Many ideas and opinions are advanced about what happens when a person dies. Some believe that death ends everything; the body goes back to dust and the person ceases to exist. Others believe that both the soul and body sleep but there will be a resurrection. Those who claim to have had an out-of-body experience, to have gone to heaven and then come back, make a wide variety of claims about what Heaven is like. But many of the experiences which are related and the ideas set forth are in direct conflict with the teaching of Scripture.
Believers With the Lord
There is abundant evidence in the scriptures that when a child of God dies he goes immediately to be with the Lord. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This is an amazing display of grace. The man was dying because he was a convicted criminal; he deserved nothing. It was too late to turn over a new leaf, too late to be baptized, too late to join the church — but not too late for Jesus to save him and promise that he would be with him in Paradise. There would be no soul-sleeping, no intermediate state; upon death he would go directly to be with the Lord. We see another beautiful example of this truth in the death of Stephen. He had preached a powerful, convicting message. Yet the response of his listeners was, “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and gnashed on him with their teeth” (Acts 7:54). Rather than being humbled and brought to repentance, they were angry and decided to kill the messenger. “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). What a way to die! As they were stoning him he looked into heaven and saw Jesus ready to welcome him home.Then we read the words of the Apostle Paul. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Paul viewed death not as extinction or soul-sleeping, but as a positive move to something that was better; he considered it gain. And then he said, “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” (Philippians 2:23-24). Paul was not depressed or despairing of life. He was willing to remain and minister to the Lord’s people, but his ultimate desire was to be with the Lord. And the reason dying was gain is that it meant being with the Lord. No intermediate state, no purgatory, no soul sleeping, but to be with the Lord.Paul writes at length in his second epistle to the Corinthians about the desire to be with the Lord. He points out that the afflictions of the present are actually light when weighed against the glory that is to come. And then he declares, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
For God’s children, death is not a dismal defeat at the end of life but a home-going to be forever with the Lord.
We hear sermons about Heaven, we sing songs about Heaven, we say we believe in Heaven; but to contemplate what it will mean to be in the presence of Jesus Christ forever is beyond our ability to fully grasp. What a blessed hope we have to know that when we breathe out our last we are not going into some dark unknown region, but to be with Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us!
Unbelievers In Hell
In answer to the question, “What happens when we die?”, there is also a dark side. Some suggest that those who die without Christ will be given a second chance after death. But the fact is salvation is not by chance, it is by grace. But there will be no grace, no salvation for those who die outside of Jesus Christ, because he is the only savior of sinners. When a lost man dies he goes to hell.We read the words of Jesus, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).
Ultimately the wicked will be raised and stand before God at the great white throne judgment.
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:12-14).It is a sobering thought to know there is a literal hell. In fact, even some who did works in the name of the Lord will go there. Those dreadful words will be spoken, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).
Christ, the Difference
When you consider the final consequences of sin, does it not make you all the more appreciate the sin-bearer?
How wonderful is the grace of God given us through Jesus Christ, that in him we have the hope of heaven! What a comfort to know that to be absent from the body is to be at home with Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.