What happens after death?

There are more bodies in the grave than there are people living on the earth.

A simple, yet sobering reality that reminds us of the fate awaiting every single human being.


The unknown of it all may be terrifying for some while blissful for others.

For Christians, we are often told of the second coming of Jesus Christ, how those who know Him will be with Him forever and those who do not will perish in Hell.

This is true…but what happens to those who pass away before His return?

Let’s see what scripture has to say about this.

The Body is Asleep

In today’s culture, the common practice is to either bury or cremate the body upon death.

The physical body of an individual does not magically “disappear”. The Bible does not contradict this reality. Scripture often describes a dead body as one that has fallen “asleep”. For example:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-16

According to this passage, Christians who have died are described as either dead in Christ or asleep. This is painted clearly by the interchangeability of these terms between verses 13-14 and verse 16.

This is not to say that death is synonymous to the feeling that one gets when falling asleep every night. Rather, this scripture points to the assurance that one day the we will ALL be woken up from our graves in our PHYSICAL BODIES.

I emphasize physical because when Jesus rose from the grave, He also rose in a PHYSICAL body (Luke 24:42-43; John 20:24-29 ), and according to 1 John 3:2 when He returns, those who believed in Him shall be like Him

I emphasize all because whiles 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 is an assurance only for Christians, the Bible also speaks about a ressurection of people who do not believe in Jesus. We see evidence of this in the Book of Daniel.

During the 3rd year of King Cyrus’s reign (King of Persia), Daniel received a word of God through a vision (Daniel 10:1-9). Among the many things Daniel heard, he received this message:

At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt

Daniel 12:1-2

Similar to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16, God affirms to Daniel that there are individuals who have fallen asleep in the dust of the earth

According to this text, some will awake to everlasting life, while others will awake to everlasting contempt. According to John 3:16 we know that eternal life is only promised to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Shame and everlasting contempt is then not a promise for believers but for those who do not believe.

For the sake of this blog, we will not focus on the realities of these two categories (everlasting life and everlasting contempt), as that would lead us into the conversation of what is to happen after the ressurection.

The major point of emphasis here is the fact that both believers and unbelievers will have a ressurected body which will be revealed once Christ returns.

Therefore, the physical dead body, whether cremated or buried in the grave, whether believer or unbeliever, will be”asleep” until that day arrives.

The spirit departs the body

If the body pretty much “falls asleep”…where do we go during the in-between?

What happens to us while our physical bodies have died and Christ has not yet returned?

This is where the truth regarding the “spirit” comes in.

First of all, it is important for us to understand that the Bible differentiates between the terms Spirit and “spirit” (lower case s).

The capital “S” in Spirit is used in scripture to validate when it is referring to God’s spirit (or the Holy Spirit) as opposed to our own. For example, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit testifies with the spirit of believers to affirm their salvation in Romans 8:16.

The Spirit of God is first mentioned in Genesis 1:2, when He hovered over the waters while the earth was without form. The literal translation of the term “Spirit” in this passage is “breath or wind” derived from the Hebrew word ruach.

Interesting enough, in Genesis 2:7, the Bible declares that God breathed the breath of life into man and he became a living being, insinuating that every human being possess a spirit (lower case).

The spirit is the true invisible life form of all individuals which was provided to us by God. In the new testament greek, it is often synonymous to the word soul.

This reality is also described in Ecclesiastes 12:7 where the scripture declares this:

and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:7

In the context of this chapter, the writer is encouraging us to remember God in the days of our youth before the evil days come and the years draw nearer. Among these days, according to verse 7, is the day that will inevitably visit all of us..

Our death

Upon death, the spirit will return to God who GAVE it.

This writing speaks to a “split” that happens between the physical body (being asleep) and the spirit of an individual upon death. According to the text above, our spirit returns to God following death.

What exactly does this mean for the believer and the unbeliever?

Where do our spirits go?

The Dead Believer

Whiles Jesus was dying on the cross, there was a dialogue between Him and two criminals that hung beside Him, declaring differing words to the Messiah.

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23:39-43

As a response to the second criminal’s acknowledgment of sin and request to be remembered, Jesus assured him with the most amazing promise

..today you will be with me in paradise…

There are three incredible realities we can draw out from this statement.


“Truly, I say to you, today…”

Jesus made it clear that on this day (i.e., the day of their inevitable death), this man would go with Jesus to a place called paradise.

Despite the reality that the physical body returns to dust after a person dies (as discussed in the previous headings), this passage provides implications that the spirit of the dead believer may very well be with Jesus instantly.


“…you will be with me…”

Before any assurance of transcending to some sort of utopia, Jesus promises this criminal that he will be WITH HIM.

Forget the word “paradise” for one moment.

As Christians, our most comforting reality should be the fact that we will one day be with Christ forever.

Look at what the Apostle Paul said about this:

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

Philippians 1:21-24

A couple of take aways from this verse that signifies the value of being with Christ upon death.

A. For Paul dying meant to depart and be with Christ

Paul believed that he would be WITH Christ upon death, similar to the reality that Jesus promised the criminal on the cross.

B. Paul thought death to be better than living

How do we know this? Because Paul said “to depart and be with Christ is far better

In no way do I believe that Paul is encouraging believers to seek death in order to be reunited to Christ. However, we hear of him speaking of death as an opportunity to gain Christ, which is far better than living. Listen closely to his words

“For me to live is Christ and to die is GAIN

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

Paul gives further reassurance in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 that Christians will be with Christ whether they are awake or asleep (i.e., dead). We have confidence that this promise is exclusive for those who have faith in Christ based on the context of 1 Thessalonians as Paul is addressing the church who hoped in the Lord Jesus according to 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3.

