In the New Testament, we read of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). The rich man told of his pain, he knew Lazarus, he remembered his brothers. How much time had passed since the rich man and Lazarus died is not known, but they were conscious and aware of the circumstances they were in and how it was on Earth.
Then in Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “And fear not them, which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The body can be killed, but the soul cannot be killed by man.
At death, the spirit survives apart from the body. Paul wrote, “Therefore, we are always confident, knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord (For we walk by faith, not by sight). We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).
Guy N. Woods stated, “The original is even more striking. Those who dwell in the body are at a distance from the Lord; those who have traveled out of the body reside with the Lord. Paul was confident his labors were not in vain.”
When Jesus walked the earth, there was a group called the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. Jesus refuted their belief. They came to him with a quandary. If a woman married a man and he died having no children, then his brother was to marry her and raise up children for his brother. Their tale had the woman having seven husbands. So in the resurrection, whose wife would she be?
Jesus said, “Ye do err not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:23-32).
His reference was to Exodus 3:6, where God stated he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were dead when this was said.
So “what happens when I die”? Look again at the rich man and Lazarus. This is a clear picture of the topic. Some argue that this section of Scripture is a parable, which is incorrect since the story does not contain the usual indicators of parabolic discourse. However, even if the passage were a parable, Bible parables parallel true-life situations to teach a basic lesson of truth. Both men died; spirits left their bodies. The term translated “hell” in Luke 16:23 is the Greek word for Hades, and should not be confused with “Gehenna.” “Gehenna” is found 12 times in the New Testament and refers to the place of eternal, everlasting punishment — the “lake of fire” prepared for the devil and his angels at the Judgment. “Hades” occurs 10 times in the New Testament and refers to the unseen realm of the dead where disembodied spirits of all people wait the Lords return.
Luke 16 shows that hades contains two regions. One is referred to as the “bosom of Abraham.” The other region in hades is described as tormenting flame. Between these two areas is a great gulf which cannot be crossed from side to side. Those in Hades wait for the final judgment at the end of time (John 5:28-29).
Although our eternal destiny is irrevocably fixed at death (Luke 16:26), this final sentencing on the Day of Judgment vindicates the righteousness of God in condemning sinners who spurned him, while also exalting the saving lordship of Jesus Christ before all creation (Philippians 2:9-11).
What happens when I die? My spirit returns to God — the body to the dust, the soul goes to the hadean realm, either a place of paradise (Abraham’s bosom), where the righteous await the judgment day, or Tartarus, where the lost await the final judgment.
All men need to be prepared for death by obeying the Gospel of Jesus Christ and living faithfully as a child of God.
Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part series.