What Happens When You Die – An Easter Meditation

Several years ago I received an urgent call to visit a dying man in the hospital. I didn’t know Peter well, but well enough to know that he was paying a high price for his hard living. Years of drugs and alcohol had pilfered his system. Though he’d made peace with God through Christ, his liver was at conflict with his body.

When his ex-wife phoned, she was standing at his bedside. Peter, she explained, was knocking at death’s door. Though I hurried, he entered it seconds before I arrived. The hospital room atmosphere had a …just happened… feel to it. The ex-wife was still standing by the bed. His hair was stroked back from her touch. The imprint of a lipstick kiss was just below the knuckles on his left hand. Perspiration beads sparkled on his forehead.

She saw me enter and looked up. With her eyes and words she explained, “He just left.”

He silently slipped out. Exited. Departed. He passed, not away, but on. Yet on to where? And in what form? To what place? In what manner? And, once there, what did he see? Know or do? We so desire to know. Who in your life “just left?” When the breathing of your husband ceased, the beating heart in your womb stopped, when the beep of your grandmother’s monitor became a flat-lined tone, what happened in that final moment?

And, what will happen to you in yours? Barring the return of Christ, you will have one…a last gasp, a final pulse. Your lungs will empty and blood will still. Since the moment is inevitable, should we not prepare for it?

When asked the question, “What will we be after we die?” The human race has conjured up four answers.

  1. Nothing – we will decay and/or disintegrate. Death is a dead end. Our works and reputation might survive, not us.
  2. Ghosts – Phantoms of what we once were. Pale as Edgar Winters’ beard. Structured as a morning mist. What will we be after we die? Spectres.
  3. Or, hawks. Or, cows, or a car mechanic in Kokomo. Reincarnation rewards or punishes us according to our behavior. We come back to earth in another mortal body. Or,
  4. As part of the universe. Eternity absorbs us like a lake absorbs a storm. We return to what we were before we were what we are… we return to the cosmic consciousness of the universe.

According to some folks, we bury the soul when we bury the body like a wrapping with a hot dog, never expecting to see either again. Other people propose that the spirit abandons the body as a butterfly escapes the cocoon. Christianity, on the other hand, posits a new startling, surprising idea. What you had before death, you’ll have after death, only better, much, much better. You will go to paradise: heaven, but not home. Then, upon the return of Christ, you will receive a spiritual body and inhabit a restored universe. This is the promise of God. This promise hinges on the resurrection of Christ. The Christian hope depends entirely upon the assumption that Jesus Christ died a physical death, vacated an actual grave and ascended into heaven where he, at this moment, reigns as head of the church.

The Easter miracle, in other words, changed everything.

It was Sunday morning after the Friday execution. The sky was dark. The disciples had scattered. And the Roman executioner was wondering about breakfast, or work, or his next day off. But he was not wondering about the fellow he had nailed to a cross and pierced with a spear. Jesus was dead and buried. Yesterday’s news, right?

Wrong. God shook things up.

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.’” (Matthew 28:2–6)

Had such words never been spoken, had the body of Jesus decayed into dust within the borrowed tomb, you would not be reading this essay and we would not be discussing this promise. But the words were spoken and the promise was made more than once.

Jesus appeared to the women near the tomb and to the followers in the Upper Room. He appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and his friends on the shore of Galilee. He spoke with them. He ate with them. They touched his body, they heard his words. They were convinced that Jesus was risen from the dead.

And they drew this conclusion. His resurrection is the proof and promise of ours. What God did for him, he will do with us. When he rose from the dead, Jesus was the “first fruits” (I Corinthians 15:20,23). “First fruits” is the first taste of the harvest. The farmer can anticipate the nature of the crop by sampling the first crop. We can anticipate our own resurrection by trusting the empty tomb of Christ.

Here is what is going to happen to you.

