March 18, 2024

What Happens the Moment We Die?

R.C. Sproul
What Happens the Moment We Die?

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Today, R.C. Sproul explains how these words from the cross assure Christians that when we die, we will immediately enter the presence of Jesus.


In the course of His crucifixion, much was said about the thieves that were crucified beside Jesus. In the initial stages, both of them joined in mockery of Jesus, and with the crowds who were saying, “He saved others, but Himself He cannot save,” and, “If you really are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt. 27:42).

And finally, one of the thieves had more of this than he could stomach, and something happened suddenly, transcendentally, supernaturally, as the Spirit of God opened his eyes, and he said to the malefactor that was being executed with him, “Hey, we’re guilty of the crimes that we have committed. We deserve this execution, but this Man is innocent.” Then he turned to Jesus, and he said, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:40–42). If ever there was a deathbed conversion, there it was that afternoon on the cross next to Jesus. And Jesus gave His personal assurance of salvation to the thief next to Him, saying, “I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

There are those, historically, who have argued that the souls of people who die in Christ do not go immediately into the presence of God to paradise or to heaven, but rather they remain in a state of suspended animation, a kind of psychopannychia or soul sleep that endures until the last judgment, when then they will be finally restored to life. And it will seem to them that it is all in a twinkling of an eye, just as when you go to bed at night and wake up in the morning, you have no real sense of how many hours have passed in that intervening time. But Jesus gainsays that argument by saying to the thief, “Today—not simply after the last judgment—but today, you will be with Me in paradise.”

Let me tell you how the advocates of soul sleep answer that. They say, “Well, no, no, no, there’s no real punctuation there in the Greek text, and all that Jesus is saying is that ‘I’m telling you today’—that is, today is the day that I’m telling you these things—‘that in the unknown future you will be with Me in paradise.’” If you ever see an example of torturous exegesis of Scripture, there it is—as if Jesus dying, gasping for breath, where every word that He utters in His dying state costs precious oxygen is going to waste that oxygen by telling the thief what day it is that He’s speaking to him. It’s absurd.

The point of “this day” is, to the thief: “You’re not going to have to wait. As soon as your eyelids close in death and My eyelids close in death, we will be together not on crosses of wood but in paradise, in the bosom of Abraham, in the presence of God.”