What Happens When We Die?
It is one of the major questions asked in this life. Every persons wonders. Every person will know. What happens when the last breath leaves the body? We see the body of another, cold and dead, but where is his soul? What happens when we die? The Bible speaks very clearly on this issue of utmost importance. God, who not only inhabits eternity, but also rules over it, distinguishes between those who are His followers and those who are not. The eternal destiny of His children is different than that of those who continue in their rebellion against Him. Every person who comes to God through faith in Jesus Christ enjoys eternal life whereas those who do not...will not. The one who receives the saving work of Christ by faith is promised eternal glory, victory, and joy. The one who rejects salvation through faith in Christ also has eternal existence but it is everlasting death, torment, and suffering. The Bible delineates the difference in the following ways.
First, eternity for the believer in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The human constitution exists of body and soul. Upon death the body of a child of God is placed in the grave but the soul goes to heaven into the presence of the Lord. Our bodies return to the dust from which we came and it is a humble reminder of the brevity of life on earth. Immediately our souls are brought into the presence of our glorified God just as Jesus promised the thief on the cross, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) The Psalmist anticipated the same eternal destiny in Psalm 73:24, “You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” The Apostle Peter comforted believers with the promise of “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:4) At the end of his life, Paul excitedly looked forward to his life after death in which he anticipated a “crown of righteousness laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me.” (2 Timothy 4:8) As Jesus stood at the tomb and wept over the death of His friend Lazarus, He spoke to the assembled crowd and said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though He may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25) After that statement He called Lazarus out of the grave. But this is not all for the follower of Christ.
The Bible also speaks of a day of resurrection. This is the time in which our bodies will be gloriously reunited with our souls in a resurrected state. The soul of a believer lives in Heaven with God until the day that Jesus comes again. When Jesus comes again the body of the Christian will be resurrected to live in a glorified and perfected state forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Paul continues in verse 18 by saying that we should comfort each other with these words of hope, knowing that we will one day be completely victorious over sin and the grave by the power of Christ. Even in the ancient writings of Job we find that he had the same hope of resurrection. Job 19:25-26 says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” The Bible speaks repeatedly of a glorious day in which the body and soul of every follower of Christ will be perfected in righteousness and the great enemies of humanity, namely sin and death, will be ultimately defeated.
Second, eternity for those who do not believe in Christ. Hell is the eternal dwelling place of every person that does not receive the work that Jesus accomplished in His death on the cross. He died to receive the judgment we deserve for the sin that we have committed against the holy God. Any person who refuses the truth of His saving work will stand on his own before God’s holy justice. The non-believer has no mediator, no one to receive his judgment, other than himself. John 3:36 states, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The one who does not believe in the Son of God also has the human constitution of body and soul. This person’s body will also be returned to the ground when he dies. But his soul will not go to Heaven, it will go to Hell. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says all of those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will be punished with everlasting destruction.” Jesus said in Matthew 25:41 that He will say to those who did not serve Him by serving others in need, “Depart from Me, you cursed (ones), into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and in verse 46 they “will go away into everlasting punishment.” When Jesus described the final judgment of God, He said that sinners will be “cast into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42, 50) Jesus described Hell in His story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. When the Rich Man died he went to Hell. It is a place of “torment” and “flame” (vs. 24, 25, 28) with eternal consequence and no way out, for there is a “great gulf fixed” which “no one can pass” (vs. 26). Psalm 9:17 states very plainly what happens to the wicked when they die, “The wicked shall be turned into hell.”
The coming day of resurrection is for everyone. Resurrection for the believer in Christ is perfection and glory. Resurrection for the non-believer is torment and shame. Daniel 12:2 communicates this truth, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Every individual body will be reunited with every individual soul and will dwell in this state for all eternity. Jesus spoke of this great event to be fulfilled when He comes again in John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
The Apostle Paul cherished this truth as he declared in Acts 24:15, “I have hope in God...that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.”
The soul of the person who dies in Christ will go to Heaven. The soul of the person who dies without Christ will go to Hell. Each person will be reunited with their body at the time of Christ’s return in the event of resurrection. The body and soul of the person in Christ will rule and reign for all eternity with God in their glorified and perfected state. The body and soul of the person without Christ will exist in perpetual pain, torment, and shame in Hell. The final chapters of the Bible summarize these truths. Revelation 20 says that the Devil will be cast into the lake of fire and will be “tormented day and night forever and ever.” (vs. 10) And “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” This is what happens to those who die without Jesus. Revelation 21 says God will “make all things new” (vs. 5) for the Christian and “He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.” (vs. 3-4) This is what happens to those who die with Jesus.