If you've been in church or part of a religion for any length of time, then you know there are a number of theories about what happens at the moment a person dies.
Some teach of a place of holding until the individual can be prayed into heaven or their good deeds somehow outweigh their bad.
Other religions teach automatic paradise with benefits for those who were faithful in their past life, or are simply annihilated with no further existence.
Still others believe a person "sleeps" until the final judgment when they are then either sent to heaven or hell. But, what does the Bible say?
First, the Bible teaches that the moment a believer dies, their soul enters into the presence of the Lord.
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12:7, "...and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it."
In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul writes, "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Paul believed upon a believer's death, his or her soul went directly to God. This is confirmed by the story of the thief on the cross. After asking Jesus to remember him when He entered His kingdom, Jesus responded by saying, "Today, you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)."
What then is the Bible referring to when it talks about bodies being resurrected at the second coming? Is this somehow a contradiction? By no means.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 we read, "Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."
What this passage is talking about, is at the resurrection of believers, the body will be resurrected and reunited with the soul/spirit. This glorified body will then live for eternity with God in the new heavens and earth (Revelation 21-22).
Second, a person who dies without a relationship with Christ immediately goes to a place of eternal torment. This is a temporary holding until the final Great White Throne Judgment when they will be found guilty and sent to the lake of fire for all eternity.
In Luke 16:19-31, we read about a rich man and Lazarus. The rich man was sent to a place of torment and Lazarus to what was referred to as "Abraham's bosom." The rich man recognized his lost state; was in complete agony and suffering and asked for Lazarus to dip his finger in water so the man could cool his tongue; was concerned about his five brothers who were still living but living the same life without God, etc.
Revelation 20:14-15, "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire."
The bottom line is what you do with Jesus in this life determines where you will spend eternity. Every person who has ever been born will die and every person who dies will go to one or the other place. It is my prayer you will make the choice to follow Jesus.