This question presupposes that we will die (Heb. 9:27). Unless we live until the Lord comes again, we will all die. This is an obvious and undeniable fact of life. Thus, this is a question that ought to be of concern to us all.
Much of what we learn about life after death comes from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus told by Jesus in Luke 16 (vv. 19-31). Some do not believe that we can view this story as factual because it is a parable, but parables are true to life. They are not myths or fables, but always consistent with the facts of life. For example, everyone can see that Jesus’ parable of the sower in Matthew 13 is just as things really are. The sower sows the seed; it falls on different soils and produces different results. The birds take away the seed sown on the path, the seed which grows up on the rocky ground is quickly withered by the sun, that sown among the thorns is choked out and what is sown in the good soil bears much fruit. Those who heard Jesus may have been able to see someone then out sowing the seed. If we didn’t know anything about sowing seed we could learn from this parable many facts about it. In the same way, the story of the rich man and Lazarus is true to the facts of life and we may learn much about life after death. It may even have been about two real persons who lived and died. However, you view it, the parable can give us many insights into what happens when we die.
So let us see what the Bible says about what happens when we die.
1. Our body is separated from our spirit. The word death means separation. Physical death is separation of the body from the spirit. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jam. 2:26). Spiritual death is separation of man from God (Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23).
2. Our body returns to the earth and our spirit to God. “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7). Man was made from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7). When he dies his body will return to the dust of the earth but the spirit of man made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Heb. 12:9) will return to God.
3. We have no more involvement with life on earth. We will know nothing more about it and nevermore share in anything “under the sun” (Ecc. 9:5-6, 10). This does not mean that we are unconscious in death but that we have no involvement with life on earth.
4. We are in Hades. Hades literally means unseen and is used of the dwelling place of the spirits of the dead. For some it is a place of torment and for some it is a place of comfort. When the rich man died he was in torment in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died he was in Hades but He was not left there, He was raised from the dead (Acts 2:27, 31). Jesus was not in torment but in Paradise with the thief who died on the cross next to Him (Luke 23:43). Paradise is an oriental word that speaks of a beautiful garden like Eden (Gen. 2:8-16). The faithful are promised the tree of life in Paradise (Rev. 2:7). It is the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). The Bible speaks of three heavens: 1) Earth’s atmosphere, the sky (Gen. 1:20); 2) Outer space (Gen. 1:16-17); 3) God’s dwelling place (1 Kin. 8:30). Paul said that we are confident, yes, well pleased to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). He desired to depart and be with Christ (Phi. 1:23). When Lazarus died he was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). Here Lazarus was comforted (Luke 16:25). Remember, God promised blessing through Abraham to all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). Jesus promised blessing and rest to all who die in the Lord (Rev. 14:13). Those who were slain for the word of God should rest (Rev. 6:11).
5. Our destiny is sealed. There was a great gulf fixed between the rich man and Lazarus that could not be passed (Luke 16:26). Once we die, there is nothing that can be done to alter our destiny. If you are in comfort you will continue in comfort. If you are in torment it will do no good for anyone to be baptized for you or try to pray you out of torment. No one will be able to “beg or borrow” their way out of torment. We will be judged by what we have done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10).
6. We maintain our personal identity and are able to recognize one another, even those we have never met. Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man saw Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:22-23). The Bible tells us that when Abraham died he was gathered to his people (Gen. 25:8). That would be meaningless if they could not know each other. When King David’s son died he said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). Again, this would be meaningless if David could not know him.
7. We can communicate with one another. The rich man and Abraham carried on a conversation with each other (Luke 16:24-31). 8. We have feeling or sensibility. The rich man was in torment (Luke 16:23). He desired his tongue be cooled because he was tormented by the flame (v. 24). Lazarus was comforted (v. 25).
9. We possess memory of our past life on earth. The rich man was reminded of how he received good things and Lazarus evil things in their lifetime (Luke 16:25). He remembered his father’s house and his five brothers (vv. 27-28). The souls slain for the word of God cried for the Lord to avenge their blood on those who dwell on the earth (Rev. 6:10).
What we have learned here helps put things in proper perspective. This life is not all there is. When we die we are not “dead all over like Rover”, our spirits will live on. We may live in torment or comfort and there is nothing we can do about it after we die. Now is the time to prepare for life after death. What about you? If you were to die today would you go to heaven?