This was a question posed to me recently on behalf of a friend. It’s a good question. It’s a real question. It’s a very sobering question. One, it is a reminder of the reality that all of us will die. Two, it is a reminder that there is life after death. And third, it is a reminder that life is short and, if you think about it, eternity is long – very long.
Some would argue there is nothing after death. “You die and that’s it,” they claim.
Others suggest that one’s soul simply falls asleep for a while until Jesus returns.
Still others hold to a view of having additional chances to “make things right with God” between death and the eternal afterlife.
My suggestion is to do what one of my long-time mentors and ‘Pastor-Hero’ Al Jackson has said on numerous occasions: “Stick with the Bible, Matt. . . Just stick with the Bible.”
So, how does the Bible answer the question posed above?
Let me offer three passages that make it very clear that the second after a believer dies, he/she enters the presence of their Lord:
1. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
For the apostle Paul, to be away from his body (physical death) means to be at home with the Lord.
2. Philippians 1:23 says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ for that is far better.”
Again, Paul knew that when he died he would depart and BE WITH CHRIST – right then. Not after a while – RIGHT THEN.
3. Luke 23:43 says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
These words were spoken to the thief on one of the crosses next to Jesus at the crucifixion. Jesus didn’t suggest that his last breath would be ‘it.’ He didn’t suggest that he would go to sleep for a while and then be ‘reunited.’ He didn’t even suggest a time where his soul would have some time to make up for some past sins. No. That very day the thief would be with Jesus in Paradise.
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology (which I HEARTILY recommend to EVERY believer!), writes: “Once a believer has died, though his or her physical body remains on the earth and is buried, at the moment of death the soul (or spirit) of that believer goes immediately into the presence of God with rejoicing.”
I think we can agree, if we ‘stick with the Bible,’ that Grudem is absolutely correct.
Lewis Smedes said, “Grace is the gift of feeling sure that our future, even our dying, is going to turn out more splendidly than we dare imagine.”
Let this bring all of us who claim to follow Jesus much hope and joy. For those believers who have gone before us, let us rejoice that they immediately entered the presence of our King. For us who await our time and are alive on the earth – let us live with hope and confidence and literal excitement that we will one day breathe one second here and the next WITH Jesus! And let us strive to bring as many as possible with us on our journey home. Praise be to our great God who makes such incredible thoughts, remarkable realities.