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When God Calls You Home: What The Bible Says About Death And The Afterlife

The question of what happens when we die is one that most people ponder at some point in their lives. For people of faith, the Bible offers comfort, wisdom, and answers about the nature of death and what comes next.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Bible teaches that when believers in Christ die, their souls go to be with God in heaven. At the end of the age, there will be a bodily resurrection and final judgment.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine biblical teachings about death, the interim period between death and Christ’s return, the resurrection of the dead, final judgment, and the nature of the afterlife for believers and nonbelievers.

Key biblical passages will be analyzed in context to understand God’s truth about this important topic.

The Nature of Death According to Scripture

Death as a Consequence of Sin

The Bible teaches that death entered the world as a direct consequence of sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command in the Garden of Eden, sin entered creation and corrupted everything, including human nature (Genesis 3). As a result, humanity became mortal and subject to death.

The apostle Paul confirms this in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Here we see that physical death is a punishment for sin.

The Universality of Death

Because all humans inherit a sinful nature from Adam, the Bible presents death as a universal human experience. Hebrews 9:27 declares, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” No one is exempt from death.

From the greatest kings to the poorest beggars, death eventually comes to all. As Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 somberly reminds us, “Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other.

All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” How sobering!

The Finality of Death

For those who die apart from faith in Christ, physical death ushers them into an eternal spiritual death. Jesus referred to this terrifying reality as “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). At death, their physical life ends but their soul lives on in a conscious state of separation from God.

The rich man Jesus describes in Luke 16 poignantly depicts the finality of this death apart from Christ. After death, there are no more chances to repent. For unbelievers, physical death permanently separates them from God’s mercy and grace.

However, for believers, physical death leads to everlasting life with Christ in glory. As Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” What an encouragement!

The Intermediate State Between Death and Christ’s Return

Paradise for the Righteous

The Bible teaches that when believers in Christ die, their souls/spirits go to be with God in heaven, a place of paradise and peace. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The apostle Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). This intermediate state between death and the final resurrection is a conscious existence in God’s presence, a taste of the eternal glory to come.

Paradise is pictured in Scripture as a garden of delight (Revelation 2:7), lacking nothing. Departed saints worship God face-to-face in light and joy beyond anything experienced on earth (Revelation 7:9-17).

While awaiting the resurrection, believers enjoy a provisional spiritual body, more substantial than a spirit but less so than their future resurrection body (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).

Torment for the Wicked

In contrast to paradise, the intermediate state of the unsaved is conscious torment away from God’s presence. Jesus depicted it as fiery torment in Hades (Luke 16:19-31). The unrighteous are “reserved for judgment” under punishment until sentencing on the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:4-9; Jude 6-7).

It is a state of regrets and hopelessness, with no relief or exit possible.

This intermediate state of torment differs from the final lake of fire, the ultimate destination of the lost after the resurrection and last judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). But the two are likely similar in nature.

When an unsaved person dies, their torment begins right away, only to continue after sentencing to the eternal lake of fire.

Purgatory Not Taught in Scripture

The idea of purgatory is a doctrine of late medieval Catholicism without biblical support. Unlike paradise or torment, purgatory is not presented in Scripture as an intermediate state experience after death.

Catholic theology presents purgatory as a place of purification for those who died in God’s grace but needed cleansing from venial sins to enter heaven. However, Scripture teaches that believers are purified and sanctified completely through Christ in this life (Hebrews 10:10, 14).

No post-mortem state of cleansing is presented or necessary.

The practice of praying for the dead reflects a flawed theology of salvation. Support for the doctrine comes mainly from 2 Maccabees 12 in the Apocrypha, a non-canonical writing. Scripture instead urges prayer for the living, not the dead (James 5:16).

The Resurrection of the Dead

The Certainty of the Resurrection

The resurrection of the dead is a central doctrine in Christianity. The Apostle Paul states unequivocally that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for the hope that believers too will be raised from the dead.

The Bible clearly teaches that there will be a future resurrection of the dead for all people—some to eternal life and some to eternal judgment (John 5:28-29).

Jesus Himself reinforced the certainty of the resurrection. He said, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).

The resurrection is as certain as Christ’s own resurrection.

The Nature of the Resurrected Body

The Bible indicates that the resurrected body will be different from our earthly bodies. The resurrected body will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). For believers, their new bodies will be like Christ’s resurrected body.

Jesus ate food after His resurrection, so resurrected bodies can eat. Yet His body could also pass through walls, meaning the new body has capabilities beyond the earthly body.

Paul explains that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50). So the resurrection body will not be a simple return to the “flesh and blood” earthly body.

There is continuity between the earthly body and resurrected body, but also discontinuity.

