What happen to Christians when they die
Written by arkwriter   
Saturday, 25 July 2009 04:20


What happen to Christians when they die 



Paul Wong 



Death is not a pleasant subject to talk or write about.  This article is not about preparing Christians for the afterlife.  It is written in defense of a statement that I made about heaven that is the topic of discussion in the ARK forum.  Here is my statement: 

"At death, the spirits and souls of believers go immediately to Paradise."  Jesus promised the thief on the cross, "Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Lk. 23:43)  

Some teach the doctrine of soul-sleep, the belief that there is no conscious existence from the time of death until the resurrection at the return of Jesus Christ.  In order to grasp this subject properly it is needful for us to understand the basic elements of life in a man.  


Man is created in God's Image 


"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness; . . ." (Gen. 1:26)  "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen. 1:27)   

From these statements of creation we understand God's image is found chiefly in man's composition and moral nature.  The whole person is composed of three elements - spirit, soul and body (1 Thes. 5:23).  When God created Adam He first formed him out of the dust of the ground that is the body of the man (Gen. 2:7).  This body had a human form but no life in it yet.  Then God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." (Gen. 2:7)  The Hebrew word for "breath" is "ruach" which also means Spirit.  What God did was to give Adam life through His own Spirit (Job 33:4; Gen. 7:22).  Then we read "and man became a living being".  The KJV used the word "soul."   


Spirit,  Soul  and  Body


The word of God can distinctly separate "soul and spirit." (Heb. 4:12) "Spirit" is that part of man which "knows" (1 Cor. 2:11), and which allies him to the spiritual creation and gives him consciousness.  It is through his spirit that man worships the One True God (Jn. 4:23-24).  Isaiah 26:9 says this:  “With my soul I have desired You in the night, Yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early."   

"Soul" in itself implies self-conscious life, as distinguished from plants that has unconscious life.  The soul is the seat of man's emotions, desires and affections (Psm. 42:1-6).  The "heart" is, in Scripture usage, nearly synonymous with "soul." "Jesus answered him, 'The first of all the commands is: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.'  This is the first commandment." (Mk. 12:29-30)  Because the natural man is inseparable from the soul therefore in the Holy Bible these two words are often used interchangeably (Gen. 12:5).   

The body, separable from spirit and soul, and susceptible to death is nevertheless an integral part of man, as the resurrection shows (Jn. 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:47-50).  Jesus said:  “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28)   God distinguishes the soul from the body. The body that is material can be killed, whereas the soul that is immaterial cannot be killed. Both the soul and the body are different components of the same person.  So if the body of the Christian is killed and his soul is not killed therefore it continues in its life.  For the unbeliever God can destroy both "soul and body in hell.” 

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (Jas. 2:26)  Death is the separation of the spirit from the body.  The spirit does not die with the body.  Not once in the Bible is it said or intimated that the spirit ever dies, while it is distinctly stated that it does not go down to dust with the body.  "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return to God who gave it."  (Eccl. 12:7). This is plain enough.  Again: "Who knows the spirit of the sons of men which goes upward, and the spirit of the beast which goes down to the earth?" (Ecc. 3:21) Man's spirit, then, goes up to God.  The body can be destroyed without destroying the spirit.  ". . . For the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved." (1 Cor. 5:5)  King David wrote: "For it is soon cut off and we fly away." (Psm. 9:10)  What flies away?  Certainly not the body that is dead!  The spirit of the believer leaves the body and returns to God.


 The  Thief  on  the  Cross 


The case of the thief on the cross can never be fairly harmonized with the sleep of the soul at death.  "Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.'  And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to You, today you will be with me in Paradise."' (Lk. 23:42, 43)  All kinds of efforts are made to distort and change the plain meaning of this text.  But they are futile.   Note: The Jehovah Witness translation of this verse is utterly childish. Jesus is supposed to have said, "verily I say unto thee today". Well of course Jesus said it today. When else would He be saying it? Yesterday? "I say" is present tense.  

