After Death – What Then?


Dr. John Hoole


God is moving in human history – He is, whether we believe it or not.  Biblical End times Prophecy – Eschatology – is nothing more than the history of the world in reverse. Instead of looking backward at past events, prophecy outlines future events on the horizon.


Things and events in this world seem to be lining up for the time we rise to meet our Lord in the air. It is true this could happen any moment, but it is possible we will arrive in glory before that event takes place.


But, in the meantime, according to 2 Peter 4:2, we are to live the rest of our earthly lives to the will of God.


Last week we explored what happens to a person when they die. We defined death as “separation,” which is true whether talking about either Physical or Spiritual death. But we did not talk much about what happens to a person after death.


Let’s look at a diagram I have created to help us understand the time between when a person dies and their resurrection. Some theologians refer to this period as the “Intermediate State.” Also, some of the things portrayed on this chart d depicts some of the events we have already discussed. They are needed for a full context.


First, let me say that I have put the “cross” on the chart to indicate, that this chart depicts how things are since the death and resurrection of Christ.


Prior to His resurrection, Hades, (or Sheol, the Old Testament equivalent), had at least two compartments. Before Christ’s own resurrection, all spirits, whether godly or ungodly, went to Sheol (Hades).


     This seems to be very clearly stated in Luke 16, where we find the story of the death of the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. One part of Hades is called the “place of torment.” Another part of Hades was not a place of torment, but was called “paradise” or “Abraham’s Bosom.”


The “place of torment” and “Abraham’s Bosom”  are both mentioned in Luke 16. We will read this passage of Scripture in a few minutes.


On the chart, let’s begin with the colored bar called “LIFE”. Right now, this is where each of us are - we are physically alive. And we are somewhere along the continuum of our life.



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


The first thing we need to know about death from this verse is that it is not a random event. God declares Himself the One who gives life and takes life.


Deuteronomy 32:39 (NIV) reads:


39    "See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand.


Psalms 139:16 NIV


16    ..All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.


In Revelation 11, we read about two men known as the "two witnesses." These two will live during the coming Tribulation period of the end times. The Antichrist will hate these two men and try to kill them repeatedly, but God will supernaturally protect their lives.


At some point, however, God will allow them to be slain.


Verse 11:7 says,


"When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them."


Did you catch that? God will only allow them to be killed "when they have finished their testimony." I believe that is the same for every believer. God has work for each of us.


And only God knows when that time comes in which their testimony is finished. What we can say from Scripture is that death is an appointment you and I will keep. No death is an "accident" from God's perspective.


Our God, who loves us more than we can begin to imagine, remains in charge of the timing of our rendezvous with death. With the psalmist we can restfully say, "My times are in Your hands" (Psalm 31:15).


The only uncertainty from our standpoint is when it is going to happen. This may adds to some people’s anxiety about death. People tend to have greater fear of the unknown.


And, by the way, anyone who does not know Jesus Christ as their Savior, ought to be uncomfortable about facing death.


Only the body dies


Last week, we learned that at death, the body returns to dust, from whence it was created by God.


Ecclesiastes 3:20 NKJV


     20    All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust.


Psalms 104:29b NKJV


     29    You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.


When our resurrection occurs, it is only the body that is resurrected. The body is the only part of our being that dies. The resurrection only affects that which has previously died. That is only our body.


The body of all people, whether saved or unsaved, go to the grave. This is depicted in a new colored bar on our chart. That grave can be in a formal cemetery, or out in the open desert, where vultures can pick at the bones, or at the bottom of the sea, surrounded by water and sand.


Our Human Spirit


In contrast to the death of our body, 1 Peter 3:4 says the hidden man is incorruptible. The “hidden man” is that part we cannot see – your spirit and soul.


WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN IT SAYS THE HIDDEN MAN IS “INCORRUPTIBLE?” That tells us that the spirit and soul will never die. That leaves only the body. Only the body dies.


After the body is placed in the grave, the path of our spirit is not the same for both saved and unsaved. The Bible makes a distinction of separating mankind into two categories.


     Psalm 1:6 calls them "the righteous" and "the ungoldy."


Today, after the Cross, it is based on our decision on acceptance or rejection of Christ determines where each person stands.


The Bible also uses many other words that make the same distinction.


     For instance, the righteous are also called "the people of God," (Hebrews 4:9)


     …"Christians" (Acts 11:26),


…and are said to be "saved" (Romans 8:24).


     The "ungoldy"  are also called "the children of the devil" (1 John 3:10)


     …"unbelievers" (Luke 12:46),


…and "the unrighteous" (2 Peter 2:9)


…and are said to be "lost" (Luke 19:10).


The contrast could hardly be greater.


