Posted by: jiminmontana | January 24, 2011

What Really Happens when You Die

What does Scripture say about life-after-death?  There is a lot of strange stuff out there.

Seventh Day Adventists teach that “bad guys” are “annihilated”.  That there is no Hell.  But they also feed their dogs beans.  No joke.  Our old neighbors fed white beans to their golden retriever all the time — you will have to imagine what that smells like on your lawn after a light rain.    


The net has some coo-coo stuff about this issue of life-after-death.  Here’s a copy & paste example of what I found on-line:    


All of those who died in a state of Grace (aka free from deadly/mortal sin) are with Mary, contained within GOD’s shield of honor, which has guided and protected since the fall of men through satin. Mary is the only one still free from original and all deadly sin and the only one who ever loved GOD, the way HE should have been. She is just caring for them, until GOD is freed-up from other important matters and is able to reclaim them.”

Wow! Somebody is actually walking around out there thinking like that!  Would somebody please hand that guy a Bible?  God’s too busy?!!?!!??!!

It’s a Wonderful Life kept the dumb idea going that “good”dead people turn into angels and have to do good works to “get their wings”.  People are made in God’s image and never lose that; to change into an angel would ultimately be a down-grade when compared to what is to come for those who Trust in the Lord.

Soul Sleep until Heaven?   Nah.

Lots of Believers hold that we are “asleep” until the Resurrection. It’s called “soul sleep”. However, Jesus did not experience anything like that when He died. As we will see, He was in “the Grave” actually preaching to the spirits there. Wild stuff in the Word, but then again — it’s God.

Paul says in 2 Cor 5:8 that he would prefer to be “absent from the body and at home with the Lord.” In Phil 1:21 he says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In v 23 he states that he prefers death: “to depart and be with Christ.” Paul obviously did not believe in “soul sleep”.


If then our spirits retain their consciousness after death, where do they go? The Bible teaches that prior to the resurrection of Jesus, the spirits of the dead went to a place which the Greeks called Hades and the Hebrews call Sheol. Let’s stick with Sheol, since the Greeks also taught that coins on the eyes of the dead paid the ferryman to take the dead to the next level, that Pluto is the god there, etc.  Is that him holding a cell phone?


In Sheol, the spirits existed there consciously in one of two compartments — either Paradise or Torments.  (Yes, past tense.)  This concept is pictured graphically in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus. This is not a parable: people in parables are not real, historical persons who have names. Here, we have a true story of what happened at the death of two certain historical people. Lazarus is named because God wants his memory to be preserved. The rich man, who was once known by many people, is now forgotten because his life had no Real consequence in Heaven. (Lk 16:19-31)

Young’s Literal Translation reads a bit “stiff”, but the words are carefully chosen:

LK 16:19 `And — a certain man was rich, and was clothed in purple and fine linen, making merry sumptuously every day,  and there was a certain poor man, by name Lazarus, who was laid at his porch, full of sores, and desiring to be filled from the crumbs that are falling from the table of the rich man; yea, also the dogs, coming, were licking his sores.
LK 16:22 `And it came to pass, that the poor man died, and that he was carried away by the messengers to the bosom of Abraham — and the rich man also died, and was buried; and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, and having cried, he said, Father Abraham, deal kindly with me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and may cool my tongue, because I am distressed in this flame.
LK 16:25 `And Abraham said, Child, remember that thou did receive — thou — thy good things in thy life, and Lazarus in like manner the evil things, and now he is comforted, and thou art distressed; and besides all these things, between us and you a great chasm is fixed, so that they who are willing to go over from hence unto you are not able, nor do they from thence to us pass through.
LK 16:27 `And he said, I pray thee, then, father, that thou mayest send him to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, so that he may thoroughly testify to them, that they also may not come to this place of torment.
LK 16:29 `Abraham saith to him, They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them;
LK 16:30 and he said, No, father Abraham, but if any one from the dead may go unto them, they will reform.
LK 16:31 And he said to him, If Moses and the prophets they do not hear, neither if one may rise out of the dead will they be persuaded.’

Notice how the Rich Man continues — even after death and the awareness of his doom — to order Lazarus around like a slave.  No one learns anything in that place — they only get worse and worse through countless days and years.

