What happens when you die?
God’s Word only tells us a little about the state of the soul between death and the resurrection; it mainly points us to Judgement Day and to the resurrection of the body (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20-21; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:13 and following; 2 Tim. 4:7-9; Titus 2:13).
What do we know?
1. The souls of unbelievers are kept in prison, a place of punishment (2 Peter 3:19-20).
2. The souls of believers dwell with Christ in Paradise, which is far better than here: “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23); “And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
3. We do not know how the blessed dead enjoy communion with God; we just know that they do. This is based on what is cited above.
4. Purgatory is a lie and contrary to Scripture. Scripture divides all men into two classes: believers and unbelievers, good and evil, sheep and goats. Scripture also teaches that only in this life is the time to labor, to run, to strive, that is, to repent, believe, attain the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life (Matt. 25:10; 1 Cor. 7:29; Eph. 5:16; Gal. 6:8). Most importantly, purgatory obscures the merits of Christ. If we still had to make satisfaction for our sins, then Christ’s merit is insufficient.
5. There are no such thing as ghosts. Departed souls do not return to this world. This is a standing rule and divine arrangement (Luke 16:27-31). Elijah and Moses are to be counted among the risen (Matt. 17:3).
6. We cannot say that the dead are watching us or if they know what is happening here on earth. Rev. 6:10 speaks about the martyrs under the throne. They know what happened to them and they long for God’s justice. But that does not prove that they know what is going on here on earth.
7. We have no promise, command, or example of the departed saints knowing what is happening on earth or that they can hear us. Therefore, prayers to the saints must be condemned both as folly and as idolatry. Even if the blessed dead could hear us, “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
8. Christian parents who miscarry ought to be comforted, even though their children were not able to be baptized. We see the example of King David in 2 Sam. 12:15-23. David’s son is not old enough to be circumcised. Circumcision is the Old Testament shadow of holy baptism (Col. 2:11-12). David’s child dies after he so fervently prays for him. After his son’s death, David says: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:22-23). King David is not merely talking about the state death; he is speaking about the joys of heaven. This ought to embolden Christian parents to pray fervently for their unborn children, for God commands us to pray and promises to hear us.
9. The souls of the blessed dead do not become angels. The souls of the damned do not become demons. We know this because Jesus became a man. Jesus remained a Man even after His resurrection. Therefore, we will always be humans. Jesus’ resurrection shows us that we won’t stay mere souls forever. God will put our bodies and souls back together in the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15). This is why we have cemeteries. They are “sleeping places” for our bodies, which await their raising. We shall receive our bodies back. And they shall be glorified, immortal, and incorruptible.
Hopefully this overview taught you, admonished you, and comforted you.
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:7-11)