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What Happens When We Die

Photo of Bob RussellBob Russell | Bio

Bob Russell

During his senior year of high school Bob realized a desire in his heart to enter the ministry. Soon thereafter, he enrolled in Cincinnati Bible Seminary where he graduated in 1965. At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the three worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches and conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups. An accomplished author, Bob has written over one-dozen books. Bob and his wife Judy of 52 have two married sons and seven grandchildren with whom they enjoy spending their time. Bob also enjoys playing golf and is an avid University of Louisville football and basketball fan. 

Recently, I prayed with two men who were dying. Both were under Hosparus Care and were barely conscious. I reminded them of 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8 where believers are encouraged not to lose heart when facing death. The Apostle Paul wrote that though outwardly we waste away, inwardly we can be rejuvenated daily. Paul advised, “So fix your eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” He reminds us that when the earthly “tent” we live in is destroyed, we have “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.”

Then there is this inspirational promise, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8 KJV). That’s a fascinating and encouraging statement to me. It reminds us we are more than physical beings; we are spiritual beings. Inside our body there is a living soul. You can amputate both legs and both arms, and you’re still the same person inside. You can receive a lung transplant or a heart transplant, and you’re still the same person inside.

We’re told that almost every cell in the body reproduces itself at least every seven years…most much quicker than that. Even bones regenerate themselves about every ten years. There’s practically nothing about our bodies that is the same as it was ten years ago. I look at pictures of me when I was in first grade and think, “Was that me living inside that tiny body?” I know it was because I can remember it. But physically I’m not the same at all. I am a spirit living inside this defective, substandard, aging, temporary tent. However, there will come a day when my spirit will slip away from my body. It will absent itself from this physical house I live in.

I’ve been with several people when they died. The most dramatic death I ever witnessed was the passing of George Duncan. George was a gentle, quiet soul in his early 60’s who struggled with a defective heart. I received notice he was in intensive care and not doing well. When I tiptoed into his room, a nurse was sitting at his side, eyeing the heart monitor. I asked, “George, how are you doing?” He whispered, “Well, I’m not hurting, but I’m just so weak.” I responded, “Well, I don’t want to wear you out with conversation. I just want to pray with you and remind you the Lord is here with you.”

I prayed briefly for George to be strengthened physically and spiritually. Then I quoted from the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” I concluded by asking the Lord to comfort and be with George in his trials. When I said, “Amen,” George was gone! He died while I was praying the 23rd Psalm.

I’ve had people go to sleep in one of my sermons, but I’ve never had anyone die in one of my prayers!

The attending nurse said, “I was watching the monitor and almost interrupted you, but then I thought there’s no better way to go than while praying.” I was stunned. It was a holy, sobering experience. Where was George? Everything physical about George Duncan was still there. But his spirit was gone. He was absent and could not be recalled.

A glove lying on the counter has the form of a hand but is not the hand. A body lying in a casket is the physical form of the person we knew, but the person who lived in that shell is gone, absent from the body. When the spirit departs, it is indiscernible. It is unseen. Just as we don’t see electricity or sound waves, there is an unseen spirit world.

But the second half of that Scripture reads, “…is to be present with the Lord.” The Bible does not teach soul sleep, purgatory, or reincarnation. The Bible teaches when the spirit leaves the body, it immediately enters the presence of Christ. Jesus said to the thief on the cross: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Our earthly existence is seen but temporary. Our heavenly existence is unseen but eternal.

Frances Hobbs was dying of cancer when she asked her husband Herschel, an influential Baptist preacher in the mid-20th Century, what it was like to die. Pastor Hobbs said,

“Honey, I’ve not experienced it, but I do know this; Jesus promised He would come again and receive us to Himself. So I’m going to hold your hand on this side, and I won’t let go until Jesus takes your hand on the other side.”

I can’t imagine facing death without that kind of assurance. If all we are is just road kill; if like animals we die and slowly disintegrate into dust, then life has no meaning and we are without hope. But Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and proven that life after death is possible for us.

He promised, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live even though He dies.”

“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” providing you have placed your trust in Christ. When the day of death comes for you, He will be there to take your hand on the other side and lead you through the promised land. “What a day…what a day that will be”!

(For more teaching from Bob Russell, visit Used with permission.)