The spirits of all human beings were once there, either in Paradise or in Torments. No one had yet been judged in the Courtroom of God because Messiah had not yet been Judged on behalf of anyone.  (Korah was swallowed up by the earth (Numbers 16:32) and the “Legends of the Jews” by Louis Ginzberg is an interesting read on a lot of Jewish folklore and children’s stories — here’s the link regarding Korah, specifically.)  

The Bible indicates that after the death of Jesus on the Cross, He descended into Sheol and declared to all the spirits there His triumph over Satan 1Peter 3:18-19;   4:6 Just as Lazarus and the rich man could communicate, everyone in the Grave could hear what Jesus was saying.

There was a time-period between when Jesus was Resurrected and later He went back up to Heaven. It lasted for 40 days — 3 of which He was in Paradise. (As He told the “good” thief in Lk 23:43, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  That’s not the same thing as Heaven.)

Many of us memorize Psalm 23 that begins with the words “The Lord is my Shepherd” It contains the words: “Yea, though I walk through the VALLEY of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Before Jesus, the Grave was like a box canyon with no way out. The spirit of Jesus went down into the Grave on the side called Paradise. But Jesus went into the Grave violently (with an earthquake) and actually broke the Grave on the way into it. Not only did He have the power to do this, but because His death was WRONG, the Grave became ruined in the process of receiving this singular Person who did not deserve to die. If “the wages of sin are death”, then Jesus was suffering death quite wrongfully and that injustice broke the Grave.  Interestingly, even the Qur’an declares that Jesus was without Sin —  surah 19:19 — unlike Mohammad who was a sinner — surah 47:19).  There has been One death too many in the history of the world.  What a death that was!  What a Life that had been — under the Law, yet sinless.  His infinite Value can expunge the finite number of sins that have been perpetrated against Holiness. 

Mt 27: 50-53

Just as the curtain was being destroyed in the Temple, the closed container of the Grave was torn open — but only on one side of that “compartment“. The Saints who had died, from Abel who was murdered by Cain and onward were set free as soon as the payment for their sins had been made. But they did not leave immediately. “. . . coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city (Jerusalem) and appeared to many”.  Although they were possibly able to leave Paradise, none did at first because Messiah was with them. Those who had loved the promises of God were captivated by His presence; He was explaining all that had happened and would happen. When Jesus left the Grave/Paradise, then these Saints went with Him — back into the world of men. As weird as vs. 52 & 53 sound, these “Old Testament saints” were resurrected bodily with Messiah and walked around Jerusalem in the flesh, yet immortal.

James Tissot, French, 1836-1902

Here, the Bible indicates that after His resurrection, when He ascended into Heaven, Jesus took the OT saints from Paradise with Him, transferring these formerly dead saints from Sheol/Paradise to Heaven (Eph 4:8-9) The saints are thereafter pictured as being in Heaven before the throne of God (Rev 6:9 & 7:9). According to Matthew, these Saints are already resurrected and have flawless physical bodies. Some Saints who are in Heaven as spirits (having died after Messiah’s resurrection) are yet to be resurrected (1Cr 15:52)

The spirits of the righteous dead could not go directly to Heaven before the Cross because their sins were not yet forgiven in real time.* The forgiveness of their sins had to await the shedding of the Blood of their Sinless human Substitute (Leviticus 17:11; Romans 5:8-9; Hebrews 9:22).

In Leviticus 23:6-8, God gave commands regarding the feast of unleavened bread on the Sunday (Resurrection Sunday) after Passover. In verses 10-11 the Lord (YHVH) told Moses for Israel:

 . . . ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest, and he shall wave the omer before the Lord (YHVH), to be accepted for you: on the morrow after the Sabbath shall ye wave it.” (Leviticus 23:10-11, KJV).

Messiah was this firstfruits.  But He was one grain among many who were resurrected with Him.  The priest did not lift up a single grain of barley; he took a big sheaf of barley and lifted it up toward Heaven.   Just as the wavesheaf was firstfruits, Jesus was the “first of the firstfruits” (1Corinthians 15:20, 23). Through the type of the wavesheaf, we see that the resurrected Jesus appeared to the Father on the morning after the Sabbath (John 20:1, 17, 19) during the days of unleavened bread, ascending from the Grave back to Life among His followers on earth.