So, what happens to the spirit of the unsaved persons? One of the clearest answers to this question comes in the story Jesus told about a rich but godless man. Jesus relates how this rich man died and what his experience was following his death.


According to Luke 16:23, the man went to a place of torment. Let's read the Passage.


Luke 16:19-23 NIV


19    "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.

20    At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores

21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22    "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.

23    In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.


Some have tried to deny the simple truth taught in this passage by insisting it is a mere parable. With that denial, they think it has nothing to teach us regarding the place the soul go of the unsaved.


I don’t think a parable makes what it says any less true. And I personally don't believe this Scripture is a parable of Jesus.


If it is a parable, it would be the only one which uses a proper name - i.e, Lazarus. It would be the only parable repeatedly mentioning an historical person - Abraham. It would be the only parable to describe the place where the dead go. It would be the only parable that makes mention of angels.


No, I believe that Luke 16 is speaking about the literal abode of the spirit of the unrighteous dead. In this passage, Christ says the unrighteous rich man who died went immediately to Hades. And, in Luke 16, we are told the rich man is conscious in a "place of torment." We will study this more in depth when we address the subject of hell.


Now, let's talk about the righteous person who has died. Things have changed since the time of Christ’s resurrection. Christ emptied the compartment of Hades where the righteous were.


Firstly, the souls of the righteous are not wandering around in space, hovering around cemeteries, or languishing in limbo. They are alive and well and living in God's presence. The spirits of those washed in the blood of Jesus, go immediately to heaven (2 Cor. 5:8).


This passage says the righteous person's spirit is "separated from the body," and "at home with the Lord." This not only emphasizes  that physical death means separation, but that the souls of the righteous go immediately into God's presence.


When Jesus died on the cross, it was his body that died, and He said to His Father, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke 23:46).


Something similar happened at the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. It was his body that was pummeled with stones.Like Christ, Stephen said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59).


There are three places in the New Testament where Jesus raised people from the dead. Each time Jesus approached the dead He spoke to them as if they were alive.


To the son of the widow of Nain He said, "Young man, I say unto thee, arise" (Luke 7:14).


When Christ came to the daughter of Jairus, we are told, "He took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid arise" (Luke 8:54).


Finally, He said to the brother of Mary and Martha, "Lazarus, come forth" (John 11:43).


In each case Jesus speaks to the person as if they were alive. We can only say that, in fact, each were alive.


As G. Campbell Morgan says about this passage: "The body was dead.  The man was not dead.  No man is ever dead when his body lies dead!"


The soul will never enter a state of non-existence nor unconsciousness. The bodies of all those who have died during the course of world history will be raised from the dead. Jesus makes this very clear in John 5.


John 5:28-29 (NIV) reads:


28    ...for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice

29    and come out — those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.


What an awesome statement made by Christ in this passage. The dead will be resurrected. People may be "dead and buried, but they are never "dead and gone."


Now, back to our chart. Eventually, the Rapture is going to happen. It is that event where believers rise to meet Christ in the air. We do not know the day or the hour when it will happen, but our Heavenly Father does.


When the Rapture occurs, we are told in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, the sequence of events.


     1.   The bodies of the saved person will be resurrected first and are reunited with their spirit. In the process, the resurrected bodies will change (1 Cor. 15:51).


     2.   Then the believers still living will be “caught up with them in the air” to meet Jesus.


In the process, their living bodies will be transformed (1 Cor.15:52). Thereafter, these will forever be with our Lord (1 Thess. 4:18).


This leaves us three areas for which to account.


1.   Living people who are unbelievers at the time of the Rapture


2.   The bodies of all unbelievers who have died.


3.   The spirits of unbelievers, whose bodies have died.


All of these await the Great White Throne Judgment  (Revelation 20:11-15).


If any unbeliever dies after the rapture, they will follow the same process as already depicted.  Their bodies go to the grave. Their spirits go to the waiting place of torment.


According to Revelation 20, all of these will eventually be resurrected. This is called the 2nd resurrection. They will join all other unbelievers who are resurrected to stand before the Great White Throne.


And subsequent to their appointment with the Great White Throne Judgment, their destiny is the Lake of Fire. But none of us here today need to go there.


In John 11, we read the story of the death of Lazarus, and how Christ brought him back to life. In the story, Christ makes a very important statement to Martha, the sister of Lazarus.


John 11:25-26 NKJV


25    Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

26    And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"


The resurrection of Christ forever transformed the nature of death for those who place their faith in Him.


Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus Christ had defeated death forever. In verse 26, he wrote: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."


Later in the same chapter, the apostle Paul writes:


1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NKJV


55    "O  Death, where is your sting?  O grave, where is your victory?"

56    The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.

57    But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior does not exempt us from death. Rather, Jesus Christ assures us that faith in Him will ensure that we will triumph over it.