What Happens After You Die?

Title: What Happens After You Die?

Bible Book: 2 Corinthians 5 : 1-8

Author: James Merritt

Subject: Death; Resurrection



Have you ever heard the expression, “The elephant in the room?” This expression refers to a situation where something major is going on. Everybody knows it. It is impossible to ignore, like an elephant in a room, but nobody talks about the “elephant” because nobody really knows what to do about it.

The elephant in the room, that we live with every day of our lives, is death. One of the things you will learn as you grow older is that the elephant in the room called “death” gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

Tim McGraw had a bestselling song entitled, “live like you were dying”. It is a song with a very poignant message, although if you have ever listened to it, one thing I am not going to do before I die is to try to ride some wild bull named Fu Man Chu. I may grill him and eat him, but I am not going to ride him.

The truth is most of us live, not like we were dying, but like we are going to live forever. Yes, we know we are going to die, because we know everybody dies, but nobody wants to talk about. Until old age or sickness forces the issue, we don’t want to think about it.

Even the way we talk about it tells us how big this elephant is. We call it things like “biting the dust”, “buying the farm”, “kicking the bucket”, or “joining the angels.” Yet, when we are faced with it either personally or when a friend or a loved one dies, there is the question that comes to mind that is as old as civilization itself. In fact, it is found in what Bible scholars believe is the oldest book of the Bible – the book of Job. We know that thousands of years ago, people were already asking this question

"If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait until my change comes.” (Job 14:14, NASB)

It is one of the top three philosophical questions of all time. Is death a period in the sentence of life or is it just a comma?

The reason why it is such an important question for us is because there is something that every life has in common with a street, a book, and a movie and that is they all have endings. Your life has an ending just as surely as it had a beginning. Your heart has only so many beats and then it will beat no more. Your lungs only have so many breaths and then they will breathe no more.

As the cowboys use to put it, “When you come to the end of the trail”, “When you reach the end of the journey”, when you finally make that inevitable move that every person in history has made, or will make, from the cradle to the casket, the question is, “Is there something more?”

There are a lot of competing answers to this question. Atheists believe that at death you just simply cease to exist. I was talking to a man not long ago who, if he lives, will be ninety this year. He believes that when you die you are just dead. There is no afterlife, and no eternal soul that continues in eternity.

Ellen Johnson, who is the president of the organization known as “American Atheists” put it this way: “The atheist accepts the reality that when you die that is the end. That is it. Therefore, when you are living life is all we can ever know. We can’t know death. Death is a nonsense word, so we have to do our part now to make this a better life for ourselves and for the rest of humanity and all of the life on this planet. The only fulfillment, the only joy, the only happiness you will ever know is right now. Now is the time to do your part and to enjoy life.”1

Many eastern and new-age religions hold to a pantheist view that teaches that you just simply go through an endless cycle of re-incarnation until the cycle is broken and you finally become one with some supernatural force. What form a person is in the next life depends on the quality lived in the previous life. They believe, for example, if you live the best life you know how to live in this life, then when you die, you will come back in the next life as a bulldog! Finally, you will unite with this supernatural force and you will be just like a drop of water that returns to the ocean.

Islam teaches that at the end of history, God will judge the works of all man and those whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will enter into paradise and the rest will be consigned to hell.

Today, I am obviously going to be sharing with you the Christian world view and the Christian answer to the question, but there is a difference. Most world views, who accept some belief in the afterlife do so on untested faith. In other words, they really don’t have a reason to believe what they believe. The reason the Christian believes what he believes about life after death is two-fold: the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the testimony of the word of God. The Bible gives us not only a view, but I believe the true view of what happens after death. However, in talking to many Christians, I find even they have a misunderstanding of what does happen after death.

Therefore, I am going to assume there is life after death. If you are one of those that don’t believe there is life after death, you will find out there is one second after you die or you may find out before you die. I heard about a guy who called in to his boss and said he couldn’t go to work that day, because he had to go to his grandmother’s funeral. The next morning at work his boss came up to him and said, “Do you believe in life after death?” The man, with a puzzled look, said, “Yes, I do.” The boss said, “That sure makes me feel a whole lot better.” The man said, “Why? What are you talking about?” The boss said, “Yesterday after you called to tell me you couldn’t come to work, because you were attending your grandmother’s funeral, she stopped by to visit you!”

What does happen after I die? That same question was being asked in the early church and a man named Paul, who was what we call an “apostle” was given a word from God that he passed on to us about life before death, death, and life after death. We are going to learn today that as followers of Christ – key take away: death takes us away from our body into the presence of God.

