What Happens When You Die?
by Chris Putnam
What happens when you die? The Bible uses the word death in different senses. Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). Also in Revelation 20:6, John speaks of a “second death,” apparently distinguishing it from the first death or the usual understanding of death. It is important to note that the only way to escape the second death and Hell is through the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 11:26). Make sure to be in on that one! Now we turn to what happens to Christian believers at the “first death.” Paul addresses the issue of what happens to Christians when they die in 2 Corinthians 5:8 when he says “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” This refers to the intermediate state between a believer’s death and the resurrection of all believers’ bodies at the Parousia. I have always thought that heaven is temporary state until Jesus returns for the general resurrection of the dead (Dan 12:2; Rev 20:4-6). So if you die before Christ returns, I always assumed you exist as a spirit until then. It seems to me that we consist of material and immaterial elements and in our present lives we are in a state of conditional unity. A useful analogy for conditional unity comes from chemistry.
Did you know that every summer, including this one, thousands of people will die from dihydrogen monoxide inhalation? Yes it is true… they drown while swimming in pools, the ocean or lakes. It’s a bad joke. Dihydrogen monoxide is H20 or plain old water. Now of course we all know that water is not usually dangerous and is, in fact, essential for life. But what happens when you break water down into its two components hydrogen and oxygen? It suddenly takes on drastically different properties. In fact, it gets downright dangerous. In the presence of an oxidizer like oxygen, hydrogen can catch fire, sometimes explosively, and it burns more easily than gasoline does. According to the American National Standards Institute, hydrogen requires only one tenth as much energy to ignite as gasoline does. So when water is separated into its two elements, they are nothing like water. It seems appropriate to think of the body and soul in the same way. In life we are like a molecule consisting of body and soul. At death the material and immaterial are separated and take on different properties. The material body decays and the immaterial soul transfers into the spiritual dimension. So what does the New Testament tell us about this process?
According to some scholars, Paul does not seem to believe in a bodiless ethereal state in heaven rather an immediate transformation to a new body. F.F. Bruce thinks Paul’s view is that some sort of body is essential to personhood…
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