It is hard to believe that the thief had no consciousness in reunion with the Lord Jesus Christ in Paradise.  To be with Jesus means to have fellowship with Him and to enjoy His presence.   Jesus plainly said, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."  If the thief went to paradise that day, then all Christians who are saved will also go there at death.  We know that the thief's body did not go to Paradise, for it was buried.  Hence his spirit did live and go there.  Immediately after this Jesus said, "Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit." (Lk. 23:46) The Spirit of Jesus went with the spirit of the thief to Paradise that very same day.   

The dying Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59)  Jesus also received Stephen's spirit in Paradise when he died.  This doctrine of the spirit of saved Christians going to Paradise is indicated throughout the Bible.  How wonderful it is to be told by Jesus, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."  Jesus said "today", not even tomorrow, not when I come again at the end of the age, definitely not after an indefinite period of unconsciousness.   "Today" means immediately or instantly after death.  




Eternal Life cannot possibly include Soul Sleep


 "And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." (1 Jn. 5:11-13)  

In these verses we understand that eternal life is the present possession of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.  If eternal life does not include conscious fellowship with Jesus Christ then God's promise to the believers would be meaningless.  Thus we see that the believer already possesses never-ending life as a continuing quality of conscious existence.  


Jesus Promised Believers would never die



  "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?" (Jn. 11:25-26)  Here Jesus was comforting Martha upon the death of her brother Lazarus.  Please note that this promise does not refer to the resurrection at the last day but to the particular one at that time. (Jn. 11:23-26)  The Lord's statement has reference not only to that particular situation but also to all believers in general.  Although Lazarus died again after the Lord had resurrected him, yet Jesus' promise that he would never die means his soul and spirit would continue to live after he had physically died.  This promise is given to all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.    


Immortality and Life through the Gospel 


The apostle Paul wrote that God's eternal purpose "has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel." (2 Tim. 1:10Through Jesus' death on Mount Calvary death has been abolished. This does not mean physical death because people still die.  The abolishment of death that brought life and immortality surely must have reference to the soul that cannot be destroyed. (Mt. 10:28)  


The Inward and Outward Man 


The physical body is represented as the tabernacle or temple in which the man lives.  Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." "But He was speaking of the temple of His body." (Jn 2:19, 21)  The apostle Peter wrote:  "As long as I am in this tent," and "I must put off this my tent." (2 Pet. 1:13, 14)  The apostle Paul taught the same doctrine.  "Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day." (2 Cor. 4:16)  There is, then, an inward man and an outward man.  The inward man is the spiritual man, the one that does not perish.  Paul proceeds: "For we know that, if our earthly house, this tent, were destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, If indeed, having been clothed we shall not be found naked.  For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, . . . . Therefore 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 Cor. 5:1-8)  See how clear is Paul's statement.  He calls his physical body "our earthly house," and "this tent."  He wrote that if he is "absent from the body," which means that if he died, he would be "present with the Lord." You cannot imagine Paul being unconscious while being present with the Lord.  


A Man's Out of Body Experience 


The apostle Paul wrote:  "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know; or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven.  And I knew such a man - in the body, or out of the body, I do not know, God knows - how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Cor. 12:2-4)  Then Paul believed a man could be out of his body and go to Paradise and hear words there.  Believers are now in Paradise with Jesus (Lk. 23:43)  


The apostle Paul's Dilemma 


Here is a statement of Paul's that indicates the conscious state of a person when he dies.  "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 I shall 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." (Phil.1:21-24)  Paul had a dilemma.  It was difficult for him to choose whether or not to die and be with Christ or to remain alive and be with the brethren.  Paul wrote, "to die is gain"What could he gain by dying if he would only go into an unconscious state?  Just think, if death would only bring Paul into soul sleep, how could he be with Christ and how could it be far better than continue living on this earth?  If it was Paul's "desire to depart, and be with Christ; which is far better" he could not have thought about soul sleep because he would become unconscious and be in an inferior situation.   


