In my last post “Heaven...What...Where...Who’s Been There?”, I said that when Christians die we go to be in God’s presence. Since God is in heaven then we can conclude that Christians go to heaven (some may call it paradise) when we die. I also asserted that the only person who has been to heaven and returned or will return to earth in a physical body is our Savior, Jesus Christ.
John 3:13 (NKJV) No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
In fact I wrote an entire section, in the post, dealing with this fact.
Since the body won’t be with the Lord until the resurrection, and we know that when Christians die we are absent from the body but with the Lord then what is with the Lord? Is it the spirit or is it the soul?
2 Corinthians 5:8 (NLT) 8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.
The Tripartite Nature of Man
To understand the Christian doctrine of everlasting life and immortality we need to understand the tripartite nature of man. Tripartite is an adjective meaning consisting of three parts.
Christians believe that we consist of three parts because man was created in the image of God and God is a Trinity (the Christian Godhead as one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a group of three people or things. the state of being three).
Genesis 1:26 (NLT)26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Matthew 28:19 (NLT)19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Christianity, other religions, even those who are not religious, believe that man is more than just a physical being. A prevalent idea is that man consists of only two component parts; either body and soul, or body and spirit. The soul and spirit are very closely related and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them.
The bible is clear, however, that man is made of body, soul and spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NLT)23 Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again.
Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Bold mine)
What Goes To Be With The Lord, Body, Soul or Spirit?
First some definitions:
The Body (Greek, "soma")
This is the physical part of a person.
It is easy to recognize the body as the physical matter that makes up a person. The body is clearly distinct from the soul and spirit in several ways:
The Soul (Greek psyche)
Merriam-Webster Dictionary - : the spiritual part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and in many religions is believed to live forever: a person's deeply felt moral and emotional nature: the ability of a person to feel kindness and sympathy for others, to appreciate beauty and art, etc.
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - The Old Testament. The Hebrew word so rendered is nepes. It appears 755 times in the Old Testament. The King James Version uses 42 different English terms to translate it. The two most common renderings are "soul" (428 times) and "life" (117 times). It is the synchronic use of nepes that determines its meaning rather than the diachronic. Hebrew is inclined to use one and the same word for a variety of functions that are labeled with distinct words in English. Nepes in the Old Testament is never the "immortal soul" but simply the life principle or living being.
The New Testament. The counterpart to nepesin the New Testament is psyche(nepes is translated as psychesix hundred times in the Septaugint). Compared to nepes in the Old Testament,psyche appears relatively infrequently in the New Testament. This may be due to the fact that nepesis used extensively in poetic literature, which is more prevalent in the Old Testament than the New Testament. The Pauline Epistles concentrate more on soma(body) and pneuma (spirit) than psyche.
It frequently designates life: one can risk his life ( John 13:37 ; Acts 15:26 ; Rom 16:4 ; Php 2:30 ), give his life ( Matt 20:28 ), lay down his life ( John 10:15 John 10:17-18), forfeit his life ( Matt 16:26 ), hate his life ( Luke 14:26 ), and have his life demanded of him ( Luke 12:20 ).
Psyche, as its Old Testament counterpart, can indicate the person ( Acts 2:41 ; 27:37 ). It also serves as the reflexive pronoun designating the self ("I'll say to myself" Luke 12:19 ; "as my witness" 2 Cor 1:23 ; "share our lives"1 Thess 2:8 ).
Psyche can express emotions such as grief ( Matt 26:38, ; Mark 14:34 ), anguish ( John 12:27 ), exultation ( Luke 1:46 ), and pleasure ( Matt 12:18 ).
The adjectival form "soulish" indicates a person governed by the sensuous nature with subjection to appetite and passion. Such a person is "natural/unspiritual" and cannot receive the gifts of God's Spirit because they make no sense to him ( 1 Cor 2:14-15 ). As in the Old Testament, the soul relates humans to the animal world ( 1 Cor 15:42-50 ) while it is the spirit of people that allows a dynamic relationship with God.
