WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU DIE?
All of us, at one time or another, have wondered what happens after we die. Different people will answer this question in different ways, but I will use several different Bible verses to show what God's Word tells us happens to us after we die. Here are the topics that will be covered:
Everything that you need to know about life and death can be found in the pages of Scriptures. And no matter what I or anyone else tells you concerning what happens after you die, you should ultimately go to our final authority on all matters, the Holy Bible, and read these things for yourself.
(1) WHO WILL BE RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD?
The Bible tells us that every person will rise again after death and go to one of two places. Eternity only has two addresses: either heaven or hell. You will either experience eternal joyous life in heaven, or eternal damnation in the lake of fire in hell. And no matter where you end up, you will be there forever. The fact that all will be resurrected from the dead can be found throughout the Bible.
1 Corinthians 15:21-22 reads, "For since by man (Adam) came death, by Man (Jesus) came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
This verse tells us that all shall be made alive, meaning that all people will be resurrected from the dead.
And in 2 Corinthians 5:10 we read, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
This verse tells us that after death there will come a time when we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and the verse goes on to say that we will be judged according to what we have done, whether good or bad. Of course, the most important "good" thing that a person can do is to ask Christ to come into their life and become their Savior. And the only truly "bad" thing that will send you into hell for eternity is to never accept Christ into your life.
So who will be resurrected from the dead? You and me and everyone else who ever has been born or who will be born.
(2) DO PEOPLE IMMEDIATELY GO TO HEAVEN OR HELL AFTER DEATH?
Some people will tell you that when you die, you don't immediately go to heaven or hell. There are different unbiblical teachings that speak of intermediate "waiting places" such as purgatory, and there are others who say that your soul goes to "sleep," and that you will not be resurrected until Jesus comes back to earth in what is known as The Second Coming to rapture (take up) His believers. But the Bible gives us many examples of people who have already died and who immediately went to heaven or immediately went to hell.
In Luke 16:19-31 you will find a story that Jesus told of a beggar named Lazarus who died and "was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." Jesus is describing what happened to two men after they died. Luke 16:22-23 reads, "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."
Both of these men immediately went somewhere. The rich man went to hell, and Lazarus was carried by the angels to "Abraham's bosom."
Where was Abraham's bosom? With Abraham. And where was Abraham when Lazarus was carried up to him? He was in heaven. We know this because in Matthew 8:11, Jesus said, "And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." Abraham's bosom" is another way to describe heaven. The verse does not say that the beggar Lazarus died and went to sleep until the time of the rapture. He immediately was taken up to heaven to be with Abraham and others.
And the Apostle Paul wrote of what happens after one dies. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul wrote, "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." Paul did not say that to be absent from the body (dead) meant to be sleep until some future time. As a believer, he wrote that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
As a matter of fact, Paul even desired and looked forward to the day when he would die because he wanted to be with Christ. In Philippians 1:23-24, Paul was speaking to other believers and said, "For I am in a strait betwixt (between) two, having a desire to depart (die) and to be with Christ; which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you." Paul knew the truth. He knew that upon death he had heaven to look forward to.
We have all heard the expression "ashes to ashes and dust to dust" said at funerals. Man was originally made of dust, and when we die, our bodies again decay and become nothing more than dust in the ground. These two verses refer to how man was created and what happens to us when we die: (Our creation) Genesis 2:7, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."
(What happens when we die) Ecclesiastes 12:7, "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it."
The verse above could not have made it any clearer. Your body gets buried in the ground, but your spirit or soul immediately returns to God. There is no purgatory or other period of waiting. Your fleshly body and your spirit or soul are two very different things.
And if that isn't plain enough, here is another example of what was going to happen to someone after they died: In Luke 23:42-43 a thief is being crucified next to Jesus. At first the thief makes fun of Jesus and doesn't believe in Him. But then the thief realizes that Jesus truly is God, the Savior, and the thief says to Jesus, "'Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.' And Jesus said unto him, 'Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.'"
The key word there is TODAY. The thief didn't have to wait until after Christ returned to earth. The thief didn't go into some kind of "soul sleep." The thief didn't have to wait until prayers and petitions had been said on his behalf. That very day of his death the thief went to heaven, and so will we.
(3) WHAT HAPPENED TO THE EARLY BELIEVERS WHO DIED BEFORE CHRIST WAS CRUCIFIED AND ROSE FROM THE DEAD?
