One reader, while working with children was presented with the question, “What happens when you die?” He didn’t quite know how to answer the child, so he submitted the question to me, with further inquiry: “If we are professed believers, do we ascend to heaven upon our physical death, or do we ‘sleep’ until our Savior’s return?”
Most Christians have spent some time wondering what happens to us after we die.
Recently, we looked at the account of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus. He spent four days in the afterlife, yet the Bible tells us nothing about what he saw. Of course, Lazarus’ family and friends must have learned something about his journey to heaven and back. And many of us today are familiar with the testimonies of people who have had near-death experiences. But each of these accounts are unique, and can only give us a glimpse into heaven.
In fact, the Bible reveals very few concrete details about heaven, the afterlife and what happens when we die. God must have a good reason for keeping us wondering about the mysteries of heaven. Perhaps our finite minds could never comprehend the realities of eternity. For now, we can only imagine.
Yet the Bible does reveal several truths about the afterlife. This study will take a comprehensive look at what the Bible says about death, eternal life and heaven.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT DEATH, ETERNAL LIFE AND HEAVEN?
BELIEVERS CAN FACE DEATH WITHOUT FEAR
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 15:54-57
Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.
BELIEVERS ENTER THE LORD’S PRESENCE AT DEATH
In essence, the moment we die, our spirit and soul go to be with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:8
Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. (NLT)
But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. (NLT)
BELIEVERS WILL DWELL WITH GOD FOREVER
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (NIV)
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
JESUS PREPARES A SPECIAL PLACE FOR BELIEVERS IN HEAVEN
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And 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.” (NIV)
HEAVEN WILL BE FAR BETTER THAN EARTH FOR BELIEVERS
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (NIV)
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!” (NLT)
THE DEATH OF A BELIEVER IS PRECIOUS TO GOD
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
BELIEVERS BELONG TO THE LORD IN HEAVEN
If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (NIV)
BELIEVERS ARE CITIZENS OF HEAVEN
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)
AFTER THEIR PHYSICAL DEATH, BELIEVERS GAIN ETERNAL LIFE
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (NIV)
1 John 5:11-12
BELIEVERS RECEIVE AN ETERNAL INHERITANCE IN HEAVEN
1 Peter 1:3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
BELIEVERS RECEIVE A CROWN IN HEAVEN
2 Timothy 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
EVENTUALLY, GOD WILL PUT AN END TO DEATH
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (NIV)
WHY ARE BELIEVERS SAID TO BE “ASLEEP” OR “FALLEN ASLEEP” AFTER DEATH?
1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
1 Corinthians 15:20
The Bible uses the term “asleep” or “sleeping” when referring to the physical body of the believer at death. It is important to note that the term is used solely for believers. The dead body appears to be asleep when it is separated at death from the spirit and soul of the believer. The spirit and soul, which are eternal, are united with Christ at the moment of the believer’s death (2 Corinthians 5:8).
The body of the believer, which is mortal flesh, perishes, or “sleeps” until the day it is transformed and reunited to the believer at the final resurrection.
(1 Corinthians 15:43; Philippians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:51)
1 Corinthians 15:50-53
I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (NIV)