My question for every believer is this:

Does this excite you?

Does the destination of “heaven” excite you more than the presence of Christ?

If there was a heaven without Jesus, would you want to be there?

Who are you more excited to see, your fallen loved ones or Jesus?

I understand these can be difficult questions, but I can assure you that there will be no greater joy for believers than the moment we are reunited with our Lord & Saviour.

A lack of joy in being reunited with Him may speak to deeper issues of discontentment in Him.

If you forget everything else about this article, remember this reality ^

3. Paradise

“…in paradise..”

In the original greek of Luke 23:43, the term “paradise” is derived from the word “paradeisos” which means a park, a garden, a paradise. Along with this passage, there are 2 additional occurrences of this term in the New Testament.

The first is found in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 where Paul speaks to an experience where he knew someone who was “caught up” into the third heaven. However in verse 3 of the passage, Paul synonymously uses the term “paradeisos” to describe the “third heaven” implying that both terms hold the same meaning.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise (paradeisos)—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—

2 Corinthians 12:2-3 ESV

Unlike the word paradise, the term heaven is used several times in the Bible.

In its literal term, “heaven” means “the atmosphere, the sky”, “the starry heavens” (i.e., God created the heavens and the earth). Nevertheless, depending on its context, it is also used to describe the heavenly abode of God the Father, i.e where God lives.

  • ..”Our Father in heaven..” – Matthew 6:9
  • …”for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1
  • “….but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 7:21

The final revelation of the term “paradeisos” in the New Testament provides further evidence concerning this reality.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:7

In this chapter, God was rebuking the church in Ephesus for forsaking the love they originally had towards Him. He uses the scripture above to encourage them to return to the good that they used to do.

Based on the phrasing “paradise of God” we have further assurance that paradise is in fact that the place where God dwells.

However there is another interesting reality to take away from this scripture.

The tree of life is IN the paradise of God

According to Genesis 3:22-24, Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden where the tree of life was kept. Recall that “paradeisos” means a park or a garden

….Ok so with all these realities to consider we have a couple of interesting questions to consider.

1. Is paradise the Garden of Eden or some new recreation of it? (Genesis 3:22-24 & Revelation 2:7)

2. Does God live high above the skies, can we not see Him because He is invisible? (2 Corinthians12:1-4, John 1:18, Hebrews 11:27, Colossians 1:15)

On the basis of these scriptures… possibly! But to be honest, I am not entirely sure.

However, the biggest take away from these scriptures is that paradise, wherever it is, is the abode of God the Father. This means that upon death, not only will our spirits be united with Jesus our Saviour, but we will be reunited with our heavenly Father.

We see further evidence of this in scriptures like 1 Peter 3:21-22 where Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father who is in heaven. Which means that to be with Jesus in paradise means also to be with God the Father.

The Dead Unbeliever

Ultimately, the final judgment of unbelievers is clearly depicted in scripture.

The lake of fire.

Following the second coming of Christ, the reality that awaits all of us is to spend an eternity in anguish, in a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth..unless we come to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (John 3:16; Romans 8:1; Revelation 20:10-14; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:7-8).

…But what about in the interim?

What happens to the spirits of unbelievers upon death and prior to the Second Coming of Christ?

According to Revelations 20:10-14, during the Great White Throne Judgement in the End Days, Death & Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire which is the second death.

This passage speaks to the differentiation between Hades and the lake of fire.

Well, what is Hades?

Let’s look to Luke 16:19-31 for answers

In this passage, Jesus speaks of a story about a rich man and a poor man.

The rich man was described as someone who:

  • Lavishly ate everyday and likely did not feed the poor man who laid at his gate (Luke 16:19)
  • Did not repent of their sins (as implied in his plea to warn his brothers in Luke 16:30)
  • Did not believe in the words of Moses and the Prophets (Luke 16:29-31)

These clearly describe attributes of someone who did not place their faith in Jesus Christ.

We can be sure of this because according Luke 24:27, Moses and the Prophets all prophesied concerning Jesus, and if the rich man rejected these prophecies, he rejected the truth of Christ.

Continuing in the story of Luke 16, Jesus goes on to describe the fate of this rich man (unbeliever) following his death:

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame

Luke 16:22-24

Jesus points out two realities regarding the rich man:

  1. He was buried (which speaks to the first point that our bodies are “asleep”)
  2. He went to Hades

A lot can be said about the place of “Hades”, however this passage gives us a simple picture.

Hades is a place of torment. A place of severe physical and mental suffering.

According to verse 24, this torment will be brought about through fire.

From all this we see that Hades is a temporal place of affliction (through fire) for those who have not repented & believed in Jesus Christ. Upon His second coming, they will be thrown from Hades into the lake of fire.

This is the destiny that awaits for all who die without the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

But God is patient.

He desires for everyone to come to repentance and avoid this eternal sentencing (2 Peter 3:9).

In reality, without Christ, the uncertainty and fear of death is a valid one.

However, in Christ, death is nothing but a tool that catapults us into an eternity with God the Father and Jesus our Saviour.

In Christ, like Paul, we can declare these words with confidence:

To live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Soli Deo Gloria

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