What happens after death. Do we sleep until we are resurrected or do our souls ascend to heaven?
The Bible is clear that when the body dies, the spirit of a person leaves it. James 2:26 says, “For as THE BODY WITHOUT THE SPIRIT IS DEAD, so faith without works is dead also.” The Seventh Day Adventists teach “soul sleep,” but that is not what the Bible teaches at all. When the body dies, the spirit of the person leaves that body, and does not sleep with it in the grave.
Where the spirit of that person goes, depends upon if he/she is saved or lost. There does not need to be an immediate “court” or “judgment” held to determine the condition of the person. God already knows, and has warned man. John 3:16-18 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. HE THAT BELIEVETH ON HIM IS NOT CONDEMNED: BUT HE THAT BELIEVETH NOT IS CONDEMNED ALREADY, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” So when a person dies, and his/her spirit leaves the body, it immediately goes to one of two places.
Luke 16:19-31 shows what happens immediately to the saved and to the lost. “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that THE BEGGAR DIED, AND WAS CARRIED BY THE ANGELS INTO ABRAHAM’S BOSOM: THE RICH MAN ALSO DIED, AND WAS BURIED; AND IN HELL HE LIFT UP HIS EYES, BEING IN TORMENTS, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
We do not even read of a burial for the poor man Lazarus. But we do read that he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom — heaven (Abraham being fully alive in heaven — Matthew 22:32 says, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”) He did not have to work his way up to heaven after death — he was carried there. It reminds us that we do not work our way to heaven, but accept the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross to take us there. Ephesians 2:8,9 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” When Lazarus got there, he was found to be in a place of comfort. Luke 16:25 says, “But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise LAZARUS evil things: but NOW HE IS COMFORTED, and thou art tormented.” So to die saved, is to immediately be carried to heaven.
Other passages make this clear. II Corinthians 5:6-8 says, “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are CONFIDENT, I say, and WILLING RATHER TO BE ABSENT FROM THE BODY, AND TO BE PRESENT WITH THE LORD.”
A conversation is heard between the repentant thief on the cross and Jesus in Luke 23:40-43, “But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, TO DAY SHALT THOU BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.” The repentant thief had the promise that that very day, he was going to be with Jesus in paradise (heaven).
But what about the rich man in Luke 16:22,23? “THE RICH MAN ALSO DIED, AND WAS BURIED; AND IN HELL HE LIFT UP HIS EYES, BEING IN TORMENTS.” He immediately found himself in torment in hell. He was right in the flames of hell. Luke 16:24 says, “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I AM TORMENTED IN THIS FLAME.” To die lost, is to die and immediately be cast into the fire of hell. To die lost, is to die condemned. John 3:18 says, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but HE THAT BELIEVETH NOT IS CONDEMNED ALREADY, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
There is no such thing as “soul sleep” after death. It is either immediate comfort, or immediate torment.
Why does the Bible then refer to Christians as “sleeping?” I Thessalonians 4:13-18 says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning THEM WHICH ARE ASLEEP, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, EVEN SO THEM ALSO WHICH SLEEP IN JESUS WILL GOD BRING WITH HIM. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent THEM WHICH ARE ASLEEP. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” The “sleep” is referring to their bodies in the ground awaiting the resurrection. It cannot be referring to their spirits and souls, because it says right there that God is going to “bring them with Him.” He is bringing them with Him from heaven (remember all of the previous verses), to be given their resurrection bodies first, before the living receive theirs. Until that resurrection day, the Christian’s body is said to be “sleeping,” because it will rise up again. I Corinthians 15:42-44 says, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; 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. THERE IS A NATURAL BODY, AND THERE IS A SPIRITUAL BODY.”
The body is dead when the spirit leaves it. The spirit of the believer immediately goes to be with the Lord until the Rapture of the Church, when Christians will receive their new spiritual bodies.
The question right now is, “Are we using our time wisely for the Lord?” One day, before we know it, our time will be over here. Are you serving the Lord faithfully while you have time?