Immortality and Mortality
Did Paul expect to go to heaven immediately he died? He expressed a desire to depart this life and be with Christ.
The setting in which Paul shared this feeling is as follows.
Paul was imprisoned. (Philippians 1:13, 14)
Paul expressed a desire that Christ be magnified in his body, whether by his life, or by his death. He recommitted himself to continue his work with boldness. He would witness whether this witness should be by his life, or by his death. (Philippians 1:20)
Obviously his life was in the hands of others. If the authorities chose to execute him, he could do little to resist. He knew justice could be fickle. He well knew the circumstances of his Lord's crucifixion; it indeed was the focal point of his preaching. He knew how on a whim John the Baptist was put to death. He fully knew that others had control over his life.
Philippians 1:13, 14, 20-24
13 My bonds in Christ are manifest in the entire palace, as well as all other places;
14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, now speak the word more boldly and without fear.
20 According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, I wish also that Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 If I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I myself would choose I don't know.
23 For my mind is focused in two directions, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul presents the pros and cons if he should live or die.
- to live is Christ (v 21)
- to live allows Paul to continue his labour (v 22)
- to live can provide a greater blessing to those around him (v 24)
- to die is gain (v 21)
- to die and be with Christ is far better (v 23)
Did Paul expect to go to heaven immediately he died?
Let's consider the individual's experience.
While ever we have the least degree of consciousness, we have knowledge and we have experience. We can experience life, we can experience dying, we can experience resurrection.
But to experience death is not possible. Dying we can experience; death we can't.
In dying a person loses consciousness. In death a person is non-conscious. The bereaved have no concept of time, and no concept of anything. Their last thoughts and feelings in this life are followed immediately by becoming aware of the experience of their resurrection. Whether their time in the grave is one day or 1,000 years, the intermediate experience is the same. More precisely, there is no intermediate death experience.
Paul comforted the Thessalonians with the knowledge that their bereaved are 'asleep in Jesus' and God would awaken them in the resurrection. This was also Paul's personal hope. He knew 'his very next experience' once departing this life would be his resurrection. 'He would be with Christ.' (Philippians 1:23; Thessalonians 4:14, 16)