I thought that when followers of Jesus died they were absent from the body and present with the Lord. But the Bible also says we are raised on the last day. Which is it?
The Bible states that those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection will be with the Lord immediately upon death. The Lord told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (a first-century Jewish word for Heaven; Luke 23:43). Paul states that when he died he would be with Jesus immediately (Phil. 1:21). He said he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). When followers of Jesus die, their immaterial spirit or soul goes to be with the Lord immediately.
The confusion arises from 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 which describes believers who died as being asleep. The word “asleep” is a euphemism for death. Upon physical death, the immaterial person goes to be with the Lord. Our bodies become empty vessels, separated from our spirits. At the resurrection of the dead, our bodies and spirits will reunite. Then, we will have glorified bodies, like the resurrected body of Jesus (see 1 Cor. 15:42–49). We need not fear death. We can have the confident expectation that at the moment of physical death, our spirit will live in the presence of the Lord. Then, at the end of days resurrection, our body will reunite with our spirit, and we will serve the Lord forever.