When Christians Die
Note: To properly understand the position of the writer please read the author's message "To The Reader".
Most Christians prefer not to think of death, but when they do, they imagine death as coming like sleep. We see ourselves quietly closing our eyes with a look of peace on our face and our lips curled in a half smile. Then our serenely closed eyes are filled with the radiance of a white light which surrounds the shimmering figure of Jesus with His hand out-stretched. We then walk upward, hand in hand with Jesus, surrounded by a host of angels, as we effortlessly float on a stream of light leading us into the heavenly realm.
I've attended my share of funerals over the years and have heard many eulogies given by black robed clergymen. I've even given a few myself. I've yet to hear of one departed soul who has not gone on to a better place. Jesus said that narrow is the way to life everlasting and few there'll be that find it. If we believe what we hear at funeral services, then heaven is filling up fast and hell is virtually empty. I don't have a problem with trying to ease the pain of grieving loved ones but I do have a problem with outright lying. I have a problem with much of this fantasy theology as well.
I Have A Problem
My bible tells me that one day Christ will return for His church. Most of His church has been buried in death but that's fine, because He'll raise the dead and the living according to His word.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
The problem I have is that according to most bible teachers today, those Christians who have died are now sitting in heaven. If they're sitting in heaven, then why is Christ returning to earth to gather them? Do you see my problem?
Now, some of you will say that our spirits go to heaven but our bodies remain here. The fact is our bodies don't remain at all, they turn to dust.
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
There would appear to be no reason for Christ to return for the dead, for those who sleep (are dead) in Christ will receive new bodies not made with hands. Bodies don't sleep, they decay; only our living consciousness can sleep.
2 Corinthians 5:1
1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 Peter 1:14
14 Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me.
The earthly house of this tabernacle spoken of above is our body. Note Peter refers to it as "my tabernacle" a metaphor for his body.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
The scriptures appear quite clear on this matter, however, Christ is returning for all the departed saints, of this we can be certain.
Where Do They Go
If our spirits don't go immediately to heaven upon death, then where do they go? Where do they wait the coming of the Lord?
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.
According to the above text, we sleep in the dust of the earth until, as Christians, we are awakened to everlasting life, or as unbelievers, to everlasting contempt. Who awakens us and how?
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
Please note in the above text, where the dead believers and unbelievers are when they hear the voice of the Lord. Once again, as in Daniel, we see the righteous resurrected to life and those living in sin resurrected to damnation. From this text there can be no doubt that all men return to the dust (Hades) to await the coming of Christ.
Asleep In The Dust
In Daniel 12:2 we were told that many that "sleep in the dust" shall awake. What does this mean, "sleep in the dust" and what can we learn from it? God is trying to teach us something if we have the spiritual ears to hear what He's saying. Let's stop and take a moment to think. What do we know about sleep?
First, we know that sleep is temporary, therefore, if we sleep we shall awake. Second, we know that in sleep there is no consciousness of time, so whether we sleep for a moment or a millennium, it would all appear to us to be the same. I know that when I awake in the morning seven or eight hours have passed but it seems to have passed in an instant. Third and finally, though there is no awareness of time, communication is still possible via the dream. In a dream we can be in torment or a paradise and most of us at some time have experienced each.
When Jesus spoke about the death of believers, He used the term (sleep) to open our eyes to the previously mentioned facts. By using this term He desired us to know something of the state in which we would one day find ourselves. Let us consider two of the examples He left us to study.
23 And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise,
24 He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn.
25 But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose.
26 And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.
"The maid is not dead (destroyed) she sleeps." Jesus demonstrates His power over death here. His voice reaches into the slumber of the dead and touches their hearing. His authority loosens the bonds of death and frees any He calls, as in the case of Lazarus (John 11:1-13).
11:1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)
3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.
6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.
7 Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.
8 His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world.
10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
I've heard it said that if Jesus had not called Lazarus by name, every departed soul within the sound of His voice would have returned from the dead. Jesus announced to His disciples that Lazarus, their dear friend, was sleeping but He would go and wake him up.
When the disciples heard this, they thought He meant that Lazarus was taking his rest. This was not the case, however, He was telling them that Lazarus was dead.
11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
When His disciples failed to understand what He meant by "sleep", Jesus had to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead.
14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
Though Lazarus was called forth from the tomb, was the tomb the place where he slept or merely a doorway to it?
Perversions And Assumptions
Why do so many Christians believe they go directly to heaven at death? One of the main reasons for this delusion is our own desire to believe it. We want this to be the case so we simply find justification in the scriptures even if it means making assumptions or perverting God’s word.
I have heard more nationally known evangelists and teachers twisting the truth on this subject than I'd care to admit. In an effort to support the "die and go straight to heaven" theory, they offer the following: they say, "absent from the body is present with the Lord" or "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord". Neither of these statements are biblical quotes, though those who make them give chapter and verse. If what they seem to be quoting were accurate, they might have a viable point, but it's not accurate; it's a perversion of God's word and they ought to be ashamed of themselves for offering it. The correct quote is given below.
2 Corinthians 5:8
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
There's a big difference between being willing to be dead and with the Lord and actually being with the Lord immediately upon death. Who among the family of God would not be willing to be out of this old body and be abiding with the Lord? Twisting the word of God like this can be dangerous to one's spiritual health.
