So what happens when a person dies? Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, "Then the dust returns to the earth (this is the body), and the Spirit returns to the God that gave it".
Everything goes into reverse. The spirit leaves the body and returns to God, and the body returns to the earth. Psalms 104:29-30 "If you take away their spirit, they expire, and back to their dust they go. If you send forth your spirit, they are created."
To answer that question we first have to see how each of us are made. In Genesis 2:7 it says, "And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man then became a living soul".
He was made a perfect man from the dust of the ground, but he did not become alive until the breath of life was breathed into him. Then He became a living soul. It was the breath of life that allows him to live. This breath of life is also called the spirit of God and it is also referred to by many people as the soul. It is this spirit or soul that puts man above the animals and allows man to know, understand, and have communion with God.
Job 32:8, "Surely it is the spirit in mortal men, and the breath of the Almighty that gives them understanding".
Speaking about the two prophets of God, who in the final days are murdered and whose bodies lie in the street for three and a half day, Revelation 11:11-12 "Now after the three-and-a-half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
So what happens when a man dies? Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, "Then the dust returns to the earth (this is the body), and the Spirit or the soul returns to the God that gave it". Everything goes into reverse. His breath (the spirit) leaves his body and returns to God and his body returns to the earth. There are two different entities making up the human being. There is the spiritual body and the physical body. And we have to keep both of these in mind when discussing death, because at death each of these entities takes a different path.
The Bible tells us that the body is the "house" in which our spirit or soul lives. Our body is not really us; it is just the house in which our soul lives in. We can understand this because we live in a house. The house is not us; it is just the place where we live. If the house that you lived in burned to the ground so all that was left was dust and ashes, would you not move to another home? The same is true with your soul once your physical human body dies.
What happens when a Christian dies? His soul goes to be with the Lord. The apostle Paul tells us at
2 Corinthians 5:8, "that when we are absent from our bodies we are present with the lord".
At death all souls go back to God, and Ezekiel 18:4 tells us who exactly "owns" your soul. "Look! All the souls--to me they belong."
The Bible does not believe in soul sleep.
Paul did not teach through divine inspiration that our soul at death went to sleep. He made it very clear that the soul of the believer, upon the death of the body, went immediately to be with the Lord. Read the following verse (1 Thessalonians 4:14) several times and it will open your eye.
1 Thessalonians 4:14 says, "For if our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so to those who have fallen asleep in death, The Lord will bring with him".
So when Jesus Christ comes back at his second coming, he will be bringing back with him the souls of all the dead saved believers so that those souls can be reunited with their newly resurrected bodies. At the same time our earthly bodies will be reassembled, glorified, and made eternal. It is then that our Lord is going to join our souls to our newly resurrected and glorified bodies.
And just what will we be doing with those newly resurrected immortal bodies? That is a wonderful mystery that our beloved God wants us to ponder over. However he does give us a great many tantalizing hints all through the bible like the one at 1 Corinthians 2:9, "The eye has not seen and the ear has not heard nor has there even been conceived in the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those that love him".
So the Lord cannot bring our souls back with him when he returns unless they are already with him. It is not the soul that sleeps when we die, it is the body. It is not the soul that decays and turns to dust it is the body that does that. At the very instant of death the soul is received by God while the human physical body stays here and begins to turn to dust. The spiritual part of man survives death and continues to have consciousness and identity. It is the spirit or soul of a saved believer that rejoices at the death of the body. This was so important for us to know that Jesus made sure to tell us. In fact the very last words that Jesus Christ spoke before he died on the cross told us that.
Luke23:46 "And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, Father, into your hands I commit My spirit. Having said this, He expired".
Paul tells us at 2 Corinthians 5:8 that, "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." Here Paul is simply telling us that if we only knew what laid ahead for us in death we would welcome death with open arms. That is also why the Apostle Paul said, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Why did he say that it was "gain" to die? Because to die is to go to be with Christ, and this is far better than being here.
Paul's words to the Philippians tells about the wonderful hope of his own death, and that this was one of the things that actually kept him going. He wasn't merely looking for relief from his suffering. Rather Paul's hope was rooted in dying and then being able to be in the immediate physical presence of Jesus Christ. However, until his own awaited death occurred, then Paul is telling us that he will stay here and allow himself to be of service to the Lord - to gladly allow God to work through him.
Philippians 1:22, 24 "Now if it be to live on in the flesh, this then will mean fruitful labor for me. But what I do desire is the releasing, and being with Christ."
When a loved one dies, we are sorrowful because we miss them. This is natural; but we must remember that they are with Jesus which is far better than being here. If we could see how beautiful it is in Heaven, we would never want to bring them back here. Jesus Christ will one day return and bring His children with Him.
Death is not the tragic final act in this drama we call life, but instead death is a glorious homecoming with our Heavenly Father and with our loved ones who have gone before us. Psalms 116:15 puts it so beautifully when it says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones". The death of a faithful one is precious to the Lord because through death that loved one is now in the very presence of God The Father. That loved one is home.
THE MEANING OF DEATH
The Bible presents a picture of death as something that should give us a tremendous amount of hope. After Adam and Eve sinned they died spiritually as well as physically. Sending them out of the garden, far from being an act of cruelty, was actually proof of God's kindness and great love. Had Adam and Eve, after eating from the forbidden tree, then eaten from the Tree of Life, that other special tree, they would have been immortalized for all of eternity in their sinful condition. They never would have qualified for the heaven that God wanted them to enjoy because by eating also from the tree of life, they would have obtained eternal life.
