By Matt Leasher
One of the most significant questions that the Bible answers and reveals to mankind is what happens after we die, or as I prefer to say, pass on. Many view death as the complete end of their life and in an earthly physical sense it is, but it isn’t the end of our conscience mind and spirit. King Solomon writing about what happens when we pass on from this earthly existence said this:
“Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it”. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
I especially like the warning that he gives in the verse just prior:
“Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed” (Ecclesiastes 12:6)
Many believe that this “silver cord” that Solomon mentions is the spiritual cable that keeps our souls strapped within our physical frame of flesh and at death that “cord” snaps releasing our spirits from our bodies to be escorted by angels unto our eternal home. I find it particularly interesting that even at our physical birth into this world our umbilical cord must be snapped to release us into this life.
We have no control of our coming into this world. God has pre-ordained when and where we would all be born, (see Acts 17:26). But the Lord has left our spiritual birth to our own free will, (see John 3:1-21). Since He gave us the free will to be born of the Spirit, we therefore have our own ability to determine where we will go when we leave this earth. If we believe and follow the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ and accept Him as our Lord and Savior then we need not fear death. We have the blessed assurance that when we draw our last breath we will go into His presence.The apostle Paul confirms this in his second letter to the Corinthians when he said:
“So 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, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)
And again when he wrote to the Philippians while in prison and facing possible execution:
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what shall I choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24)
So we can be rest assured that as born again believers in Christ, He will receive us on the other side of the veil of death and all we have to do is believe and trust in Him. It is never too late to obtain the faith needed for eternal salvation. Just look at the thief on the cross. He had no time to do any good works to earn his worthiness of being accepted into heaven. He was in the last moments of his life on the cross next to Jesus and just because he had enough last minute faith to say, “Lord remember me when You come into your Kingdom”, Jesus said to him “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43) If the thief on the cross was saved by faith and not by works then so are you!
While I’m on the subject of Calvary it should also be noted that just before Jesus took His last breath and died He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46), providing us with a first hand example of the Ecclesiastes 12:7 verse I mentioned earlier that says the spirit returns to God who gave it.
A careful observation of the gospels will show that whenever Jesus came upon a deceased person He never referred to them as being dead but rather as only sleeping. Meaning that from our earthly perspective the body is asleep. This should not be confused with the doctrine of soul sleep that is popular with the Seventh Day Adventist denomination in which it says that the person is in a dormant state of sleep until the day of resurrection when Christ will awaken it. It is true that there is a resurrection day coming but Christ will bring our spirits back with Him and unite them with our new glorified incorruptible bodies that will be prepared for eternal living, (see 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). However, until that time our spirits are completely conscience and coherent in the afterlife. For proof of this all one has to do is go to Luke 16:19-31 and take a look at the story that Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man, (and this being a story of an account not a parable)! In the story the rich man is in hell and in torment and begging for a drop of water while Lazarus is in comfort in Paradise. Note that both deceased men are displaying attributes of complete consciousness and are fully aware of their surroundings. They are not sleeping! The same is true for the deceased souls of the martyrs that are crying out in Revelation 6:10 and the multitude of the slain tribulation saints that are standing before the throne in Revelation 7:9-11. They are not sleeping either!
The Bible gives us plenty of proof and assurance that there is indeed an afterlife and for those that are in Christ we have plenty to look forward to. The Bible encourages us to always be setting our mind on heaven and heavenly things and not to set our mind on earthly things for our citizenship is in heaven, (Philippians 3:20). If we are storing up our treasures in heaven and not here on earth then we will not be so consumed and tied down by the world. Most of the non-believing secular world believes that the short time that they are here on this earth is all that there is. That is why the world we live in is such a rat race. Everyone is out trying to get all that they can as fast as they can get it while they are still here. They follow the motto, “you only live once” as they switch into 5th gear but the truth of the matter is that the real life is yet to come and it will be provided by Jesus Christ to His faithful saints. You will have much more peace and less anxiety if you focus daily on the heavenly future that God has promised to us rather than trying to get all that you can out of this world.
For many people the subject of death and the afterlife remains an unknown mystery. This is because so many people do not consult the Word of God on this matter but rather turn to either worldly resources or their own understanding. This is not only very deceptive but is extremely dangerous and risky. First of all the world is full of so many lies on this subject because it is an easy subject to cash in on. Everybody wants to know where they will go when they die and because of this there is a market out there for every type of conceivable fantasy that will provide anyone with whatever appeals to their imagination. From reincarnation to ghostly dimensions to purgatory or to a land of rainbows and unicorns there are plenty of satanic lies out there for the person that is ignorant of the truth that God has given us in His Word. Then there is the person that has his own idea of where he is going when he takes his last breath regardless of what the Bible or anyone else says. This is a most deadly scenario!
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12)
Many times the Word of God warns us not to rely on our own understanding but to turn to His counsel. Something as mysterious as life after death is certainly something that we should leave to Him to explain and not to ourselves or anyone else. After all, He is the One that gives life and the One that takes it, (Job 1:21).
