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What happens after we die, but before Jesus’ return?


As a pastor I have heard many students of the Bible express their questions about what exactly happens after we die but before the Second Coming of Christ and Resurrection of the Dead. Is Heaven our permanent or temporary home? Are we asleep or conscious? Are we disembodied spirits or embodied spiritual people? In trying to answer these questions I wrote the following parable:

We might compare dying to a family whose home was destroyed by war, leaving them homeless. They went to live with the husband’s parents who were in a faraway, safe place. Their destroyed home had been modeled after his parents’ home, only it had been much smaller and simpler, and much more weather-beaten by a harsh climate.

They waited for the war to end, which lasted longer than they had hoped or expected. However, the husband’s Father assured him that it would end, and then they would rebuild not only the home but also its surrounding area.

Finally, that day came. The war was over and the family began packing up to return home while the Father began to bring peace and order to the troubled land. He then shipped their new, better-than-ever modular home for them. They moved in surrounded by other relatives and friends who had moved away during the war but had now returned en masse.

The Apostle Paul expressed some ambivalence about continuing to suffer his way through life or going on to be with Christ in death.

As we begin to answer the aforementioned questions about “where do we go and what do we do” following death, let’s listen in on Jesus’ conversation with a dying thief on the cross recorded in Luke 23:42-43 where the thief said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

Not long after this “high noon” conversation we read:

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land … And Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.’ Saying this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:44-46).”

Stephen followed Jesus’ lead when he uttered his dying words in Acts 7:59-60: “They were stoning Stephen as he called out: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin!’ And saying this, he fell asleep.” Christ inspired/empowered Stephen to pray with unnatural, God-given mercy and to believe in what Jesus had spelled out for His disciples in John 14:2-3: “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you… so that where I am you may be also.”

The Apostle Paul expressed some ambivalence about continuing to suffer his way through life or going on to be with Christ in death. While continuing to live and serve here in this life Paul looked forward to what he wrote about in II Corinthians 5:1-5:

“For we know that if our temporary, earthly dwelling (physical body) is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. Indeed, we groan in this body, desiring to put on our dwelling from heaven (spiritual body), since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed (disembodied spirit) but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.”

When we die as Christians who have been prepared for Christ’s prepared place, we shall go to Heaven clothed in a spiritual body while we await the Second Coming of Christ and The End of Time that ushers in a New Heaven and Earth. This interim or intermediate time has engendered much discussion and debate among scholars. We will tackle this subject in our next article.


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