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What Happens to Believers When They Die?

We are continuing our series about eternity, answering the question, Does the Bible Teach Soul Sleep? In other words, when we die, are believers in Christ unconscious until the resurrection? In the Old Testament, 1 Kings 17:17, we find a story about a little boy who was raised from the dead. He was the son of a woman who had helped the prophet Elijah. She was a widow, and this was her only son. The boy was ill and slowly declining until finally, he stopped breathing (NIV translation). In the Hebrew, it says that his soul ("nephesh") had left. In verse 22 of the same passage, the boy's life returned to him after Elijah prayed for him. Again, the Hebrew word used is "nephesh," which means that the boy's soul returned! Like Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8, we again see the invisible part of a person’s being, his soul, returning to his body.

The Bible says that at this moment, in heaven, are the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:23), and in another place, that when Christ returns for His Church: “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Their physical bodies are in the grave but they, the unseen part of their nature, their spirit, and soul are with the Lord. They are very much alive, but in a different realm, a different life. Paul the apostle, wrote: “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He also wrote to the church at Philippi about his desire to die and be with Christ:

22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:22-24).

Note that Paul was not thinking he would be unconscious in sleep when he died; he fully expected to be very much alive. He calls it better by far. The word “depart” in verse 23 above, is translated from the Greek word used for the loosing of an anchor. A.T. Robertson translates it, "To weigh anchor and put out to sea." What a beautiful picture! It reminds us of the scene in the movie “Lord of The Rings,” when Bilbo Baggins departs the Grey Havens and puts out to sea to start a new adventure. It is a wonderful analogy of what some perceive as an end, but instead, it is a new beginning. If Paul was readying himself to go to sleep for two thousand years, I don’t see how that could be called “better by far.” No, Paul was getting ready to go to another place, a place that is “better by far.” A place where; “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him!” (1 Corinthians 2:14.)

Just imagine if a butterfly were to try to explain to a caterpillar what his new life would become. The caterpillar would have no frame of reference to comprehend what it would be like to fly in a glorious new body, not bound to the earth. If the caterpillar were able to understand this, would it choose not to go into its pupa state and be transformed? During our time out of our body, we will have fellowship with the Lord in a spiritual place. The only reason that spiritual things are not as real to us now is that we are bound or anchored to this earth, and only able to function on one level, one realm. But a day is coming when we will experience all that God has prepared for us.

2My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3).

Our purpose in this life is to be prepared for this most excellent adventure into a realm that is described as BETTER BY FAR! Keith Thomas

Shortened from the in-depth study found at the following link: What Lies Beyond Death’s Door


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