Upon death, your spirit will immediately enter into the presence of God. You will enjoy conscious fellowship with the Father and with those who have gone before. We believe this to be true because of verses like this from the Apostle Paul:

“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

Paul believed that his last breath on earth would be followed by his first glimpse of Christ in paradise. The same is true for you. Say goodbye to loved ones. Say hello to God. You will then enjoy fellowship with God and loved ones until the day when Christ returns. “…the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God…all who are…in their graves will hear His voice…they will come out…” (John 5: 25,28-29 ).   He who created us, will collect us.   “The Lord, who scattered his people, will gather them together” (Jeremiah 31:10 ).

I’ve stood in cemeteries and attempted to imagine this moment. The road on which Denalyn and I take our walks is marked by a small, country cemetery. The headstones are faded beyond recognition. No dirt has been turned for a century. The few discernible names share a common last name. I assume that a family is buried there. It seems to be just one of the millions of burial spots around the planet. Yet, if these words are true, it will someday witness a miracle beyond words. The same God who shook the soil of Jerusalem will shake the soil of this simple cemetery. The grass will be pushed back from within. The caskets will open and the bodies of these forgotten farmers will be called into the sky.

Spirits will be reunited with bodies, glorified bodies.

The resurrected Jesus is our example. His resurrection body bore a semblance to the crucified one; but only a semblance. Jesus’ disciples, who lived with him for three years, didn’t recognize him at first. Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18), the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13-35), and the twelve (John 21:1-7), saw Jesus but didn’t see him as Jesus. He did familiar physical things such as walking and eating. He did things he had done, but appeared in a different form.

Were I to look at photos of you as an infant, I would experience the same phenomena. Perhaps, upon study, I would spot a common trait: the shape of your mouth or angle of your eyes. But finding common traits would require focus. You’ve changed!

But not nearly as much as you will; your new body will be so much better. ” …when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ).

“We shall be like him.” Let the amputees and infected, bed-ridden, and anemic put themselves to sleep with the promise, “We shall be like him.” Let the wheel-chair bound and atrophied take this promise to heart. “We shall be like him.” We shall graduate from this version to his likeness. We shall enjoy a body, like his made for heaven and earth.

Let this hope for tomorrow bring strength to today. Some of you indwell such road-weary bodies: knees ache, eyes dim, skin sags. Others of you exited the womb on an uphill ride. While I have no easy answers for your struggle, I invite… no, I implore you to stand with me on the promise of Paul.

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ).

©Max Lucado, March 22, 2016

78 comments on “What Happens When You Die – An Easter Meditation

  1. Thank you, Max! About 15 years ago, I received a book of yours called “Grace For The Moment” It helped me so much as I was recovering from a mastectomy and about to begin ten rounds of chemo. The Lord gave me grace for each difficult moment! Thank you for all your encouragement in Christ.

  2. Praise the Lord!

    Some will see her a long ways off and say “there she goes”. While others on the other side will see her and say, “here she comes”.

    Thank you, Jesusl.

  3. Thank you for your essay. It confirms what I have believed since childhood – in the country. God continue to bless and prosper you!

  4. This is precious and something I will share with my wheel-chair bound elderly neighbor. She is a faithful follower so she already knows this in her heart, but sometimes we all like to be reminded. Thank you for this wonderful message.

  5. I really enjoyed reading that and yes as a Christian when I started loosing really close family members and my dad I did cross my mind time to time we were taught ashes to ashes dust to dust but never really was totally told about the after thank you for sharing

  6. If you have asked the Lord our God to forgive you for your sins–When you die you will go straight to HEAVEN!!!!!

    1. I agree with Max Lucado. We will all enter heaven together after the return of Jesus. In the meantime, we are in the presence of God and in fellowship with those gone before us in Paradise. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.

