There is much confusion about what happens to a person after death. What is death?
Does a person go directly to Heaven? To Hell? To Hades? To sleep? To Paradise? To torment? To judgment? To Abraham’s bosom?
It is important that you read What Happens After Death.
before beginning the study
What happens to the body? The spirit? The soul?
Should I fear death? How do I overcome the fear?
What about cremation vs. burial?
We will attempt to answer some of the most asked questions concerning death with the Scriptures.
What is death? We all have known people who have died. What we see is the cessation of what we know as life. The person stops breathing, his heart strops beating, his body temperature cools. The body simply stops all of its functions. This is what we see. What we don’t see and don’t know is what is happening to the person who was in the body.
Something has always given me cause for reflection when I see death. It is very apparent that the person who was there is gone. The flesh still exists, but the person is gone. The same can be said at the death of a pet. The personality that was our pet is gone. The fact that we are impressed with this tells us that God has given us the ability to sense this. Considering we are able to sense this leads us to believe that there is something happening to the person who has departed.
The Bible describes death several ways. It is, of course, the end of earthly life. It is pictured as the departure of the spirit from the body. Accordingly, it is inevitable; it is the return to the former natural state; it is seen as sleep; it is a place where God is not seen; it is the result of sin; it is separation from God; it is eternal life, it is eternal torment, etc.
How do we make sense out of the apparent confusion? The best way to understand it is to realize that the righteous and wicked go to very different places. The righteous go on to rest and comfort and joy, while the wicked go on to torment and darkness and gnashing of teeth.
WHERE DO WE GO AFTER DEATH?
What some believe.
First, who says we go anywhere? There are those who teach that all existence ends at death—that there is no afterlife. Or, that we go to an eternal sleep and our consciousness dies with us. I know of one person who calls it the “eternal dirt nap.” What hopelessness. Some teach that beliefs in an afterlife are just explanations that men have come up with to explain the unknown. They claim there is no God, no life after death, no hell, and nowhere to go.
There are those who teach that we enter into an intermediate state and then we are reincarnated as a person or animal. The deeds accomplished in a life will determine whether one goes to Nirvana, which is the Hindu/Buddhist place of complete bliss and delight and peace. If one does not reach Nirvana, one is reborn into another life on earth, which is a punishment, of sorts, for not being pure enough. These people believe that there is a divine state of consciousness from which all souls depart for proper training through many reincarnations. Once one reaches the state of purity required, his soul returns to the divine consciousness.
There are those who teach that when we die, we return to our ancestors. They believe in an existence after death with their ancestors.
Many religions have a belief in an afterlife. The idea of immortality, in various modes, is almost universal and appears to have been held by human beings from the earliest times. It is found both in primitive religion and in the higher religions. The reason for this is that we all descended from Noah, who descended from Adam, who had a personal relationship with God. The descendants of Noah began to get away from God, but they never lost their desire to seek Him. They forgot the one true God and then began to fashion their own gods. They knew of immortality because of their ancestor’s knowledge of Jehovah, therefore they incorporated immortality into their own religions.
Additionally there is an innate knowledge of deity in each of us that is built in to our psyche through our DNA. We are born with it because God created it in us. That congenital sense of God has been rejected by much of the world as a myth, or fairytale, or poppycock or a figment of one’s imagination. Yet history bears this out. Since the beginning of time, groups of people have had a belief in the afterlife and a belief in deity. Many man-made deities and religions have existed through the ages. That inborn sense of God in our psyche has prompted the various belief systems and religions of history.
What the Bible teaches about the Soul and Spirit
The Bible, which has been proven true in numerous ways, teaches the immortality of the soul or spirit. This is a good time to discuss the body, soul, and spirit. I think we can safely say that the Bible teaches that these are three separate parts of our being. We know what the body is. It is our material selves.
Let us discuss the spirit and soul. The Bible uses both of these terms to refer to our non-material selves. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruach (רוּח), and the Greek is pneuma (πνευμα). The Hebrew for soul is nephesh (נפשׁ), the Greek is psuche or psyche (ψυχή). We recognize the Greek sounds. Pneuma is our basis for pneumatic, to do with air.
