What happens when we die?
The short answer is that we are buried and wait there until the resurrection. But let’s go into some detail so you can be assured.
Let’s start out by looking at what happened when God created Adam.
Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
So Adam started out as a clay statue, then God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, resulting in Adam becoming a living being, or living soul in some translations. Note that he was not given a soul, he became a soul. So the equation is
Dust (clay) + Breath of life = A living soul
When we die, the process is reversed. The person breathes his last breath, which the Bible says returns to God, and the living soul or living being becomes again just a lifeless statue, which will end up as dust.
Genesis 3:19 “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Ecclesiastes12:7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
The Contemporary English Version says
So our bodies return to the earth, and the life-giving breath returns to God.
The Hebrew word ruach can be translated as breath, wind or spirit, and we fit the correct word by looking at the context.
Job 27:3 NKJ As long as my breath is in me, and the breath of God in my nostrils …
ICB As long as I am alive and God’s breath of life is in my nose,
So now that we’ve covered that, what does the Bible say about the state of death? The Bible never talks about people going straight to heaven when they die, that is an assumption that many denominations teach without proper Biblical foundation. What the Bible does teach is that a person dies, gets buried and stays there in a dreamless sleep state until the day that Jesus returns to earth to take His people home to heaven. Let’s have a look at the passages that touch on this subject.
Job 3 11 “Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?
12 Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?
13 For now I would have lain still and been quiet,
I would have been asleep; then I would have been at rest
14 With kings and counselors of the earth, who built ruins for themselves,
15 Or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver;
16 Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child, like infants who never saw light?
17 There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest.
18 There the prisoners rest together; they do not hear the voice of the oppressor.
19 The small and great are there, and the servant is free from his master.
Job 14 10 But man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he?
11 As water disappears from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dries up, 12 so man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep.
21 His sons come to honor, and he does not know it; they are brought low, and he does not perceive it.
Psalm 6: 5 For in death there is no remembrance of You;
In the grave who will give You thanks?
Psalm 115: 17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence.
Ecclesiastes 9 5 For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.
6 Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun.
10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.
Daniel 12:13 “But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.”
Matthew 9 18 While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.”
23 When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, 24 He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. 25 But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.
John 6 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 11 11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Acts 2 29 “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
34 “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:
‘ The LORD said to my Lord,“ Sit at My right hand,
1 Corinthians 15 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.
17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
Ephesians 5:14 Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
1 Thessalonians 4 13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 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 by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
1 Thessalonians 5 9 For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
Acts 7: 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 8: 1 Now Saul was consenting to his death …
John 14 1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
John 5 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
It is pretty clear from the above passages that death is seen by God as a sleep, to be broken only when Jesus comes with His angels to fetch His people. At that time the loud trumpet call will signal those who died in Christ to arise to new life. Please note that whenever Jesus brought anyone back from death, not one had anything to say about heaven or hell. Lazarus would have complained if Jesus had called him back from heaven, or thanked Him if he was brought back from hell. Instead, there is nothing like that. The resurrected person merely wakes up and resumes his/her life, as if they had just been asleep for a while.
The concept of the soul going straight to heaven, and the body staying on earth to be retrieved at Christ’s coming, is the result of the incorporation of Greek dualism into Christian thought. This supposes that the body is bad and mortal, and the soul is good and immortal. It depends on the “immortal soul” of man, a concept totally foreign to the Bible. In fact, the Bible clearly states that God is the only one that is immortal, and He only gives us immortality at the resurrection.
1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise,
be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 6 14 … until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, 15 which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality …
1 Corinthians 15 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
If we look at 1 Thessalonians 4:15 given above, it seems as if there had been a question in Paul’s time about who would go to heaven at what point. Paul therefore makes it clear that those who sleep in Christ, together with those of Christ’s followers alive at the time of His coming, would together be caught up to meet Him in the air.
John 14 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am (heaven), there you may be also.”
Jesus was very clear that He would come to bring us home to Him, on His return to earth at the resurrection “at the last day”. I trust you are satisfied with the Bible’s witness on this topic. God bless!
1 Thessalonians 4:13
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