What Happens When You Die?

What happens when you die? The Bible uses the word death in different senses. Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). Also in Revelation 20:6, John speaks of a “second death,” apparently distinguishing it from the first death or the usual understanding of death. It is important to note that the only way to escape the second death and Hell is through the Lord Jesus Christ (Jn 11:26). Make sure to be in on that one! Now we turn to what happens to Christian believers at the “first death.” Paul addresses the issue of what happens to Christians when they die in 2 Corinthians 5:8 when he says “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” This refers to the intermediate state between a believer’s death and the resurrection of all believers’ bodies at the Parousia. I have always thought that heaven is temporary state until Jesus returns for the general resurrection of the dead (Dan 12:2; Rev 20:4-6). So if you die before Christ returns, I always assumed you exist as a spirit until then. It seems to me that we consist of material and immaterial elements and in our present lives we are in a state of conditional unity. A useful analogy for conditional unity comes from chemistry.

Did you know that every summer, including this one, thousands of people will die from dihydrogen monoxide inhalation? Yes it is true… they drown while swimming in pools, the ocean or lakes. It’s a bad joke. Dihydrogen monoxide is H20 or plain old water. Now of course we all know that water is not usually dangerous and is, in fact, essential for life. But what happens when you break water down into its two components hydrogen and oxygen? It suddenly takes on drastically different properties. In fact, it gets downright dangerous. In the presence of an oxidizer like oxygen, hydrogen can catch fire, sometimes explosively, and it burns more easily than gasoline does. According to the American National Standards Institute, hydrogen requires only one tenth as much energy to ignite as gasoline does. So when water is separated into its two elements, they are nothing like water. It seems appropriate to think of the body and soul in the same way. In life we are like a molecule consisting of body and soul. At death the material and immaterial are separated and take on different properties. The material body decays and the immaterial soul transfers into the spiritual dimension. So what does the New Testament tell us about this process?

According to some scholars, Paul does not seem to believe in a bodiless ethereal state in heaven rather an immediate transformation to a new body.  F.F. Bruce thinks Paul’s view is that some sort of body is essential to personhood.[1] This is most evident in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 where he speaks of putting on the heavenly dwelling. Paul argues that we put it on so that we will “not be found naked” (2 Cor 5:3) which likely refers to the intermediate state in which believers’ spirits are with God but they do not yet enjoy their resurrected bodies. Accordingly, Bruce argues that Paul did not envision an intermediate state as a disembodied spirit and that it is difficult to distinguish any difference between this and the glorified body believers are to receive at the Parousia (1 Cor. 15:51). He believes that Paul is teaching that believers receive their eternal resurrection bodies at death, rather than waiting for Christ to return in glory.[2]

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Php 3:20-21)

Scholars have different views on this. Like Bruce, W. D. Davies argues, “there is no room in Paul’s theology for an intermediate state of the dead.”[3] But 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 seems to place this at the last trump – the return of Christ. The general consensus of conservative theologians seems to support an intermediate state between death and the resurrection body. Millard Erickson argues, “there is no inherent untenability about the concept of disembodied existence. The human being is capable of existing in either a materialized (bodily) or immaterialized condition.”[4] Many commentators view the 2 Corinthians 5:1 passage as Paul’s “hope of receiving the resurrection body at Christ’s return.”[5] Another view of Paul’s argument about “not being found naked” is that it was intended as a polemic against those who taught existence in a state of disembodied immortality.[6] There are passages in the Bible that seem to support the idea of a temporary disembodied soul state (Rev 6:9) but even here these tribulation martyrs put on white robes. Isaiah 14:9-10 seems to describe the disembodied souls of the dead being “stirred up.” 2 Corinthians 12:2-3 also supports the idea of existence outside of a body. I guess biggest question you have to ask is that if we get a body at death, then what is resurrection of the dead at Christ’s return for? It would no longer seem necessary (1 Thes 4:17; Rev 20:4). It seems to be tied to our old body in some way. Accordingly, there seems to be an intermediate state of some sort. A humble posture is in order as the evidence does not seem conclusive either way. Perhaps the resurrection body is granted but not fully realized until Christ’s return?

Either way the biblical teaching is clear that believers enjoy immediate fellowship with the Lord. Contrary to the teachings of Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the idea of soul sleep is not supported by the biblical text (Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:23; Heb. 12:23). This offers great comfort to the loved ones of Christians. They need not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thes 4:13).  Finally, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 offers ample motivation for living to please God as well. We are charged to live courageously in knowledge that we will soon appear before the judgment seat of Christ when we shall give an account of our lives (Ro 14:12).


[1] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 311.

[2] Bruce, Paul, 312.

