What happens after we die? Do we stay asleep in the grave, or do we ascend immediately into heaven? I have had a lot of questions on this topic, and I believe that most of the confusion comes from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). I often find that the reason so many people misinterpret 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is because they stumble on the words, "the dead in Christ shall rise first". This sentence leads people to believe that we must not go to heaven (when we die) if we are still in the grave at the time of the rapture. However, when the rapture happens, the souls in Christ will reunite with their NEW bodies out of the grave (Dead in Christ rising first) and then, the people on Earth will be changed from corruptible to incorruptible (NEW body and soul). There are four important things to remember when looking at these verses:
1. We must understand that these verses are concerning the Rapture and not the second coming of Jesus.
2. The souls in Christ have to reunite with their body's and that is the reason for "the dead (Bodies) in Christ shall rise first".
3. It is important to understand, that when we are raptured, our body and soul are taken up together.
4. Our souls are never considered dead unless we are without Christ.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life"(John 5:24).
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." (John 5:25)
Above we read that the hour is now and those that believe on the Son of God will pass directly from death to life everlasting. Then Jesus goes on to say:
"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, (John 5:28)
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:29).
In the above verses, Jesus is actually preaching about the people who had and had not heard His testimony before Jesus died for the sins of man. Therefore, "all that are in the graves", is a reference to the old testament saints and those that perished not following the old testament law (before Jesus came). "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:40). Jesus went into the Earth for three days to preach and save those who would believe on Him ("all that are in the graves"). After the resurrection, whosoever believes on Jesus (when they die), will immediately depart from their body and ascend into heaven.
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." (1 Corinthians 15:50).
"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," (1 Corinthians 15:51).
If we read the above verses carefully, it is easy to see that our bodies will be left behind in the grave because our flesh and blood is sin/death, but our souls in Jesus, is life everlasting. "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:55). Death has no dominion over those whom are saved by Jesus. I don't believe that we stay asleep in the grave until Jesus returns (like the old testament saints) because the Word is out. The only reason the old testament saints stayed in the grave (Earth) was because they had no propitiation for their sins. However, we do and when we die, we will go to heaven in the twinkling of an eye.
"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:" (Revelation 6:9).
"And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10).
"And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled." (Revelation 6:11).
We read above that after the rapture, the church is gone (in heaven) and the tribulation saints are crying for their deaths to be avenged. But they are told to wait a season for the rest of the saints to be killed in the name of Jesus. The tribulation saints died and went straight to heaven and did not sleep in the grave. I truly believe that when Jesus died/rose from the dead, he defeated sin/death. If you have Jesus in your life, then you will also have dominion over death.
"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." (Romans 7:18).
"For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Romans 7:19).
"Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (Romans 7:20).
There is no reason to sleep in the grave after one dies because the Apostle Paul tells us, that if we are saved by Jesus, then our sin is of the flesh and not of the soul. We will always fall short of the glory of God as long as we are alive. Sin has dominion over this world and only by Jesus can you overcome the forces of sin. If you sin and are saved by Jesus, then it is no longer you sinning, but the sin that dwells in you. Time is running out and it is imperative that you find Jesus and accept Him as your Lord and Savior. God Bless~!