What happens to a person after death?
Where do we go after we die? It seems everybody would like to know. Do we enjoy paradise? Do we burn in hell? Do we cease to exist? Death is a big mystery. People have all sorts of ways of dealing with it. They contact the dead through mediums. They build elaborate mausoleums to pay tribute to the deceased. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt built their pyramids to guarantee their afterlife. And what of those near-death experiences? What about the white light at the end of a tunnel; the soul hovering over body? What do we make of these occurrences?
The Bible makes it plain that what happens to a person’s soul after death depends on his or her response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Death affords no second chance to repent and embrace salvation. This is supported by the writer of Hebrews, who says: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…(9:27). Paul used the judgment seat of Christ to motivate holy living among the church at Corinth. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Believers have the promise of eternal life from Jesus: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40; 11:25). After death, they enjoy communion with Christ (Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8) while anticipating their future resurrection bodies (I Corinthians 15:51-53, I Thessalonians 4:14-18)
Unbelievers after death are in a state of anguish and torment in Hades separated from God (Luke 16:23–25, 28; 2 Peter 2:9) awaiting the resurrection and final judgment (John 5:28–29; Matthew 25:31-46). This is an intermediate state until the final consummation of the age. The ultimate destination is the second death, the eternal place of punishment called the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15).
Some Christians believe in purgatory, a middle state between heaven and hell, where believers go to endure temporary punishment for their sins. This belief has no basis on the Bible and arose due to faulty legalistic theology during early medieval times. The doctrine of purgatory has been rejected by the Eastern Orthodox Church and most Protestants.
Without any middle destination, a person’s soul after death will be found either in the blissful presence of the Savior or separated from His presence in unquenchable fire. In this state believers await the future resurrection and the promise of a new body that will be incorruptible, like the resurrection body of Jesus which will live for eternity (I Corinthians 15:35-55; Philippians 3:20-21; I John 3:2).
At the time of death, God is either your best friend or your worst enemy. He wants to be your best friend if you came to Him on His terms.