What happens when we die?

A young saint’s spirit went home last week and her body died.   According to the bible, the body without the spirit is dead….James 2:26.

Despite being in contact with her husband during Friday, when I went into the specially convened prayer meeting at Open Arms that night I had no idea what to pray or what condition she was in except that it was serious.  So I prayed in the Spirit as follows: “Lord, forgive us for not understanding your ways and for our childish prayers.  We miss our sister and we know that her husband and child will be heartbroken.  So for those reasons we are asking for her back.”  I was in tears as I prayed this.  Then I got a vision from the Lord.  Jesus was in heaven hearing our prayers and pointing them out to our sister whose spirit was also there.  He seemed to be asking her if she wanted to go back.  To which she seemed to reply: “No way!”

Now it is not that she doesn’t care about her husband and son or us for that matter.  It’s just that, from the viewpoint of heaven and eternity, their remaining time seems shorter, eternity seems longer and God’s care for them more obvious.  Its a perspective we all need to have.

On Sunday, shortly after we heard the news that the life support machines had been stopped, a group of us were meeting and discussed what death is about for a born again, committed disciple of Jesus Christ – what the bible calls a “saint”.

The bible speaks a lot about what happens to “saints” when they die (it is much less clear on what happens to people who are not saints).  In fact all the letters of the New Testament and Revelation are written for the saints (a.k.a. disciples or overcomers)  and don’t make much sense unless that is understood.

So there are several verses that we can use to describe our current status and what happens when we die. First of all we should be clear that the earthly body we are in is a vessel for something more important:  2 Cor. 4:6-7a says:

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels,

Jesus said (John 11:25,26):

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Well do you?  Martha didn’t for when the test came she showed it by her response in John 11:39:

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”

Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”

In Lazarus’ case (and in the case of the widow’s son at Nain) Jesus raised both the body and the spirit, thus restoring the soul as well to Lazarus.

(I believe the Scripture says the Spirit interacting with the body is what creates the soul – without both the soul doesn’t exist – but I could be wrong about that).

But in the saint’s case, when we die our bodies normally decay to the dust from whence they came and our spirits go to heaven.  Our souls are not fully saved until our spirits are reunited with our bodies on the day the Lord returns and gives us new ones.

So the old body has served its purpose, it won’t be used again and it really doesn’t matter what you do with it. Cremation is probably one of the more eco friendly options.

The fact that the saints will be resurrected in a new body is dealt with extensively by Paul in 1 Cor. 15.  In v.20 and v.23 he calls Christ the first fruits of the resurrection.  A first fruits means there is more of the same coming afterwards:

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 

When Luke wrote his gospel he went to great lengths to ensure that we understood that Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily one:

36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” 37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. 38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

40 When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, “Have you any food here?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43 And He took it and ate in their presence.

Luke 24:36-43

But so far Jesus is the only one who has resurrected in that way.  His resurrection was also different from what our bodily resurrection will be like in that His old body never decayed.  In fact God wanted to show something very specific through Jesus’ resurrection.

In the Old Testament it says this about the life of flesh:

Leviticus 17:11
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

There has been an increase of understanding these days through scientific enquiry and we know now that the life of this flesh is most certainly in the blood.  96,500 km (enough to circle the world more than twice) of capillaries, veins and arteries carry blood laden with life giving oxygen and minerals to every living cell in our bodies.  Only the dead skin cells we shed, parts of our hair and nails are lifeless.

And we know that Jesus shed His blood.    Then He was buried, His body did not decay and so He rises with flesh and bone.  Henceforth His Spirit sustains Him so that life is in the Spirit not the blood in His new body. Likewise for us, since He is the first fruits, so our new bodies will be kept alive by the spirit, not blood.  Note that Jesus ate and had flesh and bones, there is nothing insubstantial about the new bodies we will inherit.

So the saint is in heaven awaiting the Lord’s return so that she and all the other “spirits of just men (includes women) made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23) can enter their new bodies and live with Jesus in His new kingdom.

So in summary:

1) A saint who dies is in heaven with Jesus now in the spirit.

2) Jesus is the only one in heaven with a new flesh and bone body

3) Jesus will return one day and when He does He will bring the saints with Him and give them new bodies like His own.

Think about these things, they will encourage you!

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