“. . . I ascend unto My Father and your Father; and to my God and to your God ” (John 20:17).

He was shown (waved) before God and the new priesthood of all Believers.** Jesus was the wavesheaf for the FIRST resurrection, the resurrection to eternal life. Sorry to say that there is a “second resurrection” of the Damned who are being collected in Torments as they die.

Not just one perfect grain was waved in the air, but a large sheaf containing many grains. These others represent the OT saints who rose bodily with the Lord. Still this was not the whole harvest. Much more was to come later. That’s us. Our day is coming.

In a Nut Shell

When a Redeemed person dies, they are quickly carried by the angels to Heaven.  Since Paradise was broken open at the death of Messiah, it has been emptied and remains empty of its inhabitants.  It could be that the pathway from Here to Heaven remains the same — that the essence of the dead saint (both spirit and soul) will be escorted through Paradise and onward to Heaven.  Perhaps there is a newer direct path.  Notice in Rev. 6 that those saints who had been slain by the God-haters during the Tribulation pray from below the Altar in Heaven to be avenged of their murders.  It is their “souls” (psyche)*** that speak in Heaven, a clear indication that both the human spirit and human soul are made Perfect prior to a bodily resurrection as God cannot look upon sin in any form.

Rev 6:9 KJV – And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Rev 6:10 KJV – And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Rev 6:11 KJV – And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they [were], should be fulfilled.

Isa 59:2 KJV – But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid [his] face from you, that he will not hear.

Since these slain saints were heard by the Lord, it is obvious that they are Sinless.  The cool thing is this:  you will be Perfect then.  No fear, no shade of character — unity with Holy God and all His faithful ones.

Now for the Bad News  

Those who never Trusted in Messiah have been left in the Grave (the side of Sheol called “Torments”) until the day when they will be formally judged by Messiah.   Rev. 20 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”

Unredeemed people are judged for their WORKS. The Bible indicates that there are RECORDING angels — apparently, all they do is write down what happens. They keep a log of all events because God is righteous in His judgments. When people are condemned to Hell, there will be a record of WHY.**** All the times when the Holy Spirit was pressing a person to turn to the God who loves them will be recalled to memory. Every word in each person’s book will be there for all to see.

Not so the Redeemed. Pardon my speculation, but it is based on “filling in the blanks in Scripture and not going against them”. The redeemed sinner will also find his or her book in Heaven. To open that book would bring terror, but in the pages of those books, much Blood has covered over what is written there. King David said in Ps 32 “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” I believe that my book has many passages written there which cannot be read by anyone — including God. The innocent Blood of Messiah is able to do this. In this Criminal Court of Heaven, the evidence against me has been destroyed. There is no “Exhibit A”. Beyond that, my guilt has been legally expunged. All that remains in my book are those few times when I have submitted to the Will of God through His gift of faith – that’s when I yielded to the Holy Spirit – AND done His Will by His Power, not mine. Those are the only events in my life wherein I have not been an affront to the Lord. For those few moments, I will be rewarded. Nothing else will remain to mention.

 Loved Ones in Hell

Many people have lost loved ones who didn’t put their trust in Messiah. Some people argue that people in Heaven won’t know Hell exists. But this would make Heaven’s joy dependent on ignorance, which is not taught in Scripture. So, how could we enjoy Heaven knowing that a loved one is in Hell?