2 Peter 3:16
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
They use this false quote to support this false doctrine and lead those astray who are too lazy to study God's word. Most of us who follow Christ and await His return are confident, I say, and willing, rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord but this doesn't mean that when we are absent from the body we're automatically present with the Lord. It doesn't say that and those that misquote it in this way are guilty of perverting God's word.
The Penitent Thief
Now we must deal with the penitent thief on the cross. Most of those who believe that any Christian who dies, goes straight to heaven, use the penitent thief as their example. They say, "See, Jesus took the thief to heaven the same day He died." Take a close look at this text (Luke 23:43) and you will see that Jesus never mentioned heaven but instead, spoke only of paradise.
Paradise is not, in and of itself, a place but a state of being. The garden of God, called Eden, was a paradise, a place of serene beauty and tranquility; a place of abundance where all needs were met. Certainly heaven is a paradise, but is it the only paradise of God? Is paradise another name for heaven or an entirely different place? Jesus told the thief he would be with Him in paradise on that same day, but did Jesus ascend into heaven on that first day? The answer is NO! If Jesus didn't ascend into heaven the day He was crucified, then how could paradise be heaven? Wherever Jesus went on the day of His crucifixion, the thief went also. Did Jesus ascend on that day or descend? Is paradise up or down?
40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Jesus remained three days in the center of the earth and didn't ascend to His father until after this period had been completed. Even when He appeared to Mary Magdalene, He instructed her not to touch Him. Why? Because He had not yet ascended.
17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
Further proof of this can be seen in Paul's letter to the Ephesians where it is quite clear that Christ, before ascending, descended into the lower parts of the earth where He led captivity captive.
8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
An interesting footnote to this can be found in King David's prophetic words where he warns us that we can not take our material riches with us when we descend; that's right, descend. Before we can ascend, we too, must first descend and we cannot take our goods down into paradise or up into heaven.
16 Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased;
17 For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him.
Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth the same day He was executed and remained there for three days. From this we can safely conclude that the paradise spoken of here is not up but down and therefore not heaven. A better, more suitable name for this place might be Abraham's bosom. Abraham, the father of faith, by whom all nations would be blessed, might well be the chief occupant of this paradise.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 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.
25 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.
26 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.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
Prophecy Or Parable
The above text is often spoken of as a parable but how many of the parables that Jesus taught included a proper name, i.e. Lazarus? The answer is none. When Jesus spoke in a parable He spoke of a certain man, a householder, or a rich man, etc. But here He clearly departs from this to speak of an incident that happened to a man called Lazarus. Here He speaks of a certain, specific beggar. Lazarus was not just a certain man but a real historical figure recalled by Christ to teach a surprising truth.
The Place Of The Dead
There are four words used in scripture that are translated to the word "hell" in the English bible. These are Sheol, in the Old Testament, and Hades, Gehenna and Tartaros in the New Testament.
In the account that Jesus gave us concerning Lazarus and the rich man, we should note that both went to the place of the dead (Hades) but the rich man was in a place of torment in one location (Geenna) while Lazarus occupied a place of comfort in another (Paradise). The Greek word, which indicates the place of the dead, is Hades. Both Lazarus and the rich man went to Hades (Hell), but in Hades they were separated by a gulf which divided them into two separate compartments, one of these, called "Abraham's bosom," was a paradise and the other, where the rich man was held, was called Geenna and was a place of torment. It would appear that the gulf or pit which separated these two locations led to a lower chamber reserved for a specific group of fallen angels, those which had left the spiritual realm to enter into the natural or physical realm to fornicate with human females. Angels may also be referred to as “sons of God” (Job 1:6).
1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
As a result of this, God took them captive and chained them in darkness in a place called Tartaros where they will remain until the final judgment.
2 Peter 2:4
4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
Let us now review what we have just learned. All who die, whether in Christ or not, must go to the place of the dead called "Hades." Hades is not up, but down. Hades has three chambers which are designed to hold three different classes. The first chamber where Lazarus now resides is called Abraham's bosom or paradise. It is where Christians are sent to await the coming of Christ and the first resurrection. The second, located within the sight and hearing of Lazarus is called Geenna. It is where the rich man was held and tormented, where the unredeemed are now kept waiting for the second resurrection, judgment and final destruction. The third chamber is called Tartaros. It is where certain fallen angels are held in chains awaiting judgment, those angels guilty of leaving their spiritual habitation to fornicate with the women of earth. Once again, angels are sometimes referred to as "sons of God."
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
In the English bible, Hades is translated Hell. Geenna is translated Hell and Tartaros is translated Hell. It is therefore necessary to consult a Greek dictionary to determine which is which. In conclusion, we must understand that as difficult as it may be to believe, every Christian must first descend into Hell (Hades), as Jesus did, before they can ascend to meet Christ in the air at His coming. At that time, those who sleep in the chamber of paradise; those reborn in Christ, will be taken up and gathered together with Christ. Later those remaining in the other two chambers will be resurrected and judged. At judgment, the unredeemed together with death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Note: Hell, i.e. Hades is not the lake of fire and brimstone but, after the great judgment, Hell is cast into that lake. Where is the lake of fire? We may be standing on it.
2 Peter 3:9-12
9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
Verse eleven of the above text asks, "What manner of persons ought ye to be?" This is a very good question.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
What manner of person are you?