Raised on the Last Day: a short argument against the idea that we go to Heaven when we die

Ladder of Divine Ascent (12th century)

In certain settings, I’ve been a bit notorious for arguing that Heaven isn’t a place populated by the souls of the righteous dead. This, of course, is the classic picture which has been handed down to us for roughly a millennium or more and has been most prevalent since the days of Dante. A full explanation of why I have difficulty buying into this picture would take a long time to explain, but this morning I was reminded of it as I read John 6.

To set the stage, John 6 contains the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” followed by Jesus walking on water, and then the famous “Bread of Life” discourse which is found only in John. During this last section, Jesus repeatedly describes himself as the bread descending from Heaven, given by the Father, for the purpose of bringing eternal life to those who are willing to eat his flesh and drink his blood. (No wonder early Christians were considered cannibals by outsiders!)

The picture that Jesus presents doesn’t sound like we are living souls, as per Greek dualism, but that we are human beings who will die and will await our resurrection on the last day. Based on other New Testament texts, this resurrection is a whole body experience: We’ll be given a new, incorruptible body that will not perish, just like Jesus’s resurrection body as he is the firstborn of that resurrection.

So, what do you think? Do we possess eternal souls that wait in Heaven for the resurrection, perhaps looking down upon the living? Or are we fundamentally flesh, bodies lying dormant, waiting for the resurrection?


5 thoughts on “Raised on the Last Day: a short argument against the idea that we go to Heaven when we die

  1. Hi, interesting question, if I understand you correctly, flesh bodies or bodies with souls? I’ve been of the persuasion that we are bodies with souls, because the bodies turn to dust after they die; ashes to ashes and dust to dust. So once our bodies disintegrate, what happens to us? Also, there are the passages in Revelation, 6:9 – 11 where there are the souls under the alter of God. This is the first time I’ve seen your post, responding from a Google post, I’ll have to read some more of your material. Take care.

  2. A short refutation:
    Mt 17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
    Mt 17:2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
    Mt 17:3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

  3. Long time no chat!

    For a large variety of reasons (and a couple chapters in my diss.), I’m convinced that first century Jews/Christians thought that humans were dualists: souls with bodies. But, death was the only time when they separated as they awaited reunion with one another. This belief is overwhelmingly present in the Mishnah and Talmud (where, in fact, it’s often assumed that the soul and the body will be judged distinctively!). Where there chief distinction lay with Greek thinkers was the idea that soul was naturally “eternal” and could exist without a body forever. Jews seem to believe souls were eternal only as a gift of God, and were not intended to stay apart from their bodies for “too” long. I remember using the term (along with other scholars) in my diss., “moderate dualism” to characterize Jews/Christians (as opposed to radical dualism for the Greeks).

    Whatevs…I hope y’all are doing well. If you’d ever like to skype or whatever, let a brutha’ know.


    1. Long time no chat indeed! Thanks for the clarification, Dr. P. The term “moderate dualism” is helpful.

      Of course, a huge question would be to what degree the Mishnah and Talmud represent 1st century Judaism. Are they representative of only a Pharisaic perspective (the rabbis supposed progenitors), or is this true of Sadducees, Essenes, and the “fourth philosophy”?

      NOTE: I’d be down for Skype, Google Chat, whatever. Let’s catch up!

      1. Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that the Mishnah/Talmuds necessarily represent first century. I meant it as a… “in fact, it’s even represented in these documents I covered in my diss.” You know, Tommy Wright has a huge group of ancient texts that speak of their view of the afterlife from the first century in his book on resurrection. 🙂

        My in-laws are in town now, but maybe later this week to Skype or whatever? I hope you and the family are awesome.

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