In Philippians 1:23-24 Paul believed that at the moment of his death his consciousness would leave his body to join Christ in heaven. Is this the case? It is demonstrated in the way Paul dedicated his life to preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Here is what he said, “And he entered the Synagogue and for three months spoke boldly arguing and pleading about the Kingdom of God” (see 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). During this time, Paul was subjected to persecution, beatings and several periods of imprisonment. When he wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was enduring a period of house arrest in Rome. The Apostle knew that the Roman government had authority to put prisoners to death. Paul knew what the future might hold for him, whether it will be execution or his release.
Paul said this concerning the two possible outcomes: “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:23-24). Many have assumed from Paul’s words here that he believed that at the moment of his death his consciousness would leave his body to join Christ in heaven. How possible is his belief? Before focusing on what this scripture says, we must notice what it does not say. It does not say when or where Paul would be with Christ if he departed. Neither is the terminology of departure intended to be geographical as in leaving the earth to go to heaven. We must look at the text and see that there is no mention of heaven. To conclude otherwise is to read assumptions into Paul’s words; Paul is simply referring to departing from his present, physical residential area through death.
When writing to the Philippians here, Paul was struggling with two desires. He wanted to be done with his fleshly life and be with Christ, but he also wanted to remain with God’s people.
In his second letter to Timothy he speaks dogmatically of what lies ahead, knowing the end of his physical life is near and he is ready to depart: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).