  7. Hallelujah! Praise God for this truth and thank you for sharing it in such an eloquent manner! What I hope! What a Savior! <3

  8. So beautifully illustrated through tender thoughtful words! Thank you! I will need to share this again and again! Thank you Max for sharing this beautiful gift of writing and sharing from the heart of God to us! May He bless you more and more with His grace to bless, we, the body of Christ in hopes of bringing many sons to glory! Happy Resurrection!❤️

  9. How comforting to know that my sweet sibling , my only sister when she left this world so quickly ran right out of her sick body to the arms of JESUS. When her children made the choice to start slowly turning off her medicines that kept her heart pumping she flat lined in about 30 seconds . We all agreed she ran right out of her body right into Paradise . Oh! How comforting to know she is with the LORD JESUS and her parents and other loved ones gone on before us .
    Thanks for sharing this great TRUTH to be absent from the body IS to be PRESENT with the LORD JESUS . My peace and joy rest in this truth if a person has placed their faith and complete trust in Jesus alone and His finished work on the cross ! The tomb is empty because my SAVIOR IS RISEN ! JESUS CHRIST IS LORD !

  10. As you have described it, should believers then be buried and not cremated with ashes scattered to the winds?

  11. Thank you Max, for all you have written and for all the souls that have heard and believed your words of hope and love from the Lord our Savior. Have a very Blessed Easter!


  13. What a comforting promise. Our old aching bodies will quit aching and our new ones will be great. To ask Jesus/Yeshua all the questions I have always wondered about and just to seep in his presence will be wonderful.

  14. Amen- max you always have a way of beautifully explaining the beautiful words of God and bringing it home ! Love you

  15. i have been coming around to the lord for a long time. thank you for such an uplifting article. it is another way of looking at death when it’s my time to go meet the lord. i love the lord but wonder how long it will take to be a really good christian, but i’m getting there. again thank you for your insight.

  16. This is easy to understand –can’t go back but wish I had been taught the bible when I was growing up.So many things I should have been doing different. Thank you very much,Betty.

  17. After loosing both my sons Nathan first 4 years ago then his twin last year, this question is always on my mind. Thank you for this article

  18. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! And thank you Max for these encouraging words, and God’s promise to all of us who believe he died on the cross for our sins, and is coming back to take us home, to be with HIM!

  19. Wonderful !!! Excited for that day when this old body shall be renewed like him. When all sorrows of this life are gone. What a Great way to start my Birthday Today the 22nd in reading this!!! THANKS TO GOD ALMIGHTY !!! He is my Everything.

  20. Praise God for His promises are my foundation and I stand upon them. Thank you for your wonderful words of encouragement Max.

  21. Thank you, Pastor Max, for your encouraging message. I believe in the Bible. I believe that we shall be like Jesus. Praise God! What a day to look forward to. I shall not give up. I shall trust in the Lord all the days of my life. Amen.

  22. Enjoyed your commentary & thoughts on this, however, while reading it, one thing came to light, and it is somewhat of a concern. What is your take on believers who choose to be cremated upon their death. There is obviously no body to be resurrected. How would you view this, and thanks in advance for your reply. Thoroughly enjoy your books.

    1. It was once explained to me that not having a “grave” or an intact body does not matter. Our DNA is still in existence. Nothing God created can ever be fully destroyed. Plus, there are those who died at sea, those who died in epidemics in which all bodies were burned. Our God is able to raise us up on resurrection day no matter where our bodies are or in what condition. That is what I believe our Bible teaches us.

  23. I count on this promise with my whole heart because my special-needs daughter had a difficult life on earth and I look forward so to the day I’ll be reunited with her in her perfect body!

  24. Thank you for this beautiful and insightful article. I’ve always believed. But, my beloved husband passed on about 15 months ago, and I have had to re-examine so many things. I have wondered exactly where he “started out” when he left. This writing is helping to put some of the jumbled mess of grief into place. Although reading this brought tears, I believe it will soothe some of the painful questions that have lingered in my soul. I will share this, because it needs to be shared with so many hurting people. Again, thank you. God Bless you. See you on the other side.

