What Happens When I Die?
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die,
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a (NIV)
How hard it must be for a doctor to tell a family who is anxiously awaiting news on the condition of a loved one, “I’m sorry. He didn’t make it.” How hard it must be to say to someone who just had a medical test, “I’m sorry, but you have cancer.” Yet a doctor must tell the truth.
In the same way, it is hard at times to deliver the whole message of the gospel. The apostle Paul said he had not failed to declare the whole counsel of God. When we share the gospel, we like to say things like, “God loves you. He will give you peace, joy, forgiveness, and the hope of Heaven if you will receive Jesus Christ into your life.” But we avoid using the words Hell or judgment because we’re afraid people will get offended.
However, the word gospel means “good news.” And before I can fully appreciate the good news, I need to fully know the bad news. Jesus did not come to this earth to be an additive in our lives. Jesus did not come just to give us warm, fuzzy emotional feelings. He primarily came to deliver us from an eternal judgment in Hell, and things like happiness, peace, and joy are fringe benefits. The big issue is eternity. We must not be afraid to tell people the truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.
We have a message to share, and it isn’t always an easy one. God loves humanity. He is ready to forgive humanity. God’s desire is for people to go to Heaven; He has done everything in His power to make a way. The chief end of man is to know God and love Him forever. But if people reject His loving offer, then they seal their own fate and secure their judgment. And if we are going to be faithful to declare the whole counsel of God, then we must tell people that.
No one gets out of this world alive; we all die. Death will come to every person. The Book of Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die” (3:1–2a).
That time to die may come much later than you expected. Then again, maybe your life will be shorter than you had hoped for. We don’t know when our lives will end, but we do know this: death is coming. Every second, three people in the world die. Every minute, 180 people die. And every hour, 11,000 people die. This means that every single day, 250,000 people enter into eternity.
Steve Jobs once said, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it.”
Some would say, “I think that when I die, that’s the end. There is no afterlife.” That’s a dangerous gamble to make. If they are right, there is nothing to lose, but if the Bible is right, then all of eternity is at stake.
The Bible tells us that after death we go to one of two destinations. Either we go to Heaven, or we go to Hell. Conventional wisdom is that most people are going to go to Heaven, and very few people are going to go to Hell. Yet that is the very opposite of what the Bible says. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
The word Hell makes a lot of people bristle. They don’t like the idea of Hell. They don’t think it is right that God would send anyone there. Others will laugh about it and say that it will be one big party. Still others envision Hell as a cartoonish place with the devil sitting on a throne and holding a pitchfork. A lot of people will laugh off the very idea of Hell. It is one big joke to them. But Hell is no joke. What is Hell like?
1. On more than one occasion in the Bible, Hell is compared to a big garbage dump. In fact, the very word that is used for Hell in many New Testament passages is the Greek word gehenna.
Gehenna was a word used to describe a garbage dump outside Jerusalem during the time of the New Testament. Not only was garbage placed in this dump, but there were corpses as well. It burned day and night. There was always fire and smoke billowing from this horrid, stinking place.
So Gehenna was a term the people would be familiar with in Jesus’ day. He used this word on a number of occasions to describe Hell, to depict its horrors, and to imply that the real place was far worse than even a place like Gehenna.
2. The Bible also compares Hell to a prison. One of the clearest pictures Jesus gave of Hell was when He described it as a prison. He told a parable about the king’s servant who was sent to jail for cruel and unforgiving behavior. Then He added this warning: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). Jesus was saying that going to Hell was like being cast into prison.
I receive many letters from prison inmates who listen to our radio broadcast, A New Beginning, and from many who have come to Christ listening to it. Every one of them writes about their hope of getting out soon and having a changed life. The hope of getting out is the only thing that keeps them going.
But for those who have been condemned to Hell, they won’t get out. Once they are in, they are in for good. Once they are there, there are no other chances.
3. Not only does the Bible compare Hell to a garbage dump and a prison, but it also describes it as a place of outer darkness. Peter wrote about those who had eyes full of adultery and were experts in greed. He pronounced their doom by saying that the blackness of darkness was reserved for them (see 2 Peter 2:17).
Have you ever been in a very dark place—so dark that you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face? In certain parts of our country, like Alaska, there is prolonged darkness, where people sometimes will enter into deep depression and even commit suicide. Doctors have determined that we need light, not only to strengthen us physically, but also mentally. We need to see sunshine. And when we are not exposed to it, it affects every aspect of our body.
Jesus spoke of those who would be thrown outside into outer darkness (see Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Yet He did not merely describe Hell as darkness, but as the darkness, implying that it is infinitely worse than any physical, moral, mental, or spiritual darkness than any person has ever experienced on earth. It is not just darkness. It is the darkness—the darkest of all.
Heaven, on the other hand, is just the opposite. The Bible says that in Heaven there will be no night. There will be no fear. There will be no suffering or death. All of the pain and disabilities that we face in this life will be gone in Heaven.
I’ve described Heaven in the previous question, but I want you to realize that the glory of Heaven is more than having new bodies—and even more than the absence of darkness and sorrow and pain and death. The fact that Jesus Christ will be there is better than all the beauty and all the answers to all our questions. Think of the purest, highest, most ecstatic joy on earth, multiply it a thousand times, and you’ll get a fleeting glimpse of Heaven’s euphoria. As David wrote, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).
My Lord, I thank you for having given me life, and for having made me to know, love, and serve you all the days of my life and for eternity. I thank you for my faith and for the work and pleasure in the day that I am completing. I beg your pardon for my offenses and omissions of the day, and resolve to make tomorrow a better day. Be with me as I live out the rest of my day. May I do so in your holy grace and good favor. Amen.In Jesus,
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Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
No one gets out of this world alive; we all die.