I. Death does end physical life

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1, NASB)

It is interesting that the Bible describes the body that we live in as a house. I am looking right now at a bunch of houses. I am looking at some big houses. I am looking at some tall houses. I am looking at some beautiful houses. I am looking at a few shacks!

It is important that you not confuse you with your house. Your body is not you; it is just the house you live in. In a real sense, people don’t get sick, bodies get sick. People don’t grow old; bodies grow old. It is like where a family lives. What does a family do? It makes a home in a house. There is a difference between a house and a home. You can have a house and not have a home inside the house, but everyone who has a home needs a house to put it in.

This is exactly what Paul meant in chapter 4:16. “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, NASB)

The outer man that he is talking about there is referring to our body. He says the outer man is “decaying.” If you think about it that is exactly what houses do. Houses decay. They grow old. Over time things begin to fall apart. A great example is that the paint begins to fall off. Eventually, you’ve got to put a new coat of paint on that old house or it will look old.

Women can especially relate to this, because nobody is more meticulous and more concerned about repainting the house than the ladies are. Believe me, there is nothing wrong with that at all. I know there are some people who believe it is a sin for women to wear makeup. I believe it is a sin if some women don’t! My wife, Teresa, looks just as beautiful without makeup as she does with makeup, but she may be the exception.

The truth is you can repaint the house, refinish the house, refurbish the house, strengthen the hinges, or you can replace the doors, but this old house is still going to decay, because God built decay into this house. Do you know why? He doesn’t want us to settle down in this house, because he has a far better house prepared for us on the other side of death.

I hear people talk all the time about, how, as they grow older, they don’t recover from injury as quickly as they used to or they hurt more than they used to and they have more physical problems than they used to. There is not a person here who has not at one time or another groaned or complained either about an injury that they had or the way they felt or a pain in their back or a headache or some other kind of discomfort in their body. Let me give you some good news. You are just being biblical when you do that.

Listen to verse 2. “For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven.” (2 Corinthians 5:2, NASB)

As you grow older, you are going to find it more difficult, not to complain about this old house because the house will begin to hurt. It will get creaky, it will start falling apart, it will grow old, and it will decay.

There is a simple reason for this. The body is temporary. When someone is buried it doesn’t matter how well they are embalmed. If you give that body long enough and open that casket do you know what you are going to find? Dust. Ecclesiastes 3:20 says, “All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” (Ecclesiastes 3:20, NASB)

We came from dust and we are going to return to dust. There was a little boy who came running downstairs one night scared to death. His mother said, “What’s wrong?” The little boy said, “Mother, didn’t the preacher say yesterday that the body comes from dust?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “Didn’t he also say that one day the body will go back to dust?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “Mom, you had better come upstairs quick and look under my bed, because somebody is either coming or going!”

You may not realize this, but doctors say that every three years all of the cells on your body die and they are replaced by new cells. In other words, every three years we (in essence) get a brand new body. There is a turnover in cells. One day, the old cells will die forever and they won’t be turned over, they will be turned under. This body will begin to return back to dust and finally disappear. It is God’s way of letting us know that death does end physical life.

II. Death does not end spiritual life

Let’s examine the exact moment that a person dies. I mean all breathing stops, there is no brainwave activity, there is no sight, no hearing, and no speech - the body is completely dead. At that moment, the body stays on planet earth, because the body died. Listen carefully. The person inside that body did not die, because the person inside the body and the body outside the person are two different things.

Let me illustrate it this way. If you had spiritual x-ray vision, not where you could see through walls or trees or rocks, but where you could see through you, if you had a mirror, you would see your body on the outside, but you would see the real you on the inside.

That is why Paul distinguishes in verse 1 between the earthly body that we have now that will die and the new resurrection body that we will receive one day that will never die. “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5:1, NASB)

Even though our body, here, is an earthly house, one day we are going to have a body that will be our eternal home. This house is not my home. I am just passing through literally. One of these days I am going to receive a brand new house - a brand new body. It will be immortal. It will be incorruptible. It will be invincible and it will last forever. It won’t have to go to the doctor for a checkup. It won’t have to have blood work. It won’t have to take vitamins. It will be a perfect and complete resurrection body.

God has a new body for the new you that will leave the old body when the old body dies and that is exactly what Paul says and means in verse 4. “While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.” (2 Corinthians 5:4, NLT)

Contrary to popular belief we are not going to be just invisible spirits hovering around for all eternity. God, eventually, is going to cloth us (the inward man that resides in that outward body) with a new body that will last forever.

