Depending on who you ask the question of what happens when we die, you will get a broad spectrum of answers ranging from Heaven to Hell, from Purgatory to Grave. Some also say that we reincarnate right back to this earth.
In this article, we will look at what the Bible tells us about what happens when we die and what happens to our bodies when we die.
These are indeed thought-provoking questions that have troubled humanity for a very long time. The single most certain fact of life is death! We all know that the day we are born, we are destined to die. Some die early while others die in old age, but death surely embraces us all in its powerful grip.
Intelligent minds have invested an incredible amount of time, attempting to decode the mystery of death. But none has been able to unveil the secrets from the other side and dispel the uncertainty.
In desperation and eagerness, people have appealed to almost all branches of human intelligence, such as science, philosophy, and history, to find answers. Some have even dabbled with witchcraft and demonic spirits but are none the wiser.
Due to prevalent misconceptions and ever-increasing confusions on this topic about the state of the dead, we must eagerly search for answers to some of life’s (or more suitably death’s) tough questions. The only one who can authoritatively provide us answers to this profound mystery is God.
So let us look into the Word of God, the Holy Bible, to find answers.
Q1: How did human life start on Earth ?
Contrary to modern scientific theories, life on Earth didn’t start in a primordial soup in some warm ocean by sheer luck. God created everything on our planet, including living organisms just by his speech.
6 By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. 9 For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.
However, the Bible tells us that God created the first humans, Adam and Eve differently. They were not created by the speech of God, but instead, He got His hands dirty in the mud and molded Adam from the dust of the Earth. God actually took time and physical effort to create our first parents instead of just bringing them into existence at the snap of a finger.
This act of God demonstrates the special love that He has bestowed upon humanity and the prominence that we have been given over plants and animals. This stands in stark contrast to evolution theory, which states that we evolved from monkeys and are nothing more than animals!
Q2: What are we made up of ?
The Bible clearly teaches that human beings have a physical nature and a spiritual nature. Our physical nature consists of physical matter (body), which is external and can be seen by others while our spiritual nature is immaterial and cannot be seen. (soul and spirit).
The following Bible passages teach that we humans are triune beings made up of three distinct components: body, spirit, and soul.
God created within us a spiritual dimension through which we can reason, think, and exercise our free will to make intelligent moral decisions. Each one of us has a unique individuality, personality, and a mind capable of comprehending divine things.
The Bible educates us on the fact that there are three Divine Beings in the GodHead. It also tells us in Genesis 1:26-27 that God created humans in His own image and also made to resemble the GodHead. Therefore it makes perfect sense that we possess a triune nature.
Human beings are the crowning act of God’s creation and have been created far superior to animals, and this is the reason why God gave us the dominion and rulership over other creatures.
We will explore human nature in more detail in another article.
Q3: What is life ?
The dictionary defines life as follows:
a) The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism.
b) The interval of time between birth and death
The dictionary defines death as follows:
The act of dying; termination of life.
Can you see the problem with these definitions? The dictionary defines life as the opposite of death and vice versa which accurately represents our total lack of understanding regarding the two most important events that we all experience. The best explanation that we intelligent humans living in the 21st century can offer for life is that it is not death, and death is that which is not life!
Humanity has always found it very difficult to explain these everyday mundane experiences despite all the technological and scientific advancements of our modern age. Frankly speaking, human wisdom has failed in its desperate attempts to decode the mystery of life and death.
Human endeavors cannot be relied upon to answer basic questions such as “how do we become conscious beings?” and “what happens when we die?”. The only real source that we can appeal to is the One who created us – God.
Therefore we will look into the word of God – The Bible, to find answers to some of the common questions related to the topic of death. We needn’t venture far, just turn over the first couple of pages in the Bible, and you will find the answer to the origin, source, and sustainer of life in Genesis 2:7.
In this Biblical account of creation, we read that God made the first man – Adam from the dust of the ground. Thus the body of Adam was composed of actual physical matter.
Did you know that Adam was named after the ground from which he was fashioned?
In Genesis 2:7, it states that Adam was formed from the ground.
In Hebrew, the two words are from the same root word.
אָדָם (adam) – man
אֲדָמָה (adamah) – ground[/vckit_icon_box]
Genesis 2:7 uses the following Hebrew words:
אֲדָמָה (adamah) – ground
אָדָם (adam) – man
נְשָׁמָה (neshamah) – breath
חַי נֶפֶשׁ (chay nephesh) – living soul
Adam was already a complete man (human being) before God put the spark of life into him. As explained in the previous answer, human beings have a tripartite nature, i.e., have three distinct components: body, spirit, and soul.
