WHERE DO WE GO WHEN WE DIE?
Other than atheists and agnostics, most people are interested in questions about life after death. (They will be too when they die, but then it will be too late). When a loved one dies, people want to know where that person is. Does one go directly to heaven or hell at death? When an avid golfer dies is it correct to speak of him as now enjoying a round of golf on the heavenly links with his buddies who preceded him? When a “shop-aholic” dies is it correct to say she is now enjoying a big shopping spree up and down the golden street of heaven? When a famous musician dies is it true that he is now enjoying a big “jam session” up in heaven with his former comrades who preceded him in death? Was Tom T. Hall right when he wrote in “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” that it “could be that the good Lord loves a little pickin’ too”?
Does a deceased dad really look down from heaven to see his son’s exploits on the basketball court or the baseball field? Do deceased grandparents really look down from heaven to see their grandchildren getting married? Will there have to be football in heaven for some of us to be happy, and if it is not there, will we be unhappy? Why would anyone say, “Well, if mama is not in heaven, I don’t know that I want to go there myself”? Does that overly sentimental statement nullify the will of God or change the eternal destiny of anyone? Since there are only two places in which to spend eternity, if mama is not in heaven then where is the only other place for her to be? Will you be happy to spend eternity with her in that place? I think one’s effort to be altruistic about his/her deceased loved ones (to say nothing of the veiled questioning of the wisdom and judgment of God) would not last very long in that place of eternal torment. Where do these ideas about life after death originate? Are they from God’s word, or simply from our own wishful and rather earthly and fleshly thinking?
God created man from “the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, KJV). Speaking of death, Solomon wrote, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). (Note: The New Testament will give a fuller explanation of this general statement from Solomon). Earlier, Solomon had said: “No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit, and no one has power over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Physical death is the separation of the body from the spirit (James 2:26), and the Bible plainly declares that “it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
When a person dies, the body is deposited in a grave or perhaps is cremated (which serves the same purpose). The spirit of the deceased goes into the hidden or unseen realm of the dead, a place referred to in the New Testament as Hades and in the Old Testament as Sheol. Hades is not synonymous with hell and should not be spoken of in such a way as to indicate that the two are the same. It is unfortunate that the King James Version of the Bible makes no distinction between hell (gehenna in the Greek, referring to the place of eternal punishment) and Hades (the unseen and intermediate state where all spirits—good and bad—go to await the resurrection and the final judgment). If one reads from the KJV, he will have to determine from the context whether “hell” in a particular passage is referring to everlasting torment or to Hades (cf. Revelation 6:8; Revelation 20:13-14; et. al.).
It was the gates of Hades, not the gates of hell, that would not prevail against the church that Christ would establish (Matthew 16:18). Jesus Himself went to Hades when He died, but “His soul was not left in Hades (hell, KJV), nor did His flesh (His physical body) see corruption” (Acts 2:29-31). Yet to affirm that Jesus went to Hades when he died, and that all spirits—good and bad—go to Hades at death is not to say that all spirits are in the same state in the Hadean realm. While Jesus did go to Hades it was to that part of Hades known as Paradise that He and the repentant thief went when they died (Luke 23:43). When Lazarus, the poor beggar in Jesus’ famous story, died he was carried by the angels into “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22), apparently another descriptive term to refer to Paradise. On the other hand, the rich man who had refused to minister to Lazarus was “in torments in Hades” (Luke 16:23). Elsewhere, this place of torment in Hades is referred to as Tartarus. God cast the sinning angels down to hell (Tartarus in ASV footnote) “and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” (II Peter 2:4). Thus, not even the sinning angels have faced their final judgment or their final destination in hell (gehenna= everlasting torment), but are in the compartment of Hades known as Tartarus. And so with all who die. Their bodies return to the dust of the ground, their spirits enter Hades, with the saved being in Paradise (Abraham’s bosom) and the lost being in Tartarus.
At the second coming of Christ all who have died—the good and the bad—will be resurrected and given incorruptible bodies (John 5:28-29; I Corinthians 15:42-44). The spirits of all who have died—the good and the bad—will come forth from Hades to be reunited with their resurrected bodies (Revelation 20:13). It is at that point that the final judgment of all humanity will occur and the final destination of all—heaven or hell—will be pronounced by the Judge of all and His divine verdict vindicated (Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 17:30-31; II Corinthians 5:10).
When we die our body is buried (or cremated) and it returns to the dust of the ground from which it was taken. Our spirit enters the Hadean realms of either Paradise or Tartarus, depending on the kind of relationship we have with God at the time of our death. After physical death, there is no possibility of changing one’s ultimate and eternal destiny. There is no place in scripture for the doctrine of purgatory or the doctrine of a second chance. All of our “chances” for everlasting life in heaven are limited to our life in this world (study very carefully Luke 16:19-31).
May 12, 2020