I received this question the other day from our anonymous Have A Question page, and thought I’d tackle it in it’s own post. For one, we’re living in a time when everyone feels a bit uncertain about life. We’re facing the first world-wide pandemic in our lifetime, that is killing thousands per day, even while we are self-isolating.
So, why not tackle a question about what happens when we die? Because, for me, knowing a piece of God’s plan for us helps bring hope and comfort in a time where we don’t have a lot of that.
Here’s the question:
So, I was listening to one of your podcasts, I don’t remember which one but you were talking about souls and what happens after death. You said that nothing happens after death until Jesus comes back. But I want to know what you think about the story Jesus tells in Luke 6:19-31, it’s the story of the rich man and the beggar. After the beggar Lazarus dies, he was carried away in Abraham’s bosom. According to this story, when you die, your soul goes paradise (I believe).
I want to know what you think.
Also, I really love your podcast because your opinions are black or white and I really appreciate when Christians know exactly where they stand. I wanted to compliment you on that.
So, yes, there is a question about the Abraham’s Bosom parable, but I want to hit the fundamentals first, because we shouldn’t create a theology out of one passage, especially when there are so many others that talk about it.
But, I promise we’ll get back to it. For now though, let’s lay some groundwork using the Bible, because that’s really the only place to get eschatological information from.
Es-chat-o-logi-cal – relating to death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.
And to be honest, I struggle with how to tackle for two reasons:
The first is that what I believe is going to be severely at odds with what most of you have been taught, and if you’re a pastor, teacher or parent, like different than what you have taught others.
If that’s you, this may offend you. Consider this your warning. If you do not like others challenging your beliefs – this is the time to walk away. I want to put that out there, because this topic really upsets some people. Others will be fascinated, excited, feel hope and joy from it, and some will get really angry.
So, if you’re still reading (or listening to the podcast), consider yourself warned. I’m more than up for a spirited discussion in the comments, over email, or in the forum, but I hope you’ll be respectful and Christ-like in your responses.
The second reason it’s hard to tackle the subject is because it’s so vast. So, if this seems to meander a bit, my apologies. I’m going to try and tackle the subject, any related material that is foundational to it, and handle as many objections as I can up front.
So, I think the easiest way to start is to ask:
When does our resurrection happen?
All of our media would tell us that resurrection happens individually. We have jokes, books, movies and tv-shows telling us about people showing up at the gates of heaven with Peter already there, ready to admit us. There are Saturday Night Live skits about people waking up in hell with other people already there, and more to come.
However, the Bible tells us that there are two resurrections that are global events.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. - Revelation 20:6
The first resurrection is the resurrection of the righteous – that is, those that believe in Christ and accept him as our Saviour.
When does that happen?
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. - 1 Thessalonians 4:16
So, the first resurrection, the resurrection of the righteous (the believers) happens after Christ returns – in other words, after the second coming.
This is corroborated:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. - John 14:1-3
Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, He will come back and then we’ll meet Him.
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. - John 5:28-29
And again, John tells us that if you are dead – you are dead, in the grave. Not in heaven, not in some purgatory. You are in the grave. You will be resurrected when Christ returns – when we hear His voice. Another verse says it will sound like the call of the trumpet. You’re not going to miss it.
There is no secret rapture. This is not a quiet popping out. It’s not individual as you die. This is going to be a massive global event that no one is going to miss. Every eye shall see it.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. - 1 Corinthians 15:51-53
If you are a believer and are still alive – you will go up to meet Christ as He returns. If you have already died – you will be resurrected and you will go up to meet Christ as He returns. Believers will, at this point, become immortal. Up until that point, we are not. More on that in a bit.
What if you don’t believe?
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. - Matthew 25:31
Well, if you don’t believe, this event instead of being awesome and joyful is absolutely terrifying and causes death. You realize – too late – that there is a God, and you have turned your back on Him. And because of that, you don’t gain immortality, and the sheer glory of God destroys your mortal being.
And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. - 2 Thessalonians 2:8
In short, if you aren’t already dead, you are now.
So, the believers (the remnant of a remnant) are caught up with Christ, and the unbelievers are all dead. There’s no one left to even bury them.
And at that day the slain of the Lord shall be from one end of the earth even to the other end of the earth. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become refuse on the ground. - Jeremiah 25:33
And they stay there for a while.
But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. - Revelation 20:5
For 1000 years, there is peace, but this isn’t the new Heaven and Earth yet. All the believers are alive, immortal, with Christ, and we’re free from sin having been changed.
I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void; And the heavens, they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled, And all the hills moved back and forth. I beheld, and indeed there was no man, And all the birds of the heavens had fled. I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness, And all its cities were broken down At the presence of the Lord, By His fierce anger. - Jeremiah 4:23-26
During the 1000 years, all the creations of man fall apart – the earth takes back the cities, the roads, the fields, everything.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. - Revelation 20:1-3
Satan is still alive, but with the believers changed, made perfect and immortal, and the non-believers all dead – he has no one to tempt. He is essentially in prison – no one to corrupt, no one to turn to his side.