Maybe you've wondered, "Well, what about the people who died before Christ was crucified? What happened to them?" Even believers who were around before Christ came to earth as a man and was crucified and rose from the dead went to heaven and are with God. Present-day believers (us) are saved because of our faith in what Christ did for us on the cross in the past. Old Testament believers were saved because of their faith in what Christ, the Messiah, would do for them in the future.
Here are some verses to prove that past believers went immediately to heaven: Let's look at Matthew 8:11-12 again. Matthew 8:11-12 reads (Jesus speaking) "And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven: but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are men who were born as far back as the time of Noah, over 2,000 years before Christ came to earth as a man. They believed in the coming Messiah, but they obviously died before Christ was crucified. But where does that verse say these men are? In the kingdom of heaven.
Here is another example of Old Testament believers who went to heaven before Christ was crucified: In Matthew 17:1-3, 5-9, we read "And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment (clothing) was white as the light. And, behold, Moses and Elijah appeared unto them, Moses and Elijah talking with him.
"While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.' And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, 'Arise, and be not afraid.' And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, 'Tell the vision to no man until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead.'"
Now, Moses and Elijah died a couple thousand years before Christ was crucified and risen from the dead, but here they appear and talk to Christ in front of His Apostles. Moses and Elijah had been living in heaven. They weren't "sleep." They weren't waiting to be rescued from some waiting area.
Here is a verse that shows just how fast Elijah went to heaven: 2 Kings 2:1, 11, "And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And it came to pass, as they still went on and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."
And something similar happened to Enoch: "By faith Enoch was translated (taken away) that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him." (Hebrews 11:5)
All of these verses illustrate that believers who die go immediately to heaven. Job stated it plainly when he said in Job 19:26-27, "And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I shall God: whom I shall see for myself." Job wasn't concerned about seeing God later. He knew that while the worms were destroying his earthly body in the ground, he would be in heaven seeing God for himself.
Now, you might be thinking that because all of these people -- Elijah, Abraham, Job, Isaac, Jacob -- were great men of faith that they got treated differently than you or I. But we just read that even the beggar Lazarus and the thief on the cross died and went immediately to heaven. There is right now and always has been a place where God presides over all in Spirit and Truth. And when we die, we, too, go to become part of that world.
(4) WHY DO SOME PEOPLE TEACH THE DOCTRINE OF SOUL SLEEP?
So why do some people believe that they die and their soul goes to sleep until some future time? It is because they misinterpret the way the word "sleep" is used in the Bible, or they take verses out of context. For example, instead of understanding that the word "sleep" is often used in the Bible to mean dead, some people mistakenly think it means literally sleep until some future time.
Here are some verses where the word sleep is used: 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him."
"Wake" here means living, and "sleep" here means dead. This verse is saying that whether you are actually alive (wake) when Christ comes back at the Second Coming or whether you died (sleep) before the Second Coming, that as a believer you would live together with Him forever.
Oftentimes the word "sleep" is used in the Bible to describe people who are dead. For example, in John 11:11b-14 Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples said, 'Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.' Howbeit, Jesus spake of his death; but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, 'Lazarus is dead.'"
Even Lazarus' own sister Mary mistakenly thought that her brother would only rise again in the resurrection "at the last day." But Christ corrected her and said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." (John 11:25-26). Jesus said "I am the resurrection and the life." He didn't say that later he would be the resurrection and the life.
And in Luke 20:37-38, Jesus said these words to some people who were confused about the resurrection. "Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him."
Jesus said that the dead are raised, not would be raised. And Jesus also points out that if God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the fathers of the faith), then they must be raised and alive. Although their bodies were in the grave, their souls and spirits were with God in heaven.
Even when your physical body dies, your soul and spirit lives on. You either live on with God as your Father in heaven, or you are separated from God and living on eternally in hell.
(5) WHAT HAPPENS IN THE SECOND COMING OR THE RAPTURE?
Whether you have already died or are alive when Jesus returns to earth, the Bible describes what you can expect. Some of the disciples were worried about what happened to the people who died before Christ's return. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, Paul told them not to worry. It reads, "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep (dead), that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him."
To "sleep in Jesus" means to be someone who died with faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. These verses reassured the believers that if they believed that Christ had been bodily resurrected, they could also be assured that God would raise up and give new bodies to those who died believing in Jesus. (Remember that the body and soul are separated at death. The body is in the ground, but the soul or spirit of the believer is in heaven)
And here are some more verses that describe what is going to happen to those already in heaven and those who are still living when Christ returns: Mark 13:26-27, "And then shall they see the Son of man (Jesus) coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of earth to the uttermost part of heaven."
