What Happens to Our Souls after Death?

After they die, the bodies of all men go down to the grave, but the bodies of the righteous rest in the grave waiting for the resurrection. While in the grave, only the bodies of the righteous can be said to truly “rest in peace”, while the bodies of the wicked are imprisoned and await their resurrection to judgment. In both cases though the soul survives the death of the body and in that sense all men are immortal. Death is never the end of existence.

While “asleep in the Lord” is often used to describe the state of the bodies of deceased believers, it does not describe the state of their souls. Their souls do not sleep, but go in a conscious state to be with the Lord, as Paul put it, 2 Corinthians 5:8 “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” We see this confirmed in other passages of scripture including Revelation 6:10 where we hear the souls of the martyrs in heaven crying out for judgment day to come and in Luke 16:19-31 and in Christ’s parable of the Rich man and Lazarus where we see both Lazarus and the Rich man are both very much awake, but Lazarus is in Heaven and the rich man is in Hell.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus also answers the next logical question, where do our souls go? The souls of the righteous in Christ go to heaven, and the souls of the wicked go to hell. There is no other place where souls dwell and no intermediate state. Contrary to the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church there is also no such place as Purgatory. Jesus did not tell the thief on the Cross, “Someday, after the stains of your venial sins have finally been purged in the fires of purgatory, you will join me in heaven.” He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) That is why Stephen was able to cry out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” even as he was being stoned to death. There is no need for purgatory, for while even the best of saints still sin in this life, when they die they are instantly glorified, made perfectly holy and join the assembly,of the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). We may safely conclude that is no waiting room for those for whom Christ has prepared a mansion.

The souls of the wicked however, go immediately to hell. Jesus dramatically illustrated the different eternal destinies of the saved and the damned and several points in his teaching but he drew perhaps the most stark contrast in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:

“So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” (Luke 16:22-24)

In Numbers 11 the people of Israel had complained against the Lord and his fire broke out amongst them consuming some, and we read in Numbers 11:2 that “the people cried out to Moses, and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched.” But Jesus tells us that in Hell the, “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This indicates to us that just as the rewards of the righteous have no end,  the punishment of the wicked is also eternal.

On a related note, this should also assure us that there really are no ghosts in the way they are imagined in moves and novels. The souls of men do not linger on earth, they are never trapped here. Unfortunately, however, there are demons a point that is reinforced in the gospels again and again. These demons are happy to pretend to be whatever will scare us, or make us superstitious, or even attempt to turn us from Christ. These servants of Satan are happy to masquerade as false gods (1 Cor. 10:20-21), counterfeit angels (2 Cor. 11:14-15) so it would be no great stretch for them to pretend to be the spirits of the departed especially when we recall that they are the servants of the father of lies (John 8:44) and their aim  is always to deceive.  We should be glad to know that their eternal destiny is also hell where they will be punished for their rebellion and evil deeds (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6, Rev. 20:10)

About Andrew Webb

I was converted out of paganism and the occult in 1993 and while I was initially Charismatic/Arminian in my theology, I became Reformed and Presbyterian through bible study and the influence of ministries like RC Sproul's. After teaching in local bible studies, and taking seminary courses part time, I began to feel called to the ministry in 1997. I was Ordained as an RE at Christ Covenant PCA in Hatboro, PA in 2000 and as a TE by Central Carolina Presbytery in 2001 when I was called to be the Organizing Pastor/Church Planter for Providence PCA Mission, Cross Creek PCA's church plant in Fayetteville, NC (home to Ft. Bragg and Pope Airforce Base). In 2005 when the Providence PCA Particularized I was blessed to be called by the congregation to be their Pastor
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Eschatology, Ghosts, Heaven and Hell, The devil and demons and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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