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What Happens When I Die? Part 1
In this world there are all sorts of misconceptions as to what happens to a person at death. We seem to get our understanding from popular culture such as the movies and various novels that have given a fanciful view of the subject. Even the Charles Dicken's classic entitled A Christmas Carol enforces a skewed view of the afterlife as ghosts who wander around the earth carrying long chains, such as Jacob Marley, because they did much evil on earth in this life. And of course there are the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
But just what does the Bible have to say about this great enemy that we all must face? In order to understand this, we must first look at the biblical definition of death. Is it, as some have said, the end of our existence? Or does one continue to exist, but in a different form? Let us see what Scripture teaches.
I. A Biblical Definition of Death
The idea of death in the Bible is one of separation. Physical death is a separation of body from soul and spiritual death is a separation of the soul from God. This great enemy of all mankind was not a part of the original creation. It is a result of the sin of the first man, Adam. In Genesis 2:16 it says:
"The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die'."
You can actually translate this as "dying you shall die" which shows that Adam would not die immediately. His sin started the long process of death which we all must face. In Romans 5:12 Paul explains what happened when Adam sinned:
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned"
When Adam fell, he immediately experienced the spiritual results of his sin. He was separated from a Holy God. He and Eve even tried to hide from the Lord's presence, in fear. And later, Adam and Eve experienced the physical consequences of that sin. They both died. Ever since then, mankind has had to go through this process.
II. Death in the Old Testament
To get a complete understanding of what happens to a person after death, we need to turn to the New Testament. However, the Old Testament gives a general understanding of death which is fleshed out totally in the New. Even in the book of Job, which many believe to be the oldest book in the Bible, it has something to say on the subject. In chapter 19 of this book Job says:
"As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God. Whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!"
In Ecclesiastes we get a further picture of death. The writer tells us in poetic form to remember our creator in the days of our youth. Then it goes on to describe the process of old age and at last death. It describes dying in this way:
"Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed. Then the dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."
In these two ancient books, we get a picture, not of total annihilation, or a ceasing to exist, but of a separation of body and soul. And they give some idea of standing before God afterward. Of course, the Old Testament also depicts some sort of judgement to come after death as well. Daniel 12:2 tells us:
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt."
Some have taken this verse in Daniel out of context and have read into it a belief in
"soul sleep" or the sleeping of the soul in the grave until the final resurrection. But in order to get the full understanding of Scripture, one must look at all of what the Bible has to say. Daniel was merely using a metaphor here to describe what death looked like from a human perspective in seeing a dead body. They look like they are asleep. The other verses in the Old Testament and many in the New describe a person as being absent from the body in death.
In our next installment we will look more at what the New Testament has to say about death. But up to this point, it is obvious that there really is life after our existence on this earth as we know it has ended. As we will soon see, Scripture tells us that we must be prepared for the time when each of us comes to the end of his or her life and finally faces a holy God. This is not something any of us should take lightly. However, the Bible states that we can face that day with confidence if we accept the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary for our sins. He faced death so that we don't have to be separated forever from God's presence. May all who read this, prepare to meet their God!