There are passages where psyche stands in contrast to the body, and there it seems to refer to an immortal part of man. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" ( Matt 10:28 ). While Scripture generally addresses humans as unitary beings, there are such passages that seem to allow divisibility within unity. (Bold mine)
The Spirit (Greek pneuma)
Merriam-Webster Dictionary - the force within a person that is believed to give the body life, energy, and power: the inner quality or nature of a person: a person
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology The Old Testament. The Hebrew word for "spirit" is ruah. It appears 389 times in the Old Testament. Its varied use almost defies analysis, but some emphases are discernible. It is used more often of God (136 times) than of persons or animals (129 times).
Its basic meaning is wind (113 times). The trees of the forest sway before a wind ( Isa 7:2 ); a wind sweeps over the waters ( Gen 1:2 ); and the Lord walked in the garden at the breezy time of day ( Gen 3:8 ). It was an east wind that brought locusts ( Exodus 10:13 ) and a strong east wind that divided the Red Sea and dried it up ( Exodus 14:21 ).
Breath is also a basic meaning of this term. It is the Lord who gives breath to people ( Isa 42:5 ) and to lifeless bodies ( in 1:1 Ezek 37:9-10 in ; this chapter there is a wordplay on ruah, allowing it to mean wind, breath, spirit a similar phenomenon is found in John 3:5 John 3:8 ; where pneuma means both wind and spirit ). It is also used of bad breath Job's breath was repulsive to his wife ( Job 19:17 ).
By extension when applied to a person ruah comes to mean vital powers or strength. It is the spirit that sustains a person through illness ( Prov 18:14 ), but the spirit of the troubled person can be crushed ( Psalm 34:18). This dynamic force can be impaired or diminished as well as renewed or increased. It was a drink that caused the spirit (strength) of Samson to return and revive him ( Jud 15:18-19 ) and the coming of the wagons from Egypt that revived Jacob's numb heart ( Gen 45:26-27 ). Spirit also bespeaks limitations. When taken back, the person returns to dust ( Psalm 104:29-30 ).
The New Testament. Pneuma is the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament ruah. While it occasionally means wind ( John 3:8 ) and breath ( Matt 27:50 ; 2 Thess 2:8 ), it is most generally translates "spirit"an incorporeal (not composed of matter; having no material existence), feeling, and intelligent being.
In the New Testament spirit is also seen as that dimension of human personality whereby relationship with God is possible ( Mark 2:8 ; Acts 7:59 ; Rom 1:9 ; 8:16 ; 1 Cor 5:3-5 ). It is this human spiritual nature that enables continuing conversation with the divine Spirit ( Rom 8:9-17 ).
Occasionally pneuma will be treated in a parallel structure with psyche. The terms seem to be one and the same ( Luke 1:46-47 ) and seem to be interchangeable. On the other hand, there are passages that distinguish between the two. Paul speaks of Adam as a "living soul" but of Christ as a "life-giving spirit." The one is oriented to human life and the other to heavenly life. (Bold mine)
Now back to the question what goes to be present with the Lord?
First let’s look at an illustration of the tripartite nature of man by Dr. Clarence Larkin from his book “Rightly Dividing The Word”, page 86);
“In the outer circle the ‘Body’ is shown as touching the Material world through the five senses of ‘Sight,’ ‘Smell,’ ‘Hearing,’ ‘Taste’ and ‘Touch.’
The Gates to the ‘Soul’ are ‘Imagination,’ ‘Conscience,’ ‘Memory,’ ‘Reason’ and the ‘Affections.’
The “Spirit” receives impressions of outward and material things through the soul. The spiritual faculties of the ‘Spirit’ are ‘Faith,’ ‘Hope,’ ‘Reverence,’ ‘Prayer’ and ‘Worship.’
Is it the Body?
We know that the body doesn’t go to be with the Lord because at death it decays and then is reconstituted in some manner at the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:50-54 (NLT)50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NLT)13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.18 So encourage each other with these words.
Is it the Spirit?
The spirit then is where regeneration, “being born again” takes place.
John 3:3-8 (NLT)3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
The spirit of man must be born again before there can be an understanding of the spiritual things of God. Man’s spirit must be renewed.
1 Corinthians 2:9-11 (NLT)9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit.
Is it the Soul?
