What Happens When Someone Dies?

Bible Basics

by Bob Burridge ©2011, 2021
Lesson 12: What Happens When Someone Dies?

The primary meaning of death in the Bible is “separation”. When a person dies his soul is separated from his no longer functioning body. The soul part of the person continues to function and is aware of things.

Death happens to all humans because of sin. It’s not just each person’s own sins that bring about that penalty. When Adam sinned the whole human race was condemned to die because Adam represented all who would descend from him. Our own sins continue to confirm that we have earned that well deserved penalty. In Romans5:12 it says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”

But there are two kinds of death in the Bible:
Physical Death: the body stops working and the soul is separated from it
Spiritual Death: a person is separated from fellowship with God

When Adam sinned he didn’t die physically right away, but he immediately died spiritually. He experienced that tragic separation from fellowship with his Creator. This is the condition from which we need to be delivered before physical death ends our time in this world where we now live and are called to live for God’s glory.

When we are born as new babies we are already spiritually dead because of that sin of Adam. He represented all of us in Eden. The guilt of Adam’s sin, and our own guilt when we sin, offends God. It becomes a barrier that keeps us from enjoying his comfort and promises. If we die physically when we are still dead spiritually we cannot go to Heaven and be with God forever.

The Gospel is that good message that those who are transformed by God’s grace are restored to fellowship with their Creator. When Jesus died he paid the penalty of sin in the repentant sinner’s place. All who sincerely trust in that saving work of Jesus Christ have the spiritual barrier removed. The separation ends. Romans 6:23 tells us that spiritual death can be overcome, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When someone who trusts in Jesus as his Redeemer dies, his soul goes immediately to be with the Savior. He will enjoy God’s blessings forever.

When people who trust in Jesus die, their soul goes immediately to be with their Savior. He paid the penalty of sin for his people. He died in their place. They will enjoy God’s blessings forever.

Resurrection is the rejoining of things separated in physical death. After Jesus died on the cross his body was laid in a tomb while his human soul went to that spiritual dimension where all go as they await the great day of resurrection. But Jesus was resurrected three days later on that Resurrection Sunday. At that time his human body was changed into a glorified form and re-joined with his human soul again.

When the end of our present world comes, Jesus will come again and the bodies of all his people will be resurrected too. Their glorified bodies will be joined again with their souls in Heaven. There they will live forever with God and all the other believers. This is physical resurrection.

There is also a spiritual resurrection when a person separated from God is re-joined in fellowship with their Creator. This is the Christian life we can enjoy here on earth while we are still alive. Jesus removed the barrier of our guilt so that we will enjoy fellowship with God again, and we will enjoy his blessings while we live here.

When we trust in Jesus as our Savior, we are raised up from spiritual death and are alive in a new way. Romans 6:4 explains that this is what Baptism represents, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Those who are made alive by the Gospel should live as those who are again made right with God. Their lives should show how thankful they are for God’s mercy and love.

The sad part of this is that those who are not changed by faith in Jesus Christ are left in their spiritual death. They have no spiritual resurrection as they struggle here on Earth. In the final day of judgment they will suffer tragic un-ending agony with no hope of deliverance. They are forever separated from the God they offended.

Those who are spiritually alive have the privilege of taking the Gospel to those still lost. Some will come to love the one true God who makes them alive too. It’s a wonderful thing to be used by God to bring life to those who are spiritually dead. When they sincerely trust in what Jesus did, God promises that they will be with him and all of us believers forever in glory.

(Bible verses are quoted from the New King James Version of the Bible)
Index of all our lessons on Bible Basics

Greater Things Ahead

Greater Things Ahead

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q: 37-38)
(watch our video)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

People usually fear death, and put in a lot of effort avoiding it. That is one of the effects God intended in allowing death into our world. It shows the horrible consequences of rebellion against God.

