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What happens when we die?


What happens when we die?

Steve Answers:

We “sleep” until Jesus returns. This “sleep” is like being unconscious or passed out.

When Lazarus was dead, Jesus referred to him as being asleep. Jesus also said that He’d go wake him up (John 11:11-13).

Earlier Jesus said: “A time is coming when all who are dead and in their graves will hear [God’s] voice. Then they will come out of their graves. Those who did good will rise and have life forever, but those who did evil will rise to be judged guilty” (John 5:28, 29, NCV).1

Toward the end of the book of Daniel you can read: “Everyone whose name is written in God’s book will be saved. Many people who have already died will live again. Some of them will wake up to have life forever, but some will wake up to find shame and disgrace forever” (Daniel 12:1, 2, NCV).

Actually, let’s take a look at the beginning of life to help us better understand the end of life. All the way back at Creation, God breathed life into dirt that He’d formed into the shape of a man. And the first human being, Adam, became alive (Genesis 2:7).

The first warning God gave Adam was: “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Genesis 2:16, 17, NLT).2

Genesis 3:4 records the first lie in the Bible. It was uttered by Satan as he spoke through a serpent. When Eve explained that death would come to them if they ate or even touched the forbidden tree, the serpent hissed, “You won’t die!” (NLT).

Satan lies, but God doesn’t. That’s why you won’t find the original Adam and Eve on this planet anymore. Adam and Eve died.

There was also a tree of life in the original Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9). After choosing to follow Satan instead of God, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, which included the tree of life. An angel guarded it so that fallen humans wouldn’t live forever (Genesis 3:22-24).

A quick summary of what we’ve covered so far shows that:

1. God gives life.

2. Humans chose to believe Satan instead of God, so they chose death instead of life.

That would be the end of the story, except that God provided a way out for humans. In Genesis 3:15 you can read a loaded promise that the fight between God and Satan would continue on this earth. God will eventually stomp out Satan, but God will also be wounded in the process. In other words, Jesus would have to die for us before Satan is annihilated. In the meantime, the war between God and Satan continues to play out in our lives and all over our planet. Have you noticed?

Since that beginning, there have been all sorts of beliefs about what happens after a person dies. These can be simplified by condensing them into three broad categories, although each category has several branches with various differences.

Category 1: When you die, that’s it, there’s nothing more, it’s all over. This is the frequent explanation of atheists (there is no God and nothing supernatural), of hedonists (eat, drink, and be merry, because tomorrow we die), and scientists (unless we can observe something ourselves, it’s not real).

Category 2: When you die, you come back in some form—it’s called reincarnation. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism teach that there is some supernatural spark within you that keeps on going when you die. It just has to find a place to go. You might come back as a dog, a mosquito, a tree, or maybe a planet. The quality and desirability of your next life often depend on how good you were in your previous life.

Category 3: When you die, you move from the natural world into the supernatural world. Many Christians believe this happens right after you die, although this is based on Greek explanations from Plato in the fourth century B.C., not on the Bible. The “feel-good” description at many Christian funerals is that the dead person is already in heaven and looking down on us while we cry during the ceremony.

Although you may hear many warnings to “be good or else you’ll go to hell when you die,” you won’t hear people say publicly that a “bad” person went to hell—at least it won’t be mentioned during the funeral.

Although Martin Luther argued that a person’s soul sleeps until judgment day, most Lutherans today no longer believe that. Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses are some of the few religious groups that believe a person is “asleep” in a state of unconsciousness when they die, and that they remain this way until Jesus resurrects them. A few of Paul’s writings give more details about this. Check out 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.

I can say with certainty that I have eternal life—because I believe in Jesus Christ. If you believe in Him, you do, too. Remember John 3:16? I may “sleep”—what humans often refer to as death. But since I already have eternal life, it will be just like taking a nap until Jesus returns and “wakes me up,” since He’s the one who provides me with eternal life. My eternal life is based on Jesus as the source and the giver of that life, not based on something I have on my own, or that I’ve earned by some accumulation of good deeds.

In John 5 Jesus made some bold statements about life and death after He healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda on Sabbath and the Jewish leaders decided to kill Him:

• “The Father will show [the Son] how to do even greater works than healing this man” (John 5:20, NLT).

• “For just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants” (John 5:21, NLT).

• “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24, NLT).

What happens when we die? According to the Bible: nothing.

What matters is whether or not you’ve received eternal life before you die. If you’ve already received eternal life, then rest during your “sleep,” because it’s going to be quite a show at the resurrection!

1Scriptures credited to NCV are quoted from The Holy Bible, New Century Version, copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
2Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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