Friday, May 20, 2016

What Happens When We Die?

There is lots of confusion about what happens when a Christian dies. Are we in "Heaven" then? Do we have bodies? Are we asleep in the grave until the end? 

Recently, I was sent this question that I’ve seen before, and thought it might be one that some of you deal with, too. Someone who was in a Bible study on the Book of Revelation asked me the following:

“There have been some passages in the New Testament that we've read that have me confused. We also just discussed Rev. 20 and talked about the first resurrection which made me think about what happens between death and that first resurrection of believers. Anyway, I feel like I've been taught my whole life that when we die we go to heaven...immediately. It wasn't until this year that I even heard or thought otherwise. What are your thoughts? From these passages in Revelation as well as some other New Testament passages it makes it seem like we won't be with Christ until He returns for his 1000 year reign.” 

Here’s the heart of my response:

The Bible clearly states in Philippians 1 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 that at death we are “at home with the Lord” or “with Christ,” which Paul says is “far better” than being here. Obviously our bodies aren’t with Christ, since we’ve died and our bodies have been (typically) buried. But we, in a real sense, are there. We call that “heaven” sometimes, and that is appropriate, since it is where God lives.

However, as I understand it, it is not us as we will always be, but still waiting for something more. Our spirit is there, and we are rejoicing with the Lord and those we love, but we are also awaiting the resurrection, because we still need bodies, and ours is in the grave. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes that we are currently in an earthly “home” or “tent,” and are longing for a “heavenly dwelling” (a new, resurrection body). Putting off this earthly tent for our heavenly dwelling seems to involve an interim that Paul references as being “naked” and “unclothed”—a state that is not what we finally want. It’s not embarrassing, like being naked here, but rather unadorned, lacking the beautiful exterior that is to come. It may be in that happy but incomplete state that we find ourselves when we are with Christ, waiting for the resurrection.

So, after our death while we wait for this future event, our existence would be similar to angels—spirits that have no permanent body. Some suggest that we will have a temporary or intermediate body, but we don’t have any evidence for that. We will be known and “seen” by God, angels, and I assume one another, but how that “works” isn’t clear. I’ll trust God to take care of that for us!

At the resurrection, we are united with a new, glorious body (the last half of 1 Corinthians 15 talks about this at length) that is perfect and will last forever. After the judgments of Rev. 20, we then move into the New Heaven and Earth—the recreated place where the heavenly Jerusalem will be. It’s a perfect world (the new earth) and God chooses to make his presences abide there as the Son is there, too (and I’m assuming the Spirit).  

The unredeemed, whose spirits have been “residing” in Hades (a place of conscious torment) are also raised in bodies that will last forever, but only to be judged and cast into the Lake of Fire—even worse than Hades, since Hades is emotional, mental, spiritual torment, but the Lake of Fire may also then include physical torment as well. 

I hope that gives you some help, or at least some things to think about when we consider our future, and those we love being with Christ.