Psuche, or psyche in English, has to do with our self and is the basis for the words psychology, psychiatry, and psyche. The psyche is defined by some as the entirety of the conscious and unconscious human mind; in other words, life. Thayer defines psyche as “the breath of life; the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in the breathing of men and of animals.” When the Bible discusses both soul and spirit they are spoken of two separate things. Hence the soul and the spirit are two distinct parts of our being.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and a part of the Godhead. Our spirit as the non-material part of our being that is in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. It is the point of our direct relationship with God. Our spirits as Christians, are referred to in Hebrews (12:22-24) as “the spirits of righteous men made perfect (YLT).” When we die, if we are saved by Jesus Christ, our spirit separates from our bodies (Ecc 12:7) and goes to a place of comfort (Luk 16:22-25).
The soul is the part of us that is alive. It has the breath of life. While the body is a collection of chemical compounds that are inanimate in their own right, the soul is what gives the body life. Our soul is our life. Souls are living and breathing (Gen 2:7). Objects are inanimate. When the soul departs, the body dies, becoming an object. The soul can exist without the body so when the body dies the soul leaves (Psa 16:10; Mat 10:28; Rev 6:9).
The spirit gives life to the soul. When God breathed the spirit of life into the man, he became a living soul (Gen 2:7). The spirit is the seat of affections and emotions (Gen 43:30; Job 30:27; Psa 22:14; Php 2:1-2). A spirit is an incorporeal being (Ecc 12:7). Angels are spirits (Heb 1:7) and cannot be sensed unless they allow themselves to be sensed or seen (ex 3:2; Num 22:31; Luk 1:11). The spirit is our connection with God through His Spirit (Rom 8:16).
Genesis 2:7 states, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The body receives life from the soul, thus is controlled by the soul (Gen 35:18; Lev 5:2, 15, 17); the soul receives life from the spirit. The soul causes our consciousness. We are conscious, thinking beings because of our soul. Our soul can act apart from the will of God. Our soul is the point of connection we have with our spirit. Our spirit is the point of connection with God through the Holy Spirit and is given by God for this purpose. Our spirit strives to guide our soul, but because we have free will, our soul is under no obligation to do what our spirit wants. Jesus says the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mat 26:41). The flesh is controlled by the soul. When we die, our soul and spirit still exist. We have an immortal soul and spirit which live on after our bodies die. What happens to these parts depends on our condition at death.
The Bible tells us of the souls of those who had been martyred because of God’s word. They are crying out for the vengeance of God against those who were guilty of their blood. They are under the altar1. They were told to wait until the number of those martyred as they were was fulfilled. Revelation tells us of souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony. They came to life and reigned with Christ. The Bible tells us of the spirits of those who are righteous and made perfect in Revelation 7:9 (See also Rev 6:9; 7:14; 19:8; 20:4).
Where do the soul and spirit go after death?
The Bible tells us about six places of residence after death. They are: Heaven, Hell, Hades, Sheol, Paradise, and the Bosom of Abraham.
There are three heavens according to the Bible. There is the heaven directly above the earth, which is the sky where the birds fly (Gen 1:7-8, 20). It is called the first heaven. There is outer space or the second heaven where the sun, moon, and stars abide (Gen 1:14-17). Then there is the Heaven where God resides. This is the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2), which Paul also called paradise (2 Cor 12:4). In Revelation we read about the New Jerusalem which descends out of heaven from God to the new earth (Rev 21:12). This is the dwelling place of God coming to be with man. Only the saved will enter the city. This is the heaven we are all looking forward to entering, the dwelling of God, the New Jerusalem.
The Greek word for hell is gehenna. It refers to the Hinnom valley on the southwest side of Jerusalem. In this valley, people sacrificed their sons to Molech, a fertility God which required child sacrifice by fire. King Josiah desecrated the valley of Hinnom thereby making it place where the worship of Molech or any idol or pagan god was impossible. (2 Kin 23:10). Fore more information See Gehenna. In some versions Hades, Sheol, and Gehenna are all translated “hell.”