For many the thought of death is frightening but when we understand the purpose of why we die, (or pass on), then we can come to find that death is actually a blessing! I know that may sound like an odd statement so to clarify it let’s take a look at how death came into the world. Adam and Eve were created by God as perfect beings in His image and had glorified eternal bodies. Then they were tempted by Satan to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and when they did they sinned against God and inherited death. God told them that if they ate from that tree they would surely die, (Genesis 2:17). So they lost their righteous clothing and became naked. In essence they did the reverse of what will happen at the Rapture. They went from an incorruptible body to a corruptible body. What a terrible feeling it must have been! They tried to cover themselves with fig leaves but instead God clothed them with tunics of animal skin. Death had now entered the world! The shed blood of the animals that provided the clothing that covered their nakedness, (sin), was the earliest picture of the shed blood of Christ, (our sacrificial Lamb), that covers our sins. After this Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden, where they previously dwelt in direct fellowship with God, and were now spiritually dead. Although they were now spiritually dead they were still physically alive, however, the aging process had now begun. God had ordained that they reproduce so that the human race wouldn’t end with them. Since Adam and Eve are the parents of all people then they simply reproduced what they were – spiritually dead beings! That is why we ALL need to be born again, (John 3:3).
Since Adam and Eve went from a perfect incorruptible state to a sin filled corruptible body then they were separated from God. Had they remained in this state without ever dying then they would be eternally separated from God, but through death, they and everyone that is covered with the blood of the Lamb, (Jesus), will enter heaven through death. We can’t enter heaven unless we first physically die, (1 Corinthians 15:50). That is why death is a blessing!
When we know the truth of what the Bible says about death and the afterlife for the believer then there is even a certain type of beauty involved in dying. I know, another odd statement. Let’s let the Bible explain it. Chapter 15 in the first book to the Corinthians by the apostle Paul is all about the resurrection of the dead, of both Christ and of the future resurrection for believers. In verses 35-38 Paul gives us the analogy of the seed that must be sown into the earth before it can sprout out of the earth into a new better form of life. This is how it is for those that die in Christ. We are now in the state of the seed and when we die we go into the ground and when we are resurrected we will have a new incorruptible glorified body and life! Jesus also preached this same analogy.
“Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” (John 12:24)
This is certainly not to say that any believer that is cremated, or dies at sea, or is burned up, etc. and doesn’t get buried in the ground isn’t going to be resurrected. God will resurrect all believers no matter what happened to their bodies after their spirit left it. God has no restrictions. Even the unbelievers will be resurrected at the end of the thousand-year millennium reign of Christ to face the White Throne Judgment, (see Revelation 20:11-15). Everyone that ever lived will be resurrected at some time or another and bow a knee before Jesus the King, (Philippians 2:10).
For the righteous, (those covered by the blood of Christ), their resurrection will be one of beauty. The Lord has promised in Isaiah 61:3 that He will trade our ashes in for beauty but first our earthly bodies must perish and be shed before we can be given our garments of glory.
The only people that will enter heaven without tasting death are those that are alive at the time of the Rapture, (see 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 for this wonderful good news). While I strongly believe that we are the generation that will experience this translation, until then we must always be prepared to pass through the veil of death, as we never know when our soul will be required from us. Many people spend their lives earnestly working towards their future whether it is preparing for college, planning a career, seeking marriage or saving for their retirement while never even giving so much as a thought to their eternal destiny. Planning out your life here on earth is all good and well but shouldn’t our eternal state be more important then the little time we are here on this earth, for our lives are but a vapor.
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-14)
As in the parable of the rich fool, we should not put all of our trust into the things that we have stored up here on earth.
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20)
Whether it is the unknown timing of the Rapture or the unknown timing of our dying day, the Lord could come for us at any time. It is important to be prepared! Putting off accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior is no joking matter. Not only will your eternal destiny be sealed in glory but your present life will be at peace as well. Being descendents of Adam we are all born spiritually dead. This is the first death. We must all be born again of the spirit so that we will avoid the second death! In case you’re wondering what the second death is, it isn’t the expiration of your earthly physical body. It is the condemnation into the Lake of Fire for those not found in the Book of Life at the White Throne Judgment, (see Revelation 20:14-15 and Revelation 21:8). This may sound harsh but it doesn’t have to be. God has given us His Word of how to overcome it and it is simply done by faith.
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10b-11)
So as we have seen in this study, death of our earthly physical body is not really death at all but a transition stage. Our earthly life is our placement test for where we will go after our spirit departs into eternity. The moment that Christ died on the cross the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies where God dwelt was torn in two from top to bottom signifying that man’s separation from God because of sin was now paid for. We now can all enter into His presence with Jesus Christ as our High Priest. If you will pass through the torn veil that Christ provided and come to Him in faith then you will be on your way to glory when that day comes that you pass through the veil of death.