What happens when you die?
Last post we looked judgement and learned that there are two separate the distinct resurrections: one when Christ returns, and one a thousand years later.
This calls into question the issue of our soul’s mortality. Many Christians believe that when you die, you go straight to heaven, or hell. But, that cannot be if we are all go heaven at the same time as the Bible claims. What happens in the intervening time? Where are the souls of all the Christians who came before? They haven’t been resurrected yet. Judgement has not been passed. Surely they are not in heaven, because they will be resurrected when Christ returns.
So, let’s look more closely at what happens when you die. Thankfully the Bible has answers for us, so we don’t need to guess. We’ll start with Daniel. Daniel was told that when he died, he would rest and rise again at the end of the days, the end of the world (Daniel 12:13). This concept of rest, of sleeping, until Christ returns is well known, it’s just been buried under a lot of confused theology and false doctrine, but, it is still known in our culture. We still used the acronym RIP (Rest In Peace) on Halloween decorations and on some grave markers, denoting a burial place. Daniel understood this concept of sleeping, he says that those who sleep will awake with the resurrections (Daniel 12:2).
This calls into question the very status of our soul. After all, if we are dead all that time, what happens with our soul? Many Christians believe the soul is immortal, that it will live on forever, either here on earth, in heaven, or in hell. But, this teaching is not biblical, it’s pagan mythology. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all believed in an immortal soul. One that would travel to the underworld upon death, to either pay for it’s sins or experience eternal joy. Unfortunately, Christianity picked up this concept of an immortal soul along the way and incorporated it into it’s doctrines.
The Bible, by contrast, only categorizes one being as immortal: God (1 Timothy 1:17). It’s given as one of His unique attributes. And the preceding verse says that God alone possesses immortality (1 Timothy 6:15-16).
So, if only God is immortal, what then is our soul? When the first human is created, we are told what a soul is. God took a body, added to it His spirit (in Hebrew breath and spirit are the same word), and the man became a living soul (some translations will have being) (Genesis 2:7). Our soul does not exist within us, it is us, our body, plus the spirit of God. If the spirit of God is removed, the soul is no more. It dies (Ezekiel 18:20).
Now, through Christ we receive immortality. Our mortal souls will put on immortality, Paul teaches us this. But He also teaches when it will occur. When the trumpet sounds, when the dead are raised. Paul is talking about Jesus’ second coming, the first resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). Until that time, there is no mention of a soul being immortal, and notice it is only the righteous who take on immortality. We all know the famous verse:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. – John 3:16
Jesus came to give us everlasting life. Why? Because we didn’t have it before. And who gets this everlasting life? Those who believe in Him. But belief is not enough, there is a timeline to adhere to. When Lazarus died, Jesus said that he slept (John 11:11). He wasn’t praising God in heaven (Psalm 6:5), he wasn’t thinking (Psalm 146:3-4), he wasn’t even reliving his memories (Ecclesiastes 9:5). He was dead. And he had to be. Because we know that the righteous dead meet Christ at the same time as those who are living when He returns do (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Unfortunately no one does more harm to this theology than pastors at a funeral. I love going to funerals. I know, that sounds morbid. But, when you do, you get a change to really see how well a pastor knows his Bible. Next time you’re at one, pay attention to the words, to where the person is, according to the pastor, minister, reverent, priest, or whomever, if you’re not too busy grieving of course. Because the pastor will tell you that they are resting in the grave. They will tell you that we will all be raised again when Christ comes. They will tell you they are in heaven now. They will tell you that they are always with us. They will tell you they have gone to that place Christ prepared for us. By the end, this pour deceased person is split 3 or 4 ways in order to be in all the places the pastor says they need to be. They just quote verses and give platitudes without thinking them through, without realizing what they are saying. And it’s honestly comical, but try not to laugh at the funeral service…it’s frowned upon.
And I know what they are doing. They are trying to comfort the people by saying their loved one is in heaven, experiencing eternal joy. Unfortunately, it’s a lie. Paul tells us how to comfort one another:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
The comfort is knowing that they rest from all their pains and struggles in this life, and the next thing they will see is Christ’s return, and when that happens, both the dead, who have just risen, and those that were already living, will put on immortality. They will never die again (1 Corinthians 15:51-54), and after the wicked are destroyed, there will be no more death ever, for anyone. No more sorrow, crying, or pain. It will all be a thing of the past (Revelation 21:4).
Instead we will have new bodies, perfectly created, just like Christ’s resurrected body was (Philippians 3:21), flesh and bone (Luke 24:36-42), the breath of God in a perfect body, in a new creation, just like at the first creation.
So, now we know what happens when we die: we sleep, a dreamless sleep of the dead. We’re not in heaven, hell, or even some kind of purgatory. We just sleep, unconscious. That’s why the Bible uses the word sleep for death so many times. At least 66 times in 17 different books across the Old and New Testaments.
But, people have some questions regarding a few verses. Probably the most notable is the thief on the cross. Because Jesus tells the thief that He’ll be with him in heaven that very day:
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43
That those this entire theology into questions, doesn’t it? Let’s look at a couple more verses. Perhaps Jesus knew more than Paul after all. So, Jesus and the thief die. Jesus is resurrected, and Mary sees him in the garden (remember, she thought he was the gardener at first). When she finds out and tries to hug him, Jesus says this:
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” – John 20:17
So, Jesus hadn’t been to heaven yet. But, how is that if he was supposed to meet the thief there three days ago?
The problem is a grammar one, not a theological one. In Greek, and Hebrew, there are no commas. In the original texts there are no verses or chapters either. We added those later to make referencing it easier, and added the punctuation as it was translated into languages which had punctuation marks. With a one word shift of a comma, we instead get this:
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43
Jesus isn’t saying He’d be with him in heaven today, he’s telling him now (today), that they would be together in heaven one day. This would akin to use saying “Listen to be now, you will die.” It’s a statement of fact, but if we move the comma, it would become a threat: “Listen to me, now you will die.”
We see this mistake occur in another passage that’s more obvious. In the King James Version we have this verse:
So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. – Acts 19:12
According to this passage, the handkerchiefs or aprons were sick, not the people. Obviously, this is a simple grammar error. We have no doctrine regarding about sick handkerchiefs. But, in the other verse, it has confused an issue to such a degree that we have false doctrines regarding souls going straight to heaven being preached by pastors at funerals.
But, now you know what the Bible really says about it. Now you know what happens when you die, before Christ returns.
Next post we’re going to look at what happens when the wicked are judged. We’re going to examine the concept of hell and eternal suffering and see if they line up with scripture. This is another topic that has been twisted by pagan beliefs and sorely needs to be understood by Christians.