What Happens to Our Believing Loved Ones When They Die

(I wrote this blog which was first published on March 6 of last year. I have since expanded on this message and published it in the form of a book entitled WHAT LIES BEYOND FOR THE BELIEVER: Answers for those left behind. It is available for checkout in the Stone County Library or for purchase in ebook or hardcopy here)

There is a lot of confusion over what happens after a believing loved one dies. It is a tender subject and one that must be handled gently. There is comfort to be found in knowing what Scripture teaches about the believer’s life after life.

1. Believers do not become angels after they die. This belief may stem from an errant interpretation of what Jesus said in response to a question from the Sadducees regarding marriage and the resurrection. Jesus said, “those considered worthy of the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore because they are equal to the angels…” (Luke 20:35-36). Somewhere along the phrase, “equal to the angels,” got twisted. Again this is understandable, but it is also an error.

Rest in this peace. If you have a believing loved one who has passed, they have attained a status much higher than the angels. In fact, the angels long to comprehend what your loved one has now come to understand (1 Peter 1:12). The angels were not made in the image of God. Though the angels are loved by God, Jesus did not come and die for them. They did not receive the Holy Spirit. Angels do not know what it is like to go from death into life. Your late and believing loved one now has what the angels do not- firsthand knowledge of the life-saving and transforming love of Christ.

2. Believers are not buried. Believer’s bodies may be buried, cremated, or in some tragic cases even lost. However, their soul which is who they really are is transported into the presence of God. I always try to explain this at graveside services. These moments are difficult because we grow accustomed to associating our loved one with their earthly body, but the body is not who they really are. Who they really are, is found in their inner person, their soul.

For the proof of this truth, we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 where the Holy Spirit gives us a fairly detailed discourse on the soul/body relationship. He explains that our inner person is who we really are. While we reside in these bodies, we long to be united with the Lord. Our inner self yearns, knowing that to be separated from the body in death is to be united with the Lord in everlasting life.

3. Believers do not sleep until the resurrection. “Soul sleep” is a doctrine that is taught by several mainstream Christian denominations. My purpose in rejecting this belief is not to put other brothers down. Accepting or rejecting the notion that the soul sleeps after death is not an issue over which we should divide, but confusion over the doctrine does pose an issue in comforting family members dealing with loss.

2 Corinthians 5:8 states that to “be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” This means that the believer’s inner person is united with the Lord upon their death, while the body, which they have shed, is laid to rest until the resurrection. This is the sleep referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4. The body rests (sleeps), but the soul lives in immortality.

4. Your believing loved ones who have passed are looking down on you from their heavenly home. If you have a believing loved one who is now with the Lord, then you can rest in this. They are just fine. They have no regrets. They cry no tears. The faith that once guided them through this dark and dying world has given way to everlasting light. They have a perfect understanding of what has happened and what will happen. They have perfect peace.

They now dwell outside of the bounds of time in the eternal realm. They know all about you. They know all your circumstances. They cannot interfere with the earthly realm, nor do they want to, because they understand how it all comes together. They along with all the heroes of the faith are looking down and cheering you on to the finish (Hebrews 12:1).