The spirit of a deceased human will go into a holding place upon death. That location will depend on whether their name is recorded in heaven as being among the righteous. The unrighteous will await judgment and a fiery consequence at the end of days. On the other hand, the spirits of the righteous will await their bridegroom – Jesus – to gather them and ascend to the “third” heaven, where God exists, at His appearing.
One of only two earthly choices will affect us after death (at least for those who’ve had a choice): follow God and His Christ and live; choose not to follow and die. Each choice will result in a consequence. The spirit of Jesus’ deceased followers (following implies action and obedience, by the way) will rest in a holding place Jesus called Paradise. They’ll wait there for His return and their gathering, often called ‘the rapture’. I know this is generally contrary to what many churches and their doctrines teach, but you’ll discover that it’s what the Bible reveals.
We’re usually told that our spirit goes to heaven at the time of physical death, yet we won’t find a single biblical reference (in context) to support that idea and plenty to the contrary. The Book of Enoch tells of a holding place for the spirits of the righteous. Jesus told the thief on the cross that He would see him in Paradise that day (Luke 23:40-43), yet Jesus didn’t ascended to heaven until three days later (John 20:17). Paul explained to the Thessalonians that the spirits of the righteous deceased will ‘rise’ to meet Jesus at His appearing and that the living followers will be ‘translated’ to join them.
Also, we know from the story of Lazarus and the rich man that spirits of both were in locations apart from heaven – Lazarus in ‘Abraham’s bosom’ and the rich man in Hades – and yet they could see each other (Luke 16:19-62).
Finally, Jesus told His disciples that we’ll be gathered and taken to heaven – to His Father’s house – upon His return. This supports what Paul said later (e.g. 1Thessalonians 4:15-17 and 1Corinthians 15:52). Paul explained to the Thessalonians that spirits of the righteous deceased will rise to meet Jesus at His appearing and that the living followers will be changed to join them. While on earth, Jesus had told His disciples about the future time when that gathering Paul mentioned will happen (cf. Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28).
I realize some readers may still be holding onto traditional church dogma that insists our spirit goes to heaven immediately upon death, so allow me to ask a rhetorical question based on Paul and Jesus’ statements: “Why will Jesus need to return to earth to gather the spirits of the righteous deceased if they’re already in heaven?”
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. —John 14:2-3. (See also Matthew 24:30-31 for a reiteration of this gathering)
Summary: Our spirit will go to one of two places when we die: a holding area where we’ll await escort to heaven or to an unpleasant holding place where the spirit will await judgment and wrath.
Keep an eye out for “Finding Answers to Stuff Churches Don’t Discuss!” scheduled for a mid-2015 publication. There, you’ll find roughly 60 topics related to daily life (such as sex, religion, finances, tattooing, and everything in between!) along with practical application of God’s guidance for navigating those difficult waters!
And, for a very comprehensive and detailed study of the very important topic of God’s judgment to come and being rescued from it, feel free to read my 2011 guide titled, “Finding the End of the World” available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and from www.ronbraley.com in paper and e-book formats. In the guide, you’ll find roughly 500 pages of building blocks to help you do your own complete and unbiased study based on Scripture and history!