"... the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth." Ecc. 7:1
Death is one thing all humans have in common. Roughly 150,000 people die every day, about 107 per minute. Most of us have had close family or friends die. Let's face it, we're all basically dying--some sooner than others.
Here at Compass we're often contacted by people who have a terminal illness and are looking for Biblical information on what happens when Believers die. So this article is meant to be a succinct tour of the key verses dealing with a Believer transitioning from earth to heaven.
With the obvious exception of disappearing in the Rapture, one day you're going to die. So what happens when you die? The Bible gives us some fascinating insight into what happens next.
The Book of Luke records an actual event, not a parable, about two people dying, prior to the cross. One man dies and goes to Paradise, the place where Believers went who died waiting for the Messiah to pay for their sins so they could go to heaven.
The other man went to Hades. There he had a body, was fully conscious, could think/reason/speak and felt pain. His words are chilling.
"In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'" Luke 16:23-24
Thankfully, for those of us living today who are trusting in the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus' death and resurrection, our sins are not counted against us and we will one day go straight to heaven.
"... having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." Col. 2:13" (all are past tense, just saying...)
"Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,"
The Bible says heaven is better than you can imagine.
'THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.'" 1Cor. 2:9
I have quite an imagination. Yet regardless of what I can imagine would be wonderfully incredible in heaven, it's better than that!
But before we die, we live our lives as aliens on a planet that was hijacked by Satan. Satan is "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4) and he's hostile to Believers.
So Believers live in this life looking forward to the next.
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;" Phil. 3:20
During our very brief time between our birth and death is a length of time referred to simply as a "vapor."
"You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away."
In our time on earth God allows us to have many blessings, but no one is blessed with all good, or cursed with all bad. Sometimes we experience periods of absolute joy, other times are difficult and painful. But by keeping our eyes up, on our eternal destiny, we're thankful for the good times while enduring the bad.
Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Col. 3:2
We're grateful for any good times in our earthly life because the Lord allows them. If it were up to Satan, our entire lives would all be nothing but horror and despair.
Because of all Satan's evil influence in the world, we tend to define our life span in terms of what's taking place in our life that's bad... i.e., weather disasters, tidal waves, earthquakes, wars, sickness, divorce, etc.
Most Believers don't think in terms of death as being good. Yet for Believers death is God's way of removing all evil and sickness from our lives.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God prevented them from eating from the tree of life because had they eaten from it, the whole human race would have lived forever in that horrible sinful condition.
"So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life." Gen. 3:24
God allowed death in order that we could be redeemed. God even speaks of a Believer's transition to the next life by chiding death.
"O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 1Cor. 15:55
Remarkably, God refers to death in glowing terms.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones. Psa. 116:15
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he describes being taken to heaven, briefly seeing the next life, and was never the same again. He badly wanted to return to heaven, but set an example for us by being content to live within God's divine plan (2 Cor 12:2-10).
"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" Rom. 7:24
Later Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi that he was torn between desiring to die and staying on earth.
"But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake." Phil. 1:22-24
To the Christians in Corinth he said he would rather be dead because he would immediately be with the Lord.
"Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. ...I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." 2Cor. 5:6, 8
Paul even refers to death as a "victory."
Do you fear death? Jesus says His death rendered powerless the devil so you can live confidently in this life without that fear.
"through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. Heb. 2:14-15
So death is an upgrade for Believers. It's something to anticipate with great appreciation because it is at that moment we win! In one instant, we go from this earth to heavenly glory.
"I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Ps. 23:6b
So realistically, God says death for Believers is not something to fear but for which to be grateful. Grateful to be rid of this sinful body, no longer dealing with the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and the pride of life.
Heaven Ends Permanent Separation
For many people, the hardest part of death is the separation from those we love here. But God tells us in 1Thessalonians 4, that He doesn’t want us to “...grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
And He goes on to say “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” There is great hope in our ultimately being reunited with those we love who have trusted Jesus.
But as great as our relationships may be on earth with family and friends, they are still limited by physical barriers, incomplete understanding, and imperfect love. But that will not be true in Heaven. Our perfect relationship with Jesus will affect all our relationships with others. I Corinthians 13, God’s great message on love, says "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known."
