What happens when we die? Do we go to heaven or hell right away or do we “sleep”? These are questions often asked and argued. The truth of this is vital to know. If it were not important to know than God would not have put so much about it in His word. This message is going to be long. But, I hope it will bring understanding to those seeking truth. There are many “ideas” about what happens when we die. The word of God has all the answers. God keeps nothing in secret. He is not the author of confusion. He is the author of truth and love, light and life.
To understand death we must first understand life.
Genesis 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.
We are a living soul from the breath of God inside a body from dust. Two separate entities in one being.
1 Corinthians 15:39-44 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
Those who belong to Christ also have a third part to their being. Just as God is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost/Spirit and we are made in His image.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul distinguishes the three as separate entities, body, soul, and spirit.
Now that we know what makes up our living being let’s move on to death. Because of the sin in the Garden of Eden man has been appointed to die.
Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
We know death is a reality. Even those who do not believe in God know this truth. What happens afterward is a mystery to many and highly speculated by most. Some read scripture and point out what goes with their theology, ignoring the most important scriptures that prove them wrong. We must always let the bible interpret itself. We can not pick and chose what we believe to be truth.
In the time of Jesus some were confused about the term sleep and it’s meaning.
John 11:11-12 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
Jesus said Lazarus was sleeping and His disciples thought He meant Lazarus was just taking a nap. Because of our lack of understanding God’s way Jesus had to plainly tell them in a manner which they would understand. God doesn’t look at us as bodies like we do. He looks at us as souls. Lazarus’s body died but His soul was sleeping.
The book of Job is one of the best places in the bible to find the truth about this topic.
Job 14:10-15 But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! 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.
This is telling us that when we die we are not raised again nor shall we awake out of sleep til the heavens be no more. This is speaking about the end of time. The last days of Revelation. Job also says he will wait until the appointed time, when his change will come, and God will call to him and he will answer. This is the same as what Paul told us.
1 Corinthians 15:50-54 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
John 5:28-29 Marvel not at this: 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.
And the angel said to Daniel…….
Daniel 12:1-2 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. 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 was also told he would rest until the end…..
Daniel 12:13 But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.
When Saul went to a witch to raise up the dead Samuel we see that Samuel was sleeping….
1 Samuel 28:11-15 Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul. And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.
Jesus spoke of eternal life constantly. Many people thought He was a lunatic because one can not live forever. But, Jesus was not speaking about our bodies. He was speaking about our soul. Our soul is who we truly are. It is the destination of our soul that matters in this life. When our bodies die we no longer have a chance to choose our soul’s destination. Therefore, judgment has been passed at that time. If you are with Christ your soul will rest until the appointed time. But, if you are not saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ your soul will not rest. Your soul will be tormented day and night.
So, what happens to the soul who is not saved? They are cast down to hell where there is darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Just as the angels that sinned.
2 Peter 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
Jude 1:6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
The fiery hell that we picture is not the true hell. It is a place of complete sadness and loneliness. It is much like a holding cell before the trial. It is extremely hot and there is fire but not a consuming fire for that is saved for the end. You will sit there and think about your life on earth and suddenly realize how bad you messed up your chance at eternal peace. You will see every aspect of your life where you sinned and was given the chance to repent but did not. Then you will remember the consequences of your sins. And there you will sit, day and night, thinking over and over again about the day when you will be loosened from your darkness and thrown into the fiery hell you were warned about all your life on earth. The thought of knowing where you are going will taunt you all the days you are there. Stand next to a burning blaze on a hot, humid summer night and you won’t come close to the feeling of hell.
Jesus told many parables. One of which is about the rich man and the beggar who both died.
Luke 16:19-31 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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. 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. 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. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
This is more about greed and not sharing with those who are in need but, it illustrates life after death. Notice how the rich man in hell is conscious of his surroundings and what has happened but the beggar is silent. Only Abraham is speaking to the rich man. The beggar is resting.
So then, what about the saved soul? It shall sleep, or rest, until judgment day just as the lost soul goes to its “holding cell”.
Even King David is still sleeping….
Acts 2:25-35 For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. 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. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool.
If the saved soul goes directly to heaven when the body dies then why would God need a resurrection of the dead?
1 Corinthians 15:12-14 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 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. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For 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 first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
There will be a resurrection of the dead. The Lord will call to them and they will rise from their sleep to meet Him, then the living in Christ will be changed and rise to meet them. This will be the first resurrection of the dead. It will include the souls who were beheaded by the antichrist in the last days.
Revelation 20:4-6 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
From this passage we learn that there is a first resurrection therefore there must be at least a second one. We also learn there is a second death. What is the second resurrection and the second death?
Revelation 20:12-15 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. 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. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Let us not be with the second group.
Well, what have we learned? The body will die and go back to dust. We know the soul sleeps and will be resurrected to go to heaven (eternal life) or the soul will go to hell (eternal torment) and be resurrected to go into the lake of fire. What happens then to our spirit?
Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
The spirit is merely a “borrowed” entity from God to give our soul knowledge, strength and comfort while our bodies live. After our body dies we will no longer need it.
So, when our body dies our spirit goes back to God and our soul (the true part of who we are) will rest, or sleep until the day of judgment unless that soul is not saved.
A bonus note. Many like to claim that Jesus plainly said we will go straight to heaven because of this passage……….
Luke 23:39-43 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
The original scriptures did not have punctuation. Punctuation was not added to the bible until centuries later. Some propose that the punctuation in this passage is incorrect. I disagree. You see, God will not let His word be mangled by man. Notice the word “Today”. Generally that word would begin with a lower case letter even after a comma. Here you see it starts with a capital letter. There is your second witness to the meaning of this scripture. Today means today it will happen. But if we sleep when we die, how is it that Jesus told this man he would be in paradise with Him today? So many fail to see that when Christ died on the cross there were more resurrected than He.
Matthew 27:50-53 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
Many, not all, of the saints rose from the grave and appeared to the people. The young man that died along side Jesus was promised and it was given to him. These souls went with our Lord to paradise.
John 14:2-3 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 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.
Jesus is preparing our mansions and will return to get us. Since He isn’t coming back until the restitution of all things, meaning end times, than we don’t go to heaven when we die.
Acts 3:20-21 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
Even those Christ spoke to will either rest or wait in hell until He returns.
Matthew 16:27-28 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
We do not go directly to heaven when we die.