What happens to a Christian when they die?

Hi, just read your page about understanding Jesus, our savior. You seem to know a lot about the Bible. I am wondering if you know what happens to the soul of the born again Christian when they die? I know on the last day all shall be Judged and the true believers will have a perfect and glorious body and we will have everlasting life in Heaven, but where does our soul go after death?

My response is in Green:

Thank you for writing me. I believe that the soul of the Christian goes immediately to be with Christ in heaven. I will try to explain why I believe that.

Let's start by what the Israelites believed. They believed that when a person died they went to a holding place. The people who had served God went to a place called Paradise and those who were evil went to hell or the bad side. We can see this illustrated in what Jesus taught. Look at the story Jesus told about Lazarus and the rich man. They both died, Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham's side (paradise) and Jesus just said the rich man was buried.

Then Jesus explains that the rich man looked up from torment in hell and saw Abraham and Lazarus. The story goes on to tell that the rich man wanted some relief from his terrible thirst and wanted Lazarus to dip his finger in cool water and place it on his tongue. Abraham tells the rich man that there is a great gulf between them which no one can get past. So we see that the two parts are permanently separated. This story is in Luke 16:19-31

Now let's fast forward to Jesus' death on the cross. Jesus was crucified along with two thieves. One thief hurled insults on Jesus but the other one told him to stop and confessed that he knew Jesus as an innocent man. Now look what Jesus tells him: (Luke 23:43 NIV) Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Notice that Jesus said "today" you will be with me in paradise, not sometime in the future. If you want to look all this up it is in Luke 23:39-43

Now look at Paul had to say: (Philippians 1:21-26 NIV) For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. {22} If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! {23} I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; {24} but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. {25} Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, {26} so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.

Notice that he says he would rather die so he could be with Christ. That would make no sense if he had to wait until the resurrection.

Now I want to go back a little ways to the mount of transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1-3 NIV) After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. {2} There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. {3} Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Now if you remember Elijah did not die, the Lord took him to heaven in a whirlwind, but Moses did die and the Lord buried him. So we see these two men standing with and talking to Jesus. They were not asleep awaiting the resurrection, they were in heaven or paradise at that point. With Elijah, I am not sure this is true, but with Moses, his body was asleep awaiting resurrection, but his soul was already with the Lord.

Going back to paradise and its being separated from torment, I believe when Jesus died he descended into paradise (where He would have been with the thief that day). I believe that while in paradise He proclaimed His victory over death. Until His death and resurrection people who died with their faith in God still were captives of death. But I believe that Jesus set them free and took paradise to heaven with him. Look at this passage: (Ephesians 4:7-8 NIV) But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. {8} This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."

I believe that passage is saying that when Jesus rose from the dead He took all those souls who were in paradise to heaven and that anyone who has died in the faith since then goes straight to heaven.

Okay one more and I am done. I believe in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. I believe that during the rapture we will be clothed with our new bodies. Those alive will be changed immediately and those who have died will be resurrected (that is to say their bodies will be resurrected) and reunited with their souls. Okay, that being said, I believe that those who are killed during the tribulation will have to wait until the end of the tribulation and the final resurrection to get their new bodies. So if I am right then take a look at this passage: (Revelation 6:9-11 NIV) When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. {10} They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" {11} Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.

Notice that the souls of those killed because of their witness are in heaven. Again they are not asleep awaiting the final resurrection. Although again it appears that their bodies are awaiting the resurrection at which time they will be changed into glorious everlasting bodies and reunited with the souls.

Well I hope that helped. I know I may have brought up more or different questions by some of the verses I used. If so feel free to ask about them.

Take care and God bless,

Ralph

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