What Happens After Death?

…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…

Hebrews 9:27

While speaking of the superiority of the new covenant, God inspired the Hebrew author to make the profound statement that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  This phrase in itself answers one question held by many: “Is it possible to die and then come back to life?”  God has brought back to life several who have died, the most noteworthy being his Son.  Yet he has done so miraculously in every case, and miracles by definition go against the established laws of nature he put into place in the beginning.  Outside of the miraculous, which the Bible says has ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), God has decreed that death will visit each of us but once.  Thus, the stories commonly told of people dying and then coming back to life after “seeing the white light” and “spending time with God in heaven” are just that: stories with no basis in biblical truth.

As Hebrews points out, we die once “and after that comes judgment.”  Yet the Bible does offer more detail.  Jesus spoke of a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus who lived at his gate (Luke 16:19-31).  Both died, and “the poor man…was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (v. 22).  The rich man found himself “in Hades, being in torment” (v. 23).  He “lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side,” and then called out to them, asking, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame” (vs. 23-24).  Yet Abraham declined, citing 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” (vs. 25-26). 

We learn much about what happens to us after we die from this account.  Obviously, Lazarus died in a saved state and the rich man died in a condemned state.  Apparently, angels carry the souls of the deceased who are saved to Abraham’s side.  Jesus would tell the thief on the cross whom he forgave that “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Thus, Jesus, the thief, Abraham, Lazarus the beggar, and all who die in a righteous state go to Paradise after they die.  Those who die in an unrighteous state such as the rich man go to Hades and are in torment. 

Yet, interestingly Peter said that Jesus also went to Hades after he died (Acts 2:23-27).  If Jesus was in Hades (where the rich man was said to be), how could he also be in Paradise, a place obviously off limits to the rich man?  Remember that the rich man, Abraham, and Lazarus could see, speak, and hear each other.  They were only separated by a chasm.  Jesus and the thief also went to where Abraham and Lazarus were, which Peter says was in Hades, where the rich man was said to be.  Thus, Hades must consist of two sections: Paradise where the saved go, and torment where the unsaved go.  These two sections are separated by this chasm.

The Bible teaches that on the day of judgment, “Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:13).  We all must stand before God’s throne and be judged (2 Corinthians 5:10).  After judgment, the unsaved will be cast into hell (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8; Matthew 25:46) and the saved will enter into heaven (Matthew 25:46; 1 Peter 1:4; John 14:2-3; cf. Mark 16:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

To briefly sum up, we each have a singular appointment with death.  After death, we will go to a place the Bible calls Hades.  If we die in a saved state, we will be in the section of Hades known as Paradise.  If we die in an unsaved state, we will be in the part of Hades which is torment.  At judgment we will leave Hades and be judged by God, and then enter either heaven or hell for eternity.

There’s more in Scripture to this topic than this column can cover, but you have the basics here.  If you would like to study more about this, please e-mail me at calhounchurchofchrist@gmail.com.


  1. Ben Stewart says:

    A parable is laying aside a relatable truth that results in teaching a higher truth.

    Could it be that, although they could talk to each other in the afterlife, it is not so. God created a hell to remove the pollution of a lie told by satan, being the first lying soul, hence the father of lies.

    I do not have the doctrine nailed down, but understand Gus Nichols, was essentially when we die we will forever be with God.

    Others hold to a realm of hades divided into 2 parts.

    Does seeing this parable as a means to understand, it’s not about a corvette, but how many people we feed, it’s not about a miracle, but believing what God has already said, affect the doctrine of paradise being divided into two parts?

    1. Jon Mitchell says:

      Hi Ben. Thank you for reading and taking the time to ask your questions.

      I’d like for you to consider a few things. First, the term “parable” (parabole in the original Greek) literally means “comparison.” It’s where we get our word “parallel” from. We commonly define “parables” as stories, usually thought of as fictional stories, “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” Yet that’s not what the actual term means. Whenever Jesus tells parables, he’s making comparisons (“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”). In fact, several times the Bible writers define as “parables” statements that could not be considered stories at all (cf. Luke 5:36; 6:39). Plus, even with the parables that we consider to be stories, there’s nothing in the biblical account that gives any indication that they would be inherently fictional. In other words, there’s nothing to imply that there wasn’t actually a good Samaritan, or that an actual sower didn’t actually go out to sow his seed, etc. The parables given in what we consider to be story form are not spoken of in apocalyptic language, even if they have symbolic meaning. If Jesus said a sower sowed, then he actually sowed. If he said the woman lost her coin, she actually lost her coin.

      My point in saying all of this in relation to the rich man and Lazarus is that due to the actual definition of parables and how they are used in the Bible, there’s nothing in Scripture that would inherently define the account of the rich man and Lazarus as a parable. Even if it was a parable, there’s nothing that would inherently classify it as fictional or inherently symbolic in the ways you mention, in that even though Jesus said they spoke in the afterlife, they actually didn’t. On the contrary, there’s every reason to conclude that we should take Luke 16 as literal non-fiction. There’s nothing to show in the immediate or overall context that every part of Luke 16 should not be taken literally.

      Concerning the idea that after death we will be forever with God, there are a few things to consider.

      1. The entirety of Scripture is truth (Ps. 119:160). As my article points out, Hebrews 9:27 says that judgment comes after death…but the rest of the Bible adds more detail to that. In like manner, Paul said that it would be better for him to depart “and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23), but the rest of the Bible would add more detail to that statement. Paul in Philippians 1:23 does not mention judgment, but we know he would be judged first (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 25:41-46). Luke 16 would likewise bring up something else that Paul would experience before being with Jesus after death.

      2. Jesus, being God, is omnipresent. The Bible speaks of Deity being in Sheol, the Old Testament rendering for Hades (Ps. 139:8). So it would be within the realm of possibility that Paul would depart and find himself with Christ while also being in Hades alongside Lazarus, Abraham, etc.

      These are deep and interesting matters, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my article and discuss them. God bless.

Comments are closed.