Ross Anderson

What Happens After We Die?

Every day we’re reminded how short life is, whether by reports of war, the death of a public figure, or the passing of someone in our own extended family. What happens next? The Bible has a lot to say about what happens after we die.

Everyone goes to an “intermediate state” after they die.

The “intermediate state” is that period between a person’s death and the final judgment. During that period immediately after death, those who belong to Christ will be in his presence. Philippians 1:21-23 says: “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better…. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.” The apostle Paul expected that when he died, he would immediately go to be with Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says that, for those who belong to Jesus, to be away from our earthly bodies is to be present with the Lord. By contrast, those who do not belong to Jesus will be separated from God during this intermediate period. This is suggested by Jesus’ story of the death of a rich man and a beggar in Luke 16:19-26.  In some places, the Bible talks about those believers “who have fallen asleep “. Some assume this means that when we die, we go into a sleep-like state, to be awakened for the final judgment. But most scholars believe “falling asleep” is nothing more than a euphemism – a polite way to talk about death, much as we might talk about those who have “passed away” (see John 11:11-14). 

One day everyone will face a final judgment.

The final judgment of all who have ever lived will take place at the end of history, after Jesus returns. Revelation 20:12-15 describes how all the dead will stand before God’s throne in resurrection bodies. There everyone will be judged based on what they have done. All will fail this judgment of our deeds and will be consigned to eternal punishment and death. But those whose names are found in the Book of Life – those who have trusted in Jesus – will be spared.

Our eternal destiny is decided in this life by our response to Jesus.

There is no opportunity for a person to be saved after this life is over. Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that this life alone is designated for preparing for judgment.  The deciding factor that determines a person’s final destiny is their relationship with Jesus. 1 John 5:11-12 says: “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.”

Knowing what happens after we die motivates us to get right with God, and to help others pursue God. People don’t have to experience eternity separated from God and under his condemnation. They can be forgiven because Jesus paid for our sins. We bear this message of good news. We take it seriously because we know that eternity is at stake.