Pastor Matt: What happens when you die?

This post is from Pastor Matt’s blog.


Michael Bird breaks it all down as follows:

1. Prior to Christ’s ascension, all who died descended to Sheol/Hades, which was divided into two parts, one for the wicked and one for the righteous.

2. At Christ’s ascension, he went into heaven and took with him all of the saints in the paradisal part of Sheol/Hades, while the wicked remain in Sheol/Hades, waiting for judgment.

3. Upon death new covenant believers go to be with Christ in heaven ahead of the general resurrection, while the wicked descend to Sheol/Hades waiting for judgment.

4. Eventually Sheol/Hades will be thrown into hell and all believers will share in the new heavens and new earth.

See Evangelical Theology p. 323.

I’ve featured some debates with Michael Bird before, he is a famous evangelical historian.

It’s important to understand that the Christian view of humans is that we have a material part and a non-material part. When you die, the material part goes into a tomb. The non-material part goes on to be with God, until the day when you get a new resurrection body.

Earlier, I blogged about some philosophical arguments for the existence of souls and some scientific evidence for the existence of souls, and it’s worth looking over in order to move beyond mere opinions. Like it or not, this is the way we are! Not just bodies, but souls.

5 thoughts on “Pastor Matt: What happens when you die?”

  1. Here’s a related aspect I’d like to get some informed thoughts on. Certainly, I see the principle in Scripture of degrees of severity in punishment for unbelievers, but I don’t understand the point of the distinction.

    I don’t understand even *having* a distinction when the baseline punishment seems unbearable, but I can forego that mystery. What I really don’t understand is why even *bring up* the distinction? What’s the purpose of saying, essentially, “Yes, you are going to Hell, but your punishment won’t be as bad as, say, Hitler or Pol Pot.” What is the purpose or use in conveying this detail, let alone having it? Whatever wonky angle I’m seeing this from is hard to get dislodged.


    1. Practically speaking, the idea that spectacularly bad sins get spectacularly bad punishments tends to discourage such terrible sins.
      Also, when speaking to non-believers, one hang-up they often have is the idea that they or their friends, though “good people,” would get the same punishment as some horrible serial killer or rapist. They can’t see God as just if He punishes people “just for rejecting Jesus” or for little things like white lies equally with those who cause lots of harm to others. One way of combating this misconception and showing that God is just is to point out that not all sins are the same and not all sins are punished equally.
      Of course, it’s also important to point out in this scenario that no one ever goes to hell simply because they failed to accept Christ. People go to hell for the sins they commit, even one of which makes them guilty and deserving of punishment. The only way to go to heaven is either to live a completely sinless life (which no one but Jesus has ever done) or to allow Jesus’ death to pay for your sins by trading your life for His.


      1. Thanks for your perspective, Lindsay. That explanation, like the concept it explains, does sound reasonable, but still only to a point. If the reasoning is followed through to its conclusion, it still seems to eventually end up back in the same place.

        Even while severity of sins regulates severity of judgment, all unredeemed sinners end up in hell anyway. It seems even the most lenient sentence still doesn’t jibe with our human, natural idea of a just punishment for these “lesser” sins. That’s where the reassurance of less severe punishment seems to be irrelevant in the ultimate question.

        Also without any clarity on what this more lenient punishment would be, it seems to falter as a deterrent, too. i.e. “So I’m getting a more lenient sentence…in Hell.” The distinction seems critically ambiguous, to the point of, again, being practically irrelevant.


        1. Yes, I can understand that even the most “lenient” sentence is still quite severe, to the point that it certainly does not seem lenient at all. I don’t think the issue of more lenient sentences for lesser crimes was ever supposed to be comforting to those going to hell. The thought of hell, regardless of how severe it will be for them, is supposed to turn people to Christ. No matter how “good” anyone has it in hell, it will still be terrible. The idea isn’t to minimize one’s punishment in hell, but to escape it all together through having Christ take one’s place.

          One thing to realize, in considering the terrible nature of hell, is that sin is serious. No matter how small a sin, the doer is worthy of hell. That’s some pretty serious stuff.

          The other thing to emphasize is that those who go there are being punished “according to [their] deeds” (Romans 2:6). Not for lack of Jesus, but for what they have done that was wrong. Not for “mistakes” or “being only human,” but for purposely violating God’s laws. That is what we should emphasize when speaking to unbelievers.

          The fact that some sins are punished more severely than others is only of marginal usefulness in dealing with sinners. It does speak to God’s justice that He punishes more severe sins with more severe punishment. But it also speaks to His justice that all sins are deserving of terrible punishment and that all of us stand guilty before Him apart from the atonement of Christ.


          1. You’ve added some helpful thoughts here, Lindsay. Thanks. The whole idea still seems to cloud and complicate the central issue, which is — as you say — to escape Hell altogether, along with the expression of the basic severity of ANY sin, or rather the nature of sin.

            Hopefully, doing some study of this on my own will help me understand it as fully as I’d like, so I can answer the objections that I still think people might try to offer to any of these explanations.


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