Q: Doesn’t the bible teach we go to Heaven after we die? What did Paul mean in 1 Cor 5:3 in being absent in the body?
A: Paul’s remark, "being absent from the body" was not really a doctrinal statement but a desire, which we all have in one degree or another – as you are reading this verse – but – the context tells us Paul literally meant he was not with them physically, but in spirit he was, also this type of wording is found in Col 2:5. I do know what you are trying to get at – when we die don’t we go to Heaven? Isn’t our Spirit going to Heaven? This might be a better question and I will address that.
Everything is to be judged by His Word and the timing of things in our Heavenly Father’s timing, not ours. What is the popular teaching among Christian groups is that we go to Heaven right after death, but the Bible does not teach this, not in the same sense of the Christian teachings.
First, using some logic to help remove this bit of religious “fog” – our Savior was in the grave three days and three night, dead, and when he was resurrected early sometime Sunday morning Mary met Him in the Garden and she went to touch Him and He said not to touch Him because He has not yet gone to Heaven (John 20:17). If YaHshua had not gone to Heaven at the moment of His death then what are we to think of those who claim they have, in these reported Near Death experiences? Also, a good friend of YaHshua, Lazarus died and was in the Grave for three days. YaHshua raised him back to life and there was no report whatsoever about Lazarus being anywhere but dead, in the grave, not stories of consciousness or having gone to Heaven and back. This is the simple truth – no, we do not go to Heaven at death, YaHshua did not, and Lazarus did not – so, again, where does that place these stories people relate about their nearly dying, you know, almost dead, but not dead?
There is a place in the Scripture that says our Spirit returns to Him but this is not a conscious personality. The same Spirit He put in Adam, separating him from other creatures, is the same Spirit we all have as humans made in our Creator's image. What happens to this shared spirit of man, but not of God?
(1Co 2:11) For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
We see our Spirit, or the spirit of man is separate from that of the Father – until now, and it is by the Spirit of the Christ, the very Spirit of God that is offered to us, in part, as a promise to life eternal. The spirit of man, however, is given, or created in us by Him –
(Zec 12:1) The burden of the word of YHWH concerning Israel: Thus declares YHWH, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him:
Where does our spirit go, the spirit of man, when we die? I am not sure, it may be stored away, protected to return to all those resurrected, but this would include all that have lived form the foundation of the Earth. Even Solomon did not know and questioned where the spirit of man goes once we have gone to the grave --
(Ecc 3:20-21) All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?
What about those whose human spirit is mixed with His Holy Spirit? I believe these are held in a kind of holding patters awaiting the fulfillment of His Plan. If we go straight to Heaven to sit next to our Savior then there would be no need for the Resurrection of the Saints, which is a doctrine Paul teaches. I know this is not the popular teaching but if we stay with His Word as opposed to what men teach we can sort this all out. Paul tells us that at the return of YaHshua that those dead in Him will come up out of their graves and those belonging to Him that are still alive in the flesh, we are told, are "Changed" to go up meeting our Lord at His return. So, first those that have died and are buried will be restored and all changed to be like Him.
(1Jn 3:2) Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
We will have the same glorious form, changed into the Spirit, reborn, literally, from flesh or dust into our new Spirit bodies.
(1Co 15:52) In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
The doctrine of Heaven and Hell as taught by the Christian churches does not fit any of this. The scripture is twisted to make His words and the words of the Apostles into a pagan view of the wicked going to a "hell fire" to be tormented by demons while the good all go to heaven, and, as the old song goes, to "roll around heaven all day". If this were true there would be not need for the Resurrection. The first resurrection encompasses those in the Body of our Savior, on Earth, dead and alive and this occurs right at the moment of His appearing in His return. But, the rest of the dead, "from foundations of the World" (all that have ever lived) will be raised to face the judgment that is to happen after the 1,000 years of our Lord's rule over this Earth. If we are found in the First Resurrection, at His return, then the Second Death has no power of us, but all those resurrected after this Millennial will face the possibility of the Second Death, and from that Death there is no return, ever. What is interesting is that from the foundations of the World would include all of those who died in the Flood.
(Rev 2:11) He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death.
(Rev 20:6) Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
See, it is those in the First Resurrection, at His return, that Second Death has no power over us and we are destined to rule with Him for the 1,000 years. When is the Second Death?
(Rev 20:14) And death and hell (the grave) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
The word, "hell" is defined as the "grave" according the the Greek Dictionary, not a place of torment, but rather a place of burial. The Lake of Fire is not yet created, it is a placed prepared for Satan and his angels, a fiery prison and the final death of the all the flesh that fail the Judgment period.
(Rev 21:8) But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
(Mat 25:41) Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
Fear not, the spirit of those we love that have past away, will either be in the First Resurrection or the "second chance" resurrection at the end. If we believe we are His and our loved on is His then our next waking moment will be in the Change, first those that have died in Him and then those still alive, but this change, this resurrection is happening in the twinkling of an eye, so, while the exact moment may not be but it will all happen so quickly to the dead as well as the living the it will nearly be imperceptible. I believe that you and I will be placed in the grave before our Lord returns and this would mean we would be raised up at the exact time of our loved on, our partner in Him.
I know this is a lot to think about but is worth the study.