Imagine living forever as sinners, with sickness and pain, with heartache and sadness, with having to live for ever with all the consequences that a sinful nature can bring, with no possibility of redemption, and with absolutely no possibility of ever getting any of the heavenly gifts that God had planned for us. Thus God prevented Adam and Eve from having eternal sinfulness by giving them the gift of death. The ability to exit this life and arrive safely in the wondrous life to come. Though death appears to be man's greatest enemy, it will in the end prove to be his greatest friend. Only through death can we go to God.
Death is the means by which our bodies are put to rest while our souls are escorted through the gates of Heaven. Death itself brings us to the gate, but then it is opened by the one who says, "He who is Holy, who is true, who has the Key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens."Revelation 3:7
We should not be surprised that the Bible tells true believers that they should look upon death almost as a special gift. Only death can give us the gift of eternity. When persecutions came to the Christian Church during the early days of Christianity, the believers realized that the pagans could take many things from them; wealth, food, friends, and health, to name a few. But they could not rid Christians of the gift of death, and they knew that only death could escort them into the presence of God. What an absolutely marvelous sign of true faith these early Christians had. Indeed, God often uses pagans to give his children that special present which allows them entrance into Heaven and into the waiting arms of Almighty God.
That is why Christ could say, "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body."Matthew10:28. The body might temporarily be the possession of cancer or evil men or find itself in any number of other horrible death dealing circumstances, but these enemies cannot prevent the soul from going to God. When the executioners have done their worse, God will be shown to have done his best.
Neither should it be fearful for us to make our final exodus for we are simply following our leader who has gone on ahead. When the curtain parts we shall not only find him on the other side but we will discover that he is the one who led us toward the curtain in the first place. Only on this side of the curtain is death our enemy. Just beyond the curtain the monster called death turns out to be our friend. Let us never forget that he walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will see him and be with him there, because we have met him and knew him here.
Just before his death Christ told the disciples he was going where they could not come. Peter who did not like what he heard wanted to follow Christ everywhere, but Christ's response was, "Where I go, you cannot follow me now, But you shall follow later."John 13:36
When Stephen was about to die he did not ask for the grave to receive him, but said, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit!"Acts 7:59. Clearly he was not looking forward to an unconscious existence but awaited the immediate bliss of Heaven and fellowship with Christ and the Father. Likewise, it was the exact same thing that happened to Jesus' spirit, in fact it was the very first thing that happened after he died and while he still was on the cross. John 19:30 "So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit".
Paul certainly expected to be with God when he died for he writes that he has great desire "to depart and to be with God, for that is very much better."Phillippians 1:23. Paul does not long for death so his soul can sleep. He longs for death because he knows he will be with God which is far better. Again he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that his preference is to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
There is no other way to interpret this except to understand that he expected to be with God immediately after he died.
To die is to go home to heaven. To live is to exist in a foreign country on earth. Someday we'll understand this distinction much better but for now the future is ours by faith. Believers go directly into the presence of Christ at death. They are conscious and in command of all their faculties. As D. L. Moody said before he died, "Soon you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don't believe it. For in that moment I will be more alive than I have ever been."
So we can say that death has 2 faces. To the unbeliever the very thought of death is terrifying or at least it should be, but for those who have made their peace with God, death is a blessing because death is a means of redemption, a doorway into an exciting and joyous and adventurous eternity with God the Father and Jesus. When the curtain parts for us, nothing can keep us from answering the summons. A few seconds after we die we will be either elated or terrified. And it will be too late to reroute our travel plans or to make amends.
And finally the questions, will we have bodies after we die but before the resurrection? What kind of bodies do the believers who have died in Christ have now? Since the resurrection of the body is in the future, are the present dead believers in heaven "disembodied" spirits or do they have some kind of temporary "intermediate" bodies that will be discarded on the day of resurrection - that day when we shall get our permanent glorified bodies?
One explanation is that God creates a body for those believers who have died and are in Heaven and this explains how the redeemed in Heaven can relate to Christ and to one another. Since departed believers can sing praises to God and communicate with one another, it seems that they must have some kind of body in which to do so. What's more, at the point of transition between life and death many who have been brought back to life have testified that they saw departed relatives awaiting their arrival. If this is true it could indicate that the dead believers in Heaven already have recognizable bodies. It may very well be that souls can take upon themselves shape and bodily characteristics. If that seems strange to us it may well be that our concept of the soul is much to limited. The Bible has a great many references to dead believers having recognizable bodies. Listed below are just a few.
Also, being on the wrong side of the gulf is a preview of the incredible sorrow and sadness that the lost soul is going to experience, knowing that it is forever separated from God. Knowledge of that separation is what is causing the lost soul to have tremendous hopelessness, anguish, and grief.
These bodies given to our souls right after we die are not our permanent bodies. Although they may be incorporated with the bodies we had while on earth. The bodies that we had on earth will be renewed and glorified and made eternal. If that was not true then there would be no need for the Doctrine of Resurrection.
God also tells us in the Bible that we are going to get these earthly bodies back. In Corinthians 15:42-44, he speaks not only about these earthly bodies but also about our spiritual bodies.
So also is the resurrection of the dead.
The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.
It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
And all this is going to happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.
Death is the chariot that our heavenly Father sends to bring us to himself
There are a great many mysteries surrounding God, Christianity and the Bible. Things like death, creation, The Trinity, the soul, and God's unconditional love, are just a few of the great many mysteries that we may never know or understand as long as we are human beings. Indeed there are mysteries inside mysteries. That is where faith in our God comes into being. However I think the Lord has in a way given us an answer to all the questions that we don't have answers for. It is found in one of the very first books of the Bible, in Deuteronomy 29:29, where it says:
The things concealed belong to God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons.
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