What Happens to a Christian After Death?

By Dr. Bob Martin III
Published 2 years ago

Is there life after death? Have you ever wondered, “What happens after we physically die?”

Why do I ask? Because every human dies, including you!

Maybe you have never wondered what will happen after death, but I have. And the older I get, the more often I wonder about it.

The good news is Christians don’t need to fear death.

But it would be nice to know what to expect after death.

For example, do you believe that after you die you:

  • Get a harp and spend eternity floating on clouds?
  • Fall into “soul sleep” or a state of unconsciousness until your resurrection?
  • Are immediately resurrected in a new body?

 

As surprising as it might be for many Christians, none of these options are correct.

I.   What Happens After Death?

2 Destinations after Death v3 blog image what happens when a Christian dies? First, the soul is in an intermediate state of conscious bliss Second comes the Resurrection: the reunion of the soul with the glorified body (1 The. 4:13-17)

 

 

Christians can expect two main events after death:

  1. First, the souls of Christians will immediately exist in heaven. Heaven is a conscious paradise without our bodies (Phil. 1:23)
  2. Second, our souls will ultimately be reunited with our bodies.
  3. Our resurrection will be in glorified immortal bodies (1 Thess. 4:13-17)
  4. Christians will ultimately spend eternity with the Lord on the new earth

On the other hand, the souls of non-Christians are separated from their bodies.

  • They too, will be resurrected and judged
  • But they will be sent to a “second death” that is an eternal place of torment called the “lake of fire” (John 5:29; Rev. 20:15)

 

II.   The Soul and Body Distinction

To fully understand these two events, you need to know that humans are a unity of soul and body (hylomorphism).

  • In other words, the soul and body co-exist and are distinct from each other
  • The soul animates the physical body
  • And even when a person’s physical body dies, the soul survives (Jas. 2:26)

 

Soul & Body distinction Humans are a unity of soul & body (hylomorphism) The soul & body co-exist but are distinct from each other. The soul animates the physical body When a person’s physical body dies, the soul survives (Jas. 2:26)

 

If that distinction seems confusing, let me give you an analogy that might help. Consider a person who writes down their thoughts on a piece of paper. In this analogy:

  • The immaterial thoughts are analogous to the immaterial soul
  • The material words on paper are analogous to our material physical bodies
  • The person’s thoughts are responsible for the words on the paper
  • And even if the material paper is destroyed, the immaterial thoughts will remain
  • In the same way, the immaterial soul survives even when the material body perishes.

 

III.   Intermediate State: The Human Soul Survives After Death Without a Body

At this point, you may be asking, “Can a soul survive without a body?”

The answer is yes.

Souls can exist without bodies. For example:

  • God, the Father, and angels are pure spirits without physical bodies (John 4:24; Heb. 1:14)
  • Jesus existed without a body between his death and resurrection. He gave up his Spirit on the cross (Luke 23:46; John 19:30). This action means he was with the Father in heaven between death and resurrection (John14:12)
  • Solomon wrote the human spirit survives death (Eccl. 12:7)

 

After death, the souls of both Christians (Heb. 12:13) and Old Testament saints (Eccl. 12:7) are in an intermediate state (heaven) in the presence of the Lord. We are here temporarily waiting to be resurrected with our glorified bodies (1 Thess. 4:13–17).

 

 Human Souls Survive Death Without a Body After death, the souls of Christians & OT saints are in an intermediate state of conscious bliss, awaiting resurrection Paul called it paradise Jesus called it “Abraham’s bosom”

 

This intermediate place or heaven is not our final “home.” Our final home is called the new earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 22:1). But this intermediate state has been called different things. For example:

  • Jesus referred to the intermediate state of the Christian dead as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:2-24)
  • Paul described this intermediate state of the third heaven as paradise (2 Cor. 12:1-4)

 

While we are in this intermediate state, our souls are conscious:

  • David speaks of conscious joy in God’s presence after death (Psa. 16;10-11)
  • On the cross, Jesus told the thief that “today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Meaning that despite the man’s body being in the grave that same day, his soul was with Jesus in heaven

