What Happens When I Die Part 2
The New Testament View: Death for the Believer
As we've seen from our earlier study of death, we do not cease to exist when our bodies no longer function. The Bible sees death as a separation. Physical death is a separation of body and soul. Obviously, the physical body is placed in the grave at death. That leaves the soul. What happens to that? The truth is, we are all eternal beings. All of us has life after our natural death on this earth. The question is: "What will my life consist of when I die, and where will I spend that life?" That answer truly depends on our relationship with the God of the universe. Those, who have faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their sins have been been promised by the Lord that He is going to prepare a place for them, and that they will be with Him forever. So, what happens after death for the believer in Christ, is different than what happens for the non-believer. Let us first look at death for the Christian.
I. What Happens Immediately After Death?
Death for the believer, as for the non believer, is a transition from one state of existence to another. In the case of the believer, absence from the body means an immediate presence with the Lord. When the dying thief on the cross asked our Lord to remember him when Jesus came into His Kingdom, we have the beautiful reply: "Today you will be with me in paradise." He didn't say some day. He said today! Jesus was teaching that this man's soul would immediately be in His presence. The Apostle Paul also had a desire for this when he died. He states:
"Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (II Corinthians 5:6-8).
So for the believer, death should not be a fearful thing. It is the beginning of an eternal existence with the one who saved us from our sins and has prepared an eternal dwelling for us.
II. What Happens Later?
In the Thessalonian church, the believers were waiting for the coming of Christ. But time had passed and some of their loved ones had died. They were wondering what would become of them when the Lord returned. Paul, in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 answers this question. He assures them that their loved ones are all right. In fact, they will be the first to be raised at the Lord's return. In this passage, which we know today as the Rapture, or "catching up" of the Church, Paul talks about the dead being raised first to meet the Lord in the air. Obviously their souls are already present with the Lord, so Paul talks about the Lord bringing them with Him. What apparently takes place is that the bodies of the dead are raised and changed into the bodies that they will dwell in for eternity. The body is immediately reunited with the soul that is brought back.
After this, the living Christians who are around at the Lord's return, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. And Paul ends this passage on a high note, saying that we will always be with the Lord. The Thessalonian Christians could comfort one another with the fact that they will see their loved ones again and will spend eternity with them. This is our hope and comfort as well.
III. The Judgement Seat of Christ
After death, we must all face some sort of judgement. This is true even for the believer. II Corinthians 5:10 tells us:
"For we must all stand before the judgement seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad."
For the believer, this judgement is not to determine salvation. That has been settled. Rather it is to determine reward or loss of reward for what the believer has done in this life for the Lord, or to please his own flesh. I Corinthians 3:11-15 talks about this plainly. Someone has said: "Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last." Not only has the Lord promised us Heaven when we die. He has promised to reward us for what we've done on this earth by the power of His Holy Spirit as well. This is truly amazing grace!
IV. The New Heaven and the New Earth
Ultimately, for all believers in Christ, the Bible talks about a New Heaven and a New Earth. The Apostle John tells about this in Revelation 21:1-4. It is here that all of the effects of sin will be forever erased. There will be no more mourning or crying or pain. All that made life miserable in the old creation, marred by sin, will no longer be there to destroy paradise. This is what all believers have to look forward to. So death should no longer pose the terror it once did. Death will be the last enemy that is finally and forever conquered.
For the believer, death offers hope. It is not the end of existence, but merely the beginning of the rich and abundant life that Jesus Christ has offered. For those who haven't accepted Christ as Savior, there awaits a future that is one without hope. We will examine this in the next article, but for now let us rejoice that none of us has to face an eternity without Chirst. We all have the choice of what happens to us when we die. My prayer is that everyone who reads this series makes the right choice.