I often think about what it will be like when I die. Of course, death will eventually happen to us all (unless the rapture happens first). Even though we sometimes feel as if we will live forever on this earth, we all know deep down that it simply isn’t true. When we see the deaths of loved ones, or famous people, we all get reminded of our own fleshly mortality.
God’s word tells us that the reason we feel as if we will live forever is because God created us to feel that way. The Bible says that God has “Placed eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11)”. We all long for an eternal existence. It’s just a part of our DNA. And even though we die on the Earth, it isn’t permanent. According to the Bible, we will eventually live forever in one of two places: Either the lake of fire, or the new heaven and Earth that is created.
But What Will it Be Like When We Die?
The Bible doesn’t offer a lot of detail on what we exactly feel as we pass from life to eternity. I mean, as we die, what is the exact process we feel? Are we conscious the entire time? Do we feel pain after death? Emotions? Are we aware of everything from the moment of death?
Another great question that is often debated is this: Do people go straight to heaven or hell? Or do we go to a temporary resting place until judgment (Sheol)? Perhaps we simply remain unconscious in the grave awaiting the resurrection and judgment (also called “soul sleeping”). These are all great questions! Fortunately, the Bible does give us some insight into this.
The Bible plainly teaches that we live for eternity. There is no “annihilation” for the unbeliever. God will punish unbelievers who did not receive Christ in the eternal lake of fire. It is not only eternal separation from all that is good and holy (God), but it is also conscious punishment and torment. In fact, we’ll be given new bodies to sustain us for eternity, regardless of our destination. Here are some verses that speak of the judgment and eternity of hell:
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
What Happens When We Die? Do We Go to Heaven or Hell Immediately?
First, there are distinctions to be made here between what happened in the Old Testament when someone died, compared to what happened after Jesus’ victory on the cross. When an Old Testament person died, he or she went to a temporary “holding place,” which was either Sheol/Hades/Hell (Sheol is a term meaning hell or the general grave), or Paradise (also called “Abraham’s bosom”). The best illustration of this is in a parable Jesus gave concerning Lazarus and the rich man.
22“Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.23“In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.24“And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’25“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.26‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’27“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’29“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’30“But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’31“But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
So an unbeliever or wicked person in the Old Testament would go to hell (also called Sheol or Hades), while a righteous person would go to Paradise, or “Abraham’s bosom.” This was before the crucifixion of Jesus. Abraham’s bosom was a place of comfort where the Old Testament saints waited in comfort, while Sheol/Hades was a place of torment.
In the Old Testament, saints who died (looking forward to the coming Messiah), were saved by their faith looking forward. At the time when they passed away, their spirits departed from their bodies, and they were “gathered together with their fathers.” This is an expression the Bible uses many times of people such as Moses, who died alone on the top of a mountain overlooking the promised land:
There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.
After the death of Christ things changed. Now, believers go to heaven immediately upon death to be with the Lord:
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:8
Unbelievers are still taken to the same Hades/Hell/Sheol as in the Old Testament. This is sort of like a “jail,” where they will remain until the judgment. After the great judgment, they will be cast into the eternal lake of fire for all of eternity, which could be compared to the state prison. Believers, on the other hand, will remain with Christ, and will be with God forever in the new heaven and new Earth.
What About Near Death Experiences?
One thing I find interesting and gives us some insight into the experience of death is the famous “near-death-experiences.” In these situations, people are often on the brink of death. Sometimes they are right up to the point of death (or in some cases their hearts may actually be stopped). Many people claim to experience a very “REAL” sense of God. They experience all kinds of similar things. Some even claim to have experienced demons.
A “near death experience” is as close to death as you can get without actually dying. So I think these near death experiences do give us a glimpse at what starts to happen as our bodies pass from life to eternity. We may not be able to get accurate insight into the process, but they give us just a hint of what the body may feel.
For example, many people see a bright “light.” They also feel a strong emotions of love and peace. People often describe seeing God or other heavenly beings. They also often see loved ones. Another thing that I found interesting is that some of these people were so changed by this event, that after they came back to life they were different people. They turned to Christ and made Him their savior.
I mean, some atheists have even turned into preachers over the experience. Some ruthless people become Christian. That is very powerful stuff! I even watched a television program the other day, and there was a blind woman (since birth) that could actually see everything clearly. As if the old body and eyes she had, were suddenly replaced with better ones. She wasn’t trying to sell anything either. It was just an honest (and she seemed very genuine) account of what happened to her.
Either way, these near death experiences give me some comfort about the actual experience of death. For one, these people (despite having severe pain right before death), soon feel a sense of peace and love as they drift away. I can appreciate that! Also, they tend to see their bodies and people in the hospital (in cases where they actually leave their body).
Science research tells us that in many situations, these people’s brains are being bombarded with chemicals. Natural “morphine” if you will. Is this the way God created it? Did he provide us all with comfort as we take our last few breaths on the earth and our bodies start the dying process? Who knows?
Personally, I think death is something we gradually fade into (with the exception of explosions or instant death situations). I think we feel some pain or discomfort as we are about to die, but then, our minds are soon flooded with vivid emotions and visions that ease us into death. Some people say that in their near death experience, emotions, colors, and more was so much more real than this life. Just like how we have dreams, only to wake & realize that they weren’t very realistic. It is the exact opposite with some near death experiences. The experience is so real, and so powerful, that when they come back to life, this world seems almost unrealistic and dull.
As far as what exactly happens after the death is finished, I’ve already stated it above. If you are saved now, you will be with God and the saints in heaven. If you are unsaved, you’ll be gathered together with the wicked in Hades/Hell/Sheol, while you await the final judgment. This is a place of torment, and will not be pleasant (see parable of Lazarus above).
The most important question of all to ask is this: Are you ready to die? Have you accepted Christ? Have you repented of your sins? If not, please give your life to Christ. I cannot tell you how amazing Jesus Christ is. He died for me, for you, and for the sins of the whole world–so that whosever believes in Him shall have eternal life.