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. - Revelation 20:4
During this 1000 years, we judge the world.
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? - 1 Corinthians 6:2-3
God has already judged us as believers and the others as non-believers, but during this time the books are opened – we can see everyone’s lives – see the decisions they made, what led them to choose God or turn away from God. While it says we’re judging the world, in truth, we’re judging God. This is God allowing Himself to be held accountable to us. So that we will never have a doubt again about Him. This is our chance to ask all the questions about “why isn’t my friend here who seemed so righteous, and why is this other person here who didn’t seem worthy of immortality?”
We will see the choices they made, that they made the decision to live with God, or die without Him.
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. - John 5:28-29
After the 1000 years, then there is a second resurrection.
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. - Revelation 20:7-8
This is the resurrection of the non-believers. Satan is loosed from his prison and convinces everyone who is left to follow Him.
They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. - Revelation 20:9
As final proof that the non-believers can never coexist with the believers, they attack the camp of the saints, and God, in His mercy, destroys them.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:14-15
And they’re dead at that point. There is no third resurrection. They aren’t immortal, having never received immortality like the saints did. They are dead – gone. They no longer exist.
With them, God destroys the very concept of death and the grave. Noone will ever die again. The idea of a dead person will not exist.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. - Revelation 21:1
He burns everything away – the non-believers, Satan, the fallen angels, even the old heaven and earth. It’s all gone. Cleansed by fire in the same way the earth was cleansed by water in Noah’s time.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. - John 3:16
This is the ultimate fate of those who do not follow God. That is why Christ came to save us. That is why He died and rose again (look, Easter theme after all).
Without Christ – you will die – worse, you will ultimately no longer exist, without the chance of any sort of resurrection again.
But what about the people in hell?
The short answer is – there are no people in hell. Hell is an event, not a place. Hell is that fire that consumed everything – the non-believers, Satan his demons, the very earth and even heaven.
If hell was a place where people are tortured forever, we need to accept a few things that you will see in the Bible:
- God is not loving – He cannot be if He created a world where the vast majority of people will be sentenced to everlasting pain. This makes God a sadist.
- God is not just – an eternity of suffering in exchange for a sinful life – that is not just – the punishment doesn’t suit the crime.
- All humans are inherently immortal – they have to be if their going to be tortured for eternity as well
- Satan is immortal – he has to be if he’s going to be tortured for eternity
Points 1 & 2 are a bit harder to argue – it’s mostly just philosophy, so I’ll leave those as they stand. Pulling verses saying God is loving and just I don’t think would be productive.
Let’s take a look at points 3 & 4 instead.
Are humans immortal?
For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more. - Psalm 37:9-10
David tells us that the non-believers will be cut-off, that the wicked shall be no more. That even if you look for where they are, you will not find them.
But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the Lord, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away. - Psalm 37:20
He goes on to say that they will vanish away like smoke. That sounds like the all-consuming fire we saw in Revelation.
“For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,” Says the Lord of hosts. - Malachi 4:1-3
Malachi quotes God as saying the wicked will be burned up, that they will turn to ashes.
This is very different from the message we get of people burning in hell. They won’t be burning for long it seems – they will be consumed.
Is Satan Immortal?
What about Satan? Surely he will be tortured forever, won’t he? Well, he gets “tortured” in a way for the 1000 years we mentioned before, when there is no one to torment, no one to tempt, no one to convert. But what about after that?
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. - Hebrews 2:14-15
Hebrews tell us the God will destroy the devil, not keep him around for eternity.
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. - Revelation 21:8
Satan and all the non-believers were thrown into this lake of fire – they experience the second death, from which there is no return.
“You defiled your sanctuaries By the multitude of your iniquities, By the iniquity of your trading; Therefore I brought fire from your midst; It devoured you, And I turned you to ashes upon the earth In the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; You have become a horror, And shall be no more forever.” - Ezekiel 28:18-19
Ezekiel quotes God as saying that He will turn Satan to ashes and that he will be no more, forever.
And this is the message of the Bible. This is the judgement – if you do not believe in God, then the God that continues to support our existence will remove Himself from you. You will cease to be.
That is how a loving God operates – not follow me or be tortured, but follow me, or don’t, it’s your choice. Just be aware, that without me, there is nothing.
If eternal torture was the punishment, then that wouldn’t be love, that would be coersion. Instead, we have a lot of non-believers who believe that when they die, they will be dead – that there is nothing else. And, frankly, they’re right, for them. They will get what they want, eventually. They will get a chance to know the truth, but none will accept it.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23
That is why the Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death – it’s not death from this life – we’re all going to experience that, whether we believe or not. If we believe, then our sins aren’t counted against us. That doesn’t mean we won’t die – it just means that death won’t be permanent.