  25. This is so beautiful, so well said, so much of what is written is in my heart, I live with disease, having grown up on the Flint River, I have lost friends and sister to this pollution. I could hold anger, but God has his purpose for everything. I live a difficult life of illness all the time, yet I will live this every day that God wants me too. As you so well said, life after our human form is so much better. We will have healthy bodies, no more awful pain, disease, but Glory, I will wait with anticipation for my meeting with Jesus, I will finally get to meet my Holy God and his son Jesus, as well as David and other great names is the Bible. But I will also be reunited with my baby sister, and my family that I miss so much, what a future we all have because of the love of your Father and the sacrifices made by Jesus. Amen

  26. Thank you for this article. I was reflecting yesterday about what it means when we say “saving the best for last”. I thought this world isn’t the best-it is what comes after we die. So God saved the best for last, our eternal life with Him, saved by his son Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit. So as Paul says, don’t give up even during the worst of circumstances-God is saving the best for last.

  27. What joy and promise of hope that most certainly will be. I find comfort in reading the words you have written – such peace in those words as I think of loved ones who have passed on before me. Thank you.

  28. Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Diane, Sweetheart, thank you for our 52 years together. I WILL see you again, soon! -Dan

  29. Thank you , Mr Lucado for the beautiful way you have expressed Jesus great sacrifice for all mankind. My heart is filled with Joy!

  30. AMAZING piece every time I read it. I AM SO GLAD AND BLESSED, that I KNOW this promise and KNOW that I will be reunited with those that have gone on but my spirit WILL BE in the presence of God! As I have read so many time recently, our last breathe on Earth will be our FIRST in HEAVEN! PRAISE GOD!!!!

  31. Thank you so much. I am not a well person and as im not afraid for myself I do worry about my children. Just reading your words makes me feel at peace and I thank you.


  33. Several comments have raised the question of cremation. Here is a response Max provided a few years ago: “Cremation only speeds up the natural decomposition process. God will have no problem resurrecting our bodies from whatever state of decomposition they are in at the time of his return.” — Ministry Staff

  34. Beautiful words that stir excitement for when time is done on earth. My brother (who was a wonderful Christian pastor) said reference cremation or any disaster where the body is basically unavailable, that the God who created us and formed our specific DNA could raise us from 1 molecule of our being. And since He’s God I would think he could create us even just by his spoken Word, as He did in the beginning–and as He did when he called Lazarus forth from the tomb (a picture of his creation power). So fear not ref the physical disposition of our body. As for unbelievers, from near-death experiences by the unsaved it sounds as though they are immediately in darkness, fear, separation and horror. Will they not also be raised but then face judgment and eternal hell; even as we are raised to live with Christ forever?

  35. Thank you so much for such a clear and encouraging meditation on the resurrection. It made sense to me for the first time even though I asked Jesus into my heart many years ago. I never before could really grasp that I would live again. Thank you

  36. Thank you! Beautiful! My husband passed Oct 3. The night before after Dr had told us at end I sat down by his bed side and looked up and his face was a glow and he lifted head and looked at me and said “0h, oh”. That has brought me so much peace. The next day it seemed was always seeing beyond. What a witness to family and friends. Believe with our dear grandson who was so brutally murdered when got home from Baylor for Christmas in home invasion 2011. Yes Dustin’s mother saw the last gasp and she and my other daughter and I saw the last air leaving his lungs but what a treasure he left us!

  37. Halleluyah. Jesus is alive. This article is fully of assurance and hope. Thank you Jesus. Thanks Pastor Max Lucado

  38. Thank you for this, Max. My mother’s funeral was Saturday, 3/19. I know that she is in Heaven with Jesus, and that I will see her again on that wonderful day. Reading this reassured me of that fact and comforted me. Thank you so much!

  39. Thank you, God, for sending Mr. Lucado and encouraging him to send this post. I know my mother has been with you for almost 3 years now and even though I’ve heard people say “it will get better”, it doesn’t. I’m trying to focus on all the memories and I do smile at those but the emptiness is still there and since nothing will ever fill it, I’m trying to learn to tolerate it. I’ve always been jealous of all my loved ones there with you. I know you will come back for me when the time is right. I can hardly wait. I’m so excited and ready to go. I can’t wait to hear “well done, my good and faithful servant”. You know my favorite saying….I can do anything thru Christ who strengthens me. I’m holding on and this post helped me to believe what I already knew. And Mr. Lucado, you are a true blessing!!

