I hope you enjoyed the first bible study in this four-part series on what happens after we die. Thank you for returning for part two! In today’s study, we are going to pick up right where we left off in our previous study. If you did not read the first part, definitely be sure to read it before you continue forward.
Let’s re-introduce our flowchart image from the previous study. (Be sure to download it if you have not done so already.)
We left off with the souls of Old Testament saints being in Hades (Abraham’s bosom) with the unrighteous souls (in Torments). You will recall that the righteous and unrighteous souls could not mingle together in Hades because of the fixed gulf separating the two groups.
The question that we left off with was: are the souls of Old Testament saints still waiting for final judgment in Hades today? One other question that we had was is Hades still the place where the righteous soul goes today?
New Testament & Church Age
To answer these questions, we must take a look at New Testament scripture. The gospels tell us that God placed a part of Himself into the womb of Mary and from her Jesus was born into the world (Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-7). Why? I feel like we have to ask the question of why would God want to become human. Actually, the answer is rather simple.
God wants everybody to have a chance at salvation and eternity (John 3:16). For salvation to be possible, a sacrifice had to be made. Sadly, there was nothing worthy of being a sacrifice to cover all of our sins (Isaiah 59:15-16). I touched on this in my sermon – “The Purpose of the Savior” – and also in another of my sermons – One For All.
The Mosaic Law “catch”
The Law brought a means to gain righteousness, but the Law did not lead one’s soul to heaven. How do I know that to be true? We know this is the case because the righteous souls were clearly in Hades in Jesus’ telling of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Understand this, no matter how many sacrifices the Old Testament saints were offering to the Lord, they were still not worthy to enter into heaven. This needed to change because the righteous souls certainly shouldn’t go to dwell in a part of Hades.
Jesus is the New Testament. I often explain that Jesus is the conclusion of the Law. I don’t mean that Jesus is the end of the Law, but that He is the rest of it. You can think of it this way: the Mosaic Law is the first half of the book and Jesus is the second half. Where the Law does not promise a heavenly resting place, we have Jesus that is the promise of a heavenly eternity. Jesus is the promise of salvation (forgiveness of our sins), and it is this forgiveness that the Old Testament saints had not yet received from God. Let’s see what Jesus did to fulfill this promise of salvation and eternity in heaven.
Jesus goes to Hades
Christ taught that He was the Good Shepherd (John 10). Jesus taught that shepherds didn’t like to lose not one sheep out of their flock (Matt 18:12-14). So, it was important that Jesus go and receive His flock of sheep that was in Hades. (I should point out that even while Jesus walked the earth, faithful believers were still going to Hades.)
After His death, Christ went to Hades and proclaimed victory to those Old Testament saints. Scripture declares to us:
8 Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)Ephesians 4:8-10 NKJV
Some may get confused by the descending and ascending of Christ. Hades has always thought to be downward but in actuality, it is a spiritual location. When one goes to heaven, they are described to ascend to heaven. Frankly, Hades is a downward step from even our world; you do not want to go there. We want to move upward to better and not downgrade.
We should understand that Christ took the same path after His physical death that the Old Testament souls would take. Jesus went to Hades, but He did not go there to await final judgment! Jesus went there for a very different purpose.
Christ preaching in hell
We believe that Christ proclaimed victory to all the citizens in Hades because scripture declares that He did so.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,1 Peter 3:18-19 NKJV
Prison is a reference to Hades. There are some who think of Hades as a large shaft filled with chambers. The people that think this way pull from scripture out of the book of Revelation (Rev. 9:1). In ancient times, pits (shafts) were dug into the ground and were made into prisons to hold prisoners.
Who heard this preaching?
Peter says that Jesus went to hell and preached to the spirits that were there. We will notice that Peter does not specify which spirits so we could certainly assume that Christ preached to every spiritual being in hell at that moment. Imagine what that must have felt like for those unrighteous spirits that did not believe in God.
Scripture tells us that after the death and resurrection of Christ, Old Testament saints were seen resurrected in their bodies by many (Matt. 27:52-53).
52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.Matthew 27:52-53 NKJV
This could definitely be taken as a sign that Christ had brought those righteous souls with Him from Hades. Christ returned to this world in His resurrected body and the disciples saw Him along with Mary Magdalene and the other women (John 20). Christ not only revealed His power over sin and death to the spirits, but to all of those who were still occupying this world of flesh. Jesus wanted us to know that all power was in His hands!
After the ascension of Christ
Notice on our chart that I used a red line to denote Christ’s ascension to heaven because this is a line of demarcation to me. The world is still physically the same but things had changed after Christ death, resurrection, and ascension. The most notable change was that the church sprang to life through the apostles spreading of the gospel of Christ (the New Testament).
Instead of preaching and teaching the Mosaic Law, the apostles share the news of the promise of a eternal heaven. The apostles now share news of God’s saving grace!
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of GodEphesians 2:8 NKJV
This is the age of the Church! I want you to completely understand that we do not live under the Law, we now live under the grace of God. Grace is the gift of God and His gift is Jesus Christ. Remember that Jesus is the promise of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. Through Jesus Christ, we can now dwell with God and not apart from Him.
Where will our soul go?
You will notice that there is no line pointing towards Hades for the righteous soul any longer during the Church age. The righteous soul now goes to rest with Christ. Hades no longer serves a purpose for the righteous ones! After we die, the genuine believer now awaits final judgment with Christ in heaven! Abraham’s bosom (paradise) is now with Christ, and Christ is in heaven sitting at the right hand of God. That part of Hades where the righteous soul once went is now completely empty.
Pay close attention, however, to the line for the unrighteous soul (bottom line). Nothing changed after the death of Christ for those who choose to remain unrighteous in their soul. The unrighteous soul still goes to torments in Hades to this day! Isaiah described Hades like it was a growing beast opening its mouth to consume (Is. 5:14). Hades really is a prison, an uncomfortable prison of torment for the unrighteous soul as they await their final judgment.
The only way that one can attain righteousness in our current age is through faith in the blood of Jesus. Having no such faith in the Lord would cause one to be considered unrighteous (Mark 3:28-30). You can be a “good” person with many good deeds but, tragically, if you lack faith in the Lord, you are considered unrighteous. After we die, where your spirit goes is determined by whether or not you were righteous or unrighteous.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV
I could end this study here, but there’s actually a bit more that happens after we die. One of the main events is the end of the Church Age. The Church Age comes to an end with the event known as the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18). We are going to get into those events in the third part of this series. Until next time, may God continue to keep you and to bless you.