Is it really a secret? Maybe not. A secret is meant to be “kept”. And this information is freely available!
While it isn’t something that is readily spoken of outright, most people wonder what happens when you die. It is an age-old question and one that has spawned a lot of different lines of thinking. As Christians, we already have this information in the Bible, to study and glean from as we choose. If we dig through the entirety of the Word, we’ll find our answers. So let’s get right into what the Word says about what happens when this life is finished.
Spirit and Soul
You may hear references made to the eternal part of a person as a “spirit” or “soul”. In most cases, these are used interchangeably. There is a complete word study that can be done on these, but we’ll leave that for another day. Right now, we are just going to be concerned with the physical body and that eternal essence that each person has.
It is no secret that there is a separation of the body and the spirit at the point of death. It’s spoken of in both the old and new testament. For example, Ecclesiastes 12:7 says it plainly.
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”
Another story is told in 1 Kings 17:17-23, of a woman’s son who died and was brought back to life by the man of God.
“And it came to pass after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son? And he said unto her, Give me thy son. And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into a loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed. And he cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, has thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son? And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, See, thy son liveth.”
There is a Difference
It’s obvious to see that there is a difference in the body and the spirit, and that the two cannot reside together at the point of death. In fact, the fact that the spirit or soul is gone from a person is why the body is no longer animated. Adam became a “living” being when God breathed that breath of life into him. And it is no secret that when he died, that spirit left his body.
We often see the term “sleep” used in the Bible and it is almost always antiquated with death. However, it is never the soul or spirit that sleeps, but rather the body itself. Let’s look at Daniel 12:2.
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
When Daniels speaks of “sleeping in the dust”, he is referring solely to the body, because it is the only part of our being that “returns to the dust”. Not the soul inside it. We see another reference made to this fact in James 2:26.
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.”
James is talking about the animation, or LIFE, that occurs when the spirit and body are ONE. Death, which separates the two, removes any possibility of life and so the body returns to dust while the spirit moves on..
That point is made plain again in Genesis 35:18.
“And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.”
Words Mean Things
We know that, according to the Word, if all the things that Jesus said were recorded, there wouldn’t be enough libraries on the earth with room enough to hold them!
With that thought in mind, it’s safe to assume that every word that DID make it into the inspired Word is there for a very important purpose!
Our Bible is not just a collection of cool stories, but rather an instruction manual to be used any time we are in doubt about something in this life. It is meant to encourage, uplift, instruct, reprove and teach doctrine from, as well as other things. Reading it gives us a firm foundation to stand on. So when issues and questions arise, all we need to do is study it out and allow the Holy Spirit, who is our Teacher, to equip us with the knowledge we need.
Where Does the Spirit Go?
Paul spoke in several places about the placement of the spirit. For example, in 2 Corinthians 5:5-8, he said,
“Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 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.”
Here, it sounds like Paul is saying that when the spirit departs the body, it is immediately in the presence of the Lord. He speaks to that same effect in Philippians 1:20-23.
“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”
To Paul, departing this life, or dying, would be a joyful event, as he would get to be with Jesus. Had there been a “waiting period” to go through, or a time frame in which there would remain a form of separation, he would surely have made mention of that. Although his speech can sometimes be harder to understand, he had a mind to speak clearly. And that’s just what he did.
We read a story in Luke 16:22-31, that is very interesting…
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by 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 Lararus 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, May, 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.”
Some people think that the dead are still carried to Abraham’s bosom today, and rest there until the judgment. Some believe the soul stays in the body. But when Jesus died, He took the keys of death, hell and the grave. Things changed once he became the first born of the resurrection!
Immediately with Jesus?
Most of us know the story of the martyrdom of Stephen. If you don’t, you can find it in the book of Acts, the 7th chapter. In verses 59-60 of that chapter, we find an interesting discourse that should put any doubt out of our mind. It says, “And they stoned Stephen, calling up God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Here we see the term, “fell asleep” in the same story as the spirit going immediately to be with Jesus. Why would this specific reference be used, if not to show us exactly what happens at the point of death.
We see it again, in Luke 23:46, when Jesus is experiencing his final moments of life. It is as if he wanted to make sure we had this last tidbit of information before he died.
“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
Yes, he was Jesus. And Yes, we are far from being EXACTLY what He was. But while here, he walked the earth in a human, flesh body. The Bible says he was tempted in all the ways that we are. He got hungry, thirsty, tired and mad. He was always giving us instructions to do as He did. So, we can only assume He took the time to speak from the cross about this important question.
As if to solidify the point, He spoke to one that had been crucified alongside him. He had this discourse in Luke 23:42-44,
“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.”
Again, Jesus makes it clear that even that very day, that thief would be with him in paradise.
What Does It All Mean?
Only studying topics like this for yourself can you really come to a full understanding of the concept. As you read the Word, the Holy Spirit guides and teaches, lifting you over those hard-to-understand Scriptures.
Before attempting any in-depth study, be sure to pray for wisdom and ask the Holy Spirit to help you.
Sometimes, you have to lay aside preconceived notions, church and man-made traditions. You might even have to get rid of your own preconceived notions in order to accept the Truth of the Word.
But I assure you, it’s worth it!