"The wages of sin is death." Romans 6:23
Why do both Christians and non-Christians have to die? It is because of the virus of sin we have all inherited. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Not only is there an inevitability of death because of sin, but death also brings its own kind of terror to all of us. In Job 18:14, Job called death “the king of terrors.” The psalmist said, “My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me” (Psalm 55:4). Death is a nightmare for those who die without faith in Jesus Christ.
A few years ago, Jack Nicholson was in a movie called “The Bucket List.” This movie was about two men with terminal cancer who decided to do everything on their list of things they wanted to do before they kicked the bucket. In an interview, Nicholson said making that movie was transformational in his own life. He said, “I used to live so freely. The mantra for my generation was ‘Be your own man!’ I always said, ‘Hey, you can have whatever rules you want–I’m going to have mine. I’ll accept the guilt. I’ll pay the check. I’ll do the time.’ I chose my own way. That was my philosophical position well into my 50s. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to adjust. . . We all want to go on forever, don’t we? We fear the unknown. Everybody goes to that wall, yet nobody knows what’s on the other side. That’s why we fear death.”
It is understandable for unbelievers to fear death, but if we are honest, many who are Christians also fear death because of the unknown. What happens to Christians when we die? Do we cease to exist? Do we go to sleep for a thousand years awaiting a future resurrection? Do we go into a waiting place, hoping somebody will pray hard enough or give enough money to get us out?
One of my mentors in seminary used to admonish us to make heaven the center of our preaching. He would say, “We are not in the land of the living headed to the land of the dying. Instead, we are in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living.” And that is true for a Christian. Death is not the end. It is just the beginning of our eternal reunion with God. That is what awaits Christians when we die.
To understand what happens to a Christian when he or she dies, it is important that we distinguish between the present heaven and the future heaven. The present heaven is where God is right now, and that is where we go the moment we die. We go into the presence of God, but that is not our eternal dwelling place. In John 14:2-3, Jesus said He is in that present heaven preparing a new place for us. heaven, where God is, is already prepared, but Jesus is working on a new location for us.