What does the Bible say about death? What happens immediately after death? Where do believers and unbelievers go after death?
Statistics on Death
Have you ever heard this? The statistics on death are quite impressive…one out of every one die. Death and taxes are said to be the only sure things in life but is that true? If a person dies, do they live again? Job asked this question (John 14:14) and he seemed certain that indeed, they will live again. Job believed he would and said “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). How can we know that? Does death mean nihilism? Once a person dies, is that all there is? Only One Person can tell us what happens after death and that Person is Jesus Christ so we do know that there is life after death but the destinations between two people, a saved person and the unsaved person, is starkly and drastically different.
An Appointment with Death
Everyone reading this now has an appointment…an appointment with death. Hebrews 9:27 tells all of us that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” When that day is, only God knows but we do know for certain that the day is coming for every one of us will die; it’s only a matter of time or an accident, heart attack, aneurism, or anything else that could hit us suddenly an unexpectedly. There are no exceptions to this fact. That is why Jesus Christ has “been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28). If He is not your sin bearer, you will have to bear your own sins and that will not go well. Revelation 20:11-15 states as a matter of fact that the Great White Throne Judgment is coming someday and the Apostle John
“saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
What Happens After Death for Believers?
Paul clearly knew that “while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:6-7) but when we are “away from the body [we will be] at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). When Paul says that we will be “away from the body” he means when we die and immediately after death, we are in the presence of the Lord so “whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:9-10). For Christians, this is when we are judged for what works we have done for our Lord. Our sin has already been judged at the cross so we know that God sees us as He see Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). Not so for those who have refused to repent, confess their sins and put their trust in Christ. They will give an account for every idle word and every single deed done on earth (Rev 20:12-15). Jesus warned us by saying “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:36-27) because “nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).
What Happens to Unbelievers After Death?
Jesus talked more than three times as much about hell as He ever did heaven which shows that He didn’t want anyone to go there (2 Pet 3:9). In Matthew 11:20-24 He warned the self-righteous in the crowds, which He was directly speaking to, “He began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the Day of Judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Jesus told the Pharisees and He tells everyone who has rejected Him that they will end up in a place of eternal torment. This place was described in Luke 16:22b-26:
“The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”
Jesus’ points are that the chasm is not passable, the torment is unending, the five senses are still being felt, and the fire cannot be extinguished.
To die without trusting in Christ is to choose to live in tormented suffering forever and ever without any rest (Rev 14:11). Jesus warns those who are not believers that hell or “Gehenna” is a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48) and it is without end (Rev 20:11). Here is why the gospel is called the good news. In Hebrews 9:24-26 it says that
“Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
If you are clothed in Jesus’ own righteousness, then God will see you as He sees Jesus (2 Cor 5:21) and so I pray that you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved (Rom 10:9-13) and spared from the wrath of God. Then you can have peace with God today (Rom 5:1).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon