Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
There's a misguided teaching that is bantied among The Theological asserting that loved ones who cross over in death are somehow "asleep" - as though our beloved departed are somehow ensnared in the grave with the earthly remains that are left behind to ruin and decay. Though it is true that something like this was once a stark reality for those who died before Jesus made the atonement (and was raised from the dead), this is now a reality for nobody.
The famous scripture from which this misconception is derived is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-19 - the pull-quote of which is as follows (NIV):
"16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."
From this text has sprung the aforementioned misconception - that since Paul referred to the departed as "rising first", this must mean (by extension) that those who die in the Lord are somewhere other than with Him already. Brothers and sisters, this misguided conclusion could not be farther from the truth.
Please remember - we are three things... Body, Soul, and Spirit.
When we die, only the body is given over to the grave. The spirit that is clothed in flesh is an eternal seed of God Almighty and cannot actually die - since the material in question is eternal. Macabre as it may seem, this goes a long way toward explaining why hell must also be forever when one is condemned to that horrible fate. This isn't cruelty on Abba's part as many have unjustly suggested, but a practical conclusion to a vexing problem. The fools who reject The Lord's great mercy and choose that horrible end are still eternal beings, making containment the only viable option in the interest of justice. The bible calls this sad outcome the "2nd death".
Everything about us comes from our spirit - even our five senses have their origins in the spirit, their functions bleeding up through the flesh. In this way our senses (as we know them) are dulled by our flesh as they are tethered therein by what we call the soul.
The best way to understand this is to imagine wearing a pair of surgical gloves. One can still feel things with reasonable sensitivity while wearing surgical gloves, and work fairly unencumbered when sheathed as such. It is only when removed that we realize how dulled our sense of touch actually became while the gloves were donned. Death is the simple process of peeling the gloves away. As you can imagine, this will have a profound affect regardless of the choice one makes. Either he or she will discover sensations of bliss beyond the imagination of mortals, or horrors to make the most dreadful battlefield or torture chamber pale by comparison.
Our spirit is who we really are - the flesh (as Jesus stated in John 6:63) "counts for nothing". When the flesh falls away (the glove is removed) our spirit simply goes home - whether to God in order to receive our inheritance, or to Hell for eternal suffering - away from His presence. We've each made the choice on our own and of our own free will - He simply gives us our wish.
So how do we know that the spirit doesn't "sleep" upon death? We find the answer stated very clearly throughout the book of Revelation, and particularly in the following utterance:
"Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.'" (Revelation 14:13).
Do you see it? FROM NOW ON...
There was a change that forever altered the outcome of what happens to a spirit upon departure from this earth. That change was and remains Jesus Himself - who defeated death and seized from him the keys to death, hell, and the grave. His victory was total when He arose, and this is exceedingly good news for those who know Him. Was it with this in mind that Jesus made the proclamation that is found in John 8:51?:
51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”
This seminal passage is critical for understanding on the matter of mortality, for Yeshua's utterance is far more literal than the theological-minded would dare consider. Long-story-short; He meant exactly what He said. Once our Lord was raised from the dead, the demonic spirit known as death - who for milennia had been mantled (by satan) with authority to collect the just and unjust alike - was stripped of his ability to approach anyone who died in fellowship with Jesus Christ. Before atonement, the "Just" were taken to Sheol for the long wait in Abraham's Bosom (or Paradise) - but post-atonement, that filth was defeated and may no longer come near Yesua's redeemed. When a person who loves The Lord expires, it is NOT the demon of death who comes for them - but it is our Holy Father who sends someone to bring them home. In many cases, Yeshua comes personally to gather them in. Therefore the act of taking Jesus into our hearts (literally) puts thats snake out of a job.
We can conclude, therefore, that our loved ones (who know The Lord) do not go to sleep - aren't suspended in some state of unconsciousness. They are indeed with Jesus and are magnificent beyond our ability to reason. They are feeling more, seeing more, hearing more, smelling more, and tasting more than they ever could have fathomed while wrapped in flesh. Believe me, they do not miss the glove.
As it pertains to "the rapture", here is what will actually happen:
Abba will use that beautiful moment of "rapture" (described by Paul) in order to extract a portion of the earthly remains that were left behind when His babies were gathered through death. In an instant (a twinkling of an eye) their spirits will be infused with a small portion of their earthly DNA, from which a new glorified body will be fashioned. Perfect - resplendent - and yet very much the same beautiful people that they were when originally formed in the womb. We then (those remaining) will be changed in an instant and taken up to join them - having also been given our new glorified bodies.
So take heart, Beloved of God Most High... Your precious ones are not in stasis or suspended animation awaiting that blast of trumpet. They are having more fun and seeing more glory than you can presently imagine.
Always be ready to shed the glove, and always be watchful for our Lord's return. He is coming.
Forever your brother and servant in Christ Jesus our Lord,
Mark Scott Grimmett
When the Gloves