Hades and Sheol:
Hades is Greek and Sheol is Hebrew for the same place. Sheol is the Old Testament place of the dead. The Bible tells of both good and bad men going to Sheol. Sheol is translated hell, grave, and pit. Where good men go to Sheol, it is translated grave, and hell and pit when bad men go to there. The original Hebrew just uses the word “Sheol” to indicate the place. Sheol is said to be under the earth.
Hades is taken from the Hades in Greek mythology. But because Jesus talked about Hades, it is a real place. It is translated ‘hell’ in older Bible versions. In mythology, all dead men went to Hades. It was divided into three parts: Tartarus, the Elysian Fields, and the Asophel Meadows. Tartarus, which is mentioned in the Bible and translated “hell,” is the place where the wicked dead go. Peter tells us that Tartarus is the place where the evil angels are chained, awaiting judgment (2 Pet 2:4). It is a place of torment and suffering, and since it is mentioned in the Bible, it is a real place.
The Elysian Fields is where the good dead go. It is a place of comfort. Asophel Meadows is the place where those who are neither bad nor good go. It is a place of existence. There is no biblical equivalent to this place. We are either saved or unsaved; there is no middle ground. In the Bible, Hades is where the dead go and it is basically the same as Sheol.
Jesus tells us that the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church (Mat 16:18). Being the place of the dead, death will not be able to prevail against His church, the assembly of those with eternal life. Jesus talks about Hades being down in the earth (Mat 11:23; Luk 10:15) like Sheol. This is where we get the concept of hell being under the earth. Our scripture pictures the rich man in Hades and Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham (Luk 16:23). The rich man is in place of torment, and Lazarus is in comfort.
Paradise and the Bosom of Abraham:
When the criminal on one of the crosses asks Jesus to remember him, Jesus told him he would be with Jesus in paradise that day! (Luk 23:43) Paul was caught up into paradise in the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2). There he saw inexpressible things. In Revelation, Jesus tells us that the tree of life is in paradise (Rev 2:7).
In Luke 16:23, Lazarus is in the Bosom of Abraham. Bosom draws us a picture of a child nursing or hugging its mother or father. The child is in a place of security and comfort. When the child is in the bosom, it is in a place of affection. Abraham is the father of God’s people. Gentile Christians are Abraham’s adopted children. So the bosom of Abraham is a place of comfort, safety, security and love for God’s people. It is apparently synonymous with paradise.
Paradise is said by Paul to be in the third heaven (2 Cor 12:4). Scripture tells us of the chasm between the place of torment and paradise which cannot be crossed (Luk 16:26). Some would surmise without any verifiable evidence that they are both in Sheol or Hades, and that the comfortable part of Hades is in the third heaven and the tormenting place is under the earth. The important thing is that there are two places for the dead to go. In our modern common speech, we call them heaven and hell.
What occurs after death?
At death the spirit and soul separate from the body. Paul tells us through a parable and a metaphor, that we will receive a body:
2 Cor 5:1-3 (KVJ) For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2) For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: (3) If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.
When Paul wrote this passage is it was easily understood by the recipients of the passage. However, it is a bit obscure in our current jargon. The New Living Translation helps us to understand the passage:
2 Cor 5:1-3 (NLT) For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands. (2) We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. (3) For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.
When we die in Christ, Paul tells us that we will leave this earthly body we live in and will receive a new body thus we will not be incorporeal spirits floating around. It would be of great value to you, the reader, to read the whole passage, which is found in 2 Cor 5:1-10.
Paul did not write about those that die without Christ. However, from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, it appears that the unsaved receive a body as well. The rich man wanted Lazarus to give him a drop of water to cool his tongue. The tongue is a part of the body, so it is likely the rich man in torments had a body (Luk 16:24).
