Explain where we go when we die
Personal Questions | VBVM Staff | Sep-27-2011
Q. I'm confused what the Bible says about where a Christian or unbeliever goes when they die. Do we go directly to heaven (or hell)? If so, what about the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man? And how does the Rapture fit in?
A. The Bible teaches that when a person's body dies, it returns to dust. The body we have now must one day cease to exist due to the curse God pronounced on the earth following Adam's sin.
When a body dies, the person's spirit lives on eternally. Every spirit is created for eternity. For the Christian, the believer's spirit moves directly from the body at the moment of death into Christ's presence escorted by angels, according to Jesus in Luke 16. As Paul explains:
2Cor. 5:4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.
2Cor. 5:5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
2Cor. 5:6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord —
2Cor. 5:7 for we walk by faith, not by sight —
2Cor. 5:8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
2Cor. 5:9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.
Our physical body is the material part of our existence, and Paul says it is only a temporary home for our spirit, which is the eternal part of us. Our spirit occupies our body for a time, but when our body dies, our spirit moves to our next home to be present with the Lord (if we are a believer) into the throne room of God.
Paul goes on in 2Corinthians to tell us more about that moment:
2Cor. 5:10 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.
After our physical body dies, Paul says we appear before the judgment seat of the Lord in spirit form to receive our rewards for service to the Lord.
On the other hand, an unbeliever's spirit leaves the body and enters into a place of torment called Hades or Hell, waiting their judgment. The judgment for all unbelievers occurs at a moment called the Second Resurrection, according to Revelation 20. After that judgment, the unbelievers spirit is condemned to exist for eternity in the Lake of Fire.
Prior to Jesus' death and resurrection, the process operated a little differently. A story told by Jesus in Luke 16 give us an account of life after death prior to the death and resurrection of the Messiah. During the time prior to Christ's death and resurrection, souls could not enter into heaven, since the atonement of Christ had yet to be accomplished. Therefore, God held the souls of believers in a place of comfort, called Abraham's Bosom, waiting until Christ descended after death and set free these captives, as Paul describes in Ephesians 4.
For a complete teaching on Sheol and the story in Luke 16, please listen to our teaching Lesson 16B from the Gospel of Luke.
Finally, the Rapture is the name we give to the moment when all Church saints are resurrected. Paul teaches in 1Corinthians 15 that the resurrection of Church saints will begin with those who have died (and have been present in spirit form only with Christ) receiving new physical bodies followed by those Church saints who are still alive receiving their new bodies in an instant.
For a complete teaching on the Rapture, please read the following article.