[3] W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (London: SPCK, 1955), pp. 317–18.

[4] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 1189.

[5] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 422.

[6] Kenneth L Barker, Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged) (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 676.

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.


  1. Dawn Doty says:


    I enjoyed your article “What Happens When You Die” and I too, agree that “soul sleep” is not supported by the Bible. I believe that, when believers die the first death, we are transported immediately into fellowship with Christ as the Bible promises. But God is the master of time and (let me see if I can explain this so it sounds right) has fixed time so that the believer’s soul does not progress in a linear fashion, thus having to sleep the time away until Christ returns, but dies then awakens during the resurrection of souls at the end of days when he can be joined with Christ. So, there is no sleep time, but rather a “wormhole” effect; there is no linear time for the passed-on believer, but rather a **zip** from being dead to being with Christ. I hope this makes sense.

    The Bible does say a lot about time; maybe this scholarly article by a well-known physicist Christian can help explain it better.


    Thanks and blessings to all 🙂

  2. stephen huffman says:

    you can’t have it both ways. You agree with Adventists and JW’s at one point and then say they are wrong. What they are saying about “soul sleep” is not at odds with any of your assertions. Not at odds with Dawn Doty’s belief either. I was raised in Adventism, and believe they are certainly closer to the truth than the average Christian, who one minute is Praising God that the recently deceased loved ones are dancing around the throne and the next minute they are coming out of the earth at the Second Coming.

    However, being well read and exposed to many ideas, I am open-minded enough to admit there is no clear teaching in the Bible. There are some clear statements that the dead know nothing. I would also point out that Lazarus would have been pretty steamed to have been called back from Paradise after 3 days.

    I tend to agree these days with Dawn’s belief as stated above. God is not bound by time. It can be true that we go immediately to heaven after death, and also true that “immediate” happens at the Resurection. This is perfectly in accord with Adventists view (although they might disagree with me) that the dead are not aware of the passage of time, and that after death, the next thing you know is that Jesus has called you forth. It is immediate relative to the believer.

    even the angels have some kind of material being. We call it spiritual, because it is not material as we understand it, yet they are made of something. Information cannot exist without a modality where it can be stored.

    enjoyed the article, and that’s my 2 cents worth.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Stephen, I’m not trying to have it both ways am I? The Adventists have an Arian Christology – they believe Jesus is a created being and not God. That’s a huge problem. Soul sleep flies in the face of too many passages. I think “sleep” was used as euphemism for death. I am just wrestling with the biblical passages and trying to make sense of it. After all of this study, my current view is that we enjoy immediate fellowship with the Lord and some sort of body (or even a spiritual ontology) but I do not think it is the final glorified body or the resurrection would seem unnecessary. There very well could be something to the non temporal nature of heaven but Paul’s statement “to be absent from the body is to be with the Lord” seems decisive.

  3. Paul says:

    I know I am not the only one that has had an outer body experience and seen Jesus in Heaven but from my own experience you can exist outside your body.

    I floated out and saw my body sitting there and next minute was sucked back into my body into a tunnel /vortex and end up in a large open space and a glow surrounding it and singing (words I did not understand) standing in front of a huge man that without asking I knew to be Jesus. Jesus said “go back” and instantly I was back in my own body, no tunnel.

    As far as I understand it is the body that give you your own space/ your own universe/ your own house where you are not exposed to everything because once your out of it every being knows everything about you without even asking.

    It’s what makes you an individual, we were all a part of God until God separated us and gave us individuality.

    And for this individual to truely know God is the purest form of happiness and love forgiven through Christ and loved by the Father.

    1 Corinthians 12

  4. Linda says:

    @Chris Putnam,

    My mother was an Adventist for several years. They do believe in the Trinity and that Jesus is God. I think you’re mixing them up with the Jehovah Witnesses.

    I don’t think what kind of bodies we have in Heaven after we die and before the resurrection, matters. It’s enough to know that we are there in the presence of God. When Lazarus died Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise, she said she knew that he would rise at the last day in the resurrection. Jesus told her, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me will never die.” She was standing there with The Resurrection and the Life! The Resurrection was there and her brother was raised from the dead!

    It could be that when we die, since we are no longer bound by time, and we’re in the presence of The Resurrection, that we will instantly be reunited with our earthly bodies, in the twinkling of an eye…. Just a thought.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      @Linda I will not presume to know what your mother believes. However, from Adventist literature they are clear that they believe Jesus is the angel Michael. Angels are created beings. I actually quote from official Adventist literature in this post to make my point..

  5. dschram says:

    The word for “spirit” in the Bible comes from “pneuma” meaning breath or wind. The word translated “soul” can also be translated as “life”.