Abraham, Lazarus and the Rich Man 


In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man our Lord Jesus Christ indicated there is consciousness in the spirit of man after death.  "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.  Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. . . . " (Lk. 16:19-31)   

The rich man went to Hades (another word for Hell) immediately after his death and he said "I am tormented in this flame" (v. 24). When Lazarus died he was "carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom" (v. 22).  Jesus also said that Abraham who was dead spoke to the rich man. "But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you and tormented. (v. 25) We know that Abraham, the rich man and Lazarus were conscious in their respective places after their deaths.  The person who is saved can enjoy the fellowship of Abraham and the person who is lost is tormented by the flames in Hades.  Our Lord indicated there is full consciousness of the human spirit after death.   I truly believe what the Lord Jesus Christ taught in His parable concerning the spirit's consciousness in the afterlife is absolutely true. 

Some insist on believing and propagating the teaching of "the dead know nothing" will argue: "Yeah, but that is only a parable to illustrate a moral teaching."  Remember this is the Lord Jesus Christ telling this parable.  He does not tell us the spirit has consciousness in the afterlife in a parable and then teach something else that conflicts with this situation in a doctrine.  Truth is consistent in all teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ who is truth personified. 

1.   This is Christ's own teaching.   

2.   As we have seen, it was what the Pharisees believed with regard to the dead.   

3.   Jesus accepts and confirms their doctrine.   

4.  These events occurred between death and the resurrection, while the brethren of the rich man were yet alive on earth. 

5.   Hence immediately after death and before the resurrection the rich man is in hell and Lazarus is rewarded.   

6.   They are both conscious.  Abraham is alive over there.  

7.   Both think and talk.  Hence the dead certainly know something.   

Had we no other text, this alone would disprove the doctrine of the sleep of the dead. Again Jesus said God is "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." (M. 22:32)  Then those patriarchs are alive and not blotted out of existence at death. 





Moses  and  Elijah  appeared  with  Jesus



  In the mountain of transfiguration Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus (Mt. 17:3; Mk. 9:4; Lk. 9:30)  We know that Elijah was translated to heaven and Moses had already died (Josh. 1:1-2)  If Moses had no consciousness in his afterlife then how could he talk with Jesus thousands of years after his death?  The doctrine of "the dead know nothing" has a lot of problems that cannot be answered.  


A  Great  Cloud  of  Witnesses 


Hebrews 11 has the hall of the faithful who have died.  Heb 12:1 tells us "we are surrounded by so great a great cloud of witnesses." What kind of witnesses are these? Living ones who went before us. Hebrews 12:23 describes “the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.”   The word for witnesses means those who are able to testify which certainly means living ones.  



The Voices of the Martyrs 


When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.  And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”  (Rev. 6:9-11) 

These are martyrs who had been killed.  They are crying to God.  It is impossible to explain how the saints can talk to God when they are supposed to be unconscious in soul sleep as some would have us believe.  Notice the timing is at the fifth seal, God gave them white robes and they are told to wait for their brethren who will be killed. This consummates in Rev.7:9-15 where they are gathered before the throne of God serving him day and night in his temple (v.15). This would be hard to do if one is asleep or out of existence.


Saints  Sleeping  in  Death 

After Jairus' daughter had died Jesus said to the mourners: "Why make this commotion and weep?  The child is not dead, but sleeping." (Mk. 5:39)  Jesus knew that Lazarus was already dead for four days yet He said: "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." (Jn. 11:11-17)  Paul wrote that saints that have died "have fallen asleep" and "asleep" (1 Thes. 4:13-15)  Nobody would consider a person asleep as completely unconscious.   

The term “sleep” when it is used of death is in reference to the body. Whenever the Bible speaks of death in the sense of sleep it is always used of the physical body and not the soul, because the appearance of a sleeping body and a dead body look very much the same. The term “sleep” is never applied to the soul or the spirit , but only the body. The soul and the spirit continue to exist after death. Whenever the Bible uses the term “sleep” in reference to death it is never used of the unbelievers in the New Testament. It is a term used only of believers that shows God's viewpoint of the death of a believer. From God's perspective the death of a believer is a temporary suspension of physical activity. For example, in physical sleep there is a temporary suspension of physical activity until one wakes up, but there is no suspension of the activity of the mind, the soul or spirit, and the sub-consciousness keeps operating (as in Lk.16:19-36 death is not a cessation of existence for either the rich man or Lazarus.)  

