What Happens to Us When We Die?

Dead people don’t come back and tell us what they’ve experienced. But we can know some things based on the Bible’s explanations. We don’t just disappear after we die. We live on in another location. Followers of Jesus go to live with Him in Heaven. On the cross, Jesus told the thief crucified next to Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

In Christ’s story about the rich man and Lazarus, at the moment of death, Lazarus was ushered into Heaven by angels (Luke 16:22). It seems likely that will be true of all of God’s children when we die. Different angels are assigned to different people (Matthew 18:10), so perhaps our escorts into Heaven will be angels who have served us while we were on Earth (Hebrews 1:14).

Most importantly, Jesus Himself will be with us during our deaths. He has promised to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Nothing, not even death, can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). God promises that all who know Him will experience acceptance into His holy, loving, and gracious arms. This assurance is why the apostle Paul could say, “We are confident, we would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8, CSB).

As painful as death is, and as right as it is to grieve it (Jesus did), we on this dying earth can also rejoice for our loved ones who are already in the presence of Christ. When they die, those covered by Christ’s blood are experiencing the joy of His presence. (Scripture clearly teaches that there is no such thing as “soul sleep,” or a long period of unconsciousness between life on Earth and life in Heaven. The phrase “fallen asleep” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and similar passages describes the body’s outward appearance at death.)

As Paul tells us, though we naturally grieve at losing loved ones, we are not to “grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Our parting is not the end of our relationship, only an interruption. We have not “lost” them, because we know where they are. And one day, we’re told, in a magnificent reunion, they and we “will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).

Peter tells us, “You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11, NIV). God is the main welcomer, no doubt. All eyes are on Jesus, the Cosmic Center, the Source of all Happiness. But wouldn’t it make sense for the secondary welcomers to be God’s people, those who touched our lives, and whose lives we touched? Wouldn’t that be a great greeting party? I envision glorious reunions and amazing introductions, conversations and storytelling at banquets and on walks, jaws dropping and laughter long and hard, the laughter of Jesus being the most contagious.

Our loved ones now in Heaven live in a place where joy is the air they breathe. But they are also looking forward to Christ’s return, their bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the fashioning of the New Earth from the ruins of the old.

Excerpted from The Promise of the New Earth, now available exclusively from Eternal Perspective Ministries. 

Photo by Paul Streltsov on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries