Short Version: What Happens After Death?
I was not satisfied with the way churches would talk about heaven and hell. I had too many questions and their answers did not satisfy my soul. It kept seeming unfair to me that mean Christians would go to heaven but kind and loving atheists/Buddhists/Muslims were doomed to hell. How could God be fair if this predicament was unfair? And what about babies? What happens to their souls? Most pastors have told me that the Bible is silent about this issue. Really? God forgot to mention anything about babies? And how is God going to judge people? By what criteria will God judge all of humanity? Did God forget to share this in the Bible? Is it only by believing in Jesus that someone can be saved? What if someone had never heard of Jesus? And what are we saved from anyways? I was not content that churches believed all of the mass of humanity that had never heard of Jesus would go to hell. Was this really what the Bible taught? I had to read the Bible for myself and figure out what it actually said to get the answers. This synopsis is me sharing the answers to my deep hearted desire to know. What does the Bible really say about what happens after death?
This is the shorter version. It will contain fewer Bible references and quotes in the text, but the references will be in the footnotes. It will have fewer theological arguments. It will attempt to present the theories on this matter in a manner that is respectful to your current position whether believer or non-believer. So that you might understand what it is the Bible says about these things. For a long time I did not want to share any of these ideas because many people I spoke to about them kept calling me a heretic. I didn’t want to be a heretic. And yet when I asked God about this, I felt God was telling me that it was only my job to tell you. It was not my job to convince you to believe it. And so this is me telling you.
Some will say this is presumptuous of me to assume that my theories are correct and other theories are false. Doesn’t everyone believe they are correct and others who oppose them to be false? Doesn’t that mean that everyone is presumptuous? What is different is this: I will present to you these theories and ideas from my perspective, understanding and experience acknowledging that I could be wrong about some of these conclusions. I do not claim full knowledge or monopoly on the truth. I do claim that I have investigated these things with vigor, sincerity and diligence and present them to you without malice or cunning or secret hope for personal gain in this world. I am not asking you to join my church or denomination. I am not asking you to follow me. I am not asking for money or fame. I am asking you to give a hearing to what I will present to you here. The gain I hope for is reward in heaven, not reward here on earth. Part of that reward will be to meet some of you there in heaven face to face and hear that this had helped you in some way along your journey. It has really helped me and given me peace and clarity on this issue. The other reward I hope for is to meet Jesus in heaven and have him tell me, welcome good and faithful servant. Well done. Enter into my joy.
Before explaining what I understand happens to the soul of a person after death. Let me clarify a few terms. I believe that every living person is comprised of three parts. The body, soul and spirit. During life, all three parts are joined together and create life. The body is the physical substance, the atoms and molecules. The soul is the thinking and conscious part of the person. Soul can also be called the mind. The soul is not the brain, although the soul may reside in the brain. And the soul can be affected by the state of the physical brain. The spirit is the power source to run the person. The spirit is the glue that holds the soul to the body. The first man was created from the dust of the earth and then God breathed into the man and he became a living soul. Some people believe that there are only two parts to a person, body and spirit. They will equate the spirit to the soul. This is not my understanding. We are made in the image of God who is one in three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So too we are one in three: body, soul and spirit. It is not essential that we agree on this point in order to continue onwards, but it is important to consider what you believe about this.
When I refer to the soul, I am talking about the mind and consciousness of a person. When I use the word spirit, I refer to that part of a person given by God to empower the person to remain alive. When a person dies, their body begins to decay and will return to dust. The spirit returns to God. And the soul goes on a journey. The soul is awake, aware, thinking, remembering, feeling, seeing, hearing, and conscious of where it has been and what is occurring in the moment.
Hell. This is a term that I will try not to use. Not because I do not believe there is or is not a hell, but because I have come to the understanding that the term Hell is responsible for much of the confusion and misunderstanding about what happens after death. It carries a lot of baggage. At best, it was concocted by the translators to simplify how to think about the fate of the damned. At worse it was a conspiracy to hide the truth to the English speaking world. The term Hell is like talking about the Milky Way Galaxy when what you want to talk about is New York City. In place of Hell, I will be using the more accurate Biblical terms Hades, Outer Darkness, Gehenna and Lake of Fire. Of these terms, only Gehenna and the Lake of Fire are equivalent. Hades and Outer Darkness are distinct places from Gehenna, each with different purposes and populations.
I will attempt to use these terms as stated above.
