What happens when we die?

Pastor Matt has been reading again. This time it’s a book on theology by Australian New Testament historian Michael Bird. In this recent blog post, Pastor Matt explains what people can expect to find after they die.


Luke 23:39-43 records the following:

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Is “Paradise” heaven? Michael Bird points out in his new book Evangelical Theology (Zondervan 2013),  that while the Greek word translated as “Paradise” is used to describe heaven in 2 Cor. 12:4 and Rev. 2:7 it cannot mean heaven here. Why? According to John 20:17, which records Jesus’ resurrection encounter with Mary Magdalene, He had not yet “ascended to the Father”.

So where is “Paradise”?  Most likely it is an intermediate state for the dead known by ancients as Hades (see also Acts 2:27, 31 and 1 Peter 3:19-21).  So, during the three days that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb, He joined the dead in Hades.  But after his resurrection and ascension, He goes to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (see Acts 7:55; Eph. 1:20-23, etc.).

So do people still go to Hades? Christians don’t.  The Apostle Paul writes that when we die we go to be with Jesus who is in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 1:20-24, etc.) but we will not stay there forever.  Jesus will return to create a “new heavens and new earth” (Rev. 21) where we will dwell in eternal physical bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body that cannot decay or die (see 1 Cor. 15 and 1 John 3:2).  The idea that we sit on a cloud for eternity while playing a harp and wearing a diaper is from Tom & Jerry cartoons, not the Bible.

What about non-Christians? The Book of Revelation still speaks of the existence of Hades (20:14) and that it will one day be thrown into hell.  Thus, it is implies that non-Christians do not go directly to hell but to Hades until the final judgment of all humankind.

The rest of the post has a helpful breakdown that summarizes what the Bible teaches about life after death. Recommended.

2 thoughts on “What happens when we die?”

  1. Great piece, WK. I’m sure many Christians don’t quite have the cloud-harp Tom-and-Jerry stereotype, but I’m just as sure that most of us had a wrong idea or were completely ignorant of what does happen after death.

    The only beef I have with your post is the “A Christian perspective” title tag, which makes it sound like one of a number of possible true scenarios. Of course, you didn’t mean it that way, but anyone reading with a “relative truth” mindset will surely see it like that, I’m sure.


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