Bible Q&A: A Question About the Afterlife

What happens to us after we die? How can we exist in the Hadean world if our bodies remain on earth to later be raised and changed in an instant?

The account given by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31 concerning the rich man and the beggar Lazarus gives us great insight into what happens to our spirit when it departs our body in death (James 2:26).  Upon his death, Lazarus “was carried by angels to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22).  The rich man died and found himself “in Hades, being in torment” at which point he “lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (vs. 22-23).  Jesus also went to Hades after He died during the three days before His resurrection (Acts 2:23-27).  Since He had promised the thief on the cross that he would join Him “in Paradise” that very day (Lk. 23:43), this leads us to conclude that Paradise is a part of Hades.  Jesus and the forgiven thief would clearly not be punished after death by being in torment, just as Abraham, “a friend of God” (James 2:23), would also not be punished in torment.  Thus, Hades is divided into two parts: Paradise, where Abraham, Lazarus, Jesus, the thief, and all the redeemed are, and torment, where the rich man and the condemned are.  Upon hearing the rich man’s request for water, Abraham pointed out that “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (v. 26).  So apparently those in the two parts of Hades can see and communicate with each other, but not leave their respective abodes due to this great chasm.

While our spirits depart to go to Hades, what happens to our deceased bodies here on earth after death?  In the rich man’s case, he “was buried” (v. 22).  The bodies of Saul and his sons were decimated by the Philistines and eventually cremated by those loyal to Saul, who then buried the bones (1 Sam. 31:8-13).  Many throughout history have drowned at sea (cf. Rev. 20:13) or have been eaten by wild animals.  Others have died in fires or alone in such a way that no one found their bodies and buried or burned them.  Ultimately, decomposition takes place so that, one way or another, the body returns to the dust from which the first human being, Adam, came (Eccl. 3:20; Gen. 3:19; cf. 2:7).

The Hebrew writer said that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).  Judgment Day will take place when Jesus comes back (Matt. 25:31-46).  On the day Jesus returns, He will “bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:14).  This will happen because “Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them” before being cast into hell (Rev. 20:13-14).  When He returns, all who have ever died on earth will be resurrected either to eternal life or eternal condemnation (John 5:28-29).  His return “from heaven” will be announced “with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God,” at which point the resurrection of everyone will take place (1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Cor. 15:50-55).

When we are resurrected, “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).  Instead of this perishable, mortal body we currently inhabit, we will “put on the imperishable” and “immortality.”  While not going into great detail about the particulars of this immortal body, Paul makes it clear that it is not the “flesh and blood” we currently have because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (v. 50).  He compares it to the fully-grown plant of wheat or grain that is completely different from the kernel which had previously been buried in the ground (v. 37).  Just as the bodies of humans, animals, birds, and fish are all different (v. 39), and just as the planets and stars are all different from each other (v. 41), so our heavenly body will be different from our earthly body (v. 40).  As far as I’m aware, the Bible goes into no greater detail about these new bodies we will all receive on that day.  At the sound of the trumpet, upon resurrection our souls which Jesus brings with Him from Hades will then apparently enter these new bodies, and those who died “in Christ” will then rise first to meet the Lord in the air and in the clouds, followed by the Christians who are alive on that day (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

All who have ever lived will then stand before God’s throne to be judged (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Cor. 5:10; Eccl. 12:14; Rev. 20:11-12).  The condemned will depart from the presence of God and be cast into eternal hell (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:46a; Rev. 20:15; 21:8; cf. Matt. 5:29-30; 10:28).  The saved will enter into eternal life (Matt. 25:46), claiming their inheritance which is kept in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4), where “we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17; cf. John 14:2-3; Mk. 16:19).

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