I am presenting these things as I understand and believe them to be from my understanding of language, logic, reason and seasoning these with my conscience, intuition and experience. I have known there is a God since my first memory. And I have loved Jesus since the first time I heard about him. By education, I went to an Ivy League college and was later trained as a medical doctor. I make money by doctoring, but my passion is reading the Bible and seeking the things of God. Although there have been many times I have been selfish, greedy, petty, lustful, wasteful yet God is good and merciful and remains faithful. God is still calling me to serve him, wretch that I am. So here is what I have discovered during my life about what happens after death. Even still, I could be wrong in some of these matters. And where I discover I am wrong either from more study, from revelation or from evidence presented, then I admit I was wrong and change my understanding. I hope you will do the same.
Please take a moment to jot down a diagram of what you believe happens to the soul of a person after death. It might be helpful to create categories like “believer” and “non believer”. It might be helpful to use arrows to designate each station, if there is more than one in the sequence of events as you understand it. It might just be “nothingness”. For others it might be a question mark. For some, it might be a cycle of reincarnation or that all souls go to heaven. Whatever it is you believe, take a moment to document this on a sheet of paper so that you know where you currently stand on this issue.
Whether you have done this exercise or not is up to you. I will begin with what happens to the soul of the believer. We first will split the group of believers in two. The first group we will call “Wise Believers” and the second group “Foolish Believers.”
Wise believers are those people who have made a sincere confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and have lived their life until their dying breath trying to live this out as sincerely as they could.
Foolish believers are those people who have made a sincere confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior but have not lived their life under the Lordship of Jesus and have been lukewarm about living out their faith in the choices they made during their life. Some have even left the faith before their death.
(For the curious, there were 2 people in the Bible who did not die but were taken up bodily into heaven: Enoch and Elijah).
The Wise Believer
Here below is the sequence of 8 events for the soul of the wise believer:
a. The journey of the wise believer’s soul first goes to Paradise. It is also called Abraham’s Bosom. This is a place of comfort and joy in the gardens of Heaven. It is very like to being a garden outside of a palace. It is a temporary waiting place in Heaven. They are waiting for the Wedding to begin and everyone is mingling and rejoicing and exploring.
2. The Rapture:
a. The next big event that happens is that everyone who is in Paradise waiting for the Wedding Feast to begin, gets new clothes to put on. Along with the clothes, comes a new body created for them. They all fly to meet Jesus in the air and there they also meet up with all those wise believers who were still alive on the earth. Together, united as one Bride, all the wise believers, meet Jesus in the air and are taken up into the Palace of Heaven where there is a marvelous wedding and a banquet.
3. The Wedding Feast of the Lamb:
a. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the wise believers are his Bride. But look, there are other people also at the Wedding Feast. There are friends of the Bridegroom. John the Baptist is foremost amongst these friends and all the faithful Hebrews are also there with John. All of the babies and other innocents who died on the earth before they had a chance to reach maturity of mind to know right from wrong, they will also be there as children of God. This Wedding Feast in heaven will last 1 year and 10 days then…(this is the same amount of time Noah and his family were in the ark during the flood.)
4. The Triumphal Return of Jesus:
a. Jesus will return to the Earth riding on a white horse as conquering king. Jesus came the first time as the Lamb of God. When he returns, Jesus will be the fierce Lion of God. He will be called King of kings and Lord of lords. And he will destroy all his enemies. Then Jesus will establish a splendid kingdom on the earth that will last 1000 years.
5. The Millennial Kingdom:
a. After Jesus destroys his human enemies, an angel will bind up Satan and cast him into the abyss and seal it up until the end of the 1000 years. It is presumed that along with Satan, all the other demons and unclean spirits are bound up and cast into the abyss along with Satan. During this time, Satan and his hordes will be unable to roam and deceive people. However, at the end of the 1000 years, Satan will be released again to deceive the nations.
b. The First Resurrection: At the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom, the wise believers return to the earth from heaven in their new bodies to rule and reign with Jesus. At the Rapture the wise believers got a new body but did not yet return to earth so they are not considered resurrected yet to the earth until this event.
6. The End of the World:
a. At the end of the Millennial Kingdom, Satan is released to deceive the nations. The hearts of many people do not want peace or harmony or abundance if it means they need to submit to Jesus. They would rather do things their own way and be lord of their own lives. Many people turn against Jesus and march against Jerusalem to make war. Then fire comes from heaven to destroy all these armies. God has had enough of Satan. And Satan is finally thrown into the Lake of Fire for all eternity.
7. Witnesses to the Final Judgment:
a. Then the throne of God comes down and the earth and the sky disappear. Then all of the dead are raised up to be judged. The wise believers are there as witnesses to the Final Judgment, like those in the gallery in a court room. They watch as the dead are judged and each life is evaluated.