Adam had to have already possessed these three components before God gave him life since the breath of life was simply an energizing force and nothing more.
When God made Adam, he was lifeless. His mind, consciousness, free will, etc. was already within him but just not activated yet. The breath of life was the vitalizing force that entered through his nostrils, filled his lungs with air, and also jump-started his heart, causing blood to pump through his body, carrying the much-needed oxygen. This spark of life from God is what caused Adam to come alive, thereby making him a living conscious being.
God was the active personal agent responsible for bringing the first humans into existence. After God formed Adam and Eve, He instructed them to be fruitful and multiply. By this, God demonstrated that his blessing and creative power would continue to work at the birth of every person through the reproduction process. Therefore the life that we receive at birth is the same vitalizing force that Adam also received.
So the Biblical definition of life is the breath from God, which brings us to life making us living souls.
Q3: What is death and what happens when we die ?
Death is the act of creation/birth in reverse. The Bible is clear on this. When the spirit or breath of life from God leaves the body, then the person dies.
If you think about this, it makes perfect sense. If the breath or spirit from God is what gives life, then the expiration of this breathe is what causes death. Hence a dead person is commonly referred to as “expired”.
The Bible in Ecclesiastes 12:7 clearly explains what really happens when a person dies. At death, we exhale our last breath, and the spark of life returns to God who gave it.
When we die, our bodies rot away and eventually gets eaten by maggots leaving behind the bones. With time this too disintegrates resulting in the complete conversion of the whole body into dust.
The fact that we turn back to dust demonstrates that we really have been sourced from the dust! In Genesis 3:19 God told Adam that he would turn back to dust.
Q4: Where do we go when we die ?
The Bible is clear on this point. When we die, our breath returns to God and our body and soul are left lifeless. The body turns to dust and our consciousness and soul goes to the grave. The only thing that returns to God is the spark of life which gave life to the person.
Psalm 146:4, Ecclesiastes 12:7 and Job 21:23-26 mention what happens to the breath/spirit of life and the body at death.
25 And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure.
26 They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them. Job 21:23-26
Psalm 89:48 and Psalm 30:3 mention that when a person dies then his soul goes into the grave and not to God.
Q5: Are we conscious after death ?
Popular culture and a host of religions, including many Christians, teach that we are conscious or alive even after death. But if this were true, then why does the Bible teach that those who die do not know anything?
The Bible clearly states that once a person dies, he is no longer capable of expressing basic human feelings and emotions such as love and hatred.
The Bible declares death to be an unconscious sleep at least 53 times.
Consider, for instance the below verses and mainly focus on the keywords which have been highlighted.
6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.Ecclesiastes 9:5,6
The above verses from the Bible can only make sense if a person loses consciousness at death. A dead person no longer possesses a working functioning brain, and mind which is capable of reasoning, thinking, and remembering.
Therefore a dead person can no longer make moral decisions such as choosing between right and wrong, repenting for past sins, praising God, etc.
In summary, a belief in consciousness after death stands in stark contrast to the teaching of the Bible, which clearly states that a person sleeps in the grave and will continue to do so until the resurrection from the dead.
Q6: What did Jesus call death ?
Jesus equated death to sleep.
During His three year ministry, Jesus performed numerous miracles. By far, the most amazing of these was when He raised two people from the dead. They were Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter.
Read the verses below. In both these instances, Jesus compared their deaths to sleep. There is no one better than Jesus to answer the question of what happens when we die. Jesus emphatically stated that when a person dies, then he goes to sleep in the grave.
Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter were not in Heaven enjoying the solace of paradise neither were they suffering in agony in the depths of hell.
When they got up from the dead, they didn’t ask Jesus why He got them back to a miserable life here on Earth, nor did they demand Jesus to send them back. They simply carried on with no recollection of their time in the grave. This silence from their end accurately highlights the fact that they really were asleep when they died.
13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. John 11:11,13,14
52 And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.Luke 8:49,52
Q7: Do good people go to Heaven when they die?
Many churches teach that a person goes straight to Heaven at death, but this is untrue.
Good people do not go to Heaven after death but rather are sleeping in their graves awaiting resurrection. Take the example of King David; everybody will unanimously agree that David was a good person who loved and followed God’s commands and will undoubtedly go to Heaven. God Himself in 1 Sam 13:14 and Acts 13:22 calls David “a man after mine own heart”.
