What Does the Bible Teach Regarding Saints that Die?

Death of JacobWhat does the Bible teach regarding saints that die? Are they alive in another state (paradise)? Or asleep in the grave until the resurrection?

Let’s add some Bible verses to this to expand upon the question.  Jesus told the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”  Jesus saying that the thief would be with Him in paradise seems to indicate that they would be aware of one another and know one another once they got there.  On the other hand, in Acts 7:60, we read about Stephen who was being stoned to death: “Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”  When Luke writes that “he fell asleep,” he means that he died, but some have read this as referring to some kind of deathly state in which there is no consciousness like sometimes when we sleep.  So the questioner wants to know whether we will be conscious after we die or unconscious.  What does the Bible say about this?

In Luke 16:19-31 we have the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  In this story, Jesus tells about two men who die and pass on to the next life.  Lazarus is comforted while the Rich Man is tormented.  We also see that they are aware of one another’s presence, and know who each other is.  Some have said that this is just a parable and that it doesn’t have any other significance than that.  Others have said that this is a real story and that Jesus does not introduce it as a parable.  It is true that Jesus never says at the beginning of this story what he says at the beginning of most parables, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto . . . .”  This also isn’t what a typical parable looks like using an earthly illustration to teach a spiritual truth.  The whole scene takes place in the afterlife and the message is that we need to listen to Jesus before it is too late and we end up like the Rich Man.  So this appears to be a real story that Jesus is using.

What does that mean?  It means that we will be conscious after death and will know one another.  This also means that when Jesus says he would be with the thief in Paradise that we can take Jesus literally that they would be with one another and would know one another.  Paul also says in Philippians 1:23, “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”  Paul’s statement here also indicates that after death he would be with Christ which he considered to be far better.

So what do we make of all of the passages that talk about the Christian being asleep?  The literal state of sleep is a state that we recognize from which one will wake up.  This then became a metaphor for the death and resurrection of a Christian.  The implication is that one day the Christian will wake up.  This is not to say, necessarily, that the Christian is in a state of unconsciousness after death.  Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”  They are only “asleep” inasmuch as they have not been resurrected from the dead.  At the resurrection, we will “wake up” in the sense that we will receive a resurrected body.