8. The New Heavens and the New Earth:
a. Then all those wise believers and anyone else who has their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life, will enter the New Earth and the great city, The New Jerusalem, where God and Jesus will make their new home on the new Earth. Note, their eternal home is not in Heaven but on the New Earth.
Here is the wise believer’s journey in diagram form:
Birth ->Death ->1. Paradise -> 2. Rapture -> 3. Wedding Feast of the Lamb -> 4. Triumphal Return of Jesus -> 5. Millennial Kingdom on the Earth -> 6. End of the World -> 7. Witness to the Final Judgment -> 8. The New Heavens and the New Earth
The Foolish Believer
The foolish believer’s soul takes a different route. Most Christians and denominations do not believe or teach this understanding so to most of you, this will appear to be a new teaching. It takes passages from the Bible that most Christians try to ignore and it makes sense of them in the grand scheme of the afterlife. If you are interested in the details as to how this is derived, please read the corresponding sections in the long version that I will write later. There you will find the relevant Bible passages and the reasoning behind each of these conclusions. This helps to give a Biblical answer to the charge that it is unfair that moral non-believers are condemned to torment but wicked Christians go to heaven. Indeed, wicked Christians do not go to heaven. But in the end, they will be saved from the Lake of Fire.
Here is the journey of the foolish believer’s soul:
1. The Outer Darkness:
a. The foolish believer will be taken to a place of darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is a place of sorrow, regret and crying. They will miss out on Paradise, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, and the Millennial Kingdom. Their prayers will not avail them in this place until the time of their release. How long will each foolish believer be in Outer Darkness? From the time of their death until the end of the 1000 years. Will all foolish believers be released from this place? I want to say yes, but I am not sure. My opinion is that all those in this place who call on the name of the Lord, will be saved as though they came through fire.
2. Final Judgment:
a. It is unclear how long foolish believers will be in the Outer Darkness. My sense is that there will be a general release of all foolish believers at the time of the Final Judgment. All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. They are all saved from the Lake of Fire. But they are not saved from Outer Darkness.
3. New Earth:
a. These will be saved but as though they went through fire and their rewards will be fewer. Their status on the New Earth will be as citizens, but not as the Bride of Jesus. Not everyone on the New Earth is equal.
Foolish Believer: Birth -> Death -> Outer Darkness -> Final Judgment -> New Earth
Now we come to the journey of the souls of the non-believers. This will include anyone who has lived and died on the earth and reached a point of mental maturity to know the difference between right and wrong and did not choose to believe in the creator God.
Here is the journey of the souls of the non-believers:
a. This is a temporary place of torment, fire and excruciating pain. The souls here are conscious, awake, alert, remember who they were and what their life was like. They can see, hear, taste, touch, talk, relate, hope, despair, think and reason. Some people say the location of Hades is deep below the surface of the Earth. There are Bible passages that would support this idea. There was also a deep hole dug by Russia in Siberia called the Kola Superdeep Borehole, to attempt to discover how deep the earth is. They drilled down 8 miles and then stopped and have not resumed drilling. Why they stopped is veiled in mystery. There are some reports that they stopped because they heard noises like the screams and wails of human voices being tormented. Whether this is true or not I don't know. The hole was capped and the project was scrapped.
The souls in Hades will remain in this place until the time of the Final Judgment. It is like a jail where the prisoner waits to be taken to court. But even during the wait, there are torments and different degrees of torment. Most depictions and descriptions of hell, are of this place Hades.
2. Final Judgment:
a. All of the souls in Hades will be taken before the great white throne and Jesus will be seated there to judge them. (The wise believers are exempt from the Final Judgment but are there in the gallery as witnesses.) By what criteria will Jesus judge them? Jesus will separate all of these souls from Hades into two groups. On the right side will be the sheep. On the left side will be the goats. Everyone’s life will be opened for review. Their thoughts, actions, motivations and circumstances will be open to review. Nothing will be hidden. Then Jesus will say to the sheep, enter into my kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for when I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was a stranger, you invited me in. When I was sick or in prison, you visited me. And the sheep will ask him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you thirsty and give you drink? Or naked and clothe you? Or a stranger and invite you in? Or sick or in prison and visit you? And Jesus will answer the righteous sheep, when you did it to the least of these my brothers or sisters, then you did it to me.
And to the goats on his left, Jesus will say, depart from me into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For when I was hungry you did not feed me. When I was thirsty you did not give me drink. When I was naked you did not clothe me. When I was a stranger you did not invite me in. When I was sick or in prison, you did not visit me. And the goats will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick or in prison and did not minister to you? And Jesus will answer them, when you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me. And the wicked goats will depart going into everlasting punishment in the Lake of Fire.
