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What Happens When I Die? Part 3: The Unsaved

Updated on June 15, 2021
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

The Death of the Unsaved

In a previous article we looked at what happens to the Christian at death. Paul tells us that they are immediately absent from the body and present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8).

One day, at the Rapture, (or catching up), of the Church, Christ will bring them back with him, and their resurrected, glorified bodies will be caught up into the air, and will be reunited with their souls. They, together with the living believers of that time, who also receive glorified bodies and are caught up, will forever be with the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

This, rather than something to be feared or dreaded, is a marvelous truth that can comfort all those of us who are presently left behind today on this earth by loved ones who are now in Heaven with Christ.

The saved dead will face the judgement seat of Christ, which will result in rewards for service and loss of rewards for things not done for the Lord while they lived on this earth (II Corinthians 5:10; I Corinthians 3:10-15). However, the saved will never have to worry about being sent to Hell. The price for their entrance into Heaven was paid for by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ apart from any and every work.

And their final destination is the New Heaven and New Earth, where all will be as God intended (Revelation 21:1-4). There will be no mourning or crying or pain. Sin and death will be eradicated forever and it will truly be a paradise.

Unfortunately, for those who do not accept the sacrifice of Christ, the future will bring no hope of ever seeing heaven. Sin, or disobedience to the Lord, keeps them from ever being able to stand before a completely holy God who hates sin.

John 3:36 says:

"He that believes on the Son has everlasting life. And he who does not believe the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him."

The unbelievers have chosen to reject the only way God has given to be reconciled with Him. Jesus said of Himself that:

"I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me " (John 14:6).

So what happens to the unbeliever at death?

I. Their Destiny Immediately Upon Death

Our Lord in Luke 16 tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In this story, the rich man is an unbeliever and goes immediately to Hell or Hades after death (16:23). There are four words for Hell used in the Bible. The first is Hades, which is used in this passage. It seems to be a temporary abode where the unsaved go at death. There they await the final judgement.

The Hebrew equivalent of Hades is Sheol. This is the word used in the Old Testament. However, before Christ's resurrection, Sheol was the place of all the dead, whether they were God's people or not. It was believed to be compartmentalized, with the saved on one side in a place called Paradise, and the lost on the other. Paradise is mentioned only three times in the Bible. One of them was by Christ when He told the repentant thief on the cross when He was being crucified:

"Today you shall be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43)

Jesus in Luke 16 suggests two compartments as well when he talks about Lazarus going to Abraham's bosom and the rich man going to Sheol. But now, since those who trust Christ go to be with the Lord who is in Heaven at the Father's right hand, (according to Colossians 3:1), Sheol or Hades is , at this present time, just the place of the unsaved dead.

Some hold that Christ, in His victory over death took paradise with all of its inhabitants to the third heaven. By this they are referring to the abode of God. The first heaven is the earth's atmosphere. The second is the universe, consisting of the sun, moon and stars. And beyond all that is God's dwelling place.

Getting back to the words for hell, tartaro is another word translated as hell and is used once in II Peter 2:4. This passage talks about the place where some fallen angels were sent. It is never referred to as the place where man goes in the afterlife.

Ghenna, is the fourth and final word. Literally, it referred to the Valley of Hinnom, which was the garbage dump for Jerusalem. There trash was burned. A place of continuous burning and decay is a very vivid and ugly picture of what eternity will be like without Chirst. This word is used for the final abode of the unsaved. It is a place of torment, punishment and eternal separation from God.

The unsaved dead are not in Ghenna yet. As mentioned earlier, and according to our Lord Himself in His story of the rich man and Lazarus, they are in Hades. However, If we look at the story in Luke 16:22-31, Hades is not a place that the unsaved want to be either. Here is the account that Jesus told:

"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

And 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.

But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented.

And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from here to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from there.

Then he said, I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house:

For I have five brothers; that he may testify to them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.

Abraham said to him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

And he said, No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will repent.

And he said to him, If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."

So we see from this passage that even though it is a temporary holding cell until the final sentencing, it is a place of conscious torment for the unsaved. Death for non believers is not a sleeping of the soul or an annihilation, as some would have us believe. It is an eternal conscious existence, where they face the consequences of their sin and the rejection of Christ's death on their behalf.

II. Their Judgement and Final Destination

The final judgement of the unsaved dead happens after the thousand year or Millennial reign of Christ on the earth and after the final judgement of Satan found in Revelation 20:10 where he is cast into the Lake of Fire. The judgment of unbelievers is called the Great White Throne judgement (Revelation 20:11).

In Revelation 20:13 it says that death and Hades delivered up the dead which were in them and every person was judged according to their works. Since no man is capable of standing before God on the basis of works and be saved, this is not a judgement to determine salvation, but to determine degrees of punishment. Some of the saddest words in all of Scripture are written next:

"And death and hades were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire" (20:14).

The Lake of Fire is another name for Gehenna, and is the final abode of the unsaved.


But thanks to the amazing grace of God, in sending His Son to earth to be the ultimate sacrifice for all of our sins, no man has to spend eternity separated from God in the Lake of Fire. But the choice is yours. I like what C.S. Lewis has to say:

"There are only two kinds of people in the end: Those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice there can be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened."

It is my prayer that all who read this series on death will seek he Lord while He may be found. Accept Christ before you reach the point of death. After death it will be too late. God has made it possible for every person to enter heaven. It is a free gift. But, like all gifts, it has to be accepted. I urge you to take that gift right now. You will never be disappointed that you did.

© 2011 Jeff Shirley


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