Spurgeon’s Sermon “No Tears in Heaven”

“Has it never struck you, dear friends, that if you go to heaven and see your dear children left behind unconverted, it would naturally be a cause of sorrow?  When my mother told me that if I perished in hell, that she would have to say “Amen” to my condemnation. I knew it was true and it sounded awful, and had a good effect on my mind; but at the same time I could not help thinking, “Well, you will be very different from what you are now,” and I didn’t think she would be much improved. I thought “Well, I love to think of your weeping over me far better than to think of you as a perfect being, with a tearless eye, looking on the damnation of your own child.” It really is a very terrible spectacle, the thought of a perfect being looking down in hell, for instance, as Abraham did, and yet feeling no sorrow; for you will remember that, in the tenor in which Abraham addressed the rich man, there is nothing of pity, there is not a single syllable which indicates any sympathy with him in his dreadful woes; and one does not quite comprehend that perfect beings, God-like beings, beings full of love, and everything that constitutes the glory of God’s complete nature, would still be unable to weep, even over hell itself; they cannot weep over their own children lost and ruined! Now, how is this? If you will tell me, I will be glad, for I cannot tell you. I do not believe that there will be one bit less tenderness, that there will be one fraction less of friendliness, and love, and sympathy–I believe there will be more–but that they will be in some way so refined and purified, that while compassion for suffering is there, hatred of sin will be there to balance it, and a state of complete equilibrium will be attained. Perfect acceptance of the divine will is probably the secret of it; but it is not my business to guess; I don’t know what handkerchief the Lord will use, but I do know that he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and these tears are among them.”

J. I. Packer offers an answer that’s tough, but biblical: 

God the Father (who now pleads with mankind to accept the reconciliation that Christ’s death secured for all) and God the Son (our appointed Judge, who wept over Jerusalem) will — in a final judgment — express wrath and administer justice against rebellious humans. God’s holy righteousness will hereby be revealed; God will be doing the right thing, vindicating himself at last against all who have defied him. . . . (Read through Matt. 25; John 5:22-29; Rom. 2:5-16, 12:19; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 18:1-19:3, 20:11-35, and you will see that clearly.) God will judge justly, and all angels, saints, and martyrs will praise him for it. So it seems inescapable that we shall, with them, approve the judgment of persons—rebels—whom we have known and loved.”

In Heaven, we will see with a new and far better perspective. We’ll fully concur with God’s judgment on the wicked. The martyrs in Heaven call on God to judge evil people on Earth (Revelation 6:9-11). When God brings judgment on the wicked city of Babylon, the people in Heaven are told, “Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you” (Revelation 18:20).  Hell itself may provide a dark backdrop to God’s shining glory and unfathomable grace. Jonathan Edwards made this case, saying, “When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it.” He added, “They shall see the dreadful miseries of the damned, and consider that they deserved the same misery, and that it was sovereign grace, and nothing else, which made them so much to differ from the damned.”

We’ll never question God’s justice, wondering how he could send “good” people to Hell. Rather, we’ll be overwhelmed with his Grace, marveling at what he did to send wicked people to Heaven. (We will no longer have any illusion that fallen people are good without Christ.)

In Heaven we’ll see clearly that God revealed himself to each person and that He gave opportunity for each heart or conscience to seek and respond to Him (Romans 1:18-2:16). Those who’ve heard the gospel have a greater opportunity to respond to Christ (Romans 10:13-17), but every unbeliever, through sin, has rejected God and his self-revelation in creation, conscience, or the gospel.

At death, the spirit of Lazarus was “escorted by angels” to Paradise, not Heaven. His spirit would have been lost and fumbling about otherwise. However, now that Jesus has broken the Grave open, the Redeemed Saints, having died, are escorted along this ancient pathway (likely still flowing through Paradise) directly into Heaven with God.  They await their own resurrection to come.  What about the Damned?

Currently, the Lost remain in the “box canyon” of Torments. They are in the Grave awaiting Justice. Until then, the Lost are likely suffering equally in the LEAST miserable level of Torment that God allows. Scripture clearly indicates that Hell will provide various degrees of torment.  This only seems right, that a monstrous person ought to ultimately suffer more than another person of less perversion ought.

The Lost will also be resurrected bodily. No reason to think that the bodies these Lost receive will be imperfect or zombie-like bodies; I suspect that these Damned people will receive absolutely perfect resurrection bodies. Immediately, these biologically viable people will be Judged in the presence of everyone by Messiah. The book of each Damned person will be opened and the record quickly made known. Then they will physically enter the place prepared for them in the Lake of Fire to suffer an infinite era of woe. That woe will be commensurate for their degree of sinfulness, multiplied by a factor that represents each occasion when that person resisted the Grace that was made available in their mortal experience.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord. All of His ways are Just. His Mercy endures forever.

