What Happens When We Die?
In Defense of the Faith – Jack Kinsella – Omega Letter Editor – www.omegaletter.com/articles/articles.asp?ArticleID=6125
What is ‘death’? What happens to us when we draw our last breath and leave this earth? Is it the end? The beginning? Do we immediately go from this life to the next?
Do we ‘sleep’ until the Rapture or the Great White Throne Judgment? Or is it all a comforting myth?
The Old Testament prophets shared a belief in a final resurrection and judgment. But that is about as much as God gave them to understand:
"If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer Thee: Thou wilt have a desire to the work of Thine Hands." (Job 14:14-15)
"For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." (Job 19:25-27)
"And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." (Daniel 12:2)
But does that mean that our consciousness ceases at physical death until the resurrection? There are some Christians who argue that to be the case, drawing on the New Testament for Scriptural support.
"If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven…" (John 3:12-13)
"…for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:28-29)
"Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day." (Acts 2:29)
"And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:" (Hebrews 9:27)
Taking those verses, particularly when taking them out of the full context of Scripture, it would seem to suggest that when we die, we go into some kind of ‘soul sleep’ until the Resurrection. But is that true?
Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, physical death, particularly as it applies to the saints, is characterized as ‘sleep’.
"Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death." (Psalms 13:3)
"For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:" (Acts 13:36)
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope." (1st Thessalonians 4:13)
So, it would seem, at least by a cursory examination of the Scriptures, that when we die, we stay dead until the resurrection.
But that is not entirely accurate.
The Bible is a series of progressive revelations. That is to say, eternal truths were revealed, slowly, over time, according to God’s plan.
As Paul explained, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1st Corinthians 13:12)
As early as Job’s time, God had revealed the existence of the Redeemer Christ, and the PHYSICAL resurrection of the dead. Job not only expected to see Christ with his PHYSICAL eyes, (Job 19:25-27) but he expected his physical body to be changed.
". . . all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. . . " Job awaited the call of the trumpet at the Rapture, thousands of years before it was generally known as doctrine. "Thou shalt call . . ." (Job 14:14-15)
But in all these Scriptures, the reference is to the PHYSICAL body which is ‘asleep’ — and NOT the spirit.
Solomon addressed the eventual end of both body AND spirit. "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
Physical death is NOT the end of consciousness. The Apostle Paul spoke of physical death as the time when the spirit is "absent from the body" but "present with the Lord."
Jesus Himself explained what happens to us spiritually when we experience physical death.
"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried. . ." (Luke 16:23)
Lazarus the beggar died PHYSICALLY, but his spirit was carried by the angels into Paradise. The rich man died PHYSICALLY and was buried, but his spirit was very much conscious in hell.
"And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." (16:24 )
Note the following facts from this passage of Scripture. Lazarus, Abraham and the rich man were all there, and they were all conscious of their surroundings.
"And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. " (16:24)
The rich man was conscious of his torment, was capable of addressing Abraham, and was aware of Lazarus.
Abraham was equally conscious of HIS surroundings, as well as those of the rich man, and was capable of giving reply.
"But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." (16:25-26)
Not only that, the rich man, (who was NOT in the Lake of Fire, but hell, which establishes this story as being in real-time and before Christ’s resurrection — and not some point after the Great White Throne Judgment), was not only conscious and aware of his surroundings, but his earthly memories remained intact:
"Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment." (16:27-18)
The rich man remembered (and still cared for) his father and his five brothers as living individuals that he knew from his earthly life.
His PHYSICAL body was dead (or ‘asleep’) but his soul was very much ‘alive’ in the sense of his consciousness.
So, what happens when we die? We become absent from the body, but there is no cessation of consciousness until the resurrection.
When John writes: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection," (Revelation 20:5) he is addressing the PHYSICAL resurrection of the dead whose consciousness remains awake in hell with the rich man until final judgment.
Once the resurrected body and spirit are reunited at the Great White Throne, they are cast, both body and soul, into the lake of fire. John says, "this is the second death," since it refers to both the physical and spiritual separation from God for eternity.
As to the ‘dead in Christ’ — they are also conscious, but in Heaven in the presence of the Lord from the moment of physical death until the Rapture.
Furthering Job’s theme of ‘the change’ Paul writes, "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1st Corinthians 15:51-52)
At the Rapture, some believers will not yet have experienced death. They shall be instantly changed into their incorruptible bodies. Those who have experienced physical death will be reunited with their bodies, which will be raised and changed.
But their spirits and consciousness are already awake and alive and in the presence of the Lord.
Those who are ‘asleep’ in Christ are those who have experienced PHYSICAL, but not conscious death.
At the Rapture, the "Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise (physically incorruptible) first: Then we which are (physically) alive and remain (in our natural bodies) shall be caught up together with them (changed and incorruptible) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1st Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Our loved ones who have gone home to the Lord are ALREADY in His Presence, enjoying Heaven and its unimaginable joy and riches. They are NOT mouldering in the grave, unconsciously awaiting the call of the Trumpet.
They are alive and aware and eagerly anticipating the opportunity to meet with us in the air and embrace us once more.
"Wherefore, comfort one another with these words." (1st Thessalonians 4:18)