks.


At 2:10 PM, September 16, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Acts 2
Romans 10
Eph 4
1 Peter 4

plus the Apostle's Creed to boot

Of course, what exactly Christ "accomplished" among the dead is another question all together.


At 4:03 PM, September 16, 2005, Just . Jay said...

i am fascinated.

i have always been "waiting till i dump this stupid body" and go to heaven. but a friend challenged my thinking recently and i agree... our bodies will be made new, not replaced. does that sound more appropriate? yep. does it sound more in-line with Jesus' experience? it seems to.

can i assume it is the same for the Earth? a Home Makeover without the annoying cast - not total destruction (as i have heard).

---> any feedback?


At 10:44 PM, September 16, 2005, Ken Schenck said...

Amanda, since I believe in eternal security :) , I think God will simply resurrect us at the point when we were right with him before we went apostate or backslid.

Oh, and now that I'm a universalist :), I think God will raise bin Laden at some point before he reached the age of accountability.

Fun with resurrection, by Ken Schenck


At 10:49 PM, September 16, 2005, Ken Schenck said...

More seriously, these are questions on which the NT needs particular help from later tradition. The NT gives us conflicting signals. So Paul says flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, yet Luke emphasizes that the resurrected Jesus has flesh and blood and is not a ghost. This seems one issue on which the NT does not close the case.


At 11:26 AM, September 17, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

just . jay,
nice call on "extreme makeover" ... of course this makeover will be quite extreme, but it will have some continuity with the old, namely the preservation of identity.


At 11:31 AM, September 17, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


You are dead on that the NT heads us off in different directions. The later tradition at its best moments has tried to keep the tension by holding BOTH to the immortality of the soul AND the resurrection of the body. How one keeps these together is up for debate, but generally both are accepted. Although I did not address it in my original post, there is the opposite danger to "die and go to heaven" immortality and that is a materialist belief in the resurrection of the body alone. There are a number of Christian materialist out there who are united by this conviction even if they get there for different reasons (e.g., Nancey Murphy, Joel Green, NT Wright, Robert Jenson, Jurgen & Elizabeth Moltmann). I consider this movement just as dangerous, as I have outlined elsewhere. Suffice it to say that a soulless body is as much a half-truth as a disembodies soul.


At 5:35 PM, September 18, 2005, Samuel Bills said...

Should I give up on my idea of being cremated and having my ashes spread out over a corn field in Indiana?
The resurrection of the body seems to have a lot to do with how we handle death. What about the implications of the resurrection of the body and the reality of the bodies of the dead floating in the flod waters in Mississippi and Alabama.


At 10:25 PM, September 18, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


It is definitely the case that the popular emphasis on the resurrection of the body has led to an emphasis on burial versus a popular emphasis on the immortality of the soul leading to cremation and other practices. However, bodily resurrection is understood properly as a miracle of God. I don't think he needs our help to reconstitute and/or recreate our body parts. Buried or cremated, God will put you pack together again on his own.


At 12:21 AM, September 19, 2005, Sniper said...

I seem to have read an article in Theology Today that pertains to this discussion. Something about Nyssa and Macrina (his sister) discussing how you can hold both the resurrection of the body, and the immortality of the soul in tension with one another. Hmm...who wrote that?


At 8:36 AM, September 19, 2005, Keith.Drury said...

For most of my students (and the vast majority of their parents in today's Sunday School classes) this is the hardest part of orthodox belief to accept. They can take "descended into hell" far easier than the resurrection of the body." The almost-universally held belief is simply this: “When we die our body rots in the soil and our 'Soul' goes to Jesus in heaven.”

When presented with orthodox claims of resurrection of the body they treat it like it is a preposterous outdated silly idea that needs discarded. (I’m speaking of evangelicals here!) Of course the doctrine is impossible and unscientific. But so is the incarnation and the virgin birth. I’ve always wondered why “evangelicals” have fought for the virgin birth as if it were critical orthodoxy yet are willing to discard the resurrection of the body. It mystifies me.


