What happens at the moment of death? Well, it’s important, first of all, to understand that you are more than just a physical being, more than just a body and a brain and internal organs.
Scripture says that we are spirit, soul and body. The spirit and the soul have been variously defined, but I think everybody can agree that the hidden person of the heart (Romans 7:22) as Paul refers to the spirit, is the real you. It’s the part of you that when the body is no longer functioning, no longer alive, the spirit then lives on.
In fact, remember that James wrote in his epistle that just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:26). So there you have it. The body without the spirit is dead.
When Your Heart Stops Beating
When your heart stops beating, when there’s no longer any breathing going on, the spirit evacuates the body.
It’s interesting, because we hear those stories about people who die on the operating table, and then they’re resuscitated and so forth, and a lot of them say the same things. “I left my body. I came out of my body,” And they describe “I” as a person who has features just like a body has. “I floated above my body and I looked down.” So I have eyes, so I have a head, I’m looking down, I’m seeing them trying to get my heart going again.
Sometimes people describe things that happened in the operating room that they wouldn’t have known otherwise from any other vantage point other than being up above their body. So interesting stuff, and we don’t want to build a theology on what happens in operating rooms, but this is biblical.
You are a spiritual being. So at the moment of death, here’s the first thing that happens: the spirit leaves the body. There’s some indication that angels will be there. We know that when Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, they talked about how the angels escorted Lazarus to, in this case, what was called “Abraham’s bosom” or “paradise” (See Luke 16:19-31).
What’s Coming After Death is Judgment
Now, a lot of people get worked up all about the technicalities and the timing and so forth. But the most important thing to remember is that what’s coming after death is judgment.
The writer of Hebrews said that it’s appointed for man to die once, and then comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). If you really look at life from God’s perspective, all that life is is a preparation for the day when we’ll stand before him to give an account for what we’ve done with what he gave us. It will be a judgment according to our works.
A lot of preachers are quick to say, “Oh, yeah, but our works don’t determine whether or not He’s going to pronounce as saved or unsaved or go to heaven or go to hell. That’s just to determine our rewards.”
Okay, I’ll agree with you in part on that, that we all will be rewarded according to our works, according to the deeds that we’ve done in the body, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:10. But our works also will be the determining factor on whether or not we’re ushered into the Kingdom of God or if we’re cast off as God’s garbage, as it were, into hell.
The Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats
The reason I say that is because it’s totally 100% scriptural. There are a number of scriptures we could go to to validate that, but the most common one, the first one that comes to my mind, is, of course, Jesus’ foretelling of the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46.
Jesus puts the sheep on His right and says, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And then He goes on to list the works that they did.
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. – vv. 35-36
Then He turns to the goats on His left and says, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.” Again, they’re judged by their works.
… for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me. – vv. 42-43
Saved by Grace Unto Good Works
Are we saved by our works? Can you, at this point in time, earn your way into heaven? No, that would be impossible for most all of us who have ever sinned. We are all going to need grace in order to be saved.
Thank God, that grace has been offered through Jesus who paid for our sins! He was the ransom for our sins. So, you’re not going to get into heaven without Jesus.
But here’s the deal. Part of the package of salvation is not just forgiveness of sins, it’s the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new birth and a transformation and a new desire, a new heart that God gives us.
The Evidence of Saving Faith
So, the evidence of a person who’s truly believed in Jesus, who has saving faith, is a person who is proving their love for Jesus by their love that they’re showing to the “least of these”.
As a matter of fact, that’s exactly why I’m in Burma right now. We’ve been working here for 15 years and working with the least of these, focused initially on children stuck in orphanages, and we eventually discovered that most of them weren’t orphans. And so now we’re working hard to get them reunited with their families or placed in loving, Christian families wherever possible.
But we’re also serving the poor in many other ways here amongst our spiritual family. It’s all because Jesus has come to live inside of us. And all the people that support the work that we’re doing here, their support is evidence that they are saved. When they stand at the judgment, there is going to be some evidence that they really did believe in Jesus.
The Most Ridiculous Theory in the History of Christianity
Now, some folks, of course, will come up with some complicated explanation to say that we’re never going to stand at the judgment of the sheep and the goats. That’s only for post-tribulational nations. And God is going to divide the nations between those that were kind to Israel during the tribulation, (“the least of these My brothers” because Jesus was a Jew and all that). He’ll separate them and the nations that were kind to Israel so that they’ll get to continue in the millennium.
This is the most ridiculous theory that has ever been proposed, I think, in the history of Christianity. These nations didn’t get to enter the millennium or not; they went to heaven or hell. This is salvation or damnation. It’s nothing to do with the millennium.
Read it for yourself and you can see. Jesus is not talking about the least of these my brethren as being the Jews. Jesus made very clear who are His brothers and sisters: those who do the will of the Father, those who are children of God, those who are the brothers of Christ, those who have been born again by his Spirit (see Matthew 12:50). Okay?
All right, so this is a Little Lesson, not a long lesson!
But that’s what’s going to happen when you die: you’re going to stand before Jesus and your works will determine right off the bat whether you truly believed in Him or not. And then, of course, your works will be rewarded. As long as your works give evidence that you’re saved, then there are definitely rewards that await those who were faithful, and not everyone is going to receive the same reward.
Okay, more to say on that next time. Hope to see you in our next Little Lesson! God bless.