Everybody has a day when we will have to enter God’s courtroom but the day and time is unspecified. However, we will be dragged into this court by death. So the question is what happens immediately after death?
I believe the explanation below explains it very well and also biblically (which is all that matters at the end of the day). This is taken from The Brethren Revival Fellowship website. The actual article can be found here but I have copied it below. It is a long read but worth it.
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, thousands of people died-wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, married and single persons-most thrust quickly into eternity–primarily because of a terrorist jihad aimed at the destruction of Israel and those who support that nation. The violent attacks caught the world by surprise. We pray that the shock and fear and inconvenience caused by the dastardly deed will bring many to repentance and salvation, and that all of us will reflect on our lives, making new commitments of devotion to Jesus Christ.
On Thursday morning, August 9, 2001 our youngest daughter, Berdene Walmer was promoted to glory. She was diagnosed with a rare type of chordoma brain tumor already in April, 1993. Her sight and speech and hearing and swallowing had all been affected by the tumor growth. Berdene’s husband, Tom Walmer, arranged for the best care that the medical profession was able to give. But after seven major surgeries (some radical, all in the nose, throat, neck, and head area)-and three series of radiation the tumor again was aggressive in its growth, and pressed on those areas of the brain that control the breathing mechanism and the body temperature. Berdene was in a coma for six days before she went to be with the Lord. Her departure from this life was gentle and peaceful.
Berdene was 24 years old when she sensed that her sight and hearing and speech were becoming more and more impaired. In addition, she was having severe pain in the neck and head area, and was finding it more and more difficult to swallow food. Early in 1993 an MRI revealed the presence of a very large and rare kind of brain tumor, called a “chordoma” tumor. That diagnosis was followed by the surgeries and the radiation treatments.
The chief neurologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital (along with a team of medical helpers) performed the first two surgeries-first sawing the roof of her mouth to remove a portion of the tumor, and then sawing her jawbone in half and splitting her tongue to remove another major section of the tumor. Later, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, another surgery involved cutting around her nose and slicing her face down over the upper lip, to get behind the eye to remove the tumor which had been pushing the eye out of its socket. The proton beam radiation (given at the Harvard University cyclotron) involved delivering two billion hydrogen protons into specific areas of the head every second.
During the eight and one half years of discomfort and suffering, Berdene did remarkably well. Her mind continued to function right up until the day of the coma. She was able to use her limbs to do some of her work. Her attitude was positive. Her husband was faithful and supportive. The most difficult trial was coping with the death of their 22 month old son, who, after Berdene’s second surgery, was killed in an automobile accident.
In spite of all the difficulties, Berdene spent time helping to proofread the BRF Witness articles and several of my books. She attended a number of Annual Conferences and BRF meetings in earlier years. During her illness, much of her time was spent writing notes of encouragement to people who suffered in various ways. During just one month she wrote cards and notes to fifty persons.
But now death has come. At times when God chooses to call a loved one into the eternal world, by way of the valley of death, we are inclined to ask many questions. What happens when a person dies? Where do the dead go immediately after death? What are they doing now? Can those who have died, see us? Are consciousness and memory retained after death? The article in this issue of the BRF Witness is an attempt to do a Bible study on the subject, “What happens immediately after death?”–Harold S. Martin
What Happens Immediately After Death?
By Harold S. Martin
The Bible is primarily a book about life. It tells us how to experience everlasting life, and also how to enjoy an abundant life here on earth. Even John 3:16 talks about “life.” The writer says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Bible is not primarily a book about death, yet it treats the subject of death many times because death is part of the cycle of life in God’s plan
All of us, barring the return of Christ, are going to die. Some will grow old and die; some will die at an earlier age. We fade like flowers and wither like grass (Psalm 103:15). We all experience aging and illness and frailties of some kind. And although we can be thankful for the wonders of modern medicine and for the skills of dedicated doctors-the fact still remains that death will come to all of us. And at death, the body will return to the dust of the earth, and the soul will be carried immediately–either into the presence of Christ (for those who die in Christ), or, it will enter into a place called “Hades” (for those who die in their sins).
Following death, there is an intermediate state-the time between death and the final judgment. And there is also a final state-the eternal destiny which will last forever. In this study, we want to look at the intermediate state-what happens during the interval between death and the final judgment.
