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What Happens When a Christian Dies?


A Christian is a person who owns two homes. The home you are living in now is a temporary one, a “tent.” But you have another home that is more enduring, more substantial. The date for your moving to your new home has not yet been given, but it is already known to God.

You have an enduring home.

What exactly is this new home? Nobody I have read deals with this question better than Charles Hodge, the great teacher of an earlier century, from Princeton. In his commentary on 2 Corinthians1, Hodge asks, “What is the building into which the soul enters when the present body is taken down?” He lists three possibilities:

  1. Heaven itself
  2. The resurrection body
  3. Some kind of temporary, intermediate body

Hodge quickly dismisses option number 3; the idea an interim body is taught nowhere in Scripture. Besides, Paul says that the new “house” is eternal (2 Cor. 5:1), so it could hardly be temporary.

With regard to number 2, Hodge points out that a resurrection body is the gift of God to all believers when Christ returns in glory. Christians who die still have to wait for that gift, even though they are already in the Lord’s presence. No Christian has the resurrection body at this time. Paul does not have it, nor Peter, nor John. The only person who has the resurrection body right now is Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:8 tells us the Christian who has died is now “at home.” Paul writes, “To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord!” So, I am convinced, with Hodge and many others, that the home referred to here is heaven itself.  Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms… I go and prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2-3). And Abraham, who lived in tents, was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

The Christian is a person with two houses. The contrast between them could hardly be greater. The first house for your soul is your body, which is like a tent – a fragile structure that will be destroyed. When this house is pulled down, you will move into your other house, which is heaven – an enduring building to live in forever. Heaven is the eternal home into which your soul will enter when its present house is destroyed. In the earthly tent there is groaning, but in the “house not made with hands” what is mortal is swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:4)!

But what actually happens immediately after Christian closes his or her eyes in death?

Your soul is separated from your body.  

Death is referred to as an enemy, the last enemy. Death is the undoing of our nature, the tearing apart of what God has joined together. God created your life by knitting your body and soul together. This interconnection is so complex that we can hardly imagine life without the body.

Try to imagine shutting down all the functions of the body, one by one – you can no longer see, or hear, or speak, or eat, or walk, or move. Eventually, you would be conscious but unable to function. That’s why Paul says, “we long to put on our heavenly dwelling, that we may not be found naked” (2 Cor. 5:3). Nobody in their right mind wants their soul to be separated from their body.

If the only thing to say about death was this eviction of the soul from the body, it would be terrifying indeed. Who wants to be a shivering ghost, lost in space without a home? Nobody wants that. Thank God, that’s not what happens.

Your soul moves into its new home.  

Christian, when God takes down your tent, your soul will not be lost in space without a resting place. The moment you leave the tent, your soul will be at home in the building. To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

My wife, Karen, and I have moved only once in all of our married lives. We moved from a home owned by the church we served in London to a home that we bought when we came to the United States. That four-thousand-mile journey took some time.

But the moment you leave the tent, you will arrive in the building – an instant move! Away from the body – at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). You will not be out there and homeless. For the Christian, death is an immediate translation into the presence of the Lord. You exchange the tent for the building, earth for heaven. You exchange the temporary for the eternal, the pain of groaning for the joy of glory.

You’re prepared for this!

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God (2 Cor. 5:5).

How has God prepared you to move from the tent to the building? He sent His Son into the world to prepare a place in heaven for you. He sent His Spirit into your heart to prepare you for your place there. God has given us His Spirit as a guarantee.

The Old Testament describes the tabernacle, which was a tent. It tells us that the cloud of God’s presence came into the tent. Now Paul says that your body is a “tent”, and the Holy Spirit of God comes down to dwell in this tent with you. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Christ lives in you. He is with you in the tent! God makes his home with you in the tent until the day when you make your home with him in the house that is eternal in the heavens.

This revelation about the Christian’s life in heaven is a marvelous gift! God did not need to tell us anything about life beyond the tent. He could have said, “Trust me, and wait and see.” But God did not do that.

God pulls back the curtain so that believers can say, “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” And when you find yourself groaning in the tent, that knowledge will keep you from losing heart.

This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Prepared for Something Better”, from his series Don’t Lose Heart.
1. Charles Hodge, ed. Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: 2 Corinthians (Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 90-92.

This article originally appeared here.