What happens after death?


John Hoole - May 22 & 29, 2011




(Click on Photos, Maps and Charts for larger version)


Last week we began investigating what the Bible says about death.  Since the dawn of history, the subject of death and the possible afterlife has been the great question of human existence.

The Certainty of Death

The valley of the shadow of death is the longest valley in the world.  It began with Adam and has continued through six thousand years of human history.  Men like to postpone that dreadful moment when they must pass through the dark valley.  But death does not take into account whether we have been profitable or detrimental to society.  Every step that we take brings us nearer to the grave, and it is but a matter of time until we must bid farewell to every earthly tie.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 NKJV


5       For the living know that they will die;


In the garden of Eden where death had never entered, Adam and Eve were instructed by God to refrain from the forbidden fruit with the accompanying warning:


         In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:17),


We know that they did eat; and at that very moment the judgment of God passed upon them, and their bodies commenced the process of death and decay.


“And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Genesis 5:5).

"And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died" (Genesis 5:8).

"And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died" (Genesis 5:11).

"And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years and he died" (Genesis 5:14).

"And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died" (Genesis 5:17).

"And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died" (Genesis 5:20).

"And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died" (Genesis 5:27).

"And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died" (Genesis 5:31).


Noah preached righteousness and the judgment of God.  He warned men that if they would not repent, the Lord would destroy them from the face of the earth (Genesis 6:7).  Men only mocked at the old preacher’s sermon.  And then God struck the whole earth with death and destruction.


Genesis 7:21 NKJV


21     And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.


The Bible is full of the subject of death!   We cannot study the life of any Bible character, save Enoch and Elijah, without being reminded that they all died.  The Bible speaks of: “The law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).  The Apostle Paul says: “We had the sentence of death in ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:9)2 Corinthians 4:12 says: “So then death worketh in us.”


It is an obvious fact that every one of us at some point in time, must face the crisis of our human mortality.  Because of that, we need to carefully consider the question of whether that moment of death is final, and our consciousness ceases or whether there is something that awaits us after we die?  People of every generation have wondered about death and what might follow.


In our last lesson, we asked the question: What IS death?  From the Scriptures, we determined several things about death.  The word “death” does not merely mean “the cessation of life.”  The word “death” means separation - never annihilation or cessation of existence.




There are at least two kinds of death:


        •  Physical death


        •  Spiritual death




         This is the separation of the inner, or spiritual, part of a person from their outer, or bodily, part.


2 Cor. 5:8 tells us that to be absent from our bodies, is to be immediately present with God.  This certainly speaks of a form of separation.  In other words, the spirit (soul) takes leave of the body.


James 2:26 (NIV) The body without the spirit is dead,...


James mentions that when the spirit is separated from the body…….death of the body occurs.  So, physical death is the separation of one’s spiritual nature from their physical.  God pronounced this part of the death sentence on Adam by telling Him: "Dust you are and to dust you will return"  (Genesis 3:19).


In the Garden of Eden, from the moment he sinned, Adam's body became prone for the first time to decay, disease and deterioration.  And his eventual physical death was a foregone conclusion.




What follows in the account of Adam and Eve tells us they carried on life living much as they did before.  But their relationship with God gave way to a rift.  The moment they sinned, they lost the greatest blessing they possessed.  They lost their union with God.  Before their sin, they had been in perfect harmony with their Creator.  Now, "they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8).


The very instant they ate the fruit, they did die spiritually, just as God had said.  They found themselves separated and alienated from God.  Adam and Eve sensed their guilt and shame before God and made garments out of leaves to cover their naked bodies and hide their sin.


A person who is spiritually dead is a person who is spiritually separated from God.  Ephesians 2:1 relates that those who are separated from God are dead in trespasses and sins.


1 Timothy 5:6 speaks about those who are alive physically but dead spiritually.  She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.  This is spiritual death……i.e., separation from God.  Alive physically - but dead spiritually while she/he lives.


At the Great White Throne judgment, in Revelation 20, which we will study later, those judged are cast into the Lake of Fire, where they are forever separated from God.  So, spiritual death is “separation from God.”


