Eternity vs Afterlife in the Bible

I don’t know where the bible exactly says people go to heaven when they die, in fact, the bible doesn’t really focus on the “afterlife”, it focuses more on the resurrections. Some Christian object to the concept of going to heaven when we die it because doesn’t make sense for people to die and go to heaven and then get sent back to earth for the first resurrection only to get raptured back into heaven. This is a good question to ask ourselves, why would God have someone who is saved die and go to heaven, only to send them back to earth to get in their old bodies for the resurrection, so that they can be raptured back up to heaven? The bible teaches that eternal life starts at the resurrection of the righteous (the 1st resurrection). The 2nd resurrection is for condemnation of the unsaved and only they are thrown into the lake of fire afterward for the “second death”.

Christians aren’t looking for an eternal afterlife, but rather the resurrection. The whole point of the resurrection is to have a body in the kingdom (2 Cor 5:3). Believers are looking forward to the new bodies in the end. Paul explains the new bodies in 2 Cor 5:1-10 and explains the resurrection in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. If people got new bodies and entered the Kingdom the moment they died, then why is anyone resurrected at all? Resurrection throughout the bible is always a reference to the restoration of life on earth. This is presented as either revival of your old dead body in the grave or reassembly of it from the dust of the earth (for those whose bodies are destroyed). So why would God send dead people with new heavenly bodies back to earth to get resurrected if they already have a new one?

When we die we don’t have eternal life, because we are dead. It’s not eternal “life” if you are still dead therefore it must start at the resurrection. God is the God of the living, not the dead (Matt 22:32, Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38), no one belongs to God in death (Psalm 6:5, Isaiah 38:18-19). This is why no one can get saved after they die. Jesus uses this concept to explain the resurrection to the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a literal resurrection. In Matthew 22:22-33, Mark 12:18-27, & Luke 20:27-40, Jesus in his debate with the Sadducees, referenced how God called himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (present tense) to Moses in Exodus 3:6, even though they were long dead before Moses. He said that since God is only the God of living, how can he be the God of those dead patriarchs? Jesus answerers this by revealing that God is looking forward to the future when they (along with all the other old testament patriarchs and the new testament believers) will be resurrected into eternal life at the 1st resurrection. The unsaved will experience the “second death” in the Lake of Fire according to Rev 20:14, and it can’t be a second death unless they have been resurrected from the first death right? Paul talks about the new bodies that the righteous get at their resurrection in Rom 8:23, 1 Cor 15:35-58, 2 Cor 5:1-10, and Phil 3:20-21. This means that we don’t “go to heaven and become angels” as some teach when we die, but rather when we are waiting to be resurrected at the first resurrection. Side Note: We don’t become angels at all, Jesus said we become “like the angels in heaven at the resurrection” (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25, & Luke 20:36) in that we don’t marry anymore, but we will always be humans since we were originally born on earth from earthly mothers. When Jesus returns, believers will have new bodies with eternal life and they will be free from sin-nature. Paul says in 2 Cor 5:3 that are no bodiless spirits in heaven and that everyone that goes to heaven needs a new heavenly body.

One way to make sense of this is to look at the parable of the 10 virgins in Matt 25:1-13. The brides are all standing outside the door of the ceremony hall waiting for the groom because they can’t go inside until the groom gets there to escort them inside. Likewise, believers cant go to the Kingdom until our groom (Jesus) escorts us into the kingdom for the wedding. So according to the Bible when Christians die they are waiting in death for Jesus to return and resurrect them, and then rapture them into the Kingdom (1 Thess 4:13-18). How can the 5 foolish women be locked out of an event they are already a part of? Likewise, if Christians go to the Kingdom when they die, then why are they waiting for Jesus to come back to resurrect them and rapture them back into the kingdom? If they are already there with the new bodies, then why do they need to be resurrected? That doesn’t make any sense.

People have different views on what happens between death and resurrection. For some (especially orthodox Jews), Sheol is simply referred to as the grave where people go into “soul sleep” (a comatose state) awaiting the resurrection, and there is no place for the afterlife. For others, we go to a holding place like described in Luke 16:19-31 which is called Sheol in Hebrew (Hades/Hell in European languages). Some say Luke 16 is just a parable, so it is Sheol is not a real place. However I think that while parables themselves are not historical scenarios, they are based on real-life circumstances, so Luke 16 being a parable doesn’t eliminate the idea that Sheol is a place. There are variations of the 2nd idea where the wicked go to the fiery part of Sheol and the righteous are on another side separated by a great chasm in Abraham’s bosom or Paradise. This is based on the Luke 16:19-31 parable. Others believe that while the wicked stay in Sheol, the righteous abode of Abraham’s bosom/Paradise was moved to heaven when Jesus rose. The righteous dead are those in Rev 6:9-11 waiting for the 1st resurrection, while the wicked are waiting for the 2nd resurrection in Rev 20. The Bible says God is the judge of the assembly of the spirits of the firstborn (righteous men) in heaven, which sounds like a reference to a state of bodiless existence (or afterlife) in Heb 12:22-23, so I believe that there is an afterlife, but it is temporary. Temporary because when both resurrections occur everyone will stand before God alive with bodies. To be sent to their final eternal destination. So maybe believers go to Abraham’s bosom (or possible a new paradise holding place located in heaven, post resurrections of Jesus) where they don’t need bodies, however, they are not in the actual Kingdom because they need the new bodies (2 Cor 5:1-10), and they are waiting for the return of Jesus which initiates the 1st resurrection and the rapture.

There are preterists who say the events of the book of Revelations happened in the 1st century and the resurrection is a metaphor or allegorical. However, Jesus himself is against that idea because he already told the Sadducees, who did not believe in a literal resurrection, that is literal and real. In addition, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 is responding to false teaching by some 1st-century preachers that resurrection is not literal. In 1 Cor 15:12-23, Paul says if the resurrection is not literal then Christ never rose from the dead, and Christianity itself is a farce. Furthermore, he says because Christ literally rose from the dead then we too will literally rise from the dead when he returns. Paul also challenges heretics who say the resurrection already happened in 2 Timothy 2:18. Jesus himself mentions both resurrections in John 5:28-29 and the resurrection of the righteous in Luke 14:14.

According to bible scholar Jay McCarl, Galilean weddings never had a predetermined date. Other weddings in Israel has a date set about a few months to a year after the engagement, the date is usually set by the father of the groom, who purchased the bride for his son. However, in Galilee, the father of the groom determined the date sometime after the bride and groom had each done their preparations for the wedding. “No one knows the date our hour except for the father” (Mat 24:36), Jesus seems to be referencing this “flash” wedding system that they had in Galilee.

Both the bride and groom would take a few months up to a year to prepare for the wedding. The bride had to go to various merchants to buy materials for her dress and other things like oil for a lamp (Mat 25:1-13), because the wedding may happen at night. Meanwhile, the groom had to prepare a room for him and his bride to live in his father’s house. Jesus said he prepares a place for the church (his bride) in his father’s house (John 14:2-3). He explores this in a documentary called “BEFORE THE WRATH”.

Resources:
Jay McCarl’s website
An article about Jay McCarl’s eschatology views
A look at Jewish weddings and Bible eschatology by William Blake