Non-believer: Birth-> Death -> Hades ---->Final Judgment --- >Sheep enter the Kingdom of God.
------> Goats enter the Lake of Fire.
So in the end, the only group of people who end up in eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire are those who lived on earth in selfish wickedness and did not believe in God and did not minister to any of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. All other people (including atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, Nazis, Communists, Capitalists, etc…) who took their time and resources to minister to the brothers and sisters of Jesus, even though they themselves did not have faith in Jesus, will be saved from the Lake of Fire.
Who then are the brothers and sisters of Jesus? In my opinion, there are several categories of people who fit this description. They could be Christians, Jews, non-relative babies, and the mentally simple. Babies that we are related to we have an obligation to love and care for. Thus caring for them does not count towards righteousness. However, when anyone cares for a stranger's baby by giving them resources to live, then it is counted as righteousness. Even by giving some water to a little child who comes in the name of Jesus, would gain you some reward. The mentally simple are those whose minds never mature enough to know right from wrong. These non-relative children and the mentally simple would be found in all cultures and throughout all time. Even the pygmy in the jungle who cannot read and has never heard of Jesus will have other peoples’ babies around them.
To me, this fits the evidence given to us in the Bible. It fits with my sense of logical consistency and sense of fairness. It answers my questions about what happens to babies and anyone who has never heard about Jesus. And it answers the objections by non-believers about the fairness of God.
I understand that many of these ideas will be new to you. Please take time to consider and ponder these things as I have presented them to you. If you wish to find out the details, Bible discussions and arguments to uphold these points, then please read the long version. Below I have listed the pertinent Bible references if you wish to do some of your own research. Also, even if you don’t yet believe, you can ask God anyways. Ask God the sincere questions in your heart and mind. Sometimes you will get an answer. Sometimes you won't. Some people will reject God anyways. That is your freedom and prerogative to do so. However, my hope is that if you are a non-believer, you will come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Yet if you stay a non-believer, show kindness and minister (ie, give food, water and hospitality) to those who are believers. And if you are already a believer, my hope for you is that you will wake up and prepare enough oil to wait for the soon return of Jesus. Build your house on the rock and not on the sand. Be wise and not foolish.
I hope this has been a blessing to you. If you have questions about this, you can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Humbly submitted. -Brother Xao
Foot Notes: Bible references:
A. For Wise Believers:
1. Paradise/Abraham’s Bosom: Luke 16:19-31, Luke 23:26-43
2. Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, Revelation 14:14-16, Mark 13:24-27, Mark 13:32-37, Luke 17:20-37
3. Wedding Feast of the Lamb: Matthew 25:1-13, Matthew 8:5-13, Matthew 22:1-14, Luke 14:12-24, Revelation 19:6-10
4. Triumphal Return of Jesus: Revelation 19:11-21, Luke 19:11-27
5. The Millennial Kingdom: Revelation 20:1-6, Zechariah 14:16-21
6. End of the World: Revelation 20:7-11, 2 Peter 3:10
7. Witnesses to Final Judgment: Revelation 20:4-6, Revelation 20:11-15, Matthew 25:40 in the context of verses 31-46, John 5:24
8. New Heavens and New Earth: Revelation 21:1-4, Isaiah 65:17, Isaiah 66:22
B. For Foolish Believers:
1. Outer Darkness: Matthew 8:11-12, Matthew 22:11-14, Matthew 25:30
2. Final Judgment: Revelation 20:11-12, John 5:25-27, 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Romans 10:13
3. New Earth: Revelation 21
C. For the Non-Believers:
1. Hades: Luke 16:19-31
2. Final Judgment: Matthew 25:31-46, Revelation 20:13-15, John 5:27-29, Matthew 10:40-42
D. The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus:
1. Babies/Little Children: Matthew 18:1-6, Matthew 19:13-15, Luke 18:15-17, Mark 10:13-16
2. Brothers and Sisters of Jesus: Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21
3. The mentally simple: Psalm 116:6
The pieces of the puzzle must all fit into the picture. If there is a piece left over, then the puzzle was not fit together correctly. It is not the weight of evidence that wins the day. It is finding out how each piece fits into the whole.
This essay will give you an overview of the perspective on what happens after death. There are very few Bible quotes or verses included. They are all added at the end for reference. A longer version with the Bible verses and reasoning will be added at a future time.
If you want to start your own Bible investigation start with Matthew 24-25, Revelation 19-20 and John 5:16-31. Then look at Luke 16:19-31.
Every matter will be established by 2 or 3 witnesses.