I believe we go to a place of the dead. If we are saved, our spirits (and blood washed souls) go to the place called paradise, or the bosom of Abraham. I believe it is a distinct place which is located in the third heaven where God dwells. There we will see Jesus face to face. Paul tells in 1 Corinthians that when we are away from the body [in death] we are present with the Lord. In other words, we who are saved by our faith in Christ will be separated from our bodies at death and then immediately in the presence of the Lord in a new body in paradise.
For people who are not saved, the Bible plainly tells us that their souls go to Hades, to a place of torment (Luk 16:24), or to Tartarus (2 Per 2:4) or to Gehenna (Luk 12:5). While there they will be totally separated from God, and they will be in torment in a place of outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mat 8:12; 25:30).
Cremation vs Burial
Traditionally Christians choose burial. Nevertheless, is it proper for a Christian to cremate? The answer is simple. The Bible tells us that after our death, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Since the spirit of the dead returns directly to the Father Who gave it, and the left over matter, which is the body, returns to its original element, dust, then there is no reason to preserve the body. If a cadaver is buried directly in the earth with no embalming, within a few months there is nothing left except dust and perhaps a few bones if the soil is dry enough. It makes no difference; to bury or cremate is your choice.
Some make the claim that the bodily resurrection requires a body to be in the ground. This is not so. Other than bones, science has proven that most of the flesh on a body left to the elements decomposes to dust within thirty days if not buried in a casket or embalmed. Bones deteriorate more slowly, but eventually do return to the dust. God, who fashioned the first man, Adam, made him from “the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7). Thus if our flesh and bones have completely wasted away to the dust of the ground, God, just like He formed Adam, is still able to resurrect us bodily.
Resurrection is the re-animation, or the raising from death to life, of a human body that has experienced real death. The Bible tells us of several resurrections.
Elijah the prophet raised the widow of Zarephath’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:19-23).
The prophet Elisha raised the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-35).
A Moabite man was indiscriminately thrown into Elisha’s grave by a marauding band and came back to life when he touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21).
Jesus raised the Widow’s son from death in the town of Nain (Luk 7:11-15).
Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death (Luk 8:52-55)
Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from death at Bethany (John 11:43-44). Read the entire story in John chapter 11.
Many holy people were resurrected in Jerusalem at the moment of Jesus’resurrection from His grave (Mat 27:52-53).
The Apostle Peter raised Tabitha from the dead at Joppa (Act 9:40-41).
The Apostle Paul raised Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:9-10).
And the most important resurrection was the resurrection of Christ occurred three days after His death seen in all four Gospels.
There is a future resurrection that will occur when Christ returns and His angels will gather together His elect from the earth (Mat 24:31; Mar 13:27).
There is a final resurrection fourth resurrection that will occur after the thousand year reign of Christ (Rev 20:5). When the thousand years are over, the unsaved dead will be resurrected. The earth, the sea, death, and Hades give up their dead (Rev 20:13). Those resurrected at this time will stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment to be judged for their deeds (Rev 20:13). They will then be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur which is hell (Rev 20:14).
Should we fear death? Not if we are saved by the blood of Christ; absolutely not. We should not fear, because the Bible is very specific about our future. Death brings us into the glorious presence of God. If you have Christ, you should not fear death. That fear, if you have it, is not trusting Jesus to do what he said. Trust him, do not fear.
For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. ( 2 Tim 1:12b)
Under the Altar-Leviticus 4:7b states, “. . . all the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.” The blood of the bullock is shed for the atonement of sins and is poured out by the priest at the base of (or under) the altar of burnt offering, which is the altar of sacrifice that cleanses from sin. Thus these souls are seen under that altar because their sins have been cleansed.
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).
Mark Oaks, October 25, 2018
- Under the Altar-Leviticus 4:7b states, “. . . all the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the doorway of the tent of meeting.” The blood of the bullock is shed for the atonement of sins and is poured out by the priest at the base of (or under) the altar of burnt offering, which is the altar of sacrifice that cleanses from sin. Thus these souls are seen under that altar because their sins have been cleansed.