We have seen tragic losses of life in stories about massive storms, earthquakes, wars, terrorist attacks, epidemics, and criminal violence. I read some personal letters from a father describing the terror in the eyes of his children as they walked past the clutter of dead bodies when their town was devastated by a huge earthquake.

We all go through the pain in losing loved ones, and the sadness in being separated from them. We also face the inevitable fact that one day each one of us will experience death ourselves.

It started in Adam, the one created to represent us. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

Romans 6:23 calls death the wage we deserve because of sin. It is not only deserved because of the inherited guilt of Adam’s sin, but because of each sin of our own as well. Death drives home the horrible consequences of not living in full obedience to God.

Physical death means we have suffered some irreparable damage to our bodies to the degree that they can no longer function. It could be damage from injuries, disease, birth defects, violent crime, or even war. There is usually pain and suffering for the victim as well as grief and adjustments for his loved ones.

Physical death illustrates the even more tragic kind of death earned by sin: Spiritual Death. Just as our souls are separated from our bodies in physical death, lost and unredeemed humans are separated from fellowship with God forever in spiritual death.

When this life ends, we step into our eternal home. For many, it will be a very tragic place to spend the rest of forever. There will be no second chances, no time off for good behavior, no commuted sentences. For those rescued by the work of the Savior, they settle into an eternity of great blessings.

Physical death does not need to be something we fear. Death provides the darkness that makes God’s light shine so brightly and clearly. Death is the enemy overcome by the victory of Jesus Christ. This is what he secured for all his people.

God has given us a longing for the blessings stored up for us when this life is over. As redeemed believers in Christ, as soon as our spirits are separated from our bodies, we will be with others in glory. When the world’s final day comes, we will be advanced into a yet greater participation in eternal blessings.

Jesus did more for us in his visit to earth than to give us comforting words, corrected theology, and a perfect example of how to live. The blessings go beyond what we experience while we are alive. He purchased our place in heaven — irrevocably — forever.

Our first advancement comes immediately when we die.

The answer to question 37 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism says,

The souls of believers are, at their death, made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

First of all, this is a limited promise, not a universal one. God’s word has no assurance for those who show no evidence of faith in the work of Jesus Christ. Even the words of that popular Bible verse John 3:16 are very limited. It promise everlasting life only to those who believe in him.

It is not just believing that he lived, or that he suffered and died. It is not about believing that he taught good things. It means trusting in what he accomplished in his death, that his death made full payment for all the guilt of his people. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

At the moment of their death, believers are made perfect in holiness. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 the Apostle Paul tells about this assurance. It says, “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”

Though not yet admitted to the final state of glory, believers who die are no longer exposed to the temptations they struggled with in this life. They are held in the presence of Christ, and kept pure in their thoughts and deeds.

Hebrews 12:23 addresses believers in this way, “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect”

As he hung on the cross, Jesus answered the repentant thief next to him promising in Luke 23:43, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Paul understood the greater life ahead after this life is over. When he wrote his letter from prison to the Philippian believers he said in 1:23, “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”

As King David said in Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

While we enjoy the wonders of the immediate presence and comfort of our Lord in heaven, our bodies wait until the final day of resurrection.

In that resurrection our bodies will be reconstituted,
and will be reunited with our souls.

The answer to question 38 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism says,

At the resurrection, believers being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

This is the promise we have as we serve God here in this time of our earthly assignment. It is going to be the full satisfaction of our departed souls forever when we rest with Christ after death.

What we enjoy after our life here is over is just a taste of greater things to come. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul wrote about the hope and promise of the future resurrection. In verses 42-43 he said, “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.”

At that time, when the history of the world is completed, believers will be raised up in glory. We are not presently able to comprehend the actual nature of living with resurrected bodies. All disease, defects and the scars of sin will be gone from body and soul. We will have new bodies designed to live in a different dimension than this 3D world of ours.

Quoting from Isaiah 64:4 Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

The Bible says that in that future life of glory we will see, hear, speak, sing, rejoice, and worship, but not with the limited kinds of eyes, ears, voices, and hands like we have now. It will be a very different kind of life than anything we can compare it with in this physical world.

In 1 Peter 1:3-5 it tells us about this unbreakable promise of God, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

The final resurrection will come with the final day of judgment. It will not be the kind of court scene we are used to seeing in our own justice system. There is no presumption of innocence with arguments for and against us. God does not have to make a decision based upon evidence presented. He knows from all eternity who are his and who are left to their deserved condemnation.

It will be a day when God reveals his eternal plan for each person, a day of of pronouncing judgments, not of deciding about them.

In Matthew 25:31-34, Jesus explained this final judgment at the time of his return in glory, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:”

Then in verse 41 he described how the great King will announce his judgment upon the rest, “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:”

As hard as it is for us to understand, this is the plain and direct teaching of God’s word. Then in verse 46 Jesus summarized that final message some will ever hear from God, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

How can anyone be acquitted of his imperfections and rebellion against God? That is the core of the good news, the gospel, secured for us by Jesus the Christ. Only the perfect and infinite God, joined with a true human body and soul, could pay the moral debt of any one. Jesus died for all his people. That is exactly what took place in the completing of the work of Jesus Christ in his mission to the planet Earth.

He paid for his people’s guilt, all their guilt, what they inherited from Adam, and what they commit themselves. He credits them with his own perfect righteousness. They stand as righteous before God’s judgment because of what Jesus is and did. Of course, when changed by his grace they are also set free from the chains of sin that bound them, and are made able to live for God’s glory. That means they can really do good. They can help others, and worship with all sincerity, not for personal benefits alone, or to ease their conscience, but because of a true love for God implanted in otherwise deceived and selfish hearts.

In that final resurrection to glory, believers are perfectly blessed.

We cannot imagine the kind of joy we who rest in Christ will one day know there. Think of the greatest joys we can experience here in this life. There are the simple accomplishments that please us when we help someone, or learn a new skill, or when we have a great evening, are moved by music, or hear a well presented story. There are those times when our hearts are deeply touched by the love of friends and family, the feeling of seeing your child born and grow up, by those moments of victory and success we feel at times when we overcome obstacles, by the comfort and peace we feel when we come to our Living Savior for forgiveness.

The wonders we are going to experience after our bodies die will be greater than all these. In the presence of Christ we will know all we have known, but we will see it all with a greater understanding and even higher value. We will see how even the troubling times fit in with God’s greater plan. We will be with believers who are with the Savior now. Most of all, we will be with our Living Lord in a far greater way.

Now, think of what it will be like when after our dwelling with our Savior in heaven we graduate to an even greater joy, the eternal entry into glory when the great resurrection takes place. In 1 John 3:2 we have a hint of what it’s going to be like, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”

There we will fully enjoy God’s presence and wonder forever.

We should be encouraged by the promises in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, “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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

This is our certain future. No matter what we face here, whatever happens to us, whatever we go through, in that final Resurrection we will be united with all the saints in glory forever.

All we have known will come together in a way beyond anything we can understand right now. We all know the comforting words in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

One day we will see that greater good fully explained and applied.

The verses immediately after that verse fit it all into God’s eternal plan for us, his children, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Before anything was, he knew us as his own. He decreed that in Christ we will be born out of our darkness into the light of true life. All those he knew beforehand, and those destined to life in Christ will be called to him. This is not be just an outward invitation. It is an inward transforming call of the Holy Spirit. To all those called he will announce them to be innocent by the work of our Savior. As those declared to be just we have the promise here that these same ones will be glorified.

We will one day step into a world we cannot know right now. There we will spend the rest of all eternity with the one who made all things. The King of all kings, the Shepherd of our Souls, will be our eternal Heavenly Comforter.

This is why King David wrote those assuring words of Psalm 16:11, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)