Which Christian view of the afterlife is correct?

Christians have at least three views of the afterlife, which is disturbing, because how can Christians differ on what happens to us after we die? But we do.

The first view is that we go to heaven after we die and that’s where we stay forever. It’s our ultimate hope, that one day “Jesus takes us home” – as so many hymns and funeral services state.

The second view is that we go to heaven (or paradise) immediately after we die, but only until the resurrection. During our temporary stay in heaven, or paradise, we are conscious. The resurrection then occurs and we are given new bodies and back to the earth we come again.

The third view is that we go to the grave when we die where we remain unconscious until the resurrection, at which point we receive new bodies and come back to the earth. At no point in this third view are we conscious in either heaven or paradise.

So which of these three views is correct, especially when all three views find their support in Scripture?

The first view uses Philippians 3:20 which says “our citizenship is in heaven,” and Hebrews 11:16 which talks of us “longing for a better country – a heavenly one.”

The second view has no trouble with either of those verses, or all the other verses that talk of us being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6), being raised with Christ to sit with him at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1), or Jesus preparing a place for us in his Father’s house (John 14:2) – BUT – Christ then returns to the earth at the last day (John 11:23-24) and brings all those in heaven with him back to the earth to live and stay here (Colossians 3:3-4, Revelation 5:9-10).

The third view, meanwhile, quotes John 3:13, which says, “No one has ever gone into heaven” (including King David, Acts 2:34), so there’s no way any of us go to heaven at any time after we die. Instead we stay in our graves unconscious until Jesus returns to raise us from the dead and we live with him on the earth forever (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

So which of those three views correctly describes what happens to us after we die? Is it escaping off to heaven after we die to live with Jesus in heaven forever? Is it spending time in paradise awaiting the resurrection and then living with Jesus on the earth forever? Or is it staying unconscious in the grave until the resurrection and living with Jesus on the earth forever?

It can’t be all three, so which is it?

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