1. THE IMMEDIATE ABODE OF THE UNSAVED DEAD
Jesus told about the self-centered ungodly rich man (in Luke 16). The ungodly man died, “and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23/KJV). The word translated “hell” is “Hades,” a word which in the New Testament is used to describe the place where the unsaved dead go immediately upon death.
The Greek word for “hell” as a final destiny, is a different word. The word “gehenna” was used to describe the Valley of Hinnom, the garbage dump on the south side of Jerusalem. It was the place where wild dogs gnashed their teeth as they fought over the garbage of the dump. Gehenna is the final place of punishment; Hades is the intermediate place of the dead.
Jesus (in Luke 16) says the souls of the wicked go to “Hades” after death, but in Matthew 10:28 Jesus speaks about hell also. There, He says that both soul and body are cast into “gehenna” after the resurrection and final judgment. In Matthew 10 Jesus is talking about final judgment, but in Luke 16 He is talking about what happens immediately after death.
Hades is like a county jail (a temporary prison), until the sentence is determined. The Lake of Fire (gehenna) is like a state penitentiary, a permanent place of punishment.
While “Hades” is not the final destiny of the wicked, it is a place of conscious suffering and of despair place of torment. The man in Luke 16 wanted someone to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24). At another place, the Bible says that “the Lord knows how to … reserve the unjust under punishment for (until) the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). Hades is a temporary prison where the wicked dead are kept under punishment until the day of judgment and the final sentence is named.
The purpose of the Judgment is not so much to determine who is saved and who is lost. The matter of salvation has been determined by our decision regarding Jesus Christ here in this life. For example, John 6:47 says, “He who believes in me has everlasting life.” The word “believes” is a strong word: It means “to embrace,” and “to cling to;” it includes repentance and obedience. Those who sincerely receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord of their lives, are assured of eternal life. By way of contrast, those who do not know God, and who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
And so the final Judgment is not so much designed to determine who is saved and who is lost, as it is to determine the degree of punishment and the degree of reward. Every human being will some day stand before the judgment bar of God. There will be rewards and there will be appropriate punishment. Exactly when and how God will accomplish all this, is not really important for us to know. But in Revelation 20:1314, the word translated “hell” (KJV) is “Hades.” And so when the text says that “death and Hades” will deliver up the dead who were in them, those in Hades (the temporary prison) will be judged, and then cast into the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire will be the eternal destiny of the unsaved.
2. THE IMMEDIATE ABODE OF THOSE WHO DIE IN CHRIST
The Bible teaches that those who are saved, having embraced the blood of Jesus on the cross (11 Peter 1:18-19), will at death go to be with Christ, in a state of conscious bliss–and are immediately in fellowship with Christ.
The Apostle Paul declared that “to be absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). And later, he says that to die, is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1:23).
Jesus speaks of the immediate abode of the saved dead, as “Paradise.” He said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The righteous dead are in the presence of Christ, in a place called Paradise, awaiting the resurrection of the body the judgment, the final reward-and the future lif6 in Heaven.
It might be helpful to explain that before the death and resurrection of Jesus, “Hades” had two regions, one for the righteous and the other for the unrighteous. Not only were the wicked in Hades, but so were the righteous in Old Testament times. In the account of the rich man and Lazarus (in Luke 16), before the death and resurrection of Jesus, there was a “great gulf” (Luke 16:26) between the two regions. But they were close enough to each other that the self-centered rich man could communicate with the patriarch Abraham.
In the later parts of the New Testament, the abode of the saved is described with the word “paradise.” The Apostle Paul was “caught up into Paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Our Lord Jesus says that those who overcome shall “eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
The Scriptures indicate that Christ descended into Hades before He went back to the Father, at the time of His crucifixion and resurrection and ascension. Acts 2:27 says that His soul was not left in Hades and that His body did not see corruption. Acts 2:32-33 says that Jesus was raised up and exalted at the right hand of the Father. And Ephesians 4:8-10 says that when Christ “ascended on high, He led captivity captive.” It is the belief of many evangelical Bible teachers that it was at this time that those in the righteous portion of Hades were led into the place called Paradise in New Testament times. Jesus descended into Hades, set the Old Testament saints free, and took them to Paradise to be with Him. And now, when saved persons die, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
If the above Scriptures are properly interpreted, then immediately after death, the saved find themselves in Paradise and the lost find themselves in Hades. Exactly what activities will take place during the time between death and judgment (in these temporary abodes) is not revealed in Scripture. The Bible is restrained in what it says about life immediately following death. There are many questions about life after death that go beyond the limits of our understanding. Now we see through a glass darkly, but a marvelous day is coming when those mysteries will be completely unveiled.
