What Happens After Death?

Josh Buice

There is much mystery surrounding death and the unknown plagues many people with fear. However, it’s not completely veiled and mysterious since the Bible provides details. The good news is that we don’t need the “heavenly tourism” books to provide us the details of what happens after we die. The big picture has been unveiled for us in the pages of God’s Word and it’s essential that we build our knowledge from Scripture rather than country music songs, cultural opinions, or heavenly tourism literature.

Death is not the final end of a person’s life. Where the person will spend eternity is dependent on the individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ. For all have sinned and broken God’s law and only Christ can redeem a person and reconcile the individual to God.

What Happens to a Christian After Death?

When a child of God dies, the soul of the person goes immediately into the presence of God. Paul wrote the following to the church at Corinth:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with 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 Corinthians 5:6–10).

To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We see this truth depicted in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus provided us with a glimpse into the immediate relief of a person who died after suffering in this life. Jesus said, “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:22).

In Acts, we see Stephen being stoned for his preaching and his faith in Jesus. At the point of death, notice what the text says about his passing:

And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60).

Clearing Up False Beliefs

It’s common to hear people cling to false teaching after a close friend or family member passes away. It’s essential to reject false teachings and misconceptions about what happens after a person dies.

People do not turn into angels.

Angels are created beings that are distinct from humans. The angels will never turn into people and people will never transform into angels. For all eternity, a human being will be a human. From the point of death until the resurrection of the dead (in the end when Christ returns) – people will live without their physical bodies in eternity. This disembodied state is mysterious to us, but what we do know is that during this state people do not turn into angels. The Christian’s soul goes into the presence of God and the unbeliever’s soul goes into hell.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10–12).

Even the angels look at the relationship of Christians and our God and marvel at the drama of redemption. Not one angel ever created by God understands what it’s like to be lost in sin and rescued by God’s redeeming love.

People do not go to a holding tank (Purgatory).

The doctrine of purgatory is a false teaching invented by the Roman Catholic Church. Not one Bible verse teaches or supports this false doctrine. The Statement of the Second Vatican of the Roman Catholic Church explains the following about Purgatory:

The truth has been divinely revealed that sins are followed by punishments. God’s holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated. This may be done on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and trials of this life and, above all, through death. Otherwise the expiation must be made in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments.

Not only does this statement lack biblical support, it teaches a false doctrine that claims Jesus’ death was incapable of satisfying the Father and his holy justice. It means that Jesus wasn’t enough and more wrath is necessary.

Jesus cried out, “It is finished” in his dying moment and made it clear that everything necessary for the salvation of his people was now done. John penned these words in 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus served as the propitiation for our sins and therefore nothing more is needed. Purgatory is a false teaching that must be rejected.

What Happens to a Non-Christian After Death?

When a person dies outside of Christ, the individual goes immediately to hell — the place reserved for suffering and God’s wrath. This is the place reserved for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).

Every person has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Due to such rebellion, justice must be served and sinners must be punished. Since the person who dies outside of God’s grace is not saved by Jesus (and the work of Jesus on the cross) — that individual must become the recipient of the wrath of God.

Consider the vocabulary that the Bible uses for hell and the suffering of God’s wrath:

–      Agony
–      Banishment
–      Brimstone
–      Curse
–      Darkness
–      Deprivation
–      Destruction
–      Distress
–      Fire
–      Gnashing of Teeth (teeth grinding)
–      Guilt
–      Hopelessness
–      Loneliness
–      Pain
–      Suffering
–      Pressure
–      Prison
–      Punishment
–      Ruin
–      Separation
–      Shame
–      Contempt
–      Smoke
–      Sulfur
–      Torment
–      Trouble
–      Trash
–      Heap
–      Weeping

Even in the most encouraging verse in the Bible, John 3:16, we see the word “perish” which is the language of eternal punishment. In Revelation 14:11, the text says, “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” In Mark 9:42-48, the Bible warns that the fire of hell will never be quenched. Once a person drops into hell, they will never be rescued and there will never be an opportunity to repent. It’s essential for a person to repent today because no person is promised tomorrow. James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Death is a dark mystery that we don’t fully understand until we go through it. However, the mystery of it should not cause us to have fear and anxiety that overcomes us.  We must remember consistently that our Savior has already defeated death.  For us to die is to be in the presence of Christ!  Unbelievers do not have such hope.  Death is only the beginning of eternal miseries for those who reject Christ.

Consider the words of Charles Wesley in his hymn: And Can It Be That I Should Gain

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

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Author What Happens After Death?

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.