Where Do People Go After They Die?
Where do New Testament believers go after they die?
Though the ultimate destination for believers in Jesus Christ will be eternity with God in a place called “heaven,” the eternal state of heaven is not where they go immediately after they die. First, in Luke 16:19-31 there is a scene in the afterlife where the patriarch Abraham is holding a man named Lazarus. The place where they are is unnamed, and Lazarus is said to be at “Abraham’s side” (or bosom). Given Jesus’ statements to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-32 about Abraham and his whereabouts, it is clear that Abraham was in the presence of God – presumably in heaven. In the same story there is another character called “the rich man” who died and went into “Hades” where he said, “I am in agony in this flame.” He was calling out to Abraham, who was in the presence of God, and asking him to send Lazarus to touch his tongue so as to give him relief. Abraham’s answer was that this was impossible because a great “chasm” separated the rich man in Hades and Abraham and Lazarus in heaven (though never actually called “heaven”). So, from this story in Luke it is clear that those who have the faith of Abraham in the One and only God go to be in the place where Abraham currently is which just happens to be the same place where God is.
The second passage to observe is found in Luke 23:43. In this passage Jesus acknowledges the faith of the criminal on the cross next to him on the day he died. The man asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom, and Jesus responded with, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” So “Paradise” appears to be the holding place of those who die in Christ – the same unnamed place where Abraham and Lazarus were in Luke 16. And the holding place for the wicked dead (those who reject God and His Son Jesus Christ) is technically called “Hades.” In Revelation 20:14 “death and Hades” are thrown into the “lake of fire.” The Lake of Fire then will be the final destination for those who reject God when Hades is thrown into it. This is called the “second death.” Immediately following the second death (for unbelievers only) in the Lake of Fire the Apostle John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” which will be the final dwelling place for the righteous dead who were previously held in Paradise – a place that housed the spirits of the dead in Christ and the Old Testament saints.
What is the purpose of the Judgment Seat of Christ?
The Bible talks about the Judgment Seat of Christ-also referred to as the bema-in three places: Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10--4:5; and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. Only church-age saints will appear at that judgment, as shown in 2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (emphasis added). The purpose of the bema is an exhaustive evaluation of our lives. First Corinthians 4:5 says the Lord will come and "bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God." That passage reveals Paul's emphasis on the judgment seat of Christ. Notice that Paul says
each man's praise will come to him from God. God gives rewards to the victors; He does not whip the losers. We know that He won't condemn us for our sins at that point, because Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Thus, the purpose of the judgment seat of Christ is to examine a Christian's total life. We will be recompensed for the deeds we have done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). The term used there refers to a summing up and estimation of the total pattern of a believer's life. This overall focus should keep us from worrying over every stupid thing we've ever done, or thoughtless sin we have committed. It's a time of reward, not punishment. At the same time, while we won't be condemned for our sins, our present lives do affect what will happen at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
- Sin and indifference in this life rob us of our present desire for serving the Lord. That in turn means a loss of rewards, because we will not have used our time to His glory. That is why Paul exhorts us to "be careful how [we] walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of [our] time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16, NASB).
- Sin and indifference result in a loss of power in our lives because sin grieves the Holy Spirit.
- Sin and indifference cause us to pass up opportunities for service, which we would otherwise perform and be rewarded for.
The greatest consequence of unfaithfulness here on earth is that it disappoints Christ. First John 2:28 says, "And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming." That is a sobering thought-we could be ashamed as we stand before the Lord. At the same time, it should encourage us with the prospect of receiving His lavish rewards if we serve Him faithfully during our time here on earth.
Do Christians receive glorified bodies immediately after they die?
Second Corinthians 5:6-8 makes it clear that the believer is ushered directly into the presence of God upon death. Paul argues that "to be absent from the body" is tantamount to being "present with the Lord." Jesus sounded a similar theme when He told the thief on the cross "today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). The paradise Jesus referred to is synonymous with heaven. However, Scripture also teaches that the believer, while in the presence of the Lord, will not receive his glorified body until a later time. Upon death, our bodies go into the grave and await the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:16), when He will raise and transform them
(1 John 3:2).
The apostle Paul speaks of the time when our spirits will be again united with our bodies so that we will no longer be naked (2 Cor. 5:3) but able to live throughout eternity in the form God created us to enjoy. The new body of the Christian is yet future, though each deceased saint is now in the presence of the Lord.