What happens when I die?
There is an old story that is told of a king (you have probably all heard it) and this king had a court jester, a fool, who kept him amused and entertained him. No matter how serious the affairs of state, this fool would be able to make the king laugh. So the king grew to love his fool. The king reigned for many years; and one day, after his jester entertained him and left him with tears of laughter in his eyes, he said to his jester, “You are such a fool; I don’t suppose there is another like you.” The king said, “I want you to travel the land, and the world, and see if you can find a greater fool than yourself and give him your jester’s rattle.” So the jester set off and searched the length and breadth of the land, with no success. He then travelled to other nations. His travels took a long time and eventually he returned home – still he had found no one. For once despondent, the jester slowly climbed the steps to the castle to appear before the king. His search had taken so long that the king was now very old and infirm; he knew that he did not have much longer and must soon die. So he greeted his beloved fool and sought to break to him that he was about to die. But people don’t like talking about death so he said, “I am about to go on a long and final journey.” The fool said to the king, “Have you prepared for this great journey?” The king said, “Alas, I haven’t.” The fool then handed the king his jester’s rattle saying, “At last I have found a greater fool than myself – to embark on such a journey without preparing for it is foolish indeed.” I know, it’s a bit of a corny illustration – but it does bring home the fact that it is foolish not to prepare for what we all must face. Death is something we try to ignore, we don’t like to talk about it – it’s all a bit depressing and morbid – and very few people prepare beforehand for it. We don’t face the issue of death, we are unprepared for it – and we are fools! Because death is something that is inevitable – it comes to us all. The two things you can’t avoid, right? – death and taxes! This is what the wise Solomon said: [Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth. Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for death is the end of every person, and the living should take it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made good. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.] It is wise to consider the issue of death. [P] Now I am no wiser than anybody else, probably less so – I don’t give death a lot of thought. But there is wisdom in the oversight and they asked me to speak about: “What happens when you die?” Here’s the email: “Would it be possible to have some ministry on the Biblical description of Death and a look at the order and timing of what takes place at death, and subsequently follows.” Well, my immediate reaction was: I am not the one to do this, I don’t have any experience! I cannot speak from experience; tell you what it is like, what happens; because I haven’t done it! How can we know? The fact is that most people are in utter ignorance as to what happens because there is no way (humanly) of knowing! People may have their theories and ideas, their beliefs – but they do not know. Praise God that we have the Bible! There is Someone who knows and who has told us about it. So, in my ignorance and inexperience, I intend to stick closely to the text – the only reliable source of information that we have. I said that I have no experience; that I haven’t died yet – but that is not really true. There is a verse that is up there as one of my most favourite verses, it has tremendous significance for me: Paul (the apostle) is speaking: [P] [Galatians 2:19-20 For through the law I died to the law, in order that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and that life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.] Now what was true of that Paul is also true of this Paul: “I died!” I have already died! Now John, I am not being difficult and obtuse – I know that this “dying” is not what you meant; you were referring to what the N.T. often calls: “falling asleep”. And I intend next time to talk about: “What happens when I fall asleep?” But before we can deal with that issue, we must first address that matter that we all want to avoid: DEATH! So let us backtrack a bit before I look at that favourite verse of mine. At the risk of “teaching grandma to suck eggs”, let’s go over some basic facts about death. Why do we die? What causes death? Not cancer or heart disease or adventure tourism or anything like that – what does the Bible say?: [Romans 5:12 Sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, so also death spread to all people because all sinned.] It is quite clear – death came because of sin. The consequence of sin is death [P]. Now that is going to cause problems for those who think that things have been evolving over a long period of time, many generations dying – because there was no death before Adam sinned. God gave the first man a commandment and he disobeyed it, broke it – that is sin – going against what God says – it is quite simple – and when you, do you die. [Genesis 2:16-17 And יְהוָה God commanded the man, saying, “From every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” ] It is a consistent principle in Scriptures: [Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.] Death gets its power from sin 1 Corinthians 15:56 Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. So if there is no sin, there is no death; [P] death is powerless. So if sin can be removed, death is rendered impotent! [Romans 6:23 For the compensation due sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.] Now, we all know this basic doctrine – but have we got it?! People, we are in deep shtuck! We have totally had it! I can’t paint too bleak a picture. What is it like to die? We are already dead! [Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. Ephesians 2:12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. ] We sin, we are dead! We inherit sin, it is passed down the family line – death