  6. Linda says:

    @Cris, my mother and I had many Bible studies on the Deity of Jesus Christ. If the Adventists didn’t believe in his Deity I know she would have left that church long before she did. She when she realized they believe Ellen G. White’s teachings are the true interpretations of the Bible.

    It could be that some of the Adventist churches hold different views on Jesus’ deity. I got this from an Adventist site:

    Seventh-day Adventists believe that Jesus is one of the three persons, called the Trinity, who make up our one God.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Linda please understand there is nothing personal, I am sure there are fine Christians who got involved in this movement. But its what that doesn’t say that concerns me, their official literature teaches that Jesus is the Angel Michael. I suspect the way they affirm the trinity is by making the Angel Micheal a part of the trinity. It doesn’t work however, the Bible is clear that the angels were in fact created by Jesus. This amounts to a huge theological problem and it is one of the reasons why they are considered heterodox. Ellen White is a documented false prophet as well. You might want to watch this:

      There are multiple parts there is a playlist here.

  7. Linda says:

    @Chris, don’t worry, I’m not taking this personally. I am merely stating what my mother told me about the Adventists. She may not have realized that’s what they believe. I know she didn’t believe that way. I do know when learned more about Ellen G. White and she realized they writings in higher regard than the Bible she left that church.

    Thank you for your answers.

  8. Rocky says:

    Jesus will come again to receive us to himself
    John 14:2-3 In My Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you… I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

    We have a body in heaven to be clothed with and ever present with the Lord
    2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 4, 8
    “..if our earthly house.. is destroyed, we have a building from God, …eternal in the heavens…For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven.. that mortality may be swallowed up by life.. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

    Romans 8:23
    “…we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

    We receive this new body at the last trump, then we’ll always be with the Lord..
    1 Corinthians 15:54
    “at the last trumpet… the dead will be raised incorruptible…For when this.. mortal has put on immortality… Death is swallowed up in victory”

    1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
    For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven… with the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise, then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

  9. Rocky says:

    The belief in so called “soul sleep” is as old as the Jews, Justin Martyr, and early Protestants

    Luther says souls will seem “to have slept scarce one minute”. Even the Adventist Dough Bachelor believes the very “next conscious thought” is the resurrection.

    The argument that Christ can’t be an archangel because angels are created fails for this reason:
    If men are created beings and Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, why is it so hard to understand Christ also being Michael, the archangel?

    • Cris Putnam says:

      On soul sleep, Jesus told the thief on the cross that “today you will be with me in paradise.” That rules out a prolonged sleep, even if it seems like the next moment.

      The argument that Christ can’t be an archangel because angels are created fails for this reason:
      If men are created beings and Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, why is it so hard to understand Christ also being Michael, the archangel?

      That really doesn’t follow. Jesus is the eternal logos (Jn1:1) incarnated into flesh. This is known as the kenosis and is described in Philippians 2:5-11. But as to why it is impossible to justify the view of Jesus as Michael I made that argument here.

  10. Rocky says:

    The translators were the ones who added the punctuation assuming that the thief died that day, but actually he was taken down by soldiers later that day and had his legs broken because he was still alive (John 19:31-33). We don’t know if he died after sunset, which would have been the next day. If the comma was moved over, the verse about the thief would say “Assuredly I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

    Jesus didn’t go to even go paradise that day, he was in the heart of the earth for three days. (Matthew 12:40)
    Notice what Jesus said after his resurrection: “…I have not yet ascended to My Father…” John 20:17

    yeah, I suppose there is some incoherence with Michael as being Jesus, but if God could manifest as man, I don’t see how it would be so hard for him to manifest as an angel of the Lord.

  11. Rocky says:

    I wanted to rephrase what I said ( it didn’t sound right).
    The translators were the ones who added the punctuation assuming that the thief died that day, but actually he was taken down by soldiers the Jews requested that they’d be taken down before the Sabbath. The soldiers broke their legs (I guess so they wouldn’t run away..

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Fair enough Rocky but only Jesus’ body was in earth his spirit was free to move around. But that isn’t the only passage that presents a problem for soul sleep, I listed several in the article. “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Co 5:8) is a strong one and so is “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Php 1:23)

  12. Daniel Anchondo says:

    You know I have always thought that if Jesus hasn’t ascended to his father yet the day he was crucified he was in paradise with the thief on the cross, that he went to Abraham’s bosom. It also makes sense out of the apostle’s creed.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Daniel, I think so too. The parable in Luke seems to suggest 2 compartments in Hades which were visible to each other. “Abraham’s bosom” was likely referred to as “paradise” during the intertestimental period the place in which the Old Testament saints waited. After Jesus “set the captives free” at the cross he took them to heaven proper.