A topic of great confusion among Christians, and one I get asked frequently, is what happens when a Christian dies. Paul told the Corinthians: "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord", but many listen to other voices who confuse them.
Foundational understanding: Spirits are eternal
"We were subject to the fathers of our flesh who corrected us, shall we not also be corrected by the Father of spirits, and live?" Hebrews 12:9 states the Father is the Creator of spirit-beings. The fathers of our flesh corrected us in our flesh, and the Father of spirits corrects us in our spirit.
The Father of spirits means He is the Creator of spirits angelic and human. Because our Creator is an eternal Spirit, so too are those spirits He creates. We might wonder why Lucifer and his angels weren't simply 'snuffed out' when they rebelled; In part this is because as far as we can tell in scripture, spirits are eternal.
Lucifer didn't want to be in heaven, so a place was prepared*. He wasn't 'snuffed out', the Father of spirits graciously prepared for him another place that gave him what he wanted (and for humans who want the same thing); his own kingdom void of God. *Revelation 12:8, Matthew 25:41
Judaism has always understood people are eternal
I watched an interview with an Israeli political leader talking about the difference between Judaism and other religions. He explained Judaism is a religion of life for Jews recognize we are made in God's image and likeness, therefore every single human being has what he called, 'the divine light', the 'divine life'. That light, that life must be respected from conception to death, and even upon death the body is treated with honor.
"The rabbis did not begin with the idea of a self who disappears at the moment of death. They held instead that despite the body's demise, the essential person housed in the body still enjoyed some beyond-the-grave existence, so that the proper burial and continued respect for the deceased were required. Funeral ritual is thus preeminently designed as an act of k'vod ha-met, "honoring the dead." From Life Cycles in Jewish and Christian Worship.
Luke 16:19-31: What Jesus said
Jesus taught me about this passage during my first 'teaching' visitation with Him, on October 1, 1986. It is the story of 2 men who lived, and then died. One was an evil rich man who ignored the beggar daily laid at his door. The other was the beggar, whose name was Lazarus.
Both men died and their bodies buried. The rich man's spirit and soul immediately went to the holding place called hell, and Lazarus went to the holding place called Paradise, also called Abraham's bosom and Captivity - where the righteous dead were held 'captive' for a time until the final sacrifice for sin could be made, and then they could continue into the presence of God.
Jesus said these 2 men continued to live after their bodies had died and were buried. They did not cease to exist nor did they 'sleep'. Wide awake and fully aware in their respective places they remembered each other and their lives on earth, spoke to each other, and retained all their senses. Jesus told me the roots of our physical senses is actually found in our spirit. Their earth-bodies were dead and buried, yet they lived on in the spirit/Spirit realm.
Colossians 1:13 tells us to give thanks to the Father who has taken us out of the kingdom of darkness "and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." We are already citizens of heaven, so we automatically go to our 'home town' or 'home country' when we die.
What Barb's grandmother said
Barb's Mennonite grandmother was nearing 90 years of age and living in a nursing home at that point, having moved from the family farm a year or so earlier. We were talking about the Lord one day and she observed: "Inside myself I still feel like that 17 year old girl who could run through the orchard on the farm." Then she chuckled a bit as she looked at her wheelchair before continuing, "But my body has changed around me."
That her spirit had not changed in 90 years means that her spirit won't change at 100, or 150, or 500 years. If her earth-body had been able to continue, Barb's grandmother would be over 135 years old today - but what she said of herself at 90 would be the same at 35 or 50 or 150 - inside she still felt like that 17 year old girl on the farm. We are eternal, but our body changes around us. We don't need this earth-body to live. We are already in eternity.
So the idea that we die and THEN we go nowhere, is totally false.
The Lord upon death
Consider also the Lord and His experience with death. Did the Lord upon death on the cross that day, simply fall asleep or cease to exist? No. Neither did the thief who repented next to Him:
"Truly I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise." Both died and just continued their existence in that realm of the Spirit. We are told Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth, and upon His resurrection led Captivity captive to heaven, which is why Paradise is now 'up' as part of heaven.
Now the righteous go directly to Paradise in heaven, as Paul stated in II Corinthians 12:2, 4: "...caught up to the third heaven...caught up to Paradise..." (In Judaism the air is 1st heaven, space is 2nd heaven, where God lives is 3rd heaven - please don't let anyone make a step by step process of reaching heaven for you - Christ is already in your spirit, you can't get any closer than that. Fad religious formulas only try to improve on Christ in you, and that is futile, if not bordering on blasphemous for a Christian to do so. Christ in you the hope of glory. Rest in that.)
Consider also that the apostle John who was taken to heaven in The Revelation 6:9-10. He sees a multitude of believers who had died for their faith. All these martyred people went directly to heaven upon their untimely deaths, and remembered their lives, asking the Father how long until their deaths would be avenged. We are the same people in life or after this earth-body dies, we simply go to the kingdom of our citizenship.
Truly Paul was correct when he stated in II Corinthians 5:8: "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."
But what about the use of 'sleep' to describe death? We will pick it up there next week, until then, blessings,
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