A story that I read the other day may help you to understand it. The little boy was walking on the beach and he found a dead sea-gull. He quickly ran over to his mother and pulled her out of the beach chair. He said, “I said, “What happened to him?” The mother thought it would be a good teachable moment and she said, “He died and went to heaven.” The little boy looked at that lifeless seagull’s body for a few moments and then said, “And then God threw him back down?” In one sense, the little boy was right. God leaves your old body here because he has no more use for it and neither do you, but he has a new body for the new you that enters into eternity.

Paul gets to the crux of the matter and tells us what happens to all of us who are followers of Christ the split second, the instant that we die.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--for we walk by faith, not by sight-- we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, NASB)

Paul says there is no such thing as soul sleep, no such thing as a temporary state of unconsciousness, and no purgatory. He says it very plainly that when your body dies, you immediately enter into the presence of God. What is absent from the body and is present with the Lord is your spirit – your soul.

I want to make sure there is no confusion here. Don’t confuse the house with the occupant that lives in the house. When my body dies, my spirit immediately goes to be with Jesus Christ. We see this all through scripture. When the Lord Jesus died, he said, “Father into your hands I commit My spirit.” The Lord Jesus said to the thief on the cross, even though his body would die that day, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” When Stephen was stoned to death, he said as his body died, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59, NASB)

The comedian, Woody Allen, once said, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” I’ve got news for Woody Allen. In a sense, he won’t be there when it happens. One of these days this house is going to collapse like a deck of cards, but I won’t be there when it happens. If my body was to drop dead, right now, in the middle of this message, my spirit (the real me) would be with Jesus before my body hit the floor.

There was a man who died one time and his name was Solomon peas. On his tombstone they wrote these words: “Beneath these clouds and beneath these trees, lies the body of Solomon peas, but this ain’t peas, it’s just the pod, peas shelled out and went to God.”

This is exactly what happens. We shell out of our body and we go to be with Christ. Death does not end in spiritual life although it does end physical life.

III. Death can end in eternal life

Keep in mind that Paul is talking primarily to those who know Jesus Christ, who are personal followers of Christ and have a relationship with him. He says in verse 8, “Be are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8, NASB)

We can draw a clear conclusion from that. When you die, you will either go into the presence of God or you will go out of the presence of God. Here is what we learn. Everybody is going to spend eternity somewhere. When anybody dies their soul and spirit will be separated from their physical body. At that moment, your eternal destiny will be determined. If you have trusted in Christ and his death and burial and resurrection to save you then you will enter into eternal life and the presence of God. You will be absent from the body and present with the Lord. On the other hand, if you do not know Christ and you do not have a relationship with God, you will immediately be ushered out of his presence to await your final judgment. This happens immediately.

We were actually given a clue to this all the way back in the first book of the Bible. The first time we are given a detail about an actual death is in genesis 25 where we read these words. “Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 25:8, NASB)

By the way, wouldn’t that be a great way to have your death described? Here is an old man, who died in a ripe old age, breathed his last and is gathered to his people. Notice it doesn’t say he went to sleep. It doesn’t say he rested. It doesn’t say he went to purgatory. He was gathered to his people. Where were his people gathered? His people were gathered in heaven. When a Christian dies he immediately goes to be with the Lord and with those of his people who have been gathered to the Lord.

Do you understand what all of this means? There are two very practical implications that this has for all of us when it comes to dying. First of all, we can face death with dignity. It doesn’t matter how the body dies - whether by gunshot, heart attack, plane crash, or terrorist bombing. For those of us who are followers of Christ we know the ultimate outcome.

We know that when the body dies, we (our soul, our spirit) that which lasts for all eternity will immediately be in the presence of God.

Therefore, the second practical application is - we don’t have to fear death. Why do you think God came to planet earth in the form of human flesh to die and to be raised again? Here is the answer.

“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” (Hebrews 2:14-15, NLT)


When Ronald Reagan was President, he was on air force one and it was just after Nancy Reagan’s mother had died. He was walking down the aisle and he met a lady who had worked in the white house for several years and as a reward her supervisor allowed her to accompany the president on this trip. The lady looked at the president and noting the sadness in his eyes commented how sorry she was to hear about his mother-in-law’s death.

President Reagan looked at her and said, “Death hits all of us hard, but I’ve come to understand that God’s plan for each one of us includes the moment of our passing.” He put his hand on her shoulder and said, “When the Lord closes the door on this life, he just opens the door on another and leads us right through.”2 In that instant, the president was an outstanding theologian, because that is what happens after we die, if we know Jesus Christ.


1 www.probe.org/content/view/14/77/

2 Peter Robinson, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, p. 202.


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