I remember a fellow preacher once saying something like this: “If you don’t see angels after you die, then you’re in trouble”. Sadly, there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about death and what happens after. Hopefully some of that confusion can be erased by a study of some Scriptures. First of all, what is death? Death is not necessarily determined by heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen level, etc. A man can still be alive without the demonstration of some vital signs.
Death is defined for us in the Bible. James wrote, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). Also, when writing about Rachel, Moses indicated, “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin” (Gen. 35:18). Then we have what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6- 8).
For death truly to occur, the soul has to vacate the physical body. With that being understood, what happens then? Some believe, mistakenly, that the soul then goes to the final destinations of either Heaven or Hell. That is not the case at all. The soul of man will not dwell in Heaven or Hell until after the Judgment. After all, the writer of Hebrews wrote, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Likewise, Paul indicated, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Describing the Judgment scene,
Jesus taught “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels…And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:31-34, 41, 46).
So if the soul does not go directly to Heaven or Hell, where does it go? After all, a soul is immortal. It has to exist somewhere. Jesus famously told “the thief on the cross”, “…Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). The “paradise” that Jesus mentioned could not be the final place of Heaven. We have already established that the soul must go through the Judgment Day first. So what is “paradise” that Jesus mentioned? Jesus taught a great lesson about what happens to the soul when it leaves the body. By so doing, he helped us to understand “paradise”. Jesus explained, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).
There are two different places described by Jesus. Each place will have souls until Judgment Day. “Abraham’s bosom” is equal with the term “paradise”. This is where righteous souls go to await Judgment. Those souls will be “comforted” (Luke 16:25). The place termed “hell” in Luke 16 is not to be confused with the final destination of Hell. This “hell” comes from a Greek word that we call Hades. It simply refers to “the unseen realm”. Our physical eyes cannot visually see it. There is another place besides “Abraham’s bosom”. In this place, souls are “tormented” (Luke 16:25, 28). This is where unrighteous souls await Judgment. Each soul is to remain in the appropriate location until the Lord judges mankind (Luke 16:26). Death is nothing that should be feared for righteous souls. After death, they will indeed be “comforted”. However, unrighteous souls should learn about the “torment” that awaits them. If they do not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ before it is too late, then they will have to face the consequences.
~ Corey Barnette