Do dead people go directly to heaven or hell?
The spirits of all men, as soon as they depart from this mortal body, whether they are good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life, where there is a separation, a partial judgment and the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace. The wicked on the other hand, have no portion in the Spirit of the Lord, and they are cast into outer darkness (spirit prison) being held captive, because of their own iniquity by the evil one. In this space between death and the resurrection of the body, the two classes of souls remain, in happiness or in misery, until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth and be reunited both spirit and body, and be brought before God, and be judged according to their works. This is the final judgment. This sounds crazy from the usual theology your pastors give you that our brethren or even non brethren have gone to be with the Lord. Bear with me; I will show you gradually.
On the cross, Jesus said the thief would be with him that day in paradise (Lk 23:43). We know that Jesus did not go to paradise on the same day because it is said that he resurrected only after three days (Jn 24:7). During the three days in the grave, he preached to the captives in hell (I Pet 3:19), making the spirits of righteous men perfect (Heb 12: 23). He went there to set free people like Abraham who were held captive by death because they had obtained salvation by their righteousness or keeping the law. Jesus is the only means through which man could be saved. As such, when he sets them free, their spirits go with either God while those of the wicked go to the devil as they awaiting the resurrection which will determine where each individual will spend eternity.
The place of the righteous dead is called the first heavens (Mt 24:30) but will have to wait till resurrection for their spirits to join their bodies for them to go to the third heavens (Mt 5:16). By Jesus entering the grave, he resurrected many (Mt 27:52-53). Then after his resurrection, he did not ascend into heaven, but waited until after 40 days ( Jn 20:17; Acts 1:3). When Jesus will come to take his own home, He will come down with a shout, then those who have died in Him will resurrect first, and those who are alive will be transformed to go with him (I The 4:16-17). If there are people waiting after dead for Jesus to come and resurrect them, then we do not go to heaven when we die. That means, while our spirits go to God, our souls remain in a place with an eternal gulf fixed, separating the righteous from the wicked (Lk 16:26). After resurrection, the wicked or non believers will be shipped to hell (Mk 9:47-48).
Many people say the Garden of Eden was paradise. They are correct. If it was paradise, then paradise is on earth. That is bolstered by Jesus telling the thief today you will be with me in paradise (second heavens) knowing that they were going into the grave rather than ascend into heaven (Third). And there is no proof that Jesus’ spirit went to heaven (Third) immediately while waiting for his entire body to be transformed later so he could ascend into heaven in body, soul and spirit. The example in 2 Cor 12:1-4 is a state of vision which could be ascended through a transformed spirit and soul. However the paradise there does not drift from the outer space.
Perhaps I should quickly differentiate among the three heavens. The First Heaven (Deut 11:17; 28:12) is the earth’s atmosphere, the Second Heaven (Ps 19:4-6; Jer 8:2) is the outer space, and the Third Heaven (I Kings 8:27; Ps. 2:4) is the seat of God or where He dwells.
There were only two people: Enoch and Elijah who went to heaven directly and did not need to wait for death (Gen 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11; Jn 3:13). However, there are indications that both were transformed to enable them obtain incorruptible and immortal bodies that were heaven able.
Therefore, when the Christian dies, actually they are sleeping from earthly life and will resurrect later. But during this time that they are sleeping, their bodies are in the grave or wherever it was buried, cremated or lost in sea while their spirits are with God who gave them life. When the wicked person dies, their bodies are in the grave, sea or where cremated, but their spirits are with the devil. There is none held up in the grave (dead) as was the case of father Abraham and Lazarus, but not even the righteous do go to the Third Heaven to live with God immediately after death. Otherwise, why would we be waiting for the resurrection, if we already go to heaven when we die ? The dead in Christ do not need to rise anymore because they were already in heaven after their death.
Until then, it is appointed unto all to die and after death is judgment.
Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk