Are we instantly with the Lord when we die?
Question from a reader:
I just started reading Heaven and on page 43 are you implying that when we die we aren't instantly with the Lord, but go to an intermediate Heaven, sort of a holding place?
Answer from Randy Alcorn:
When we die we go to be with Christ, which is wonderful, but we are incomplete, in a pre-resurrected state, anticipating Christ's return to earth, and our resurrections. The place we'll live forever will be where God comes down to dwell with us, on the New Earth (Revelation 21:1-3).
I think you are misunderstanding the meaning of the term "intermediate" when it is used of Heaven. It does not at all mean that we aren't with God. God is exactly who we are with, which is why it is called Heaven. As I emphasize in the book, we DO immediately go to the presence of God when we die. Scripture is emphatic on this point, which is why I quote numbers of passages indicating it. For instance I say the following in the book:
Jesus told the dying thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). The apostle Paul said that to die was to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), and to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). After their deaths, martyrs are pictured in Heaven, crying out to God to bring justice on Earth (Revelation 6:9-11).
Going to the "Intermediate Heaven" when we die doesn't mean we won't be with the Lord—rather, Heaven IS by definition the place where God dwells, and where we dwell with Him. The point of theologians using the term "intermediate" is that Heaven's current location isn't permanent, and it will be changed. We will be with Him in a different place than in the eternal state. In other words, the Heaven we go to when we die (to be with Jesus) is not the New Earth. But God promises we will come down with Him from the present Heaven to dwell forever with Him on the New Earth—which will be the center of the eternal Heaven. Jesus will come down from the present Heaven to dwell on the New Earth forever—we will be with Him for a time in the present (intermediate) Heaven, and we be with Him forever in the eternal Heaven.