 

IV.   Three Reasons Why Christian Souls Survive in an Intermediate State

 

3 reasons why Christian souls survive in an Intermediate state 1. God's Omnipotence 2. God's Omnibenevolence 3. God's Image in humans

 

There are three reasons the souls of Christians consciously exist after death. These include:

  • God’s Omnipotence
  • God’s Omnibenevolence
  • God’s image in humans

 

1.   Soul Survival Is Rooted in God’s Omnipotence

Being all-powerful, God is Creator and Sustainer of all things, including our souls (Col. 1:16-17). So, it makes sense that if he can create our souls, he can also sustain them after death.

2.   Soul Survival Is Rooted in God’s Omnibenevolence

But just because God can sustain our souls beyond death, is there any reason why he would do it?

Yes!

And the reason is based on his infinite goodness (omnibenevolence) (Lam. 3:22). God keeps our souls alive after death so that we can gather around his throne to sing and worship him (Rev. 4:11).

In short, God wants to sustain our souls after death because of his infinite goodness. And he has the infinite power to sustain them. God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence guarantee conscious survival of the soul after death.

3.   Soul Survival Is Rooted in God’s Image in Humans

Another reason our souls survive death is that God created humans in his image (Gen. 1:27). Our souls are part of God’s image.

And God would never annihilate his image. Why?

  • Because annihilating human souls would be attacking his own image.
  • And God attacking his own image would be God attacking himself
  • God would never destroy his image in humans.
  • Since God made humans in his image, he would want to preserve them.

 

V.   The Resurrection of the Human Body

Now that we know our souls survive after death, what happens next?

The next event is our resurrection. The resurrection involves the reunion of our soul with our immortal body (2 Cor. 5:1–4).

  • Resurrection means the body comes to life, not the soul, because the soul never died
  • It is the body that is raised from the dead
  • We are resurrected with glorified, immortal physical bodies because we are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27; 9:6; Heb. 1:3)

 

VI.   The Time of Believer’s Resurrection

You might wonder, “When is the resurrection going to happen?”

The short answer is we don’t know. Why?

  • Believers are resurrected at the Rapture of the Church[1]
  • The Rapture precedes Jesus’ Second Coming (1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17)
  • And since Jesus said only God the Father knows when he is returning (Matt. 24:36), we cannot know when the resurrection of believers will take place

 

VII.   There are Two Resurrections

We may not know when believers will be resurrected, but we know a few things.

Firstly, we know

  • All humans will be physically resurrected (1 Cor. 15:21–26)
  • If you are a premillennialist, there are going to be two resurrections
  • The first resurrection is for believers
  • A second resurrection is for unbelievers
  • And a thousand-year reign (the “Millennium”) of Jesus will separate them
  • Amillennialists and postmillennialists believe in one resurrection. This singular resurrection occurs at the Final Judgment

 

2 Resurrections Two resurrections occur in the following order (Jn 5:28–29): The saved (Jn 11:23–26; 14:19) at the Rapture of the Church (1 Th 4:13–17) The unsaved at the Final Judgement (Rev. 20:4–6, 11-15)

 

Secondly, the two resurrections occur in the following order (Dan. 12:2; John 5:28–29):

  • The first resurrection will be for the saved (John 11:23–26; 14:19)
  • The second resurrection will be for the unsaved

 

The first resurrection occurs at the Rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:13–17)

  • The Rapture occurs before Jesus’ Second Coming and his Millennial Kingdom reign
  • Resurrected Christians will be judged for their earthly works in Christian service at the “Judgement Seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10)
  • During the Millennium, resurrected believers will reign with Jesus (Rev. 20:4–6)

 

This second resurrection occurs at the Final Judgment. This judgment is called the Great White Throne Judgment. It comes at the end of time following the millennial reign of Jesus (Rev. 20:4–6, 11-15)

  • The second resurrection is for the unsaved, who will experience “the second death”
  • This second death is eternal separation from God (Rev. 20:14–15)

 

VIII.   The Nature of the Believer’s Resurrection Body After Death

Paul wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his [Jesus’] glorious body” (Phil. 3:20–21; cf. John 3:2–3).

