Hebrews 9:27 declares, It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes
With the exception of those who experience death, resurrection and then death again (as those whom Jesus raised during His earthly ministry), or who bypass death and are carried directly into Heaven or cast into the Lake of Fire (identified below), the great mass of humanity dies once and, at that time, discovers experientially whether their eternal fate will be one of blessing or of woe.
This study will include glimpses of what Scripture tells us about the various destinies of the dead.
Preliminarily, we'll begin by clarifying 1 Corinthians 12:2-4. In this passage, Paul states that he had been taken up into the third heaven. The first heaven in Scripture is the atmosphere, where the birds fly and the clouds hover, as in Genesis 1:20. The second is outer space, where the sun, moon and stars and other “heavenly bodies” are located, as in Genesis 1:14-17. The third heaven, the Heaven of note in this study, is not part of the natural world as we know it, but is the dwelling place of God, which can be seen in Revelation 11:13 and numerous other passages.
We will now examine a number of scriptures and establishing a few points.
1. In Acts 2:25 and 27, Peter declared, 25. For David says of [Jesus] . . . . 27. Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades.
Peter quoted from Psalm 16:10, from which we see that the Greek word Hades was translated from the Hebrew word Sheol. The point of note here is that Sheol and Hades are identical.
2. Psalm 89:48: What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
What can be seen here is that the souls of both the righteous and the unrighteous went to Sheol or Hades upon death.
3. Luke 16:19-26:
19. Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21. and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24. And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” 25. But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
The passage describes the rich man as being in Hades, a place of torment, and Abraham and Lazarus being in a place of comfort. Relative to Lazarus, the place of comfort was called Abraham’s bosom, a term denoting closeness of relationship and security (John 13:23). Between the two places there is a great chasm fixed.
It would seem from the passage that Abraham and Lazarus were not in Hades. Nevertheless, on the basis of Psalm 89:48, which we've just looked at, we can conclude that all three were in Hades. How can that be? New York City is in New York State. The Hades that the rich man was in is like New
York City. Some may find the similarity striking, but it is strictly coincidental; and the Hades that all three were in is like New
York State, the greater Hades, so to speak, with Abraham and Lazarus living comfortably out in the suburbs or in some other
pleasant part of the State beyond the City.
4. In Luke 23:43, Jesus said to the thief on the cross who had expressed faith in Him, Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise. While Jesus' body was yet on the surface of the Earth (Matthew 27:57-60), His spirit, not His body, went to Paradise.
At this point, it would be good to note several things:
1. The greater Sheol or Hades, which includes both the torment and the comfort sections, is described as being in the earth beneath, the lower parts of the earth, the heart of the earth or some similar designation (Ezekiel 31:14,16,18; 32:18,21,24; Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:9).
2. Other designations for the torment section are:
a. the Pit (Ezekiel 21:16; 26:20; 31:14,16).
b. Abaddon (Hebrew), which means destruction, and its Greek derivative, Apollyon (Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; Psalm 88:11; 27:32).
Abaddon and Apollyon are also designations for the angel of the Abyss, a third portion of Hades, which is a temporary abode for fallen angels (Luke 8:31; Revelation 11:9; 17:8; 20:2-3). Another portion of Hades, called Tartarus, is reserved for a particularly odious class of fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6,7). The term is derived from the Greek tar-tar-o'-o in 2 Peter 2:4, and appears as Tartarus in only a few translations, such as, Young's Literal: having cast them down to Tartarus.
3. Another designation for the comfort section of Hades is Paradise (Luke 23:43). According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Paradeisos (Greek), means “’an orchard of pleasure and fruits,’ ‘a garden’ or ‘a pleasure ground.’” As has been noted, in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul reported that he had been caught up into the third heaven, which he also called Paradise. In addition, a comparison of Revelation 2:7 and chapters 21 and 22 shows that the final destination of the saints of all ages is called both Heaven and Paradise. Paradise, then, is used in Scripture of both Abraham's Bosom and Heaven.
To summarize some essentials,
1. Sheol or Hades, in the heart of the earth, is where the spirits of both the unrighteous and the righteous went after death. The unrighteous went to the torment section, called Hades, the Pit, Abaddon and Apollyon, and the righteous went to the comfort section, Abraham's Bosom.
