All of humanity is forced to grapple with the question, “What happens when we die?” There is not a single person excluded from this topic, as all will come face-to-face with death. Thankfully for Christians, the Bible informs us on this topic, on last days – all of which influences how we live in the present.
The clearest passage on this is found in 1 Thessalonians 4.
What makes this passage difficult?
This passage proposes many questions, which include questions about the rapture, Paul’s view of when Christ would return, the topic of cremation, and what happens to someone between when they die and when their bodies are resurrected.
On the question of what happens between death and the Second Coming of Christ, there are two main viewpoints:
Soul sleep: when you die, your soul goes to sleep.
In real time, you die and immediately appear before Jesus.
What Happens When We Die?
The most comforting thought is that our loved ones who have passed are currently face-to-face with Christ. However, the most most biblical understanding seems to be that the dead are raised at the return of Christ – the idea of soul sleep.
Nowhere else in Scripture are there disembodied spirits dwelling with God. Hebrews 11 references a “cloud of witnesses,” which is not what this passage means. There are no disembodied spirits watching events on earth.
One issue for the “soul sleep” point is when Moses,Elijah, and Jesus are at the Great Transfiguration.
However, a passage in favor of the soul sleep position is when the witch (seer) brings Samuel back, and Samuel responds, “Why did you awaken me?”
From the soul sleep perspective, time is not a factor. Therefore, the comfort remains the same: “This person that passed away is in Christ.”
This passage is key for developing a theology of the rapture. The Latin word for “rapture” means to be “snatched up.”
The question is not whether one believes in a rapture. The question is whether or not the rapture and the Second Coming of Christ are one-and-the-same event. According to this passage, the resurrection of the dead and the living happen at the same time. There is not a second rapture of people leaving earth and going to heaven. The end of Revelation is about heaven coming down to earth.
When discussing and thinking about these topics, it is important to remember that this is not a salvation issue. Your salvation is not dependent on where you land. What matters is where your faith lies – in Christ and his power to raise your body as he was raised. The end goal of God dwelling with his people remains the same.
Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas and is a writer and content manager for So We Speak.