What happens to us when we die?
This is a question that most of us contemplate at some time during our life.
Death is a subject that some people don’t like to talk or think about. Some push it to the back of their mind, other accept it as inevitable and prepare for it by taking out life insurance, writing wills, setting up powers of attorney or even booking their own funeral.
What we believe concerning what happens to us when we die physically depends either on what we are taught, what we read, what our own minds conjure up, or what we would like to happen.
However, what we think does not matter if it has no substance.
There must be a foundation for our belief.
Many religions, whether they believe in the soul's existence in another world, like Christianity, Islam and many pagan belief systems, or in reincarnation like many forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, believe that one's status in the afterlife is a reward or punishment for their conduct during this life.
Then there are the non religious beliefs.
When we die, that is it, the end, we return to dust and then nothing. When you are dead, you are dead.
No heaven, no hell, no purgatory, no reincarnation, just nothing.
Obviously something happens to us when we leave this life, whether our soul goes to another place or whether we just cease to exist, there must be a truth.
If we are to find answers to questions about life after death, we are left with only three sources to consult. Either we turn to religion, science or we turn to human experience.
If we turn to human experience, what we have are many guesses, many ideas, many theories.
If we turn to science, we can find out what happens to the body but there are no answers to what happens to the soul, if we have one.
If we turn to religion, then there are many different beliefs on what happens when we die.
However we find that there are no sure answers. That’s because, in the nature of the case, no human has a sure answer.
The only people who have the answer are dead!
As a Christian who believes in the Bible to be the fundamental, inerrant Word of God. I believe that the Bible reveals the truth about life and death.
In the Bible we find an abundance of answers. God, who is sovereign, omniscient, who knows the future, knows exactly what happens when we die, and he hasn’t left us to wonder about it. The Bible is filled with information on life after death!
If you want the answer in one sentence, here it is:
What happens after you die depends on what happens before you die.
One thing we are certain of, is that we all die.
It has been said that there are only two certainties in life, taxes and death.
The Bible tells us that all men die.
Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
Only one came back from death and that was Jesus Christ Himself. Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-21:25
Right from the beginning in Genesis, God told Adam, “in the day that you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die”.
Gen 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
Gen 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
We are also told that death came into the world by one man.
Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
The day that Adam sinned, he died spiritually, he was separated from God and lost eternal life but eventually he died physically.
Death is common to us all. From the moment we are born, we see the aging process, our bodies get older and older until we eventually get sick and die or we grow so old that we die of what is called natural causes.
Some people die violent deaths, by accident, or murder but one thing is certain we all die.
The Bible is very clear on life after death and teaches that man is a tri part being, he has a body, a spirit and a soul and man is a soul and that soul lives on after the death of the body.
Gen 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.
Mat 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Mat 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
Mat 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Eze 18:4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
So, man has a body that will die and man has a soul that lives on after death. That being the case, what happens to the soul after the body is dead. Well, the Bible is also very clear on that too.
Jesus told a parable about what happens after death.
Luke 16:19-31 “Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendour every day.
20 “And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores,
21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
22 “Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
23 “And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’
25 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.
26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’
27 “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house—
28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
29 “But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
30 “But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’
31 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”
We can see in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, that after each has died, both were conscious and self-aware. Jesus is obviously teaching that the soul survives after death.
Still, there are those who will say that this is only a parable. Of course, the problem with this theory is that parables don't have proper names in them. In this case, there is a specific individual named: Lazarus. Also, if it were a parable, then what is Jesus saying with the illustration of consciousness after death and before the resurrection?
The most logical answer is that Jesus was teaching us that there is life after death.
Just as people are destined to die, they are also destined for judgement after death.
Hebrews 9:27 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
There is the judgement seat of Christ for believers.
The Apostle Paul writing to believers in Corinth says this:
2 Cor 5:10 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.
There is also the Great White Throne judgement for non believers.
The final judgement at the end of the 1000 year Millennial reign of Christ.
The Apostle John tells us about his vision of the future in Revelation, where all the unbelieving dead are summoned.
Revelation 20:11-15 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12 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.
13 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.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Here we are introduced to the two destinations of those who have died.
The Bible teaches that these two destinations of the souls of men are Heaven and Hell.
To those that believe the Gospel and put their trust in Jesus Christ, they go to Heaven. Into God’s presence.
2 Corinthians 5 5 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven:
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in
the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Paul tells us that if we are born again Christians, we no longer belong to this world but our citizenship is in Heaven. That one day Jesus Christ will come again and take us to Himself and change our bodies into glorious bodies fit for the eternal kingdom of Heaven.
Philippians 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Matthew 5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
However, for those who do not believe and trust in Jesus Christ, they have a different destination.
This will be a destination that is not in God’s presence. A place that has many names.
The Lake of Fire – Everlasting Contempt – The Eternal Fire – Eternal punishment – Eternal death - Unquenchable Fire - Everlasting destruction - From the presence of the Lord.
Rev 20: 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
1 John 5:12 12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Daniel 12:1-2 At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Matthew 25:31-46 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” . . . Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
2Th 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
2Th 1:8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
2Th 1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
The one thing that both believers and unbelievers have in common is death.
However they have different eternal destinations.
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the believer, (Christian) will go to be with the Lord.
John 14:3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
John 6:47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.
John 5:24 Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment. Indeed, he has crossed over from death to life.
John 11:26 And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"
On the other hand, those that reject the Gospel and do not trust Jesus as their saviour, everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.
Everything Scripture says about the death of believers indicates that they are immediately ushered consciously into the Lord’s presence.
In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
i. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.
ii. At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with the self-same bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever.
iii. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honour; and be made conformable to His own glorious body.