2. Heaven is the place where God dwells, and is the final destination of the saints of all of Earth's ages.
3. Paradise denotes a place of great pleasantness, and is used in Scripture of both Abraham's Bosom and Heaven (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7).
8. Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9. (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10. He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
Matthew 12:40: For just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
From the Ephesians passage especially, and others that we will examine, we learn that our Lord’s Ascension marked a
significant dividing line in regard to the destinies of saints.
In the two passages just noted, Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth, the heart of the earth. We can thereby tell for certain that He descended into the greater Hades. But into which section? Luke 23:24 makes that clear: Jesus said to the thief on the cross, today you shall be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:24). It was the comfort section, Abraham's Bosom, to which He descended. In addition, from such passages as Matthew 27:60 and Mark 15:43-45, which describe the handling and burial of Jesus' corpse, we see that it was only His spirit that descended into Abraham's Bosom, not His body.
Jesus was no ordinary man. He was God. Why, then, did He go to Abraham's Bosom, and not to Heaven until it was time for His resurrection? Perhaps the answer lies in this: The sacrifices that the pre-Ascension saints had offered for their sins merely covered their sins and qualified them for entry into Abraham's Bosom, but not Heaven (which explains why they are called captives in the passage, though they were in a place of comfort); but now that the Lamb of God had offered Himself as the true sacrifice, they could now be welcomed into Heaven. Apparently, Jesus descended into Abraham's Bosom to announce to the pre-Ascension saints that He had prepared the way for them to enter Heaven and that He was shortly to escort them there. On the third day, His spirit rose from Abraham's Bosom to join His body, and He was resurrected. Upon His Ascension to Heaven forty days later, He escorted the souls of the pre-Ascension saints with Him into the presence of God in Heaven, leaving the unrighteous in the Pit. (Other passages that we will address indicate that the resurrection of the bodies of the pre-Ascension saints is for a future time.)
Hades was emptied of pre-Ascension saints upon Jesus' Ascension, but we
can deduce that the souls of the pre-Ascension unrighteous are still in the Pit portion of Hades, and that the souls of the post-Ascension unrighteous who die right up to the end of the Millennium will go there, because Revelation 20:14 tells us that, at the end
of the Millennium, Hades [will be] thrown into the lake of fire.
What about the spirits of the post-Ascension righteous? In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul said, we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord; and in Philippians 1:21-24,
21. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 22. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24. yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
From these passages, we see that the souls of saints who die between the Ascension and the Rapture - the period of time in which Paul made the declarations, and in which we live - enter immediately into the presence of God in Heaven to join the souls of the pre-Ascension saints, whom Jesus escorted there.
After the Ascension, the Rapture will constitute the next dividing line in the destiny of the saints. The Rapture is an event yet
future that is alluded to in several passages, but is described most clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18. Some key excerpts:
1 Corinthians 15:51-54:
51. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory."
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:
16. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Unlike the various ages we are considering, the Rapture takes place in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Prior to the Rapture, the bodies of all saints remain somewhere in the natural world; but at the moment of the Rapture, in the twinkling of an eye, the bodies of those saints in Christ will be caught up (2) to join their spirits and become alive, resurrected, to always be with the Lord; and those saints who are alive on Earth at that time will not see death, but will be caught up, body and soul, also to always be with the Lord. The bodies of all who are caught up will no longer be the earthly bodies that we are familiar with, subject to decay and death, but will be glorified, transformed into bodies that are imperishable (not subject to decay) and immortal (not subject to death), fit for life in the presence of God in Heaven.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 says, the dead in Christ will rise first. Only those in Christ will be raptured. In Christ, or in Messiah, is a term that is used in Scripture only of believers between Pentecost and the Rapture. Only the church saints, the saints between Pentecost and the Rapture, will be raptured.
16. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that
we are children of God, 17. and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.18. For I
consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly
for the revealing of the sons of God. 20. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21. that the creation itself also
will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of
childbirth together until now. 23. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our
adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25. But if we hope for
what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
~ Romans 8:16-15 ~
It is not the Rapture that signals the beginning of the Great Tribulation, but the signing of the seven-year treaty between Israel and the anti-Christ (Daniel 9:27). If the Rapture and signing occur concurrently, then there will be no interim between the two events. If the signing takes place subsequent to the Rapture, then there will be an interim. If there will be an interim, then the spirits of believers who die during this period will go to Heaven, and their bodies will remain in the natural world. The spirits of nonbelievers who die will be sent to the Pit, and their bodies will remain in the natural world.
