One of the questions that everyone should ask themselves is “what happens to me when I die?” Well, I’m an evangelical Protestant Christian, and I think that view of the world is correct according to logic and evidence. Well, I found an article on this that provides the philosophical theology perspective, from Dr. William Lane Craig. You can’t do better than him.
The first and most fundamental truth that we must hold on to is that the biblical hope of immortality is physical, bodily resurrection. I repeat: The biblical hope for immortality is physical, bodily resurrection. The biblical hope is not that the soul will someday be separated from the body and fly off to heaven and be forever with God in heaven in this disembodied existence. That’s actually a very Greek understanding of the afterlife, from the Greek philosophers like Plato, and it’s very different from the Jewish-Hebrew way of thinking of the afterlife. For Jews and for the early Christians alike, the hope of immortality was not the immortality of the soul alone but rather the resurrection of the body. This physical body will be raised from the dead and transformed to immortal life.
He cites 1 Cor 15:20 and Phil 3:20-21 as support.
And do we get our resurrection bodies right away?
Now that raises the next question: When do we receive our resurrection bodies? When do we get our resurrection body? Is it immediately upon death? When we die, do we immediately receive our resurrection body? Well, the answer to that is, no. That idea fails to take seriously the physical nature of the resurrection. The resurrection body is not some different body. It is this body transformed into a glorious, immortal, Spirit-filled, incorruptible form. So if we received our resurrection body immediately upon death, the graves of all the Christians would be empty! There would be no corpses left in the tombs because our resurrection bodies are the transformation of this earthly body. Therefore, the resurrection doesn’t take place immediately upon death. Rather the Scriptures are fairly clear that this takes place at the second coming of Christ, when Christ returns to earth.
He cites 1 Cor 15:21-23, 51-52 for support, as well as 1 Thes 4:13-17.
And what about the time in between death and the second coming of Christ? After all, in Luke 23:39-43, Jesus tells the dying thief who believes in him that he’ll be with Jesus in Paradise that very day:
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?
41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Dr. Craig says:
[T]he Bible indicates is that the soul does survive the death of the body. Human death does not mean extinction. Human death is simply the separation of the soul from the body. While the body dies biologically and decays away, the soul continues to exist and continues to live in a disembodied state. In between your death and your resurrection you will exist as a disembodied soul, a soul without a body, in a conscious state.
And he cites Phil 1:21-24, where it talks about how life after death, but before the resurrection, is an improvement, because he will be with Christ, which is “far better”. Those who don’t accept Jesus as Lord and Savior will also have a life after death, but apart from Christ. And they’ll also have a resurrection, but not to eternal life with Christ:
In John 5 there’s a very interesting passage where Jesus speaks about the resurrection, and He says that there will be a resurrection, not only of the righteous dead, but even also of the unrighteous dead. John 5:28-29. Look at this saying by Jesus: “Do not marvel at this. For the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation.” Jesus envisions that all people will be raised from the dead. Those who are believers, the righteous dead, will be raised to the resurrection of life; but the unrighteous dead, those who have rejected God’s grace and His love, will be raised to the resurrection of condemnation.
Dr. Craig also talks about the story of Lazarus, where the rich man, who is not saved, is in Hades, which is the Greek word for the Hebrew word “Sheol”, which you may recognize from the Psalms.
Dr. Craig writes:
When people die, the righteous go to be with Christ, where they will await their resurrection from the dead. The damned go to Hades, where they are in a disembodied state where they await their resurrection to final judgment. Only then are people ushered in to their final state, which is heaven or hell.
I cannot wait until I get my resurrection body. I have a very good idea of what I’d like it to be, too. I think about the resurrection a lot, and really look forward to it. I had a difficult life in many ways. There are things that have not been resolved, like not being married, and being stuck as a virgin! And then there’s the troubles I sometimes have at work, when atheists who are younger and more dedicated than me make me feel inadequate. I was a hard worker in my 20s and 30s, but now in my 40s, I just feel like I would rather be doing things I really care about, and it’s sometimes hard to focus, especially when retirement is just around the corner – around age 50.
Sometimes, I find myself driving home in my beautiful city and state, and I just think, the most important things are not all this prosperity and freedom God blessed me with, but that vertical relationship with God. And I wish I was doing more to really show Jesus that he is Lord of my life. But my hope is that in the end, I will share in his vindication, being clothed in a righteousness that I did not earn myself.