  40. I enjoy your writing, for years I read you daily, your words always speak to me and my two adult children, thank you sooo much, keep up the won derful, inspiring work!!

  41. There is a lady in my Sunday School class who absolutely LOVES Max Lucado! She says she has all of your books. She tells the Christian Book Store to order her your next book when she hears you have one about to go on the market. Her body is twisted. Her bones are atrophied, bent and hardened from disease. She walks stooped over and is in pain most of the time. She said one day, “Let me ask you something. I have prayed for a long time for GOD to heal me and HE hasn’t yet. I want to know WHY? Why won’t HE heal me?” I said, “I don’t know why HE hasn’t healed you. It certainly isn’t because HE can’t heal you. I know HE can. So there must be some other reason. I know one thing. You are faithful. Sometimes I see you at church and I think, ‘Bobbi came. She comes almost all the time. If she can make it, then I should be able to make it too. Then I told her, Let me ask you something. Does GOD love you, Bobbi?” She said, “Yes”. I said, “If HE NEVER HEALS YOU, WILL HE STILL LOVE YOU?” She
    said, “Yes”. I said, “This may not be the answer you want, but I think there is some reason why. You are an example to all of us.” This post reminded me of Bobbi. One day she will have that glorified, resurrected body, just like Christ’s. One day all who know HIM as Lord and Savior will have it, too. Thanks for reminding us!

  42. Thank you Max for sharing. You articulated what I have always believed and known. I have been asked “when did I first believe in Jesus?” I have not always been able to explain my answer, reason being is I never remember a time not believing in Jesus. I didn’t have an easy childhood and I can remember Jesus talking to me before I had the vocabulary to articulate such. At the age of 12 I did publicly confess my belief and accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, followed by baptism. I’ve lived my life as a Christian, saved by grace thru faith. Your message today brought me back to that time as a very small child when I just knew. Your words feel familiar as something I have always known. Thank you for sharing this.

  43. Almost 7 years ago, I was lost in addiction as well, and late afternoon found having already drawn a final breath while my pale body had felt a final heartbeat. I often wonder how close or how far I was from experiencing God’s presence. Seconds after my last heartbeat I was revived by paramedics and thrown back into the cruel world I had built around me. But I thank God that He allowed me not to die enslaved to addiction. I look forward to the next time I die…a free man, redeemed and ready to look at my Savior in the eyes and finally thank Him for His Easter sacrifice!

  44. As time has gone by in my life, I have lost both family and dear friends. One of my greatest losses in has been that of my many 4-legged children, also known as ‘my precious dogs’. I am elderly at this point and my health is not so hot anymore. I have been a good Christian all of my life and have believed in God and Jesus. Prayers said since childhood every evening and always thanking God and Jesus for another day and what they have provided for me. I will be cremated, as have my dogs and my son, which were spread in a beautiful garden so we will all be together and our souls will rise to heaven with us crossing the Rainbow Bridge, where I would like to stay for an eternity. I do believe in Cremation.

  45. When you speak about Jesus’ appearance at the tomb, you state that he bore a semblance of his pre-resurrected self. However, that really does not make sense, since they thought he was the gardner . Also Thomas did not recognize him . Obviously, Jesus had materialized a body, but not the one he had given in sacrifice. Angels are able to materialize as humans, as the angels who visited Abraham did. They even ate and drank. The disobedient angels made bodies for themselves and were able to father children, although the children were hybrids and were giants and also very violent. So it is not surprising that Jesus did the same and as a result he was not recognized physically by his closest followers. It was only when he spoke thst they knew who he was.

  46. Thank you Max for such a beautiful Easter piece. And for your articles everyday. Praying you and your family have a blessed Easter and beautiful always…….