Many of the texts quoted to prove the sleep of the soul refer only to the body.  Let us examine some of them.  

Take Gen. 3:19, "For dust you are, and to dust you shall return."  The "dust" definitely refers to the body and not to the soul or spirit that has neither flesh nor bones (Lk. 24:39), and the "spirit" returns to God at death (Ecc. 12:7).   

"So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David (1 Kings 2:10).   Was David's spirit buried?   Surely not!  

"So man lies down and does not rise. Oh, that You would hide me in the grave."  (Job 14:12, 13)  Did Job's spirit lie down in the grave?  Was it hid in the dust?  Hardly.  

"If I wait for the grave as mine house.  If I make my bed in the darkness." (Job 17:13)  Does the spirit go into the grave?   "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth." (Dan.12:2)  "

Lazarus sleeps," "Lazarus is dead." "By this time there is a stench." (Jn 11:11, 14, 39)  Could this be said of the spirit?  Did the spirit of Lazarus decay?  Surely not!   

Take their favorite text, Acts 2:34.  "For David did not ascend into the heavens." The context shows plainly that this refers to the body.' "He is both dead and buried and his tomb is with us to this day." "He spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ." (Acts 2:29, 31)   

There are several expressions about being asleep in 1 Corinthians 15 and   1 Thess. 4:13-16 the apostle Paul  refers to the resurrection.  That whole class of texts refers only to the bodies that go into the grave at death.  As the spirit does not go there, these texts have no reference to it, and hence prove nothing concerning it.  One simple text explains them all: "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many." (Mt. 27:52-53).  


Objections  Answered 


Objection:  Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten."  Does this verse not prove to us that when a person dies he enters a phase called "soul sleep" in which there is no consciousness of anything. 

Answer:  When Solomon wrote "the dead know nothing" and they have no work, planning, knowledge or wisdom in death, he is not contrasting life with afterlife, but life with death.  He was comparing what a person can achieve and the knowledge that he can accumulate during his lifetime with what he cannot achieve and knowledge he cannot gain after his death.  After you die, you cannot add any more knowledge to what you already have in your lifetime. This is what Solomon meant when he wrote "the dead know nothing" (Ecc. 9:7-10).  Some people take a small portion of the verse out of context and make a doctrine out of it and teach there is no consciousness after death. Solomon did not believe and teach that because he knew that after a person dies his spirit goes back to God who gave it (Ecc. 12:7)  He was, of course, writing about a person who is saved.  

So their main text, Eccl. 9:5-10, "The dead know not anything," is limited by the context to "any thing that is done under the sun," (verse 6).  

In Scriptures the phrase "know not anything" does not mean the person is unconscious.  Compare this with other texts where the same expression is used and you will see what I mean.   

"With Absalom went two hundred men . . . .They went in their simplicity, and they knew not anything." (2 Sam. 15:11)   Certainly no one can interpret this verse to mean that Absalom and the two hundred men were unconscious. 

Another one: "But the lad they knew not anything; only Jonathan and David knew the matter." (1 Sam. 20:39)   

Of a self-conceited teacher Paul wrote, "He is proud, knowing nothing." (1 Tim.6:4)   

Were all these people absolutely without thought or consciousness?  No. It simply means that they knew nothing about the things mentioned.  So of Eccl. 9:5. The context explains it.  "Neither have they any more a portion forever in any thing that is done under the sun."  (verse 6) 

Psalms 146:3, 4, states: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.  His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."  

This verse is a moral teaching on the unreliability of earthly princes because when they die their purposes perish and we are left helpless.  Using this same rationale and logic we can understand what Solomon was trying to teach on the same moral theme when he wrote:  "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten." (Ecc. 9:5) 

Here is the conclusion of this issue.  Our Lord Jesus Christ declared: "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?" (Jn. 11:25-26)  This is the hope of Christians.  We shall never die.  Death in this life is the beginning of another life in another realm with our Lord Jesus Christ.  HalleluYah!


May  God  bless  you

This article is a presentation by Paul Wong in response

to a Discussion in the ARK Forum on October 5, 2002 

It was published on this Website on July 25, 2009


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Last Updated on Friday, 09 December 2016 00:54