Every person has to face the reality of death. It is not a pleasant subject, but it is part of life in a fallen world. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what happens when a person who believes in Jesus dies. This post is not exhaustive. (Books could be written on each point.) I do want to briefly address the question, “what happens when a Christian dies?”
What Doesn’t Happen to a Christian Who Dies
I do not want to appear insensitive when I address this, but it has to be mentioned. Many times when a person dies you will hear something said along the lines of “heaven just gained another angel.” Heaven did not gain another angel. People do not become angels when the die. The Bible says nothing like this. It seems like a nice thing to say, but why do we want to encourage people with something that is not true? We will address this in a minute, but heaven did not gain an angel, it gained another human soul who had trusted in Jesus.
Christians also do not go to purgatory when they die. When Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” The work of atoning for our sins was finished and complete. There is no other payment for sins needed. In addition, salvation is not by works, but by faith alone in Christ. Romans 8:1 says that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Purgatory suggests that there is some condemnation that the Christian must endure so that they can be made fit for heaven. This flies in the face of our justification before God which is by faith alone. The Bible simply does not teach anything that resembles purgatory for the Christian. Instead it shows that those who have been united with Christ have a bright future awaiting them when they die.
What Does Happen to a Christian Who Dies
The Bible does not leave us in limbo about the destiny of Christians who die. The Apostle Paul says that to be “absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” He also shared his desire to “depart and be with Christ which is far better.” When a person trusts in Christ, their body is buried in the ground but their soul is in the presence of the Lord. The Bible calls this “the intermediate state.” It is the time when the soul of the believer is with the Lord, but their body is still buried. Notice that this state is intermediate, awaiting the return of the Lord Jesus and the glory that is to follow.
What Will Happen to a Christian Who Dies
The Christian’s ultimate hope will be realized at the return of Christ. When Jesus returns, 1 Thessalonians says that those who have died in Christ will rise first. Then those who remain will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Believers’ bodies will be glorified. 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that the Christian’s original body was weak, natural, and perishable. When we are glorified, we receive bodies that are imperishable and they will be raised in power and glory. All of those who believe in Christ will reign with Him forever in the new heavens and the new earth. This is why Paul can say, ““Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”