Avail yourself to that Mercy by placing your trust in Messiah.


* Yes, Messiah was “slain before the foundation of the world.” But we people are temporal beings and would have been unfit to enter God’s presence in Heaven without this provision of the Scapegoat prior to our entrance. Imagine being in the unveiled Presence of Holy and Almighty God! Even if you had been healed of every bit of your sinful nature, it would be just about too much to survive. Think about what poor Enoch and Elijah must have suffered to enter Glory in their yet Fallen condition, even as good as they were. And then to hang around for centuries WAITING for the Consolation — that must have been ROUGH. How much assurance did they need? Remember poor Daniel needed assurance over and over again, yet he was still on earth.

**Annas was the biological heir of the Aaronic priesthood. Rome did not approve of him and appointed a politician named Caiaphas who judged Yeshua to be guilty of blasphemy. When Caiaphas tore his clothes, he destroyed the only clothing appointed by God for his office — thus ending the Levitical priesthood. This ancient garment was made while Israel was in the desert. The new High Priest, Messiah, was there to initiate the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek — He did so while naked, like Adam.

***See post about the difference between the human spirit and human soul and how your soul must be BROKEN before it can be perfected.  Old Souls and the Spirit

****The rascal of Ai confessed to his sin and was then executed. Thus, God’s people saw that the Lord was acting with Justice.  Sometimes, admitting your sin does not get you off the hook.  Tough stuff.



  1. Love your website. This was a great article but I still came away from it with the same question- what happens when I die? I am a Christian. I am saved. Do I get to go to Heaven right away and stay there until Judgement Day?
    I would love to find a clear Bible based answer. Please direct me if you could.
    Thank you so much.

    • Hey, Dana:

      Glad you like the site. Sorry that there remained any confusion — I need to fix that in the post.

      When you die, your human spirit/soul will go straight to the Throne room of Heaven.

      If you remain alive until the Rapture, you will hear the same words which John heard at the beginning of his vision — “Come up here”. He was transported in space and time; you will be transported Upward. This thinking is in step with what happened with Enoch, the Gentile, who had a close relationship with God; he was saved from the Flood and God’s wrath immediately prior to the Flood by being taken safely away into Heaven having never died.

      Should you die today, angels will serve you and the Lord by “carrying” your spirit to the Throne room of Heaven. (see the story of the poor man Lazarus) Lazarus was carried to Paradise which WAS the holding place of OT saints. That compartment was broken when Messiah died; after that, all saints were free to continue to Heaven at the resurrection and were seen in Jerusalem. That ethereal pathway likely still exists and your spirit will pass through Paradise and continue on to Heaven.

      The best single proof text that I can consider has to do with those souls under the Altar in Heaven who ask “How long” before we are avenged? They were people who got Saved after the Rapture and were consequently slain for their refusal to deny the Lord. Rev. 6: 9-10 There is no “soul sleep” there, just close communication right in the Presence of God.

      Parenthetically, it is rational to expect that the Two Witnesses of Revelation (like the two spies in Joshua whose only accomplishment was to Save Rahab, the Gentile) are Enoch and Elijah. They are the only two prophets who have gotten away with never having died, able to represent all of Humanity, both Jew and Gentile.

      Thanks for the kind word. Is this reply adequate?

  2. Jim, thank you for your response.
    Your knowledge of the Bible far exceeds mine, and I will need to research a little to understand a few of your references. I wanted to respond now so you would know I read it. I see there must be no clear verse that says we get saved, we die and go immediately into the presence of God. I keep thinking back to that verse in John where Christ said “and no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (3:13). I kind of liked the idea of being in paradise until judgement day, which makes sense given what Christ said to the thief on the cross. As for my faith, the how it comes about doesn’t matter much to me, I know the ultimate destiny. It’s just that I am unable to be the witness I want to be because I don’t have the answers to the ultimate questions. I realize that is all by design, still I am asking, seeking and knocking in an attempt to find the best way to answer this question when I am asked by a non believer.

    Thank you again for the time you took to answer my question.
    Take care.

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