What happens when you die?

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)

13 thoughts on “What happens when you die?

  1. We cannot say that the dead are watching us or if they know what is happening here on earth.

    A fascinating theological topic, one rife with possible unbiblical speculation in any number of ways. Does God grant our immaterial soul immediately upon death of the physical body, this power to ‘see’ and ‘watch’ what happens on earth, or to ‘see’ what their family members are doing away from their physical presence? Something they had no power to do before physical death? Can they only see their immediate families and the circle of friends, co-workers and acquaintances they had on earth, or also ‘see’ what is happening in India, or China, and with people there? We are not talking about the ability of the departed immaterial soul the ability to ‘see’ our subconcious, are we?

    You are right to circumscribe this, as I find it troublesome to ascribe powers and characteristics attributed to God alone, to that of a creature, created by those powers ascribed only to God.

  2. 8. I have been comforted for forty years by the story of John leaping for joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb upon “meeting” Jesus for the first time, and I now find the story of David, as pointed to by the author, another source of great comfort as I await the blessed reunion with my sons in Heaven one day. Thank you for this.

  3. Your reference in point #1 of your post should be 1 Peter 3:19-20, not 2 Peter 3:19-20.

  4. What about our relationship with others – and do we have any scripture on whether this will be different after judgement day (as opposed to only after death)? The conversation between the rich man and Abraham (Luke 16:19-31) shows knowledge of others after death. And does John 16:22 tell us we will will have no sorrow in heaven? Is “no sorrow” the same as joy not being taken from us? Also, we’re told we are not married or given into marriage after the resurrection (Matthew 22:30). So, regarding our loved one who die as lost sheep, presumably we will have knowledge of them – but perhaps our relationship that we know with them now will be no different after both our deaths than that of a “true love” we should share with all humankind? Even a lost spouse? Is it only safe to say that we will have compassion for any of these lost souls, but no sorrow/pain/anguish/tears?

  5. @ Eric Schlade,

    The conversation between the rich man and Abraham (Luke 16:19-31) shows knowledge of others after death.

    While the story of the rich man and Lazarus is parable, approx. 40 or so of the parables Jesus told, I think we must be careful in concluding specific doctrine from parables, as opposed to doctrine from straight didactic teaching. The Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ discourses recorded in John’s gospel are more illustrative of this straightforward sermonic teaching, exhortation, commandments, polemical arguments, words of warning, and direct propositional statements.

    There is great spiritual truth to be discerned from parables, specifically to those who have ‘ears to hear’ , and Jesus used them in illuminating illustrations of crucial spiritual truths. So what is the spiritual lesson from this parable in Luke 16? I think primarily of this parable in a tragic sense; the hopeless horror of hell, infinite regret, and the eternal haunt of the self-righteous who spurn their need for divine grace. As it relates to the question of “What Happens When We Die”, it perfectly illustrates Jesus’ solemn word of warning of the horror to come for those who do not repent.

  6. This is such a comfort for me, my Mom will be going Home. After reading this, I now know, I will see the wee one we miscarried, as will my Mom, the two she lost. So very well written, so very comforting, and I am most grateful for the doing. Thank you so very much.

  7. @ Eric Schlade,

    So, regarding our loved one who die as lost sheep, presumably we will have knowledge of them – but perhaps our relationship that we know with them now will be no different after both our deaths than that of a “true love” we should share with all humankind? Even a lost spouse? Is it only safe to say that we will have compassion for any of these lost souls, but no sorrow/pain/anguish/tears?

    To follow up on my above, these are great questions. One must distinguish between the immaterial soul of the believer, and the immaterial soul of the unbeliever and their respective locations after death of the physical body. The believer’s soul is immediately ushered into ‘heaven’, or ‘Paradise’, forever present with the Lord (Phil. 1:23) (2 Cor. 5:6-8), anxiously longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8:19), and waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23)..

    So, what happens to the immaterial soul of the unbeliever after death of the physical body? Luke 16:19-31 is illustrative, but I think we must be careful, as noted above, as this is parable. It seems from Scripture that there is a difference between the believer’s soul and the unbeliever’s soul after death of the physical body. Will ‘our’ immaterial souls have knowledge and a ‘true love’ of these unsaved loved ones and ‘their’ immaterial souls and an anguish/sorrow/pain/tears for their refusal to bow the knee to Christ, rebellious in their minds of acknowledging Him as Master and Lord, and their need to repent of their sin and defiance against Him? I”m not sure we can really say. Please provide Scriptural references to a knowledge of ‘unsaved’ immaterial souls and to our anguish/tears/sorrow/pain for their condition. Thanks.

