#2: Paul’s Desire to Depart and Be with Christ
Back to Lesson 9
Another passage which has confused some people is Philippians 1:20-25. Some have used
these verses to promote a doctrine which is contrary to Paul’s own clear teachings on the subject of
death. But when we look at it objectively we find the passage to be fully consistent with the rest of
Highlighting a few phrases in the passage will show us Paul’s train of thought. He is
discussing his earnest expectation, his hope, what he shall choose, having a desire, and what is more
needful. These are not expressions one uses when presenting a doctrinal discourse. He is opening
to his readers his deepest personal aspirations.
Paul’s greatest desire in this passage is that Christ shall be magnified in his body, whether
it be by life, or by death. The problem is that he cannot tell which is best, to live or to die. He wants
to do that which will best glorify Christ.
He longs to be with Christ. He knows that he will be with Him in the next life. This thought
is wonderful to him. Yet, realizing that his labors are still needed in this life, he concludes, I know
that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.
The phrase which some people have stumbled over is Paul’s desire to depart, and to be with
Christ. Notice that he does not say that he will depart and immediately be with Christ. Neither is he
discussing a bodiless presence with Him; for his desire was that Christ shall be magnified in his
For the purposes of his present discussion he sees no need to digress into the details of the
decomposition of his body, the oblivion of death’s sleep, and the specifics of the resurrection. That
is not the subject at hand. Yet, even so, the words he uses describe the experience of death most
explicitly. To the individual’s consciousness, death does not register at all. Thousands of years may
pass. The dead know nothing of it. Their first conscious moment at the resurrection knows of no
lapse since their last conscious moment before death. After Paul’s death, the next thing he would
know, is that he would be with Christ. His description is experiential rather than technical, and thus
perfectly harmonizes with his direct doctrinal instruction on the state of the dead.
When did Paul expect to be with Christ? In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 he clearly explains that the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him take place at the same time.
In Colossians 3:4 Paul says, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also
appear with him in glory.” We will not be with Christ in glory until His appearing, His glorious
return in power and majesty.
Paul also speaks of the appearing of Christ in 2 Timothy 4:8: “Henceforth there is laid up for
me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not
to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” Paul realized that his crown of
righteousness would be laid up in store for him, until the coming of Christ, not to be received until
#3: The Transfiguration
Does the appearance of Moses and Elijah at Christ’s transfiguration (Matthew 17:3) prove
that the saints of olden days are now in heaven?
The case of Elijah is easy when we remember that Enoch and Elijah never died, but were
translated to heaven (Hebrews 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11).
Moses, however, did die (Deuteronomy 34:5); but then something very interesting happened.
Jude 9 mentions a dispute between Michael and the devil over the dead body of Moses. The devil
was rebuked, and the Lord’s plan prevailed. Deuteronomy 34:6 says that Moses was buried, “but no
man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” David, on the other hand, “is both dead and buried, and
his sepulchre is with us unto this day” (Acts 2:29). Why the difference? Moses’ appearance on the
mount of transfiguration indicates that he was bodily resurrected from the dead.
Moses did not go to heaven as a bodiless spirit; the Lord claimed his body as well (Jude 9).
Neither did Elijah leave his body on earth; for fifty strong men searched for him for three days and
found nothing (2 Kings 2:17). Jesus Himself ascended bodily to heaven. In all the Bible there is not
a single example of anyone ever going to heaven except as a living body.
Moses is not the only one who has been resurrected and taken to heaven. When Jesus died,
“many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection”
(Matthew 27:52, 53); so that “when he ascended up on high, he led a multitude of captives”
(Ephesians 4:8, margin).
The fact that Moses was alive and bodily present when Jesus was transfigured provides
support, not for the doctrine of natural immortality, but for the doctrine of the resurrection
#4: The Thief on the Cross
Some people have suggested that the dialog recorded in Luke 23:42, 43 indicates that the
righteous go immediately to paradise when they die.
If so, in order for Christ to be true to His promise, both He and the thief would have had to
make it to heaven before the sun set that very day.
Let’s see if they actually did. First, did Jesus go to heaven that day? The Bible tells us that
He did not. For when He was resurrected He said, “I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John
So Jesus didn’t go to heaven that day. What about the thief: did he? The Bible tells us in
John 19:31-34 that at the end of the day the soldiers went and found the two thieves still hanging
there on the cross, both still alive. Then they broke their legs and let them down off the cross for the
Sabbath. So the thief didn’t make it to heaven that day either.
Well then, did Jesus tell a lie? No. The problem is easily solved when we realize that when
the Bible was written, there were no punctuation marks. Commas were added hundreds of years later
when the Bible was translated into English. In Luke 23:43 the comma should have been placed after,
rather than before, the word today. It actually reads, “Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with
me in paradise.”
Jesus gave him that day a promise that He will not break. “For when the Son of man shall
come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him,...then shall the King say...Inherit the kingdom
prepared for you” (Matthew 25:31-34). “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father
with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27).
And that’s all the thief was asking for anyway. He didn’t ask to go to heaven that day. He
simply said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42).