The beginning of the Great Tribulation will be marked by the signing of the seven-year treaty, and the events leading to its end will be initiated by the Lord’s
Second Coming (Zechariah 14:1-4; Matthew 24:30-31; Acts 1:11; Jude 14-15).
Having been raptured, the entire body of Messiah will be with the Lord in Heaven during the seven year period of the Great Tribulation. However, great multitudes on Earth will come to believe during this period, and will be martyred (Revelation 6:9-11; 14:13; 17:6). Others who come to faith will no doubt die by other means, just as they do today; but by whatever means they die, their bodies will remain in the natural world, and their spirits will go Heaven to be with the Lord, as Revelation 6:9-11 shows is the case with the souls of the martyred. The bodies of nonbelievers who die will remain in the natural world, and their spirits will be sent to the Pit. The anti-Christ and the false prophet will not die, but will be thrown alive, body and soul, into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).
Another term for the Lake of Fire is Gehenna. It is a term not found in all translations, but in some. For example, in Matthew 5:22 in Young’s Literal Translation, Jesus declares, whoever may say to his brother, Empty fellow! shall be in danger of the sanhedrim, and whoever may say, Rebel! shall be in danger of the gehenna of the fire. Another passage that identifies Gehenna with the Lake of Fire is James 3:6 (YLT), where we find the phrase, set on fire by the gehenna. Geenna (gheh'-en-nah) is the Greek term found in both passages. In Matthew 5:22 it is usually translated by such terms as fire of hell, or hellfire, and in James 3:6, by such terms as fire from Hell or fire by Hell.
The term Gehenna is derived from the Hebrew Ge b'nai Hinnom, the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. It is a valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem where idolatrous Israelites in pre-Captivity times offered their children as burnt offerings to the heathen God Molech, and which had since served as a place for the burning of the carcasses of animals and criminals and all sorts of refuse.
The harbinger of the Millennium (meaning, the Thousand Year Period) or Kingdom Age is the Second Coming of the Lord, and the end of the Millennium will be marked by
the passing away of our present heaven and Earth (Revelation 21:1). No doubt the heaven referred to here refers to the created heavens, the atmosphere and outer space, for it is the creation that
bears the curse of Genesis 3, not the Heaven where God dwells. As it says in Romans 8:22, For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers
the pains of childbirth together until now.
When the Lord returns from Heaven, He will bring all the church saints with Him in their glorified bodies to reign with Him for the thousand years (Jude 1:14; Revelation 20:6). Shortly after, all pre-Ascension saints will be resurrected (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2) as will the Tribulation saints, the latter group of whom will also reign with Messiah (Revelation 20:4).
As for the kinds of bodies the Millennial saints will have:
1. All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26) at the very end of the Tribulation. They will remain in their natural bodies as the Lord builds the Kingdom and renews the Earth.
2. The bodies of the church saints were glorified at the Rapture, and they will retain their glorified bodies when they return with the Lord, and throughout the Millennium.
3. As far as I have been able to discover, Scripture does not state explicitly whether or not the pre-Ascension or Tribulation saints will receive glorified bodies at their resurrection. However, since they will not be taken into Heaven, but will be resurrected to life on Earth, it can go either way.
Isaiah 65:20 makes it clear that there will be human death during the Kingdom. There will certainly be no death for those in their glorified bodies, and surely nonbelievers will be included among those who die. The passage also seems to imply that saints in their natural bodies will die as well, though their lives will be much longer than ours today. Virtually all commentators hold to this position, even the noted Hebrew scholars Keil and Delitzsch. The bodies of the deceased will remain in the natural world, and the spirits of the nonbelievers will be sent to the Pit. Where will the nonbelievers come from? All who enter the Kingdom will be believers, but those who are born in the Kingdom from those in their natural bodies will still need to exercise faith in Messiah for salvation. Revelation 20:7-9 informs us that, after Satan is released from his prison at the end of the thousand years, he will have no problem gathering a great multitude (of nonbelievers, obviously) from all over the Earth to attack the camp of the saints and the beloved city. Where will the spirits of deceased saints go? Good question! Abraham's Bosom had been cleared of the spirits of the pre-Ascension saints, Heaven had been cleared of the spirits of church saints, and the Lord Himself will be on Earth. Why, then, should the spirit of any saint who dies during the Millennium be sent either to Abraham's Bosom or to Heaven?! Perhaps this is an indication that no saint at all will die during the Millennium!