  8. @ steve Drake
    Regardless of doctrine or parable, I wasn’t distinguishing between “loved one” vs “any deceased” in the communication between the rich man and Abraham – if there is/was communication across the chasm (Luke 16:26), it is between a believer and a non-believer. Also, I wasn’t distinguishing between material and immaterial soul – so I guess as certainly as we still await judgement day, and the rich man references ongoing life on earth, this was immaterial communication (if I understand your statement correctly). Regarding believers, it will be irrelevant of loved ones – we will all be in His glory.

    So the “knowledge” I was referring to was solely based on Luke 16:19-31. The lack of anguish is from Revelation 21:4.

  9. Hello Eric,

    Also, I wasn’t distinguishing between material and immaterial soul – so I guess as certainly as we still await judgement day, and the rich man references ongoing life on earth, this was immaterial communication (if I understand your statement correctly).

    Just a bit of clarification, if we can, as I think this is important. There is no ‘material’ soul. All souls are ‘immaterial’, whether believer or non-believer, and are eternal. It is the physical body which is material. The material physical body will die (Heb. 9:27), the eternal immaterial soul lives on; those of the believer ushered into Heaven and present with the Lord, those of the non-believer ushered into Hell/Hades/Sheol/Gehenna (Matt. 10:28).

    Death of the material physical body is a transition from one state of existence to another. It is not a transition from existence to non-existence, but to an intermediate state of conscious existence between physical death and the resurrection of the body (John 5:28-29). Thus all immaterial souls transition, and it is the place or location of that transition that should concern us. The parable of Luke 16:19-31 is clearly illustrative of this.

    The question is whether our ‘saved’ immaterial souls in heaven and present with the Lord will have knowledge of ‘unsaved’ immaterial souls in Hades; specifically to those ‘loved ones’ who died while lost, or ‘see’ those ‘unsaved’ or ‘saved’ loved ones still alive on earth. I think we must make distinctions per Scripture, as I don’t see sort of a limited omnipresence, or limited omniscience given to our immaterial souls in Heaven to have this ability.

  10. @ steve Drake
    Thanks for the clarification – I agree, important – and we’re on the same page (immaterial soul). And I (always) have believed the same – no ability to have that knowledge or view of lost souls. And as I’ve generally discussed or read/heard – why would we want (or expect) that “interruption” to our glorious presence with the Lord!

    So I’m supposing, indeed, the anguish we have for (what we deem to be – 1 Corinthians 2:11, Romans 2:1) these lost souls here on earth, as sad as it may seem to us here/now, may be irrelevant once we are in His presence. Just as irrelevant as the rich man was told a visit from a risen messenger would be!

  11. Hello again Eric,

    I ran across an article by PhD astronomer Dr. Jason Lisle at his website, ‘Biblical Science Institute, https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/theology/the-good-news-about-hell/, that has made me rethink a few things here, especially regarding the immediate location of ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’ immaterial souls upon death of the physical body.

    He seems to equate ‘hell’ with the Lake of Fire from Rev. 20, and a two-chambered intermediate state (for believer and unbeliever) akin to what we see described in Luke 16:19-31 and the differentiation between ‘Hades’ (Luke 16:23) for the unbeliever and ‘Abraham’s Bosom’ for the believer (Luke 16:22). All this prior to the resurrection of the physical body of both believer and unbeliever per Christ’s statement in John 5:28-29 and Christ’s revelation to the Apostle John of judgment at the throne of God described in Rev. 20:11-15.

    I offer it in humility and for your interest only. I must be careful to circumscribe myself here. There are certain eschatological ramifications, I think, that might be in play as to our Lutheran confessions, and our Lutheran thinking on this subject.

  12. Eric,

    Notwithstanding and further clarification that ‘Abraham’s Bosom’ of Luke 16: 22 equates with ‘paradise’/ ‘heaven’ of Luke 23:43 and Pastor Berg’s point #2 above.

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