Christian Churches of God
What Happens When We Die?
(Edition 2.0 20030809-20061225)
The Bible tells us in Hebrews 9:27 that it is appointed for man to die once. Most everyone has some experience with death. In this paper we review what the Bible has to say about dying and death and we will look at the question of Eternal Life.
Christian Churches of God
PO Box 369, WODEN ACT 2606, AUSTRALIA
(Copyright ã 2003, 2006 Diane Flanagan, ed. Wade Cox)
This paper may be freely copied and distributed provided it is copied in total with no alterations or deletions. The publisher’s name and address and the copyright notice must be included. No charge may be levied on recipients of distributed copies. Brief quotations may be embodied in critical articles and reviews without breaching copyright.
This paper is available from the World Wide Web page:
What Happens When We Die?
Most of us have lost someone to death. Some have lost a grandparent, some a father or mother, brother or sister or a friend. Some of our friends may tell us that the dead are in heaven, hell, purgatory, or some other place. Some believe that they can talk to dead people or that they see people who have died. But what does God’s Word tell us about death? Before we look at death, let us look at where our life comes from.
What is life?
Right now anyone reading or hearing this lesson is alive. While we are physical, we breathe air and our heart pumps blood through our bodies. We are able to eat food that nourishes our body and helps to keep us healthy. We exist because of God (Job 7:9,10; 10:12; 33:4; Isa. 57:16). If God took back His Spirit, all human life would die (Job 34:14,15). Due to God’s wisdom, when we are alive, we can do many wonderful things such as read, play, spend time with our family, plus many more activities.
We can prolong or lengthen our life by obeying God (Deut. 11:13-15). Ecclesiastes 12:13 tells us that the whole duty of man is to, "Fear God and keep His Commandments" (see also Deut. 30:19-20; Rev. 12:17; 14:12; 22:14). This means, that in everything we do, every moment of the day, we should be trying to live God’s way. In Deuteronomy 30:19, God tells us to choose life and to live. But we all know that we fail to obey God some of the time.
God gave us free moral agency. This means that we can make our own choices. While we are alive, we can follow all God’s Laws. But we can also make wrong choices, such as not listening to our parents, fighting with our brothers or sisters, or saying mean things to our friends. It is because of sin that we die (Rom 5:12, 21; 6:16,21; Jas. 1:15), but eternal life is a free gift from God (Rom. 6:23).
What is death?
Ecclesiastes 9:11 and 3:1-2 tell us that all die; rich and poor, good and bad. Once we die, our spirit goes back to God (Ecc. 3:19-21; 12:7; Ps. 31:5). Dead persons are not able to think (Ecc. 9:10). They have no memory while they are dead (Ecc. 9:5). Death is referred to as being asleep, maybe because the dead are not aware of what is going on with themselves, or with other humans, or spiritual beings.
When a person is dead, he or she cannot even praise God (Ps. 115:17). Dead people are totally quiet and still (Lk. 8:49). They are in darkness (Ps. 143:3). God has no pleasure in death (Ezek. 18:32). He wants us all to make good choices and live. Yet, He clearly tells us that the death of His saints is precious in His sight (Ps. 116:15). He also states that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth (Eccl. 7:1-2). This is because God knows all things and He has established the perfect Plan to bring all of mankind into spirit beings as His Sons.
We have to die because we have sinned (Rom. 5:12; 6:16, 21). Sin is breaking God’s Law (1Jn. 3:4). For the story of how sin entered the human race, see the paper Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (No. CB6).
Where are the dead?
Some people believe that there is nothing after death. They think that this physical life is all there is and that the end of it all is when we die. Others say that we have an immortal soul that leaves the body at death and goes to heaven, if we have been good, or to hell, if we have been bad.
But notice that the Bible says that the soul that sins will die (Ezek 18:4, 20). The Hebrew word translated soul is nephesh. This same word is used for life (Gen. 1:20,30); creature (Gen. 1:21,24); humans (Gen. 2:7); and breath (Job 41:21). Appendix 13 in The Companion Bible lists a lot more uses of this word in the Bible.
Since man does not have an immortal soul that continues to live after death, our only hope for the future is a resurrection.
So, in the meantime, where are the dead? The answer is that they are all in their graves awaiting a resurrection. The Bible tells us that nobody has ever gone to heaven except the one who came down from heaven – the Son of Man (Jn. 3:13). That really is a clear statement so there should not be any confusion on this issue.
What is spiritual life?
In addition to physical life, there is spiritual life. Though we die physically, we can live eternally with God in spirit form (1Pet. 3:18; Mark 10:17). "Eternally" means that once we are made spirits, we continue to live as spirits forever.
God’s Word tells us that physical life cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1Cor. 15:50). We must die to be with God as spirit beings. Our physical bodies stop working at some point. Sometimes, people die very young because of birth defects. Others die because part of his or her body stops functioning. Still others die due to violence, murder, disease, or accidents. It does not matter how we die, because God’s Plan is perfect. We will all have the chance to repent and be a spirit being.