The Timing of the Resurrection

The Bible depicts two general resurrections. The first resurrection is for believers and occurs in stages. Jesus Christ Himself was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23). The next stage will happen at the rapture when living believers will be changed and receive their glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The final stage is at the end when deceased believers will be raised and united with their glorified bodies.

The second resurrection is for unbelievers and will occur at the end. After Jesus returns and defeats His enemies, the rest of the dead who did not believe will be raised to face judgment (Revelation 20:5, 11-15). They will be cast into the lake of fire.

The timing of these resurrections is certain, even if the exact time is unknown. For believers, while death brings grief, there is anticipation of incredible glory when Christ returns and the dead in Christ rise first. As Paul said, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).

The Final Judgment

Christ as Supreme Judge

The Bible teaches that God has appointed Jesus Christ as the supreme judge who will preside over the final judgment of all humanity (John 5:22-23). The judgment seat of Christ will be a throne of glory where He will sit to evaluate everyone’s deeds and hearts (Matthew 25:31-32; Romans 14:10).

The Bible describes Christ as the righteous judge who will judge the world with justice (2 Timothy 4:8). His judgment will be final, conclusive, and irreversible.

Judgment According to Works

The Bible is clear that God will judge every person according to their works and deeds (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6). Believers will be judged for their works done in the body to determine rewards in eternity (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Unbelievers who rejected Christ will be condemned because of unforgiven sin evidenced by their unrighteous works (Revelation 20:12-13). The standard used will be God’s perfect and holy law, assessing inward motives and intentions of the heart and not merely outward actions (1 Samuel 16:7).

Condemnation of the Wicked

Those who rejected God’s offer of salvation through faith in Jesus will tragically be condemned to eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:15). This is due to unforgiven sin and rebellion against their Creator.

The Bible warns that condemnation and darkness awaits those who heard the gospel but embraced wickedness instead of the light of Christ (John 3:18-21). However, Scripture affirms that God’s judgment is always righteous, just, and deserved.

Inheritance for the Righteous

In contrast, believers who trusted in Christ’s atoning sacrifice on their behalf will joyfully inherit eternal life and dwell forever with God in the glorious new heavens and earth (Revelation 21:1-7).

By God’s grace they will be welcomed into His glorious kingdom as adopted children (Matthew 25:34). Their inheritance includes resurrection bodies, rewards based on faithfulness, the blessing of God’s presence, and the new cosmos itself (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

What an amazing hope for all who trust in the Savior!

Eternal Destiny in the Afterlife

Heaven for Believers

The Bible teaches that those who put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior will go to heaven when they die. Heaven is described as a place of joy, rest, peace, rewards, and worshipping God face to face (John 14:2-3; Hebrews 4:9-11; Revelation 21:4).

Believers will receive glorified resurrection bodies and reign with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Revelation 20:4-6). The joys of heaven are beyond our wildest imaginations (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Getting to heaven is not based on our good works or merit, but solely by God’s grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, believers will be rewarded in heaven based on their faithfulness in serving Christ on earth (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

We can look forward to heaven with eager anticipation and hope (2 Peter 3:13).

Hell for Unbelievers

The Bible warns that those who reject Christ as Savior will spend eternity in hell after they die. Hell is described as a place of burning sulfur, torment, weeping and gnashing of teeth, darkness, and separation from God (Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 14:9-11).

It was created for the punishment of the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), but sadly many people will also end up there.

God takes no pleasure in sending people to hell; that was never His desire or intention (Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9). But He will not force anyone to spend eternity with Him who has rejected Jesus in this life. He respects our freedom to choose.

So those who deny and ignore Christ are tragically condemning themselves to hell by their own choice (John 3:18).

New Heavens and New Earth

The Bible teaches that after the final judgment, God will destroy the old heaven and earth with fire and create a new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:7-13; Revelation 21:1). Just as God created a perfect world in the beginning that was untouched by sin, He will recreate a perfect sinless world where those saved through faith in Christ will live with Him forever.

This new world will be a place of wonders we can only imagine. It is described as a holy city called the New Jerusalem with streets of gold, gates of giant luminous pearls, walls decorated with gems, and the dazzling glory of God and the Lamb radiating light throughout with no need for sun or moon (Revelation 21:9-27).

Once again God will dwell with people face to face as He did in the Garden of Eden. But this time, there will be no more sin, suffering, sorrow or death – only pure joy in God’s presence forever.


In this article, we have explored the Bible’s comprehensive teaching about death, the afterlife, and eternity. While mysteries remain, God has revealed profound truths that can guide and comfort us. For Christians, death leads to the joyous presence of Christ.

For nonbelievers, refusal to repent leads to eternal separation from God.

If you have not placed your faith in Christ, don’t delay. Confess your sins, repent, believe the gospel, and receive the free gift of eternal life. Once you belong to God through faith, you can live with hope and confidence, knowing where you will spend eternity when God calls you home.

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