 

Believer's resurrection body Physical Glorious Spirit dominated Incorruptible Imperishable Immortal

 

In other words, our resurrection bodies will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. For instance, our resurrected body will be:

  • Glorious (Phil. 3:21; cf. Matt. 17)
  • Spirit-dominated or being entirely controlled by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:44)
  • Immortal, imperishable, and incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:20, 42, 52-53)
  • Physical (Luke 24:5); 1 Cor. 15:42) being “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39)
  • Able to eat (Luke 24:42)
  • Able to see God face-to-face (i.e., the “Beatific Vision”) (1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 22:4)

 

Our resurrection bodies will also be supernaturally powered (1 Cor. 15:44):

  • Being able to move through space (Acts 1:10–11)
  • Appear and disappear (Luke 24:31)
  • Perhaps move through material things (John 20:19).

 

IX.   Our Resurrection is Based on Several of God’s Attributes

 

Basis for the resurrection Omnipotence (All-power) Omnibenevolence (All-goodness) Omnisapience (All-wisdom) God’s image in humans

 

Our resurrection is rooted in several of God’s attributes. For instance:

  • Omnipotence (All-power)
  • Omnibenevolence (All-goodness)
  • Omnisapience (All-wisdom)
  • God’s image in humans

 

a.    God’s Omnipotence Assures Bodily Resurrection

Resurrection is rooted in God’s power.

  • Since God is omnipotent, he can do anything that is possible, including raising the dead.
  • He not only created life (John 1:3), but he also has the power to restore it after death
  • God’s omnipotence is a necessary condition for our physical resurrection.

 

b.    God’s Omnibenevolence Assures Bodily Resurrection

But even though God’s omnipotence can resurrect the dead, why would he do it?

  • Because God is omnibenevolent, meaning he is all-good.
  • He will resurrect our dead bodies because of his infinite love and mercy.

 

c.    God’s Omnisapience (All-wisdom) Assures the Bodily Resurrection

God’s infinite wisdom used Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to defeat death and Satan (1 Cor. 2:8; cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-55; Heb. 2:14) and restore his creation (Rev. 21–22).

  • Humans can now put their faith in Jesus and enjoy eternal life.

 

d.    Being Created in God’s Image Assures the Bodily Resurrection

God created humans in his image. And that image includes the physical body. Therefore, God’s image in humans is not fully restored unless there is a resurrection body.

The New Heaven and New Earth

After the “Final Judgment,” the sin-cursed (Rom. 8:22) creation will pass away (Mark 13:31) and be replaced by a new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:5). This new creation will be

  • Free from sin (Rev. 22:3)
  • The eternal dwelling with God for resurrected believers (Rev. 21:3; 22:3-4.

 

Call to Action: What’s Your Next Step

Death is an inevitable part of life, but because of Jesus, Christians have nothing to fear (2 Cor. 4:13-18; cf., Rev. 2:11). Jesus died for our sins and rose again so that we could have eternal life (John 11:25-26).

Following death, our souls will be in paradise. We await our resurrection at the Rapture of the Church (or the Final Judgment).

But if you have not put your faith in Jesus (John 3:16; Eph, 4:8-10), your fate is much different.

  • Your final destination is the “lake of fire,” a place of eternal torment.
  • This reality is not a “scare tactic” but truth regardless of whether you want to believe it or not (John 8:32).

 

Please don’t wait until death comes knocking at your door. Instead, place your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and know that you will be with Him eternally when you die.

References

Geisler, N. L. Systematic theology, volume four: church, last things. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005

Resources

Binmin Podcast Ep 11: End | What Questions Should I Ask About My Faith?

 

Footnote

[1] This is the premillennial view. Postmillennialists and amillennialists believe in one resurrection at the Final Judgment.

2 Responses

    1. Thank you again for your encouraging, thoughtful, and helpful comment. I will remember your suggestion when writing future posts and revising older ones. I appreciate you. God bless you.

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