At 8:49 AM, September 19, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Your insight shows that piety rules doctrine, not the other way. People reject the resurrection of the body because it doesn't match up with how they conceive their future, which is essential to the motives for their beleif, which belies an emphasis on the benefits over the truth of Christ. Fortunately, Evangelical biblicism can be use against this tendency by simply pointing out that Jesus did not die and go to heaven. Evangelicals tend to believe strongly in the resurection of Jesus' body, just not ours (which is what I am trying to correct). How we got in this tangle I am not certain.


At 8:49 AM, September 19, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Yours is an instructive contrast, especially since Christ's Virgin Birth and Bodily Resurrection are kind of a pair - the miracles at the beginning and end of this human life that sets it apart as united to God. I tend to see them going together, and I believe in the Virgin Birth in some sense only because I first believe in the Ressurection. It is the light that illumines the whole life of Christ.


At 6:20 PM, September 19, 2005, Keith.Drury said...

Nice picture--"bookend miracles "(with the right bookend being more critical).

Good insight on how many folk separate the bodily resurrection of Jesus (which is defended with ferocity) and our own bodily resurrection (which is denied as simplistic and unrealistic—(e.g. “How could God find and reassemble all those atoms from the 9-11 people?”). So one wonders how Christ’s resurrection is a “firstfruit” to those with this scheme.

Perhaps there are a series of concentric circles when it comes to beliefs… those in the outside ring that are about the Trinity and the past (creation, incarnation, life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus) are defended most vigorously, but matters relating to the present and future are less important and more negotiable?


At 12:28 PM, September 29, 2005, Just . Jay said...

so... I'd like to hear you all mull over this question.

why DO so many evangelicals have the notion that we die and our bodies rot, then the real US goes to heaven - our spirit?

i admit i had this view for a long time... probably because it was what i had always heard growing up. of course, study and interraction with those who are studied has a way of correcting false assumptions. the "firstfruits" comment is a great one.

so... what is it in us that so desperately wants our bodies to rot and have a new spirit-only being?


At 12:49 PM, September 29, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Great questions just.jay,

Here's an initial list. there are certainly many more:

- its in our western philosophical heritage

- we don't like this world very much

- we construe salvation in anthropocentric terms (what happens to you after you die?) in stead of theocentric terms (what has God does for us?).

- we don't think through our doctrines from a christological center (ala firstfruits comment), but rather flatly approach biblical text. thus when their are contrasting tendencies in the texts, we pick what we prefer on non-biblical grounds (like the ones above) and explain the others away.


At 1:01 PM, September 30, 2005, Just . Jay said...

hmmmm. i need to ponder what you said. i need to think about the answers you gave.

basically, your answers almost point back to your post on "it's not all about me" don't they. WE don't LIKE something so WE come up with something WE like better. silly people :)

thanks! i'll keep watching to see what other people have to say.


At 7:52 PM, October 15, 2005, Glen Robinson said...

It's amazing how many, even in my local church, have already arrived at their own conclusions about this question.

Many young and old Christians are wrestling with dividing the body and soul. They just seem to believe that everything in this life will be forgotten, including our bodies.

I would like to ask a question that may take this a step further. Where is heaven? And does the Church play a much bigger role in the redemption process of this world? Isn't this a part of living in the kingdom of God?

I wonder how we would live our lives differently as the Body if we believed that God is using us to be a part of the blooming process of the kingdom into it's redemptive fullness.

When we separate body and soul, Christians feel as if there is nothing left to do here and now - even as a Church. It seems we're fighting Gnosticism all over again.

What are your thoughts on this, John?


At 9:30 PM, October 16, 2005, JohnLDrury said...


The gnostic bit is dead on. good call.

as for where heaven is, I would throw back the question "when is heaven?" Heaven is the earth's future, where/when God is already full present and revealed. I think that reframes the question so that we can include the restoration of this world while still holding that heaven is something different (even redically so) than our current existence.

and least that's how I work it out.