In Acts 2:29-34, Peter, one of the closest disciples of Jesus, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, claimed that David was dead and had not yet ascended to Heaven. Nearly 1000 years after his death, Peter tells us that David was still in his grave which is in line with the Biblical teaching that the dead really sleep in their graves until the day of resurrection.
34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand.
In Ezekiel 37:12-14, God specifies that his people will be raised from their graves. Notice that they were in their graves and not in Heaven. They come to life only when God puts his spirit into them.
The Bible consistently teaches that the only way for a person to become a conscious living being is when the breath of life from God enters His body.
13 And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves,
14 And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord.Ezekiel 37:12-14
Q8: Do bad people go to Hell when they die ?
There is much confusion on the topic of Hell. Many believe that there is an actual physical location called Hell, where the wicked people go just after they die. Hell is considered to be this place of torment where the wicked suffer for their sins. But again, this is unbiblical teaching.
The Bible is clear that both the righteous and wicked dead sleep in the grave at death.
Jesus Himself enumerated in John 5:28-29 that both the righteous and the wicked people sleep in their graves until the resurrection morning. Jesus will raise them up from the dead by 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.John 5:28-29
Notice how Psalm 31:17 tells us that the wicked are silent, in their graves. If they are silent then they are not writhing and suffering in pain from the flames of hellfire.
Q9: Can people who are dead praise and worship God ?
Another strong factor in substantiating the unconsciousness of death is the fact that dead people can neither remember God nor praise Him.
Logically, if people are conscious after death, then they would surely have enough time to review their time on Earth. Many would have hundreds and even thousands of years to contemplate the choices they made, the poor decisions, and the neglected opportunities. If the dead were conscious then the wicked people would certainly spend ample time confessing their sins and asking God for forgiveness.
In Contrast, the Righteous people who spent their minuscule lifetime doing good works and praising God would surely continue to praise and worship Him during the seemingly infinite time after death.
But is that what the Bible teaches us that the dead are busy doing? Absolutely not! On the contrary, the Bible in Psalm 6:5 informs us that dead people can neither remember God nor praise Him.
Therefore, what really happens when we die according to the testimony of Scriptures is that we fall asleep unaware of the events occuring on Earth.
Q10: When will a good person go to Heaven ?
A dead person who lived a righteous life will certainly go to Heaven. But before that, he will rest in his grave unaware of the ticking clock (Job 14:12). At the final hour of our world, Jesus will come back to take His people home and destroy our known universe (2 Peter 3:10,12). This event is known as the second coming of Jesus. It is also known by other names such as the day of the Lord or the last day. It is at this juncture that the dead in Christ will be resurrected.
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?2 Peter 3:10,12
Martha, one of the disciples of Jesus was aware that the dead will be raised again on the last day.
24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.John 11:23-24
The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16, specifies that the voice of Jesus will raise the righteous dead people. If the dead were already walking the streets of paradise, then who are these people that Christ will awake from their slumber?
One cannot be enjoying the reward of everlasting life and be asleep at the same time!
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:1 Thessalonians 4:15-16
Q11: Do we get a “Second Chance” after we die?
Many religions including a lot of Christian denominations teach that there is a second chance given to humans after their life here on Earth. They believe that a person enters an intermediate physical location at death known by names such as Hades, Sheol, Purgatory, Limbo, etc. Here the person lives on in a temporary state of existence where the disembodied soul remains conscious and pays or suffers for any sins committed. Once he is cleansed from sins, then he is given an opportunity to enter Heaven.
The Bible never teaches that we are given a second chance after we die. Rather God gives us innumerable opportunities in this life to repent and accept the free gift of salvation. This lifetime is the probationary period in which we will need to choose and make decisions that will determine our eternal destiny. Each one of us will exercise our God-given free will to either accept or refuse this wonderful gift of everlasting life afforded to us by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible instructs us in Hebrews 9:27 that once a person dies, the next conscious event that he faces is the judgment.
2 Corinthians 5:10 teaches that this judgment is adjudicated by Jesus in which He will assess the life of each person who has ever lived. Based on His judgment, Jesus will then return to the Earth and raise the dead from the grave in order to handout the reward of eternal life or the punishment of damnation (John 5:28-29).
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.John 5:28-29
We have demonstrated from the Bible what really happens when we die. At death, our bodies turn to dust, our thoughts perish and we are no longer conscious. Our body, spirit, and soul go the grave awaiting resurrection.
Death is essentially an unconscious sleep.