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. - 1 John 5:11
That eternal life can only be gained through Christ. The non-believers and Satan don’t have it. It would be cruel for God to bestow it on them.
What happens when you die?
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. - Daniel 12:2
Nothing. You die. You await the second coming. Doesn’t matter if you’re a believer or not. If you die, that is the end of your consciousness until He comes again and resurrects you.
The next thing you know will be Jesus returning.
But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days. - Daniel 12:13
Daniel knew this full well, because God told it to him in a vision. That when he died, he would sleep and when he arose, it would be to his inheritance - to everlasting life.
I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. - 1 Timothy 6:13-16
Our souls are not immortal – only God has immortality.
These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up. - John 11:11
Rather, our souls “sleep”. That’s the term the Bible uses over and over again – dreamless, consciousnessless sleep. We “Rest In Peace” as the tombstones say.
For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? - Psalm 6:5
We will not remember God, we will not give Him thanks.
For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. - Ecclesiastes 9:5
We won’t even think. We will know nothing.
I think that is a blessing. Because we know from scripture that this world is going to get worse and worse. I for one, do not want to be here to see it. I would much rather be resting in peace.
But if you’ve ever been to a funeral, we hear a lot of different stories, often from the same pastor, about where the person is right now.
They will say, often in the same sermon, that they are in the grave, awaiting Christ’s return. That they are in Heaven, enjoying their inheritance. That they are watching down on us. That they are always with us.
By the end, it becomes very clear that the person speaking has no idea where this person is, or what they are doing.
And I know why they do it. They’re trying to offer comfort to their loved ones. But our comfort should be based in biblical truth. Paul tells us how to comfort one another:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
The comfort is knowing that they rest from all their pains and struggles in this life, and the next thing they will see is Christ’s return, and when that happens, both the dead, who have just risen, and those that were already living, will put on immortality. They will never die again (1 Corinthians 15:51-54), and after the wicked are destroyed, there will be no more death ever, for anyone. No more sorrow, crying, or pain. It will all be a thing of the past (Revelation 21:4).
He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. - Philippians 3:21
Instead we will have new bodies, perfectly created, just like Christ’s resurrected body was, flesh and bone (Luke 24:36-42), the breath of God in a perfect body, in a new creation, just like at the first creation.
Except this time, we will know what the effects of sin are and will never choose it again.
Confusing passages from the Bible
What about all the passages you were taught that tell you you’re going straight to heaven? Let’s take a look at a couple of them, including the one from the question.
The thief on the cross
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43
It seems as though Jesus is saying that the thief will be in heaven today. However, I think this is simply a grammatical error. If you move the comma, then this verse falls in line with scripture:
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43
Now Jesus is telling the thief emphatically that he will be in Paradise. Not, that he will be there today.
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” – John 20:17
After all, Jesus didn’t go to Heaven when He died, so how could He meet the thief there?
Of course, someone will say “but you can’t just move a comma! Not one jot or title should be changed.” However, in the original language, there were no commas. They were inserted during translation, and sometimes improperly, and sometimes they don’t when they should. For example:
So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them. – Acts 19:12
In this passage, the way it’s written, the handkerchiefs and aprons are sick, not the people.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ - Luke 16:19-31
So, first off, this is a parable – a fictional story. In Jesus’ time, rabbis often taught in parables to illustrate a point. Pastors still do it. I have a book of 3000 illustrative stories for sermons.
The point is, the story is a medium for illustrating a point, not to be taken literally. We’ll get to the point in a minute.
Let’s say we take the story as fact – or as a real illustration of heaven and hell. Then we have a problem.
Heaven is within sight of hell – and within earshot. This means that despite the Bible telling us there will be no more tears, grieving, pain, sorry, etc. in heaven, we’re all going to have front-row seats to people being tortured. This looks again like a sadistic God with sadistic followers.
Not to mention then we have serious problems with all the timelines laid out above in the post. Everyone shows up when they die. There is no second coming, no resurrection, no opening of the books, no 1000 years, no new heaven or earth.
Luckily, Jesus tells what the purpose is of this story:
If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.
I hear from people all the time -”I would believe in God if He showed up in front of me – why doesn’t He just come here and let us know He exists?”
But they wouldn’t believe it. And I ask them, if they saw Jesus returning – would they believe, or would they be looking for the wires and special effects? Everyone one says they would still probably not believe.
Someone returning from the dead – even Christ – will not make most people believe. They will believe from our testimony, or they won’t.
That’s the choice afforded to all mankind – believe and be saved. Don’t believe, and you will get exactly what you believe in – nothing. No coercion, no punishment, no controlling. Love the God of love. Or love yourself. The choice is yours. Just know that you can’t save yourself.
I hope that helps answer your question.