What Happens When We Die?

“It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Various Christians have asked me what exactly happens when we die? When people die, the spirit separates from the body and enters the afterlife (Ja. 2:26, Ecc. 12:7). Disembodied spirits go to Hades (realm of the dead, Acts 2:27). There they await the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-16).

In Hades, as Jesus taught in the account of the rich man and Lazarus, there are 2 sections, one for the righteous and one for the unrighteous (Luke 16:22-26). The place for the righteous is called “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22,25) or “paradise” (Lk. 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:4). It’s a place of supreme “comfort.” The second place is for the unrighteous, which is “torment” (Lk. 16:23-24,28). The Greek word “tartarus” (2 Pet. 2:4 HCSB) is commonly defined as the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew “gehenna” (translated “hell”), which is the place of punishment for the wicked. The Bible is also clear that when we die we are still conscious. We will retain our personality and memories of our earthly life, as with the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:23-25).

These disembodied spirits wait for the rejoining the resurrected body to face God in the final judgment at the end of time (Jn. 5:28-29, 1 Cor. 15:12-57, Matt. 25:31-46). Although our eternal destiny is irrevocably fixed at death (Lk. 16:26), this final sentencing on the Day of Judgment vindicates the righteousness of God in condemning sinners who spurned Him, while also exalting the saving Lordship of Jesus Christ before all creation (Phil. 2:9-11).

Since Christ’s resurrection (Eph. 4:8), faithful Christians die to “depart to be with Christ” (Phil 1:29). The saved are waiting for the final day of vindication of Christ’s return (2 Thess 1:10). Heaven is the where God now dwells on His throne (Matt. 6:9, Rev 4:2). The redeemed are now pictured with Christ before God’s throne in heaven (Rev. 7:9-17). The Bible also says we are looking for a “new heaven” (Rev. 21:1-2), which will appear after the final judgment.

This “new heaven” or final place of reward is where we may praise and serve God in a glorified body (Phil. 3:21, 1 Jn. 3:2). Death and painful memories are forever banished (Rev. 21:4). All the redeemed will joyfully reign with Christ forever, comforted in the sunshine of God’s love and peace (Rev. 22). Yet, the Bible emphasis is NOT on revealing many specific details on what all happens to us when we die, but rather the emphasis is on being PREPARED to meet God (Rev 14:13)! “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). This “new heaven” is a prepared place for prepared people (Jn. 14:1-3).

These disembodied spirits wait for the rejoining the resurrected body to face God in the final judgment at the end of time (Jn. 5:28-29, 1 Cor. 15:12-57, Matt. 25:31-46). Although our eternal destiny is irrevocably fixed at death (Lk. 16:26), this final sentencing on the Day of Judgment vindicates the righteousness of God in condemning sinners who spurned Him, while also exalting the saving Lordship of Jesus Christ before all creation (Phil. 2:9-11).

Since Christ’s resurrection (Eph. 4:8), faithful Christians die to “depart to be with Christ” (Phil 1:29). The saved are waiting for the final day of vindication of Christ’s return (2 Thess 1:10). Heaven is the where God now dwells on His throne (Matt. 6:9, Rev 4:2). The redeemed are now pictured with Christ before God’s throne in heaven (Rev. 7:9-17). The Bible also says we are looking for a “new heaven” (Rev. 21:1-2), which will appear after the final judgment.

This “new heaven” or final place of reward is where we may praise and serve God in a glorified body (Phil. 3:21, 1 Jn. 3:2). Death and painful memories are forever banished (Rev. 21:4). All the redeemed will joyfully reign with Christ forever, comforted in the sunshine of God’s love and peace (Rev. 22).

Yet, the Bible emphasis is NOT on revealing many specific details on what all happens to us when we die, but rather the emphasis is on being PREPARED to meet God (Rev 14:13)!

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). This “new heaven” is a prepared place for prepared people (Jn. 14:1-3).

Each day we need to refocus on the spiritual reality of heaven, hell and judgment (2 Cor. 4:16-18, Phil. 2:12). Seeing things in light of eternity improves our daily perspective in what is really important! When we face death, thank God that Jesus is “the Way” to bring us safely home!

W. Frank Walton

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