A Question I Was Asked:

What Happens To My Soul at Death?

The Question:

I have been looking for something or someone to help me understand what happens to our soul after death. Do I go straight to Heaven or am I judged first. I have accepted Christ as my Savior.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Having been a keen student of the Bible for over 50 years I would say that the Scriptures appear to indicate that, for a Christian believer, Heaven is the immediate destination for the Christian soul (not the body, which goes to the grave, of course). Souls are able to spend time in the company of other deceased believers, plus the angels and maybe even the presence of Christ is experienced. Yet Revelation seems to indicate that even in this wonderful place our souls will look forward to, and long for, the full resurrection of body and soul; that, of course, happens at the Second Coming. Revelation pictures the souls in Heaven longing for the full restoration of all things.

But first, at death, the soul begins a journey back to God. Ecclesiastes 12 describes what occurs at death:

7. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

God originally gave us all souls and as the body starts to perish, He takes charge of them. This does not necessarily mean all such souls are saved. It is God taking charge of what He originally gave until the time of judgment. After technically "dying," some have described this soul journey to Heaven and their disappointment at being 'sent back.' The souls of Christian believers will enter the presence of the angels. It is conceivable that other souls might be put in a sort of heavenly 'clearing house' until judgment. Certain incorrigibly evil ones might have to remain in the grave, or 'hades,' until judgment.

A few might raise an objection to this on the strength of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) - does that not picture the 'rich man' immediately receiving punishment in 'hades' at death? But we must remember that it is a serious error to stretch parables too far! Normally they only have one point, or at the most two, to get across; the main points in that parable concern, a) doing good wherever we are able to do so whilst on this earth, b) this life is our opportunity for salvation. Incidentally, since that parable pictures the rich man in hades, prior to the place of final punishment (gehenna), that might tend to confirm that certain ones do not leave 'hades' at all until judgment (a suggestion I made in the last paragraph).

Now let us look at Revelation's glimpse of saved, Christian souls in Heaven:

9. When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.
10. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
11. Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11; NIV used in all quotes except the final one).

Now it is true that the focus there is on those who had been martyred, but this does clearly picture the souls of true believers in Heaven awaiting the full resurrection.

Judgment occurs at Christ's return, see Matthew 25:31-46:

31. "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.
32. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33).

Now that judgment period could be quite swift or longer lasting, it is not clear how long it will last. Revelation 20 tells us a little more:

12. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
13. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.
14. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
15. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15).

So judgment follows for all of mankind, however, the good news for true Christians is that we are being judged right now!

For it is time for judgment to begin with God's household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).

Christians are being judged at the present time, when we rise in judgment it will be announced that the slate has been wiped clean in our case! How can one be so sure? Because none are able to snatch us out of the Father's hand, His grace cannot be resisted. See John 10:

27. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
28. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
29. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.
30. I and my Father are one. (John 10:27-30, KJV).

God's saints are under His bounteous hand of grace and will not fail to enter His kingdom. Any doubting this are recommended to read Romans 8 in its entirety.

Robin A. Brace. January 18th, 2013.

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