Mrs. Jones watches her father* pass from this life into the next. He was a born again believer in Christ, and when he passed away, he had a wonderful glow on his face. To those in the room, it seemed Mr. Jones actually recognized people in heaven.
Little crippled Suzanne* had used a wheelchair all five of her years on earth. One fall evening, she passed from this life to the next in her sleep. At her funeral, the pastor mentioned she might be running on streets of gold.
Lula Smith* had been diagnosed with cancer for two years before she passed into the arms of her Savior. She had been a marvelous witness for the Lord while experiencing excruciating pain, going through chemo, and finally becoming bedridden and going into hospice care. For her family, it was a relief knowing she was in a better place and free of pain and suffering.
What happens when a Christian dies?
When do Christians get their glorified bodies?
God wants us to understand. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (go before) them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). This, of course, is talking about the Rapture, when Jesus comes and gathers His own in the clouds. It’s the first stage of Jesus’ Second Coming.
Let’s look at another passage. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. . . . But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? . . . So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam (Jesus) was made a quickening (life-giving) spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Obviously, fleshly bodies can’t go to heaven. We continue reading to find out what really happens: Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:22-23, 35, 42-54).
When the trumpet sounds at the Rapture, the change happens. Those already in heaven and those believers who are raised up with Jesus will get incorruptible bodies.
So, what happened to those who died in Christ before the Rapture? They’re spirits living in heaven. When Jesus comes in the cloud in the Rapture, those spirits—and all raptured saints—will get glorified bodies.
When a person dies and he recognizes faces in heaven, what exactly is he seeing? I’m not sure. He might be seeing someone who’s gone on before, maybe a relative. He might see Jesus or angels. But, he’s recognizing spirits, not bodies (except for Jesus, who has a glorified body).
Do you remember Jesus’ telling about the men who had died? (This was an actual story, not a parable.) One was a beggar named Lazarus. He died and went to “Abraham’s bosom.” The other was a rich man who went to hell. Somehow, the rich man could see across the divide, and he recognized Lazarus in heaven. He pleaded with Abraham have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. And, Abraham answered him and told him it was impossible. Then, the rich man asked for Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers. Abraham replied, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he (the rich man) said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.** From this clear teaching of Jesus, we understand that people who pass on do know their departed family members, friends, and the saints who’ve gone on before—like Abraham.
Little Suzanne is happy in Paradise. She’s no longer crippled, and she is with Jesus. Likewise, Lula Smith and Mr. Jones are free of pain and joyful in the presence of their Savior.
We remember that the Apostle Paul said, We are . . . willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
Scripture also teaches that we will be waiting for the Rapture for our glorified bodies.
- And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23).
- For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle (body) were dissolved, we have a building (body) of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle (body) do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).
- Who (Jesus) shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption,
and this mortal shall have put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory.
(1 Corinthians 15:54)
* These names and cases are fictitious.
** For the complete account, read Luke 16:19-31.