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Posted: 11/10/11

Life After Death: 

What happens when a believer dies?

Dr. Randy White


The water was slowly dripping from my umbrella as I walked through a light sprinkle of rain after finishing a grave-side service.  With each step on that long walk to the car, my mind wandered from the pit of the grave to the doorstep of heaven.  I do not know whether my mind was triggered by the pain of losing a close friend, the look of despair on some of those at the burial, or perhaps the dreary nature of the day, but I was now fully consumed by thoughts of the afterlife.  Questions I've heard so many times before started flooding my mind: what happens when a Christian dies?  What does it mean to sleep?  Are Christians stuck in the ground until the rapture?  As I again pondered these questions, my heart began to find great comfort and hope in the clear words of Scripture. 

Though this scene I just described is not from a graveside funeral that I am thinking of specifically, it remains a familiar scene, I'm sure, not only for me, but for many other pastors as well. 

I believe that all Christians can and should know with confidence what happens to a Christian after death. There is such hope and a great promise that cuts through the gloom and provides assurance, even when you are in the midst of dealing with the rainy storm of death.  

A great verse to look at when considering the physical death of a Christian is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: "we do not want you to be uniformed about those who are asleepů."  Following this verse, Paul proceeds to tell us what happens to Christians when they die.  The answer is two-fold: one answer for the soul, and the other for the physical body.

The Bible is very clear about what happens to the soul-the spiritual part of life, including the mind, emotions, and will-following death. Plainly stated, the soul of a Christian goes immediately to be with the Savior.  The sin of the believer has been completely removed in Christ and the righteousness of Christ fills the soul of the believer (see 1 Corinthians 5:17-21).  The beauty and immediate nature of being with the Lord after death is envisioned by those word of Jesus on the cross to the believing thief: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).  And so shall it be for all those who have trusted in Christ Jesus.

Paul goes on to say that "those who have fallen asleep in Jesus" will return "with Him" (1 Thessalonians 4:14).  That is, every Christian who dies, having placed their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation, will be with Christ upon His return to earth.  Since we know they are going to return "with Him" then we also know that they are currently "with Him."  This is why Paul says that our grief is not like "the rest, who have no hope."

But, quite obviously, the body does not go immediately to heaven.  The body becomes an empty vessel; the person is "absent from the body" while the soul is "present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).  So then, what happens to this body which is absent its soul?  Well, that's really quite easy--the body begins to decay.  You were created from dust and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).  This decay process, however, is only temporary.  The body is planted like a seed, and shall rise again one day in new life (1 Corinthians 15 gives more background material for the resurrection of the body, based on the resurrection of Christ).

When does the body of the believer rise again?  We are taught in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that when the Lord descends and the trumpet is sounded, that the "dead in Christ shall rise first."  At that time, "we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them."  Interestingly, we get the word "rapture" from the Latin translation of "caught up."  So, at the rapture, when the souls of the dead in Christ descend with Christ, their bodies are resurrected and rise "to meet them in the air," and there is a glad reunion of body and soul. 

It never is easy coping with the death of a loved one.  Yet, when at the cemetery, be reminded that soon (it could be any day!) the trumpet will sound, the dead in Christ shall rise, and those who believe in the Lord Jesus will be caught up, and be forever in a glad reunion with Christ and those we love who "have fallen asleep in Christ Jesus." 

This promise and hope, however, is only for those who are Christians.  Thankfully, becoming a Christian takes no effort on the human end.  All one must do is have faith (another word we could use is trust).  Trust in what?  Trust that the death of Jesus Christ was the satisfactory payment for the consequence of your sin nature-separation from God forever in hell.  He died in your place.  Trust also that Jesus Christ conquered death by rising from the dead which offers us the promise of resurrection as well.  Turn away, then, from whatever else you currently are trusting in to bring peace with God, and turn to Jesus Christ alone for your salvation from the consequence of sin.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."  Where have you placed your trust?  There is a tremendous promise and a glorious place that will turn the storm of death into the hope of life, but only for those who trust in Christ alone.  For, "behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).   

Dr. Randy White is Pastor of First Baptist Church of Katy, TX, and the speaker on a daily radio program, Word for the World.

This article is available in a PDF form with enhanced graphics here.

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By Randy White

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correction needs to be made
Posted On: 11/11/11 09:38:53 AM Age 0, AL
In the 5th paragraph there is a reference: see 1 Corinthians 5:17-21. I believe the pastor was referring to 2 Cor 5:17-21.

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