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What happens after we die? This is a great question because everyone dies. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you have, you will die. Not only is the mortality rate still 100%, but you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. We can’t take anything with us. So, what exactly happens after we die? If you Google this question, all sorts of theories and ideas come up. Is it just emptiness, the end of existence, and a deteriorating body in a casket? Is it reincarnation that forces us to live in a cycle that demands we continue to improve throughout many lifetimes? Could it be that we become ghosts destined to haunt those we love or that we get enveloped in light or nirvana? Perhaps we become our own gods with our own planet to rule and reign? Can we know the truth?
The answer is yes. There has only been one person who died and rose again and has all the answers to that question: Jesus. We learn in Scripture what happens when we die. What we learn should lead us to hope and not fear as we face the reality and inevitability of death.
The Bible describes an intermediate state and a final state when it comes to this question. And within the final state, there are two ultimate realities: Heaven and Hell.
Although views on the intermediate state vary, it is the time between death and final resurrection. It’s the current state of all who have died and will last until the ultimate victory of Jesus at the end of days, final judgment, and resurrection. But what exactly is this state?
In the Old Testament the place of the dead is Sheol and in the New Testament its Hades (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13 – 14). During this time, our souls are separated from our bodies as we await the end of days and final resurrection. And during this time, there is a separation of the righteous and wicked, defined as those who have faith and those who do not.
This concept can be seen in Jewish literature both in and out of Scripture. In Luke 16:19-31, it is seen in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Although this is a parable, it still shows a picture of the current state after death that existed for Jesus and his contemporaries. It affirms an intermediate state prior to the final resurrection. The main point of the parable, however, is to show that if people don’t believe the Bible, they won’t even believe someone who was raised from the dead.
For the righteous or those who have faith, Scripture assures believers that they are with Jesus during this time. In Luke 23:43, Jesus declares to the thief dying next to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This idea of paradise brings the reader back to the ideal garden of Eden in Genesis 1 and 2 and existence in the presence of God. Paul also affirms this both in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Philippians 1:23. Paul clarifies that the absence of the body means presence with the Lord. What precisely this time looks like is unclear, except that those believers will enjoy the presence of Christ while awaiting the final resurrection at the end of days.
The Bible also talks about a final state when God has ultimate victory on sin and death, and there will be a resurrection of those who have died. There will be a final judgment, at which time believers will be raised to eternal life with Jesus, and those who rejected Christ will be resurrected to eternal separation from God.
In popular culture, the depiction of Heaven is quite wrong. The Bible never talks about “going to Heaven” when you die. The Bible tells us that after Jesus’ final victory over evil, final judgment, and resurrection, Heaven and Earth are restored. The ideal of Genesis 1-2 is realized, and there is a new Jerusalem and a new creation unmarred by sin. In this new Heaven and Earth creation, Jesus reigns as King in a new Jerusalem where every believer, from all times, nations, and tribes get to be a part of this new kingdom with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17). In Revelation 21 & 22, it is the picture of the restored Garden of Eden where the river of the water of life flows freely, and the tree of life is available once again (Revelation 22:1-2). Heaven will be an eternity with our Lord (1 John 3:2), where there will be no more tears, pain, or sorrow (Revelation 21:4) or death (Revelation 20:6).
Those who reject God and His gift of salvation ultimately get what they want and deserve for sin (Romans 3:23). Hell is defined by separation by God. A good definition is a place of total, conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God. The Bible describes this in multiple ways, including darkness (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13;Matthew 25:30), where there will be gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30; and Luke 13:28), and fire (Mark 9:43, 48). It is also referred to as the “lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10; Revelation 20:14-15; Revelation 21:8), “the second death” (Revelation 21:8) where all the unrighteous will go.
All these descriptions are used to describe a place that is bad, that you don’t want to be in, and that should be avoided. It is both a punishment for sin and eternal separation from God (Matthew 25:46).
The entire biblical story is about a loving, good God who creates humans to have a relationship with Him and work with Him in the world. But, from the beginning, there is always a choice. A choice of good or bad, of life or death, of God or selfish desires. Humans continue to choose sin and death, but no matter how bad humans are, God’s love is greater. God himself took on humanity and died for our sins. This gift of life is available to anyone who believes. If you want to experience this new life now and eternity with God, all you have to do is believe and receive the gift of salvation (John 3:16, Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9).
No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, Sun Valley is here to help you with your next steps!
Husband and father. Ministry Assistant to the Lead Pastor at Sun Valley. “The Professor” and teacher of Sun Valley University, and in my DMIN program. Love to read, listen to podcasts, and watch movies. I am also an associate at Rayhons Financial Solutions.