After his conversion to Christ, Paul was on a mission. His aim was to proclaim the gospel of Christ and his kingdom to anyone who would believe his message. But from the beginning it was revealed that he would suffer persecution at the hands of those Jews who were as zealous as he used to be when he had set out to persecute the church (Acts 9:15-16). And he also knew that a time would come when eventually his opponents would have their way at the expense of his own life. Sensing that his days were numbered, Paul even told one church it would be the last time they would see him in this present life:
Acts 20:24-25  But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.  And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more (King James Version, KJV).
Regardless what was ahead for him, Paul was determined not to allow his sufferings to deter him from his mission. Indeed, throughout his ministry he severely paid the price for his commitment to Christ and his gospel in so many ways: 2 Corinthians 11:22-33. Finally, he declared he was ready to die, if necessary, “for the name of Jesus,” (Acts 21:13). But until that time would come, nothing would stop him from doing what he was called to do. In fact, the closing words of Acts leaves us with the scene of Paul continuing to preach the kingdom of God even while he was under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30-31).
It was during this time of imprisonment that the apostle wrote to the church of God at Philippi. Paul was awaiting to find out whether the Roman government would give him the death sentence or make him a free man where he could continue with his mission. Remarkably, Paul’s letter displayed a positive attitude in spite of his dilemma. In fact, he repeatedly expressed the joy he had in his heart knowing that his work was not in vain:
Philippians 1:19-26  For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,  According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.  For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:  Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.  And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;  That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. (KJV)
Paul says to the Philippian faithful that he is “in a strait betwixted two.” In other words, as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) puts it, “But I am hard-pressed from both directions….” He told them that one situation concerned living on in the flesh, for if he became a free man, “I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith.” On the other hand, if he were sentenced to die, so much the better, “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” he declares.
Some would say that Paul’s “desire to depart” meant that his soul would depart at death and he would immediately “be with Christ” in heaven. However, Paul never says anything about his “soul” departing from his body and then flying away to “heaven” at death. Those words cannot be found. They aren’t even implied.
Paul was not fixated on death as his time to be with Christ, but upon the glorious return of Christ. Indeed, there is a time period between departing from this fleshly mortal life at death and the time when Christ will return to raise dead believers to immortal life at the resurrection. There is plenty of evidence to prove this fact.
For example, Paul went on to point out that his primary desire was to “attain to the resurrection from the dead,” (Phil. 3:7-14). He never says here that he can’t wait to attain to death so his soul can go to heaven when he dies. It seems if that were so, he would have stated it.
According to the Greek wording, it wasn’t heaven he looked forward to but “the returning” after departing from this fleshly life to the grave. In The Emphatic Diaglott, Philippians 1:23 reads, “I am indeed hard pressed by the two things; — (I have an earnest desire for the returning, and being with Christ, since it is very much to be preferred),” (The Emphatic Diaglott Containing the Original Greek Text, by Benjamin Wilson, The Abrahamic Faith Beacon Publishing Society, Inc. Miami; The Christadelphian Advancement Trust, Surrey, England, 2004 ed.).
A footnote in The Emphatic Diaglott explains the verse as follows,
To analusai, the loosing again or the returning, being what Paul earnestly desired, could not be death or dissolution, as implied by the word depart in the common version, because it seemed a matter of indifference to him, which of the two—life or death—he should choose; but he longed for the analusai, which was a third thing, and very much to be preferred to either of the other two things alluded to. The word analusai occurs in Luke 12:36, and is there rendered return;—”Be you like men waiting for their master, when he will return,”&c. Jesus had taught his disciples that he would come again, or return, John 14:3, 18; thus, also the angels said to them at his ascension, Acts 1:11. Paul believed this doctrine and taught it to others, and was looking for and waiting for the Savior from heaven. Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:16-17, when his mortal body would put on immortality, and so he would “ever be with the Lord.”
The same thought of longing for the return of Christ is expressed in his Second Letter to Timothy. He described how he was nearing his own impending doom. So, nearing the end of his life when it would be “poured out like a drink offering,” he said, “the time of my departure is at hand,” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). He knows that even if he dies and is taken to the grave, there he will rest until he will be raised to receive eternal life at “that Day”:  “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,” (KJV).
Paul is referring to “that Day” when Christ will appear to give him “the crown of righteousness,” and not only to him but all those faithful who’ve died in Christ and longed for his returning. Again, we note that Paul says nothing about longing for going to heaven at death. Rather, he was looking forward to a future Day or time when all believers are rewarded at once (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 20:6; 22:12).
Paul was well aware that when he died, he would have no consciousness or any awareness of the passage of time. He would no longer suffer in the flesh but silently rest in peace in death. Just as it says in the scriptures, he knew that on the very day he would take his last breath his thoughts would perish and he would return to dust (Genesis 3:19; Job 3:13-19; 14:7-15; Psalm 6:6; 88:11, 12; 115:17; 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, 10; Isiah 38:18).
His belief was the same as what it says in Hebrews 9:27: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Notice how “the judgment”—including “the crown of righteousness” that the righteous Judge will give Paul and all the faithful “on that Day”—will be AFTER, not during, the state of death. So, the very next thing anyone who has drawn his or her last breath will ever know is being with the Lord at Christ’s glorious appearing, that resurrection Day of all the faithful.
Paul’s desire for the return of Christ is why he could rejoice in spite of all the trials and tribulations he suffered for serving his Lord. It also is why WE can rejoice when we face our hardships as we serve the Lord. For, how rewarding to know that if/when we fall asleep in Christ—that is, when our departure from life has come and we’re placed in our graves—that our very next conscious awareness will be to awaken and look upon the glorious face of Christ with our very own eyes!
Just the thought of it all ought to bring us the greatest joy and comfort we could ever have no matter what kind of suffering we’re going through in this mortal life. For we know that “when he shall appear we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2). And not only that, we can truly be comforted to know on that Day we will see not only the Apostle Paul but we will forever be united with our loved ones who’ve also accepted Christ. As Paul would say, “Rejoice!”
Good News to you!