Within and outside the Christian faith, there is a significant amount of confusion in regards to what happens after death. Some hold that after death, everyone sleeps until the final judgment, after which everyone will be sent to Heaven or Hell. Others believe that immediately at the moment of death, people are instantly judged and sent to their eternal destinations. Still others claim that when people die, their souls are sent to a “temporary” Heaven or Hell, to await the final resurrection, the final judgment, and then be sent to their eternal destination. So, what exactly does the Bible say happens after death?
For the believer in Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us that after death, believers’ spirits are taken to Heaven’s Paradise, because their sins were forgiven from having received Christ as Savior (John 3:16,18,36). For believers, after death is to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” Spiritually (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23). However, passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 describe believers being resurrected and given glorified bodies. If believers go to be with Christ immediately after death, what is the purpose of this resurrection? While the spirits of believers do go to be with Christ immediately at death, (Eccl.12:7 (II Cor. 5:8) the physical body is placed into the grave to sleep. At the resurrection of believers, the physical body is resurrected, glorified and perfected, then reunited with the -spirit at the resurrection (1Thess.4:14), (I Cor. 15:48-54) This glorified body with the re-united spirit will be the state of believers for eternity, in the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation chapters 21-22).
For those who do not receive Jesus Christ as Savior, after death means everlasting punishment. However, similar to the destiny of believers, unbelievers Spirits also seem to be sent immediately to a temporary holding place called Hell to await their final resurrection, judgment, and eternal destiny. (Luke 16:22-23) KJV describes a rich man being “tormented in Hell”, immediately after death. And (Revelation 20:11-15)KJV describes all the unbelieving dead being resurrected and judged at the Great White Throne Judgment and then being cast into the lake of fire for ever. Unbelievers, then, are not sent to (the Lake of Fire) immediately after death, but rather are in a temporary realm of judgment and condemnation called (Hell). Even though unbelievers are not instantly sent to the lake of fire, their immediate fate after death is not a pleasant one. The rich man cried out, “I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:22b)KJV.
Therefore, after death, for both believers and unbelievers, a person’s Spirit resides in a “temporary” location; (Paradise or Hell). After leaving this temporary realm, at their final resurrection, peoples’ eternal destiny will not change. The precise “location” of that eternal destiny is what changes. After death, believers will ultimately be granted entrance into the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21:1-4). After death, unbelievers will ultimately be sent to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). These are the final, eternal destinations of all people – based entirely on whether or not they had trusted Jesus Christ alone for salvation (Matthew 25:46; John 3:36).