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Where do we go when we die?

Today's Question: I have many questions that I don't seem to get answers for. I have a cousin who is born again and has read and studied the Bible. He believes that when we die, we stay in our bodies until Christ comes back for us. I have read the same bible but don't see where he gets that from. Is what he says true?

Andrea

Bible Answer: To be absent from the body, [is] to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8, KJV). A Christian goes to be with the Lord when he dies.

I understand where your cousin is coming from, but he is incorrect. Let me explain where your cousin gets his ideas about “staying in his body” until Christ returns. He believes in what is call “soul sleeping.” He and others get this belief by misinterpreting the passages about those who "sleep" in death.  Let’s look at three main scriptures that speak of sleep.

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2). The apostle Paul used the term "sleep" to speak of the death of the saints, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20). Finally Jesus speaks of Lazarus being asleep when he died, "After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up" (John 11:11). Your cousin gets his bad theology by incorrectly interpreting these passages.

            The first thing we must recognize when someone dies is that they look asleep. Therefore the Bible uses this term to signify death. However a more important reason for the term "sleep" is to show that death is not the end. When a person sleeps, we expect them to wake up. And so Jesus uses this term to indicate that Lazarus was going to wake up—in other words, be resurrected.

            In the previous three scripture verses the term “sleep” was always used in connection with the resurrection. Never is the term used to refer to the "soul" sleeping. This is what your cousin is doing—he is using the term sleep to refer to the soul, when the passages are referring to the body awaiting the resurrection. In other words, it is the “body” that sleeps in the dust, not the soul.

            Jesus in fact made a statement soon after He mentioned Lazaraus being a sleep, and the statement totally contradicts the belief of soul sleep. “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). If you took this verse to refer to the body, then it does not make sense. Jesus was referring to the soul that never dies. So the believer never really dies—that is his soul continues to live.

            The apostle Paul never believed in soul sleeping. Consider the following passages that he wrote in Philippians 1:21-23, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

            Notice Paul considered death for the Christian as “gain.” How could it be gain if one’s soul is asleep? Second Paul clearly says that death means “to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” When a Christian dies his soul “departs” to be with Christ; but his body “sleeps in the dust” until the resurrection. The resurrection reunites man’s eternal soul with a new body. A Christian goes to heaven with Christ when he dies.

Other related article:

What happens to the soul and spirit after death?

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