All of this indicates that death is not the end of it all.  The Bible very clearly tell us that a person does not cease to exist when their body dies.  So many people think we are in the land of the living, on our way to the land of the dying.  But the reality is that we who belong to Christ are currently in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living.  Let me say it again this way: The Bible knows nothing of a concept of death that means the person ceases to exist.


Chart showing intermediate stateLet’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 depicts some of the events we have already discussed.  Let me review those and continue through the chart.


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 in the Old Testament), had two compartments.


Before Christ’s own resurrection, all spirits, whether godly or ungodly, went to Sheol (Hades).  Hades (Sheol) is depicted in the Bible as having more than one compartment.  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).  Unless Christ returns during your or my lifetime, this is one appointment you and I will keep.  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 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 the resurrection occurs, it is only the body that is resurrected.  The body is the only part of our being that dies.  In Matthew 27, we read that when the resurrection of Jesus occurred, many others were resurrected from the grave with Him.  Read what it specifically says.


Matthew 27:52-53 NKJV


52     and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;

53     and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.


These verses say that it was the bodies of the saints who had previously died that were raised.  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 the next 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


Unlike the body, the spirits of the saved and unsaved do not take the same road.  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.




That tells us that the spirit and soul will not 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 everyone.  Even in the "intermediate state," all are not alike.




The deciding factor is the spiritual condition of the person concerned.  And that is determined by what each person does with Jesus Christ.  The Bible makes a distinction of separating mankind into two categories.  Psalm 1:6 calls them "the righteous" and "the wicked."  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 "wicked"  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.




One of the clearest answers to this question comes in the story Jesus told about a rich but godless man.  Jesus relates how this man died and what his experience was following his death.  According to Luke 16:23, the spiritual part of this 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 personally don't believe this Scripture is a parable a 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 a 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.  In most cases, Hades is used in the New Testament as the place of punishment for the wicked.  And, in Luke 16, we are told the rich man is conscious in a "place of torment."  The other relevant clue about Hades in this story is that in the next verse following what we read, it says the rich man cried out, "I am in agony in this fire" (Luke 16:24).  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.




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 "away from the body," and "at home with the Lord."  This not only emphasizes  that death means separation, but that the souls of the righteous go immediately into God's presence.  And we know that nothing unholy can exist in God's company.  This adds meaning to Hebrews 12:23, which speaks of this time as being "the spirits of righteous men made perfect."


Allow me to insert another thought about the souls of the righteous who have died.  There are several groups which believe in what is called, "Soul Sleep".  We just do not see this in the Scripture.  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 place in the New Testament where Jesus raised the dead.  Each time Jesus approached the dead and 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:  "The body was dead.  The man was not dead.  No man is ever dead when his body lied 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.


As will become more clear when we study the topic of the "resurrection," both of these groups will not be resurrected at the same time.  There is a "First Resurrection" and a "Second Resurrection" (Revelation 20).


What an awesome statement made by Christ in this passage.  The dead will be resurrected.  J.C. Ryle, the first bishop of Liverpool, said that the words in this passage "ought to sink down very deeply into our hearts and never be forgotten."  People may be "dead and buried, but they are never "dead and gone."  The day is coming when the dead will hear Christ calling them from the grave and summoning them to appear at the bar of God's judgment.  And not one will be able to refuse.


People from every race, every culture, and every century, from the greatest figures in history to those of whom history knows nothing, will respond to Christ's voice.  Those who died a moment before will instantly obey His command.  And so will Adam and Eve.


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 Corinthians 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 Corinthians 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 second 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.


There is one time-span that is not depicted on this chart.  I show the time-line of the lost from the time of Christ until their final judgment.  But I show the time-line of the save from the time of Christ only until the Rapture of the Church.  What this chart doesn’t show is what happens to a person who accepts Christ as his/her Savior after the Rapture?


Additionally, there are a couple of other things that needs mentioning, since you will not see them on the chart I just showed you.


                   1.      Purgatory


                   2.      Baptism for the dead


                   3.      Prayer for the dead


                   4.      Soul Sleep