What Happens When a Believer Dies?*

A reader recently wrote us to ask, “In your book you state that when a Christian dies part goes to the grave and part goes to the feet of Jesus Christ. Where can I find that in the Bible?”

Jesus told the dying thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The apostle Paul said that to die was to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23), and to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). After their deaths, martyrs are pictured in Heaven, crying out to God to bring justice on Earth (Revelation 6:9-11).

I share more in this video:


I mentioned the analogy of someone stepping outside a room, and how they’ve simply changed locations, not ceased to exist. In my book Heaven, I share a story about five-year-old Emily Kimball, which over the years, readers have told me has helped them and their loved ones:

When Emily was hospitalized and heard she was going to die, she started to cry. Even though she loved Jesus and wanted to be with him, she didn’t want to leave her family behind. Then her mother had an inspired idea. She asked Emily to step through a doorway into another room, and she closed the door behind her. One at a time, the entire family started coming through the door to join her. Her mother explained that this was how it would be. Emily would go ahead to Heaven and then the rest of the family would follow. Emily understood. She would be the first to go through death’s door. Eventually, the rest of the family would follow, probably one by one, joining her on the other side.

The analogy would have been even more complete if the room that Emily entered had had someone representing Jesus to greet her—along with departed loved ones and Bible characters and angels. Also, it would’ve helped if the room she walked into was breathtakingly beautiful, and contained pictures of a New Earth, vast and unexplored, where Emily and her family and friends would one day go to live with Jesus forever.

Every person reading this article is dying. Perhaps you have reason to believe that death will come very soon. You may be troubled, feeling uncertain, or unready to leave. Make sure of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Be certain that you’re trusting Him alone to save you—not anyone or anything else, and certainly not any good works you’ve done. And then allow yourself to get excited about what’s on the other side of death’s door.

I’ve often read at memorial services this depiction of a believer’s death:

I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.”

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

The place of our arrival will be a beautiful, though temporary, place where we’ll await the culmination of history: the return of the risen Jesus, who will resurrect us. When His millennial reign is accomplished (whether that’s a nonliteral present reign or a literal thousand-year future reign), we’ll join Him in ruling the New Earth, free of sin and the Curse.

Five months before he died, C. S. Lewis wrote to a woman who feared that her own death was imminent. Lewis said, “Can you not see death as a friend and deliverer? . . . What is there to be afraid of? . . .Your sins are confessed. . . . Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind. . . . Our Lord says to you, ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’ . . . Of course, this may not be the end. Then make it a good rehearsal.”

Lewis signed the letter, “Yours (and like you, a tired traveler, near the journey’s end).”

We see life differently when we realize that death isn’t a wall but a turnstile; a small obstacle that marks a great beginning.

Photo by Harrison Haines from Pexels

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

* By Randy Alcorn January 31, 2022

A friend who lost his wife this past week shared this post from Randy, it encouraged him to be looking at her homegoing as just going on ahead of the rest of the family. She had been in declining health for some time but a round with Covid-19 and a couple weeks in hospice and being hospitalized because of the virus, she walked the the door a day or two after her birthday. Life can take any of us down a different road and maybe a final door. My father died short of 54 from a heart attack while jogging, I’ve out lived him more than 15 years. My mother past 14 months ago two months shy of 97. I had a birthday this week and so reflecting on this seemed rather timely; looking back and looking forward.

How does looking at death as door strike you? Does the hope that comes from being a Christ-follower make a difference?

If you don’t know Christ personally, would you like to know Him, to have true hope for your future, and peace to navigate the uncharted and turbulent seas of this life? You can, I can help you on that journey of discovery. The Bible explains how you can.

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