Just as death came by one man due to sin, so by one man comes the resurrection of the dead (1Cor. 15:20-23). Because Christ was the perfect, acceptable sacrifice to God, all men will be made alive again. Eternal life is the gift of God (Rom. 6:23). It is God who raises the dead in the correct order and time-frame (2Cor. 1:9).
God is so much wiser than we are. He set up His Plan to allow men to choose to live by His Laws. Currently, the world is being governed by Satan (Ezek. 28:12). Satan does not follow God’s Laws, and he tries to stop us from following God’s Law (1Pet. 5:8; Rev. 12:10; Zech 3:1). But at a time soon in the future, Christ will return to Earth and will become the new Morning Star of the Earth. He will rule the Earth fairly and by God’s Laws. The first resurrection will occur when Christ returns to Earth.
The First Resurrection
Resurrection means being brought back to life in a physical state. Christ was the first one to be resurrected and given eternal life (1Cor. 15:19-23; Rom. 6:9). After Christ died, he was placed in a tomb and he lay dead for 3 days and 3 nights. Then God the Father raised Christ to life again. A short time after his resurrection, Mary Magdalene saw Christ, and even attempted to touch him. Christ told her, "Do not touch me for I have not ascended to the Father…" (Jn. 20:17,18; see also notes in The Companion Bible and Green’s Interlinear). Christ ascended, or went up to God’s Throne in the third heaven, about 9 a.m. on the first day of the week during unleavened bread, in the year of his death, 30 CE (era actual). We now celebrate this event as the Wave Sheaf Offering.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead we are without hope. But he did rise from the grave and many people saw him after he had risen. So it is not a secret.
At that time, Christ was anointed, or set apart from the other spirit beings (Ps. 45:6,7; Heb 1:8,9). Christ qualified as the new Morning Star of the planet, because he always obeyed God’s Laws as a physical man and willingly laid down his life for all of us. Christ became the perfect sacrifice that reconciled, or brought all mankind, and the fallen host back to God the Father. See the paper Who is Jesus? (No. CB2).
We are told that the First Resurrection is a better resurrection (Rev. 20:5-6). The human beings who qualify to be in the First Resurrection have to fight against Satan and the fallen Host during their lives.
When the seventh trumpet sounds Messiah will return to Earth. When the archangel sounds, the dead who were faithful to God and His Commandments will rise first (1Thes. 4:16). When we are resurrected our spirit will return to us again (Ps 68:20; Luke 8:54-56) and we will have our physical bodies. After the dead have risen, those who are alive will be joined with them and the Messiah in Jerusalem (1Thes. 4:17).
At that point, they are changed from physical to spiritual beings. Spiritual beings do not marry, or have children, or even need food or sleep to keep them going. This is what is referred to as eternal life. This is the change that we all look forward to. Spirit beings can still come to Earth and talk to people and help them. The time when we are changed from physical to spiritual beings to live with Christ is also referred to as the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:7-10). See the papers The Creation of the Family of God (No. CB4) and The Holy Days of God (No. CB22).
Christ will rule on Earth with the physical human beings who were made spirit beings at his coming. There will still be human beings on the planet at this time also. They will live by God’s Laws, or they will not get God’s blessings.
At the end of the last 1,000 years of the 7,000 years of the Plan of Salvation, Satan will be released for a short time. By then people would have been obeying God for hundreds of years, but once Satan is out and his negative thoughts and attitudes fill the planet, the people will rebel again. At this final rebellion, Satan and the fallen Host will die spiritually and will be given a physical (human) life.
The second resurrection
After the 1,000 years of the Millennium are completed, all the people who have died throughout the generations will be resurrected as humans (Rev. 20:5). Then fallen Host will be made human (Isa. 14:15-17). God is not a respecter of persons or beings (Rom. 2:12). Therefore, the fallen Host will have a chance to repent too. This is a resurrection to correction or teaching (Jn. 5:19). All the people who have ever lived and died will be resurrected at 20 years of age (Ezek. 37:1-14).
The resurrected people will be free of any negative influence on the planet, since the negative concepts like hate, anger, and jealousy are then destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). People will be given 100 years to live by God’s Laws (Isa. 65:20). As they willingly submit and demonstrate Godly character, they too will join God’s spiritual family. God states that He does not wish anyone to perish (2Pet. 3:9; 1Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11) or die the second death. There is no resurrection from the second death. God also states that He will be all in all (1Cor. 15:28; Eph. 4:6). Therefore, if God wants everyone to be part of His family, we will all be there.
It appears that everyone from Adam and Eve, and the fallen host, will qualify for some position in the government of God. One of the amazing things is that we will be with God as spirit beings, because we want to obey God out of love for Him and His Law.
From the first book of the Bible (Genesis), we have learned that death entered the world when Adam sinned and God said to him:
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Gen. 3:19)
But, in the last book of the Bible (Revelation), we see that there is no more death, or suffering, or pain because all this will pass away.
He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev. 21:4, NIV)
God’s Plan is truly amazing and a huge blessing. Don’t be scared or afraid of some of the strange things that people say happen when we die. Trust God and His Word and believe what He says, and know that He will bring it to pass. For as it is written, then so it shall be.