What happens to a christian when they die?

Howard Coles, Coleford, England

QUESTION

What happens to Christians when they die?

ANSWER

The scriptures clearly indicate that the moment a believer dies his soul and spirit go immediately to be with Christ, to enjoy consciously His presence in the infinite and unimaginable glories of heaven. The body goes into the grave to return to dust and is referred to as being asleep, until the resurrection, 1 Thess. 4. 14-17. The following are some of the scriptures which support this view:

  1. Lazarus, ‘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’, Luke 16. 22-25. It is quite clear that the moment Lazarus died he was consciously enjoying paradise – it mentions, for instance, he was comforted - hardly a term that could be applied to someone subject to soul sleep. If Lazarus was conscious after his death, then it must surely also be true of believers who die in this present church age. 
  2. Moses and Elijah, ‘Behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem’, Luke 9. 29-31. Elijah and Moses are seen to be conscious and conversing with the Lord concerning His soon coming death at Calvary. Again, if this was true of them, it would seem inconsistent for it not to be true for believers today at their homecall. 
  3. The thief on the cross, ‘And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’, Luke 23. 43. The Lord Jesus here confirms to the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that same day. Not at some future time when the kingdom was to be established. That would have had no real meaning for him if he was to be unconscious until the future resurrection.

If ‘soul sleep’ applies to believer’s today at their homecall this would mean that they are not so privileged as the Old Testament saints which is inconsistent with the victory of Calvary. Here are some scriptures which disprove the ‘soul sleep’ view and confirm the conscious enjoyment of heaven and Christ’s presence immediately following a believer’s homecall: 

  1. ‘For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better’, Phil. 1. 23. This statement by the apostle Paul simply does not make any sense unless he was anticipating being transported to heaven and being in the presence of Christ at the moment of his death. It could hardly be described as ‘far better’ if he was to fall asleep for an indeterminate period.
  2. ‘We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord’, 2 Cor. 5. 8. Again, this would not make any sense if soul sleep is involved. How could Paul ‘be willing . . . to be present with the Lord’, if he anticipated going to sleep until the resurrection?
  3. Here is a final example: ‘I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God . . . And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?’, Rev. 6. 9-10. This appears to refer to saints who will be martyred during the tribulation period, seen here by John, during the seal judgements, in heaven appealing to the Lord. Not until Christ’s second advent will they be resurrected. No soul sleep here!

From these scriptures, then, we deduce that at the moment the Lord calls a believer home, he is taken immediately into His presence to perfect fellowship and enjoyment of the infinite glories of Christ. Glorious truth, Hallelujah!

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