Obviously this is one of the more difficult issues to talk about for a couple of reasons. None of us have experienced it and when we do we will not be able to relate the information back to those who are alive. Second, we are talking about the spiritual realm and as we have noted before, when you speak of the spiritual realm and spiritual things, it is hard to describe because we are trying to cram a spiritual element into a physical picture. So there are some difficulties and there are many things that we do not know about the topic. But we will speaks where the Bible speaks on this matter. So let us begin to look at what the Bible does teach on this.
Luke 16:19-31 The rich man and Lazarus
I believe this text gives us one of the best pictures of what happens when we die. So let us notice a few points from the text. In verse 22 we see that the rich man and Lazarus had something that the other did not have. The rich man had a burial, which we do not see Lazarus getting. But we see Lazarus being carried by angels after death, but we do not see this happening to the rich man. Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man goes to torment in Hades.
We also see that they can see one another but no one can pass between the two because there is a great gulf fixed between them. One the one side we see the rich man in great torture. Four times the place is described as being torment, three times by the rich man himself. The rich man also describes the place as in flames, and he desires his tongue to be cooled from that flame. Meanwhile, Lazarus is at peace in Abraham’s bosom. It is important to note that the rich man does not want his brothers to come where he is. Often we will hear people say that if I am going to hell, at least I am going with my friends. Well, we first notice that the rich man did not want anyone he knew to be there for the place was that torturous. Second, we do not read of the rich man being with anyone there.
Acts 2:27 & Luke 23:43 Hades and Paradise
Now turn to Acts 2:25-28. In particular notice verse 27 which reads, “For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” David says these words in Psalm 16 and Peter applies them to Jesus. Where does Peter say that Jesus went when he died? Did he go to hell? No. Did he go to heaven? No. He went to Hades. Jesus in Luke 23:43 in speaking to one of the criminals on the cross says, “And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” It is interesting that Jesus did speak of this ability to see one another after death, as we see in the picture given with the rich man and Lazarus. In Luke 13:28, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.” And so that is part of the torment is see that you are missing out with being with all those who are in the kingdom from times past like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all of the prophets. And that is exactly what the rich man saw while in torment.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 & Philippians 1:23-24 With the Lord
Another point we do see is that we will be with the Lord when we die. This is found in the following to passages. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” And so for those who walk by faith, when we are absent from the body we are present with the Lord. Again, we are talking about a spiritual realm and so it is possible for us to be with the Lord in Paradise as it is for the Lord to be with us in heaven.
Matthew 25:31-46 Judgment Day
Now we see at the designated time, Jesus is going to return in all of his glory with all of his angels and all are going to be gathered to him. So now everyone will go before the throne for judgment. We see then at this grand gathering that we will be together for a moment, and then we will be divided by those who were obedient to the king and those who were not obedient to the king. Then the sentence is going to be given out. The king will either say, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” or the king will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Many ask, well what is the point of judgment day if we already know where we are going? Since we see that there is no crossing between the two places (as seen with the rich man and Lazarus), then what is the purpose of judgment day. It seems that the proceedings are similar to what we have for our judicial system. We recently had the trial of Ray Caruth, a football player charged with murder. The jury came back and found him guilty. But is that the end of the trial? No, just because you are found guilty, now the jury deliberates on what the sentence will be. Days later there is sentencing day when you find out what the final decision is. I believe the idea is similar. We will have already know where we are going. But judgment day is when we will get our sentence from the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:10 reads, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” And so it appears that we will be sentenced into our final resting place. And we must note that how ever long heaven is, that is as long as hell is. We see both are everlasting and eternal.
Revelation 20:10-15 A scene of judgment
I believe this passage encapsulates the whole scene that we have just put together. Here we see the devil is cast into the lake of fire where they are tormented day and night. And we see the end of the world and everyone standing before the throne and the books are opened and we are judged by our works. And Death and Hades gave up those who were there and they are also judged, each according to his works. Notice now that Death and Hades are now destroyed, being cast into the lake of fire and anyone not written in the book of life is cast in the lake of fire, showing us that the lake of fire is hell, the everlasting punishment.
Varying degrees of punishment in hell? (Luke 12:47-48 & Matthew 11:20-24)
There are few places in scriptures that seem to point to the idea that there are varying degrees of punishment in hell. Read what Jesus says to these cities in Matthew 11:20-24, “Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
Here Jesus says that the day of judgment will be worse for some cities than for others because of the lack of repentance in spite of the works Jesus did in those cities. Another passage is Luke 12:47-48, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” Here we see that those who knew the master’s will but did not prepare will be beaten with many stripes, but those who did not know, they will be beaten with few stripes. We see that there is no excuse for ignorance, but punishment will come upon all the disobedient. But there may be varying degrees of the punishment that occurs in hell. This is what Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 1:8, that the Lord with his angels will return, “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And that I believe is the biblical picture revealed to us about these spiritual places. Again, it is hard to put a physical picture on a spiritual place, but these are the ideas that we see revealed to us in the scriptures.