The Kingdom will terminate with the Great White Throne Judgment, at which time all the unrighteous of all the Earth’s ages will appear, body and soul, before the Lord to determine their degree of eternal punishment, body and soul, in the Lake of Fire (John 5:22; Revelation 20:4-6; 11-15; 21:8), And Death and Hades (the bodies and souls of the unsaved, respectively) were thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14).
According to Revelation 21:1-2, after the Great White Throne Judgment, there will be a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God will rest upon the new Earth. It is here that the saints of all ages will dwell, body and soul, in the presence of God for all eternity.
22. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23. to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits
of the righteous made perfect, 24. and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
~ Hebrews 12:22-24 ~
With the exception of those who experience death, resurrection and then death again, or who bypass death and are carried directly into Heaven or cast into the Lake of Fire, the great mass of humanity dies once and, at that time, discovers
experientially whether their eternal fate will be one of blessing or of woe.
From Adam until the Great White Throne judgment, the bodies of the unsaved who die will remain in the natural world, and their spirits will be in the Pit portion of Sheol or Hades. They will be resurrected at the Great White Throne Judgment to hear the degrees of punishment that they have earned, and will then be cast alive, into the
Lake of Fire, to remain there for eternity.
The Pre-Ascension Saints
Upon their decease, their bodies remained on earth, and their spirits went to Abraham's Bosom, the Paradise portion of Sheol or Hades. When the Lord ascended, He escorted their spirits into Heaven. Shortly after the Lord's return, their bodies will be resurrected and rejoined with their spirits for life on earth in the Kingdom.
The Church Saints
These are the saints who live between Pentecost and the Rapture. As for those in this group who become deceased, their spirits will instantly go to be with the Lord in Heaven, and their bodies will remain on earth. At the time of the Rapture, they will be taken up to Heaven and be rejoined with their spirits.
Those church saints who are alive at the moment of the Rapture will bypass death as they will be raptured, taken into Heaven, body and soul.
All church saints will receive glorified bodies at the moment of the Rapture and will remain in Heaven with the Lord until His Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation, at which time they will return with the Lord to Earth for life in the Kingdom.
The Saints on Earth from the Rapture Until the End of the Tribulation
The bodies of believers who die between the Rapture and the end of the Tribulation will remain on earth, and their spirits will be in Heaven.
During the Kingdom, those who are in their glorified bodies will never die. If, indeed, there will be any death among believers in their natural bodies, it seems that Scripture is silent as to what will become of their bodies and spirits. Surely their spirits would be in a Paradise.
Saints in the Eternal Ages
During the Eternal Ages, all believers since Adam will live in the new Jerusalem on the new Earth in the new heavens along with the holy angels, in the presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever.
It is rather obvious that one's eternal destiny is a concern of the greatest import. However, in God's eyes, there is an even greater concern: whether or not one has the humility to admit that he or she is a sinner that has offended God and man, and to run to Him for salvation.
16. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
~ John 3:16-21 ~
2 Corinthians 5:21: He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Jesus].
Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
No one can enter the presence of God in Heaven with the stains of sin on their souls, but God loved us so much that He made a way for us. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die in our place for our sins so that we would not have to pay the penalty for our sins for eternity, and Jesus willingly paid the ultimate price for our salvation. There's only one thing left for us to do: believe.
Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works [any action
we can take], so that no one may boast.
Grace is a free gift. All we need to do is to believe in this great act of God's love on our behalf for the salvation that Christ died for to become ours.
Do you believe? Will you believe? If you believe, thank God. If you are not yet sure, spend some quiet time alone before Him, and
ask Him is this is true.
Bless you, in Jesus' Name,