Summary: Death should hold no fear for the child of God. We praise Him for the many blessings He gives us in this life, but for the born-again believer “the best is yet to come!”
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHRISTIAN DIES?
“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-8 (NKJV)
UNLESS WE LIVE TO EXPERIENCE THE RETURN OF CHRIST, EVERY MORTAL SHALL EXPERIENCE PHYSICAL DEATH.
“By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." Genesis 3:19 (NASB)
“And as it is appointed for men to die once but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV)
“All go to the one place (the grave): all are from the dust, and all return to dust.” Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NKJV)
THE PROCESS OF OUR BODIES RETURNING TO THE DUST OF THE GROUND IS REFERRED TO AS “SLEEP” OR “SLEEPING”.
Jesus used this metaphor at the time of Lazarus’ death. We read:
“These things He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well." However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead.” John 11:11-14 (NKJV)
The early disciples lived in the expectation of the immediacy of our Lord’s return. Paul had full assurance that he and the believers to whom he preached would live to see the return of the Lord and, without dying, be instantly changed into their resurrection bodies. But for the saints who had died he speaks of their death as “sleep”. Consider:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (NKJV)
THE MOMENT OUR BODIES BEGIN TO “SLEEP” IN DEATH, OUR SPIRIT GOES IMMEDIATELY TO BE WITH THE LORD.
“We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” II Corinthians 5:8.
“Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." Luke 23:42-43 (NKJV)
"So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom [PARADISE].” Luke 16:22 (NKJV)
FOR THE CHRISTIAN, DEATH IS GLORIOUS!
Paul faced the possibility of death every day throughout his ministry. But Paul knew that laying aside this earthly tabernacle in which we presently dwell allows us to put on the righteousness of Christ, which is immensely better. Consider Paul’s message to the church at Philippi.
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But If I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” Philippians 1:21-24 (NKJV)
Paul declares the glorious victory that shall come, first to the dead in Christ, then to the believers who shall be alive at the moment of our Lord’s return. This is often referred to as “the rapture” of the church.
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.