Once a person dies, do they stay asleep in the grave until Christ returns? Most Christians believe that followers of Jesus go immediately to Heaven after they die. Which is correct? And how do our bodies fit into this scenario? What does the scripture mean, “The dead in Christ shall rise, and we who are alive and remain shall be caught up to be with Jesus…”
Do we even have a body in Heaven if we die before Jesus Christ returns? And when do believers get a “glorified body?” Many wonderful Bible teachers have some varied answers to these questions so there is certainly room for disagreement. And walking in love with our brethren is certainly more important than winning a debate but this its time to share my scripture-based perspective on these questions.
Jesus is the perfect example of showing us the complete process of death, burial and resurrection. When His body died on the cross, His spirit remained alive but separated from His body. He was alive as a spirit with a spirit body. His earthly natural body was put in the grave, separated from His spirit. On the third day His body was resurrected, glorified and reunited with His spirit. This is the complete cycle that all who are in Christ will experience someday.
Although Jesus received His glorified body on the third day, we who believe will receive our glorified bodies at the time of the rapture of His Church, when Jesus returns to earth. But if we die before the rapture, then during the time between our death and the rapture, Christians are alive in Heaven in spirit form.
When the Bible says, “The dead in Christ will rise first,” it is referring to the natural bodies of Christians who are already in Heaven in spirit form. When we die, our spirit and soul (the eternal, real us) immediately goes to Heaven to be with Jesus, leaving our natural body on earth. Then at the time of the rapture, all believers who have previously died are united with their now resurrected glorified body. And those who are alive at His coming are instantly changed from having a natural body to having a glorified body as they are caught up to be with Jesus in the air.
Before the time of Jesus’ resurrection, when a Godly person died, they (their spirit and soul) went to a place in the earth called Abraham’s bosom or Paradise, while their body was buried in the earth. Paradise and Heaven are not the same. Paradise was the holding place for those who died trusting God, before the sacrifice of sin was fully paid. No one could enter Heaven prior to the fulfillment of this event.
While Jesus’ body lay in the grave, He preached the “good news” to those in Paradise. When Jesus ascended from the grave with a glorified body,“… He became the firstfruits of them that slept.” (I Corinthians 15:20). In verses 23-24 we see the order of the resurrection of glorified bodies, “…Christ the firstfruits, then those who are Christ’s [own will be resurrected] at His coming. After that comes the end, when He delivers over the kingdom to God the Father….” Ever since the resurrection of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, the spirits of all Christians who have died go immediately to Heaven with the Lord.
On the other issue, when our body dies, our spirit separates and goes to be with the Lord. Our body “sleeps” but our spirit is always alive and aware. II Corinthians 5:8 says, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” This scripture tells us that when we die we are apart from the body for a time and present with the Lord in spirit.
At the end of the age Christ will return for His own and the rapture will occur. The bodies of those who previously died in Christ will be raised first (resurrected), glorified and reunited with their spirit. Then those who are still alive at the time will be changed (glorified), and gathered to Heaven.
Paula and I have received regular questions regarding whether a person who has died can appear to a loved one. Many claim to have been visited, so if not, how does the Bible explain a small child talking to or seeing a family member that died before they were born?
Yes, it is possible, but rare, for someone to visit heaven, see a loved one that they never knew on earth, and return with the knowledge of that person. It is also possible, but rare, for God to give a living person a vision for a spiritual purpose. However, it would not be the actual same person. When someone dies, their spirit and soul go immediately to either heaven or hell, and there is nothing in the Bible that would give us reason to believe that they would have any ability to leave either heaven or hell to visit living family members.
A word of caution is required here. If someone is repeatedly conversing or receiving messages from another person who has died, it is most likely a demon who is imitating someone familiar to you. Although this information will frustrate those who know it has happened to them, be aware that this is a common tactic that Satan uses often. It is very compelling.
Because we want it to be our loved one so desperately, we convince ourselves it is really them. When we become focused on spiritual beings to guide us, encourage us and inspire us, we are in very dangerous territory. This is territory the Bible warns us against. If this is happening to you, take authority when you pray. Pray “in Jesus name” so that these visitations stop. People are easily misled and confused when visited by a spirit in the image of their loved one and Satan is at the core of this.
Hebrews 1:14 tells us that God’s angels are “…ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them, who shall be heirs of salvation….” Angels are spiritual beings, and the Bible gives several examples of them appearing with physical bodies as God’s messengers or ministers. Angels never come as a loved one. God is not a God of confusion.
In I Samuel 28:3–25 we have an example of a person in the Bible speaking with someone “familiar” who had died. The prophet Samuel had been God’s voice in Israel and now was dead. The Philistines had gathered for battle against Israel, and King Saul was desperate for direction. He inquired of the Lord but the Lord did not answer him. That’s when King Saul took it upon himself to speak to Samuel. In desperation, Saul sought out a medium, a woman with a familiar spirit to try and contact Samuel. A spirit did showed up impersonating Samuel and Saul was deceived.
According to scripture, God leads us with His written Word and the Holy Spirit. On occasion, God may send an angelic messenger for a specific purpose but not in the image of your loved one. God’s Word is solid truth, and the only truth in this world. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35).
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