is the consequence and it is inevitable and unavoidable! The wrath of God is our destiny! Mark vividly describes hell, quoting the words of Jesus Himself: [Mark 9:48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched!] Adam sinned, did the one thing that God told him not to; and that sin has been passed down from generation to generation: [P] [GNB Romans 5:12-20 Sin came into the world through one man, and his sin brought death with it. As a result, death has spread to the whole human race because everyone has sinned …… Adam was a figure of the One who was to come. But the two are not the same, because God’s free gift is not like Adam’s sin. It is true that many people died because of the sin of that one man. But God’s grace is much greater, and so is His free gift to so many people through the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ. And there is a difference between God’s gift and the sin of one man. After the one sin, came the judgement of “Guilty”; but after so many sins, comes the undeserved gift of “Not guilty!” It is true that through the sin of one man death began to rule because of that one man. But how much greater is the result of what was done by the one Man, Jesus Christ! All who receive God’s abundant grace and are freely put right with Him will rule in life through Christ. So then, as the one sin condemned all people, in the same way the one righteous act sets all people free and gives them life. And just as the mass of people were made sinners as the result of the disobedience of one man, in the same way the mass of people will all be put right with God as the result of the obedience of the one Man. Law was introduced in order to increase wrongdoing; but where sin increased, God’s grace increased much more.] So sin came through Adam; and consequently, death came to all his offspring. It is quite simple: we die because of sin. That is the only reason. But there was another Man who was quite different – a Man who didn’t sin; through whom life comes, because He was righteous – He had no sin, so death had no claim on Him. But still that death penalty still had to be exacted – this is why Jesus died; He bore our sins in His body and the death sentence was carried out. [1 Peter 2:24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. ] Now I am a sinner, the death penalty hangs over me – I have to die. Now Jesus died, what is needed is for His death to become my death – I need to be crucified with Christ. I become one with Him in His death – through Jesus I die, His death becomes my death, He dies my death: [Romans 6:3-11 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? (baptism symbolizes being buried) Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (we are raised to new life – if any man be in Christ he is a new creature) For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. (so too, having His life, we never die again, we have eternal life) For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.] We are to consider ourselves dead, dead to sin. Where there is no sin, there is no death – when Jesus died, He bore our sins in His body to the cross. Through His death, through the blood of a new covenant, our sin was removed as far as the east is from the west. So if we die with Christ we rise to life – death has no mastery over Him, nor over us who are raised to life with Him. One of the greatest revelations I have had but few other people seem to get excited about is: that only the dead are raised to life [P] – you cannot resurrect someone who is already alive. Look we are dead, we need new life, the resurrection life of Christ! The old life can’t be patched up or fixed – I have to have completely new life, become a new creature; have the life of Jesus. Jesus lives in the power of an endless resurrection life – that is the life I need. But resurrection life can only come after you have first died. I need to die! [P] [Hebrews 9:27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, ] – in that judgement it is possible to receive the sentence of the second death (which you read about in the final chapters of Revelation). But if you die with Christ, you have died, that is your death. There is an expression “You only live once” for the one in Christ “you only die once”. If you die now, you won’t die later. So if we die, we will live. [2 Timothy 2:11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;] [Romans 6:8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 For just as death came by means of a man, in the same way the rising from death comes by means of a man. For just as all people die because of their union with Adam, in the same way all will be raised to life because of their union with Christ.] So to answer the question: “What happens when I die?” [P] If I die with Christ then I am raised to life with Him. [P] So we get this great paradox – it is back-to-front and doesn’t make sense to our natural thinking. If we die, then we live! But if we live we die [P] – Jesus said: [Luke 17:33 “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.] Getting back to that key favourite verse of mine [P] – it said: “I have been crucified with Christ” – “have been crucified”, is what is called the perfect tense – big deal! If you ever get to read Bible commentaries, you will soon notice that they seem to have this “hang-up” with grammar – what part of speech it is, what tense the verb is. Now when I went to school we had to learn grandma – you know? – subject, object, participles, gerunds – all that stuff! Today they seem to get on quite well without it – or even spelling – we all can understand “txt”! But grammar is important! If I ask Hannah: “Have you made your bed?” I am very interested in the tense of her reply. She may say: “I made my bed” – that is past tense – she could be referring to last year. It is something done back along at some point in time – it may well have been slept in since then. Or she may say: “I will make my bed.” – that is future, it means that she hasn’t made her bed yet. Or she may say: “I am making my bed.” That is better, it is the present tense – she is actually