C. S. Lewis famously wrote, “The happiness God has designed for His higher creatures is an ecstasy of love and delight with Himself and one another, compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water."
Heaven is going to be a reunion better than we could ever imagine!
When we die, we discard our temporal earthly container and receive a new eternal container to house our spirit, the only thing that's worth saving. Paul puts it this way:
"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven," 2Cor. 5:1-2
And this new eternal container, built by God to house our spirit, will look just like Jesus' body after the resurrection.
"...the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory..."
After the resurrection Jesus walked around, ate and drank. Our new body will be like His resurrected body--flesh and bone.
Therefore we'll be given a new body that has arms, legs, eyes, etc., and will be recognizable to others, but without being subject to the debilitating effects that sin brings.
More amazingly, we will be able to move at the speed of thought as Jesus appeared and disappeared at will. He also walked through walls. We will be able to do the same. With our new body we will be able to eat and drink, as Jesus did after His resurrection.
Mark 14:25 "Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
All Believers who have been handicapped in this life will no longer be restricted. Those confined to beds in this life will have perfect and complete freedom of movement...and without pain.
Those blind on this earth will be given perfect eternal eyes to see. And no diseases will ever affect us again. No heartbreak of any kind will penetrate our existence.
Those who are suffering from disease are immediately healed... death is the ultimate form of healing! And we'll labor no more, no more toiling for sustenance.
Believers don't really die, in the sense of being dead or ceasing to exist. Rather, we just change places. When we leave this earth we'll be more alive than ever before. When we take our last breath, we immediately go to be with the Lord. No waiting. No trial. No evaluation. No judgement. Jesus paid it all so when we die we go to be with Him.
"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Rom. 8:1
John's Gospel says this incredible position of "no condemnation" is attained when we first believe the Gospel.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." John 5:24
God Determines When We Die
It is also noteworthy that our time on this planet is determined by God PRIOR to our being born.
When as yet there was not one of them." Psa. 139:16
"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven - A time to give birth and a time to die;" Eccl. 3:1-2
God also tells us that worrying about death is fruitless.
"And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life's span?" Luke 12:25
So God determines how long we'll live. That doesn't mean we throw caution to the wind and play in traffic. We don't put the Lord to a foolish test. But we live for Him and know when we die it's even better.
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Phil. 1:21
"...waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." Rom. 8:23
Death for believers should be thought of in the highest and most secure terms. We have paradise waiting for us!
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you," 1Pet. 1:3-4
So our spot is "reserved," and we're waiting on God's timing for our transition.
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.'" John 11:25-26
So we can live boldly in this life, knowing God is in control of our death and destiny. Even if we see death approaching, we're comforted by what God promises will follow.
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psa. 23:4
There is a possibility, maybe a good one, that you're living in the day of the great Believer exodus called the Rapture. The two main verses discussing the Rapture are:
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." 1Cor. 15:51-53
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." 1Th. 4:15-17
The Rapture is a necessity because Believers are not appointed to God's wrath.
"For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ," 1Th. 5:9
"... Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." 1Th. 1:10b
"Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." Rom. 5:9
Therefore Christians who are alive at the end of the Church Age will be translated, caught up in the air, to meet Jesus. This removal of Believers from the earth paves the way for the 7 Year Tribulation, when God's wrath will be poured out on those who are left on earth.
God's wrath is unleashed, without dilution, in the future Tribulation
"...seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God," Rev. 15:7
If you're a Believer who is alive the moment God ends the Church Age, you will participate in the Rapture, a quite spine-tingling event! You won't die a natural death, but the result will be the same...you will immediately disappear from the earth and be with the Lord Jesus, forever.
So knowing what's ahead for Believers in the future, due to death or Rapture, how then should we live? We live looking up, not down. The Bible sums it up this way:
"For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's."
Use us, Lord!
*Rev. 21:4 happens at the beginning of the New Heavens and Earth, after the Millennium.
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Bill Perkins is the founder and Executive Director of Compass International, Inc.
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