What Happens to Christians when We Die?
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord."1
Here's an interesting question posed by a Daily Encounter reader: "When a Christian dies, does he/she go directly to heaven to be with the Lord, or does he/she remain in the grave until the resurrection and return of Jesus when the ‘dead in Christ’ shall rise?"
My challenger believed that I was in error saying that my friend who died is now in heaven with the Lord.
And certainly the Apostle Paul in today's Scripture seems to indicate that when we die, we will remain in the grave until the Lord returns.
On the other hand, the Apostle Paul also said, "So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. That is why we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.”2
Again Paul seems to indicate that when a Christian dies, he goes directly to be with the Lord in Heaven. He said, "For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better. Yet if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don't know which is better. I'm torn between two desires: Sometimes I want to live, and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ. That would be far better for me, but it is better for you that I live."3
I don't claim to be a theologian by any means, but it seems to me that it is our bodies that will be raised at the resurrection and return of the Lord, and that our soul/spirit goes directly to be with the Lord when we die.
As an interesting sidelight, another Daily Encounter reader shared the following: “When my grandmother (who was the strongest Christian woman I've ever known) was on her deathbed from cancer in her last moments, I vividly remember her having a smile on her face and saying, ‘Oh my, Oh my!’ I firmly believe that this was because she was seeing heaven. It is truly there!"
Either way, the most important thing of all is that we are ready to meet God face to face. I'm not in a hurry to prove my point as I hope by the grace of God I can keep publishing the gospel for many years to come.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, how can I ever thank You enough for Your great love and so great a salvation, and for the blessed hope I have as a Christian, knowing that after this life on earth is over, I will live forever with You in Heaven for all eternity. And because You loved me enough to die for me, please help me to love You enough to live for You all the days of my life—or until Jesus comes if that should come first—to take me home to Heaven. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus's name, amen."
NOTE: If you are not sure that you will go to Heaven when you die, be sure to read the article, "How to Be Sure You're a Real Christian" at: http://tinyurl.com/8glq9.
1. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (NIV).
2. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT).
3. Philippians 1:21-24 (NLT).