doing something about it now. But what I really want to hear her say is: “I have made my bed.” – that is the perfect tense – it is done and it remains done – the state of what was done in the past continues right up to the present. She has made bed and it remains made. So, despite all appearances to the contrary, I am interested in grammar. And it is the perfect tense that is used here: “I have been crucified with Christ.” It is a strange tense to use – it emphasizes the state or condition. But you don’t expect someone to say “I have been crucified” – one reason being that when you are crucified you are dead and you don’t say anything anymore. But if you could, you would expect someone to say: “I was crucified” – it is an act that happened in the past and is all over, it doesn’t continue into the present. This dying with Christ that Paul talks about is continual, it carries on. Jesus said: [Luke 9:23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.]. Paul said: [1 Corinthians 15:31 I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.] [P] – I not only need to die, I need to die daily – the path of crucifixion, every day; dying every day! What does this mean? Now this sounds all very good as theology and doctrine; but what does it mean in practise? Here we are all living our lives – I live my life – what do I mean by that? Well there are certain things that I want to do, accomplish, get; certain things that I enjoy, that give me pleasure – so I live my life by pursuing those things. It is essentially selfish – “my life”. Now the things we want to do and accomplish vary – you may want to be prime-minister, an all black, or maybe just get a promotion or a pay rise. It may be to get a certain qualification, become a fine musician, or to get married have a family – the permutations are endless; as are our preferences in enjoyment: reading a book, skiing down a mountain, dangling a bit of string in the river, eating a fine meal. The things are different for different people – but they are all exactly the same thing: it is what I want to do! My life! Now if I seek my life, I will lose it. To live is a recipe for death! [P] Now to die – is not to do that! Not seek my life, my welfare, my pleasure, my desires. To die, to walk the path to the cross and be crucified, is to “deny yourself” – that is I say “NO!” to what I want to do. [Luke 9:23 And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.] This is no abstract theology it is immensely practical – I will give a little example for me, but it will be different for each of us, you need to apply it your own situation, your own desires, your own will and life. So I come home from work, I just want to collapse in a bean bag and read book (that’s living for Paul’s desire) – so I say “No” to that, and do that which I would rather not do, maybe get the tea on, helping Hannah with her homework, or help Rhoda bring in the washing. It is living for others and not yourself. You lay down your life for the sake of someone else. Take a look at Jesus’ life here on earth – He did it in a big way, but we are to be doing it in little ways all the time. Look, in every job there are those tasks that people don’t like doing, they avoid them and leave them for someone else to do – we are to actively go out and seek to do them – the putting out the rubbish, the filing, doing the dishes. We die daily – that is where we find life – in serving others, not in pursuing our own desires. [2 Corinthians 5:15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. ] My life is no longer my own! [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.]; [1 Peter 1:18-19 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. ] It is “no longer I, but Christ” [P]. Having died, now [Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. ] Having died, now Christ is my life. I have died; I no longer live [Colossians 3:1-4 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. ] I depend upon the life of Christ, whose dwells in me in the person of the Holy Spirit, to live His life through me. I depend upon Him. It is a walk of faith. Doing what Jesus is doing, saying what Jesus is saying, thinking what Jesus is thinking?! It is impossible! I have to depend upon His life within every moment of every day. If I live, I fall; if I depend upon the life of Jesus that has been given to me, I find that I will not be living to please myself but living to please my Father, just as Jesus did. So the way to live is to die! You can either die and live, or live for yourself and remain dead. [P] The choice is yours. A choice we are making every day – Paul said: “I die daily!” [Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. ] The death took place in the past but it is a continual thing. Every day you have the choice: whether you are going to do what you want to do, live to please yourself; or be directed by the Holy Spirit, empowered by Him, to live to the glory of God. Jesus gave Himself up for me! I can no longer live for myself. [P] Look, we have been crucified with Christ! – that old life of living for ourselves ended with Christ’s death on the cross; but it carries right into the present. We no longer live for ourselves. There is supernatural life, resurrection life, the life of Christ Himself within us! Hallelujah! Our lives should be utterly different from those around us who are living their own lives, who are not living by faith in the Son of God, who are not depending upon that supernatural, resurrection life from above. It will be reflected in my workplace – I won’t be slacking doing the minimum to get by, like everyone else. I will be working for the glory of God! It will be seen in the home, I won’t be putting my feet up and letting Rhoda do all the work. It is a life of sacrifice, a life poured out for others [1 Peter 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you (pouring His life out for us, giving Himself up for us), leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.] What happens when I die, [P] die daily? I find life, [P] hallelujah! – life in all its fullness, the resurrection life of Christ.