Since man is tripartite while alive all three parts, body, spirit, and soul are alive. I have just talked about the spirit being born again while the body is still alive so the soul must also be alive. We not only have a living soul be we are living souls.
Genesis 2:7 (KJV)7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
In our illustration we saw that the spirit is where God through the Holy Spirit operates. The soul is where imagination, conscience, memory, reason, and affections or emotions operate. We could sum it up by saying the mind is where the soul operates. In my series on spiritual warfare we found that the mind is where this war takes place so it’s the place where Satan attacks by appealing to our emotions, twisting our imaginations, causing us to doubt God. It’s when we have been born again and our spirits regenerated that we can now direct our imaginations, conscience, memory, reason, and affections or emotions to God.
2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (KJV)4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;)5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;6 And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
Psalm 23:3 (KJV)3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Psalm 103:1 (KJV) Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
So What Does Happen When Man Dies?
Consider this. Death is creation in reverse. Remember that Genesis 2:7 said that God breathed the breath of life into man and he became a living soul. The Hebrew word in this verse is nepes which means “living creature” (refer to the definitions of soul earlier in the post). The Hebrew word for “breath of life” is “ruach” which means “wind, breath, spirit” (refer to the definition of spirit earlier in the post). So SOUL = BODY + BREATH OF LIFE. Think about it this way LIGHT = BULB + ELECTRICITY.
When death, the “light bulb” goes out the power returns to the battery and the blub is lifeless the light ceases to exist. The same is true with the soul, which in our analogy is the blub. The power returns to God who gave it. The soul no longer exist and the body is lifeless. The power or the “breath of life”, the spirit returns to God who gave it, and the body returns to dust. Creation in reverse.
Genesis 3:19 (KJV)19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
If the regenerated spirits of those who have been born again (Christians) go to be in God’s presence where do the unregenerated spirits of those who were not born again when they died? The story that Jesus told of Lazarus the beggar and the rich man may give us an idea. The story is in Luke
Luke 16:19-31 (NLT)19 Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury.20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores.21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.22 “Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried,23 and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.24 “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’25 “But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish.
26 And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’27 “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home.28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’29 “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’30 “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Many people think that the main point is that Lazarus is in the place of the righteous and the rich man in the place of torment. What I believe that it indicates is that when an unbeliever dies his soul dies and his spirit leaves his body just like that of the believer. The scriptures say that the believers go to be in the presence of the Lord and this story, told by Jesus, indicates that unbelievers go to a place of torment.
What About the Unbeliever?
I made mention of the resurrection earlier in the post. That resurrection is not just for the believer but for the unbeliever as well. I won’t go into detail in this post but the resurrected bodies live forever. The believer living on a new earth and the unbelievers with their bodies will be sent to the lake of fire for all eternity.
Revelation 20:11-15 (NLT)11 And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide.12 I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.
13 The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds.14 Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death.15 And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.
This is the fate for all of those who refuse to accept the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as payment for their sins.
It doesn’t have to be your fate. If you want to experience eternal life in God’s presence in addition to experiencing the joy of the Lord now all you have to do is confess that you are a sinner in need of a Saviour and the God has already provided that Savior in the person of His Son. Then do this:
Romans 10:9 (NLT) If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Pray this prayer in all sincerity. It doesn’t matter where you are. You may be at your desk on your computer, or somewhere on your laptop, you may be reading this on your smartphone, or your tablet. It doesn’t matter just pray in all sincerity. Don’t just say it if you don’t really mean it, because if you do you will just be speaking words. But if you are tired of trying to change things in your own power, and are ready to turn your life over to the One who can make you a new creature with a renewed heart and mind pray;
“God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!”
If you truly understand and believe what you just prayed then you will spend all eternity in God’s presence. If you die before Jesus returns your spirit will immediately go to be in God’s presence then at the resurrection your spirit will join your regenerated and immortal body and remain with God forever. Meanwhile there are promises that God has made to you as a believer, to find out what they are and how they apply to you find a bible believing church and start to fellowship with other believers. Welcome to the family of God my brother or sister.
This blog is for you! If you have any questions or topics you would like me to address please use the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.