  47. Great essay!! I am wondering though. In one section you mention that we will immediately be in fellowship with God after death and in another you describe graves being abandoned by the dead upon hearing Jesus’ voice. Are our souls with the father after death until Jesus descends back to Earth or are we waiting in our graves until his return? Thank you! I am a new Christian 🙂

  48. Please give us your thoughts on cremation. Will we still be resurrected with those from the grave? This is weighing very heavily on me Max.

    1. Here is a response Max provided a few years ago: “Cremation only speeds up the natural decomposition process. God will have no problem resurrecting our bodies from whatever state of decomposition they are in at the time of his return.” — Ministry Staff

  49. My precious beautiful husband lost his battle to cancer a year ago today. He was 48 years old.
    I rejoice in the fact that he is in glory with our Lord and Savior.
    I miss him with all of my heart.

  50. A truth beautifully said. May I add more. The place where we shall reside, where there are no tears, wars, etc. is real. My husband died in 1995. Prior to his death, God showed Him this place. At the time, I did not believe. But, God had used my husband to walk me into a church where I heard God’s word. Shortly thereafter, I was rebirthed into the body of Jesus Christ. Shortly after that, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, took me on a trip. He showed me Heaven. There was no war, no tears, no sorrow. It took years of study of His word for me to understand what I had seen. It was a vision of encouragement that would keep me locked into trusting in God as I went through purging. Whoooeee. What a journey. All of these preparations for us. It is love almost beyond imagination. As instructed by Jesus, I have written a non-fiction book about this first leg of a journey to life. It is titled: Mine, an everlasting promise of love, deliverance, and wholeness. Point of book: God is unchanged. His promises of redemption and forgiveness are eternal.

  51. Max, appreciate the devotional but there has been 2 classical views on what happens immediately after death. The first is what you described, immediate presence with God for the believer. The second is what might be labelled soul sleep. Our spirit is asleep until Christ returns, then at that moment, we will wake up (then a series of things depending on one’s eschatalogical views).

    The second view seems to be more substantial. This kind of separation of soul and it floats to ‘heaven’ is very Platonic and the Christian anthropology understands human beings as embodied souls.

    I think one could say that when you die, your soul enters into a state of sleep and when Christ returns, then we wake up and God gives us a resurrection body. You could still interpret those verses which imply that as soon as you close your eyes (death), the next time you open your eyes you will see Christ (because we would not be conscious of time passing here on earth).

  52. Thank you for this devotion.. As my dad passed on to be with Jesus march 9 , 2016
    He is greatly missed but i know He truely is loving where he is now. God gave us a beautiful treasure the day before he passed on .. Dad was still very mutch in his mind and as i looked at him he had a big smile across his face and i asked what he was smiling and looking at .. He grinned bigger and said ” its beatifu” i asked again what is? As i sat down next to him .. He looked around the room again and then over at me and said ” heaven , .. Looking around again he said ” its absolutly beautiful ” . My heart raced and it brought a smile to me with tears . I miss him but i am so happy for him .. My dad was a carpenter .. He lost his leg in january of this year and was in dialysis .. He wasnt one to sit around .. He was tired and told me he would be ok .. He would go to sleep and wake up and see Jesus . I am so thankful to our Lord for my fathers salvation and my own so we will all be together again one day . This wasnt goodbye .. This is just till we meet again . Thank you max for this devotion what a great reminder .

  53. Thank you, Max. I wish I had grown up with the Bible. Since I received Christ and became born again, I have had a great hunger for the Word of God, the Bible. Thank
    you for making the Love of Christ so clear and easy to understand., Happy Easter.

  54. Thank you, Mr. Lucado for writing this for us. It is beautifully written. I was one of those who thought that our life ended with our physical deaths. But, then, unexpectedly, I died in the ICU of a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. I found myself at the Gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven, face-to-face with Jesus. I was not even a follower of Christ? It is only due to His Mercy I’m back on the earth having a second chance. I didn’t know Him before, now I do. I wrote two books about my encounter with Him. 1. Code Blue 99! A Miraculous True Story! – second edition. 2. The Light, The Truth and The Way!

    With my sincere wishes to everyone for a Blessed Easter!

    In Christ,

    Sandy Acharjee

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