What Happens When We Die?

The book of Genesis records the beginning of life.

…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Genesis 2:7

Man was first of all formed from the dust of the earth, and only became a living creature when God gave that vital breath of life. Genesis also records the origin of death – man and woman disobeyed God’s commandment and so they were punished.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Genesis 3:19

Genesis chapter 1 tells us that we have been created in God’s image. But beyond that, there is little difference between mankind and animals. Animals too have been formed from the dust, and made living creatures by God’s breath of life. Later in Genesis we read of a flood that covered the earth, as punishment for the wickedness of men and women. Here the point is made that as far as the breath of life is concerned, men and women are the same as animals.

And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died.

Genesis 7:21-22

The following passage in Ecclesiastes leaves us in no doubt about this point:

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

Ecclesiastes 3:19-20

What becomes of us when we die?

The passages quoted above speak of returning to the dust – a concept that we understand from our knowledge of the decay a body following death. But is there anything else? This trio of quotations helps to answer that question:

For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

Psalm 6:5

The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.

Psalm 115:17

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten… Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:5-10

Emphatically then, when we die, there is nothing beyond the decay of our lifeless bodies. We have no consciousness; there is no longer an existence of our person in any form. Death is a punishment for sin, and without further provision it is an utter end.

But the Bible tells us there is hope beyond the grave. It likens death to a sleep, pointing to a promise of being awake – alive – once again.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Daniel 12:2

There is no guarantee – for some death will be final and everlasting – but if we are willing to serve God, he is willing to forgive us and give us the gift of everlasting life in his coming kingdom.

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

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