We do know two major facts. Unbelievers will be in a state of anguish and torment (Luke 16:2328; 2 Peter 2:9). The saved will be resting from their labors in joyful satisfaction (Revelation 14:13; Acts 7:59; Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). The spirits of those who die in their sins will be ushered immediately in Hades, and after the Judgment, both body and soul will be delivered into the Lake of Fire. The spirits of those who die in Christ will be ushered immediately into the
Paradise of God, and upon receiving new bodies, eventually will be transported into the final heavenly home, which Jesus says He is preparing for His people (John 14:1-3).
3. SOME KEYS FOR DYING VICTORIOUSLY
Christ achieved victory over death when He arose from the grave, and His followers have the promise of an afterlife in Paradise and eventually in the heavenly Home. However, death is still associated with sadness even for the Christian, because of the trauma of separation. But death is no longer oppressive for us because we have the assurance of entering Christ’s presence when we die-and that is far better than life here on earth (Philippians 1:23). Still, death is a time of grief and sadness.
There are three observations about dying victoriously:
1) While as believers, we prepare for death, death is not the central focus of our lives.
The central focus for us is the resurrection. Philippians 3:9-10 expresses the truth that we aim to be found in Christ, and that our goal is to know “the power of his resurrection.” We look to the day when Jesus will appear and abolish death, and transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21). We look at death in light of Christ’s great triumph–His return as King of kings–raising the dead and bringing life here on earth to a conclusion. While we prepare for death, death is not the central focus of our lives. Our focus is on the resurrection.
2) While we are burdened for those we love and leave behind at death, we recognize that our dying will be great gain.
When we approach the borders of death, we are mindful of the fact that those we leave behind will be lonel and will grieve at our passing. Letting our friends behind is always painful. Hearing the news about a sudden death, or standing by the bedside of one who is dying, is always distressful. But when we arrive in the Paradise of God, the mysteries in our lives will become clear, and God will demonstrate the marvels of His grace that saved us. We are told in Ephesians 2:7 that “in the ages to come” Christ Jesus will “show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us. Even the hard times which we face in this life are products of the kindness of God.
3) While we enjoy life here on earth, it is enjoyed only temporarily, because we are ready to depart from it.
Berdene was ready to depart from this life. Only days before entering into a coma, I had finished reading portions from the Bible and praying with her. She was unable to speak audibly, but wrote this note: “I thought I would go (in death) after we read and prayed; I wanted so much to go. Mother was holding my hand. I’m not afraid. I just want so much to go, but God knows the timing.”
People of the world are not ready to depart from this life. They try and crack funny jokes, and kid around with each other. If they do talk about the afterlife, it is mostly about Saint Peter with a bunch of keys. Sometimes it seems that such conduct is engaged in to hide some of the deep feelings of fear and uncertainty that worldlings are living with. Those who are genuinely committed to serving Christ can truly enjoy life because death is not a constant dread. We think about it. It is an enemy. It brings sadness. We are not anxious for it. But deep down within we know that “to die is gain.” For the Christian, it means “to depart and to be with Christ which is far better.”
Our reparation for death begins with faith in Jesus Christ, repentance for sin, and receiving Christian baptism. It continues with believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and the work He did for us on the cross. It issues into a life that moment by moment seeks to walk in obedience to God’s Word, and to live in fellowship with His church, and to move day by day under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
For the genuine disciple of Christ, death is faced with a sense of anticipation. We look at death-like a prisoner, awaiting release from prison; like a schoolchild, when the end of the term is near; like a migrant bird, ready to fly south; and like a person in the hospital, ready to go home.
Medical science can help people die relatively painlessly, but only the Christian message of hope through Christ can help us die victoriously. Let us make it a point to avoid foolish ways of living, and seek to live wisely, skillfully, and according to God’s pattern. None of us knows how soon our lives will be snuffed out. The uncertainty of life and the certainty of death should cause us to make commitments to follow the Lord more carefully, and to bring the unsaved into a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
I have summarized this in a diagram which you can view here
May this reality of death cause us as believers to reach out to the lost at any cost.