Matthew 24:30-31, "Then shall appear the sign of the son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall all see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep (dead). For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
All of these verses show clearly that during Christ's Second Coming there are believers already in heaven who Jesus is going to gather along with people on earth who just died as well as believers on earth who are at the time of His coming still alive.
You might be thinking, Well, why does Jesus need to gather people already in heaven, and where are they going to rise from? Well, the reason Jesus gathers people already in heaven is because although you die and go to heaven, you still do not have your glorified body yet. When Jesus comes back in the Second Coming, that is the time when everybody, living or already dead and in heaven, will be changed and will receive their new glorified body.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52 reads, "Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
"In the twinkling of an eye," spirit, soul, and body of believers who already died will be reunited to be glorified forever. And believers who have not yet died will be raised up and changed into the glorious image of Christ. (More on our new bodies in No. 8.)
(6) WHAT HAPPENS TO PEOPLE WHO DIE WHO NEVER ACCEPTED CHRIST AS THEIR SAVIOR?
One thing is for certain--We are all eventually going to die. Let's see what awaits those who foolishly died without being washed in Christ' saving blood. John 5:28-29, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."
This verse is telling us that all who die will be resurrected. If you die in your sins, you will face eternal damnation. Jesus told of the rich man who died and did not make it to heaven. This rich man said this of hell, "I am tormented in this flame" (Luke 16:24).
There are a lot of so-called good people who are going to find themselves in hell, and there are a lot of people that this world would label as bad who are going to make it to heaven. Why is that? Because the only truly "good" thing that you can do that counts towards your salvation is to repent and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior. And the only unpardonable "evil" thing that you can do is to never accept Christ as your Savior. When you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, your name is written in the Book of Life. If you die and your name isn't written in the Book of life, Revelation 20:15 warns "whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
2 Thessalonians 1:8b-9 tells us this of those who die without believing in Christ: "Them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."
And Revelation talks about the people in the last days that choose to worship the beast instead of Christ. Revelation 14:9b-11 reads, "If any man worships the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name."
A person is either for God or against God. If you die without accepting Christ's gift of salvation, you have the same destination waiting for you as the people who accept the mark of the beast.
(7) DOES ANYONE JUST CEASE TO EXIST AFTER DEATH, NEVER TO RISE AGAIN?
The Bible is very clear that all die and are resurrected. No one dies and becomes nothing. In Luke 12:4-5, Jesus said, "And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him."
Anyone who believes that they die and that that's the end is fooling themself. You need to be concerned about what will happen to you after you die.
Fortunately, as believers, we don't have to fear death or talk ourselves into believing that this life is all there is. We have a new home to look forward to. 2 Corinthians 5:1 tells us, "For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle (our body) were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Our current body is just a raggedy little tent compared to the glorious body that awaits us in heaven!
(8) WHAT WILL OUR NEW HEAVENLY BODIES BE LIKE?
The Bible tells us that when believers die, they immediately have access to heaven. But other verses show us that although you are in heaven, you will not receive your glorious Christ-like body until the last trumpet is sounded.
1 Corinthians 15:35, 38, 40, "But some man will say, 'How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?' But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. There are also celestial bodies (heavenly) and bodies terrestrial (earthly): but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another."
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 goes on to say, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown (buried or planted) in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body."
On earth our bodies grow weak, get sick, get old, and decay into dust. Here on earth our bodies are used and abused. But when we die, God will put us back together again and transform our physical body into a glorious body that will resemble Christ's resurrected body
Philippians 3:20-21, "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself."
While here on earth, we have sinned and borne the image of the man of dust (Adam), but we believers shall also some day bear the image of the heavenly Man (Jesus).
In conclusion, we should know that as Christians we are just travelers passing through on this earth. Our desire should not be the things of this world. We should desire to live righteously until we see our true home -- heaven. This pleases God. Hebrews 11:16 tells us, "But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city."
So if you have truly accepted Christ into your heart as your Lord and Savior, you don't have to worry about what happens after you die. What you should be concerning yourself with is are you living day to day in a way that is pleasing to God, and are you doing all that you can to warn others about the need for salvation and the dangers of hell?
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