Does the Bible tell us what happens right after death?
The Bible speaks a lot about life and death and we are given two choices by God as it says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut 30:19), so we must be “loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deut 30:20). We can either repent and trust in Christ or face God’s judgment after we die or at Christ’s return. Either way, those who reject Christ die with the wrath of God on them (John 3:36). The author of Hebrews wrote, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27), so we know that a judgment comes after a person dies, but if we have trusted in Christ, our sins were judged at the cross and our sins have been taken away because it was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2nd Cor 5:21). Every one of us has an appointment with death and none of us know when that day will come, so today is the day of salvation if you have not yet placed your faith in Christ (2nd Cor 6:2).
Lazarus and the Rich Man
Jesus gives us a story about a rich man and Lazarus, a very poor man called a beggar, but this is not the same Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead in the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John. Lazarus was a very common name in the first century, and the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead wasn’t the poor beggar mentioned in Luke chapter 16 because Lazarus’ sisters were Martha and Mary, so Jesus is speaking about an entirely different Lazarus in Luke 16 than the one in John 11. Luke wrote “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores” (Luke 16:19-21), but “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (Luke 16:22-23). There is no indication that the rich man had to wait to be tormented but immediately “called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’” (Luke 16:24), however Abraham didn’t have good news for the rich man and told him, “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26). In other words, he cannot leave that place of torment because it is too late.
After death, the rich man in Luke 16 went into what the Hebrew says in the Old Testament is Sheol which simply means “the place of the dead” and the equivalent in the New Testament is where the rich man ended up, in Hades. Hades is which is also called “a place of the dead,” but there were already flames of torment after he had died. He didn’t have to wait for the second resurrection of the dead (Rev 20:12-15) as the rich man was immediately in torment, but not yet cast into the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). In the same way, after a Christian dies, they are immediately in the presence of the Lord, but that doesn’t necessary mean heaven. To me, heaven is being in the Lord’s presence more than it is a place. The Apostle Paul tells us that “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2nd Cor 5:6), and we also “know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2nd Cor 5:1) and “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2nd Cor 5:4).
One Moment After Death
From what the Bible teaches, we know that in the very next moment after death, the children of God are with the Lord Jesus Christ, but for those who died in their sins, they will die with the wrath of God abiding on them (John 3:36b) and be in a place of torment like the rich man was in Luke 16. The man still had memory because he said to Abraham, “I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28), but Abraham told him this wasn’t possible (Luke 16:29-31). So one moment after an unsaved person dies, they are already in torment and can experience physical pain (Luke 16:23-24) but also have mental anguish and regret (Luke 16:28), but by then, it is far too late. That’s why today is the day of salvation, because tomorrow may be too late if Christ returns or you die without trusting in Christ. Eventually, all will be physically resurrected with their bodies, “some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2-3).
Read what happens after the King of king’s returns to judge the unsaved in Revelation 20:12-15: “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” For those who have been born twice (a physical birth and a spiritual birth) they will die only once, but if a person is only born once (physically), they will die twice; once in the body and next in the lake of fire (Rev 21:8), therefore, choose life.