Do we go to heaven when we die?

…Joe Kovacs doesn’t think so. As he begins his discussion on “soul sleep,” Kovacs starts by citing Revelation 6:9-11. He explains that this is “another frequently cited passage that some claim implies people are alive in heaven as soon as they die.” He then quotes the verses from Revelation in full and writes, “Again, let’s not assume anything. The first major point is that nowhere in this passage does the word heaven appear. It’s just not there. So why infer it? This could easily refer to an altar here on Earth” (pg. 60).

Mr. Kovacs makes one big mistake in the statement that heaven is nowhere mentioned in this passage. The few verses he quotes do not have the word “heaven” in them; however, Revelation 6:9 begins with “and when he had opened the fifth seal…” If there is a fifth seal, that means there were four before it, so he has not quoted the entire passage. If one follows the breaking of the seals backward, they will end up at the first seal being broken in 6:1. More importantly, the introduction of the scroll with the seals that are being broken in chapter 6 is first introduced in chapter 5. In chapter 5, it is clear that the scene is taking place in heaven. In fact, this entire scene begins in chapter 4. Regardless, anyone who reads these chapters in Revelation can figure out that all the events in chapters 4, 5, and 6 are taking place in heaven. Particularly, these events take place around the throne of God.

Kovacs would have done better to only use his next argument that “souls” under the altar do not necessarily represent deceased human beings. However, even this argument fails. He says the “verse could be read” to say “lives” or “blood” rather than “souls.” The problem with this is that no English translation (at least the 36 I checked) uses either of those words in Revelation 6:9. More importantly, all of the English translations I checked use the word “souls”—none used a different word.

Kovacs then addresses the passage in Luke 23:43 where Jesus says, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” He makes the argument, “There are no commas in the original Greek, so the comma put in the English before the word today could be place after it. Thus, the phrase “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” could easily be rendered, “I assure you today, you will be with me in paradise.” While he is correct that there were not commas in the Greek, there were “periods” if you will. However, there were also not grammatical rules in the same manner that there is in English. Where we use punctuation in the English to express our point, the Greek language used word order. What was most important was placed at the beginning of the sentence. In Luke 23:43, the Greek first emphasizes that what Jesus is saying is the truth. Then he begins his point with “today.” To flippantly think we can move a comma in the English and change the meaning of the Greek is crazy. We use the commas in the English translation to communicate the same point that was made in the Greek.

Kovacs also touches the topic that Elijah the Old Testament prophet was not taken up into heaven, but was relocated to another location on earth. Since he doesn’t really use this in support of the concept of “soul sleep” I am not going to address that topic.

One other major place in Scripture Kovacs leans upon to support his view that there is “soul sleep” comes from 1 Thessalonians. In this book, the apostle Paul often mentions those who have fallen asleep (i.e. died). However, Paul does not teach the notion of “soul sleep” in this book. As he begins to close the letter he was writing to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him’ (1 Thessalonians 5:10, NIV). Paul was making the point that whether we are still alive or dead, that Christians are living together with him. We are not is some kind of “limbo” when we die. The Bible is clear that when we die, our souls are not “trapped” in our bodies in the grave until Jesus returns.

Note: This post concerns Chapter 6 (Imagine There's Three Heavens) in Shocked by the Bible: The Most Astonishing Facts You've Never Been Told
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