The question of what happens to a person after death is a matter of great importance. If there is some sort of existence after death, we do very well to understand as much about it as possible. We are wise to learn what it is like, if there is a place of reward or punishment, joy or sorrow.
Opinions about the afterlife cover a broad spectrum of ideas. Some believe nothing happens after death. The body is placed in the ground and the person no longer exists anywhere in the physical or spiritual universe. Some believe the spirit of the person is reborn in the body of another creature to atone for wrongs done in previous lives. After many such reincarnations the spirit is finally able to be peacefully united with the universe. Some believe the spirits of good people go to heaven and the spirits of bad people go to hell. The list could go on and on. Truly many questions exist about the afterlife.
The first and most important thing to consider is that no one has died and returned to life to tell us what things are like on the other side. Yes, people have had visions or dreams in which they claim to have seen heaven, hell or the spirit world. Whatever your opinion of their claims, one thing is certain, they did not die and return to life again. Beyond that, even if someone did claim to die and return from the dead to tell us what it is like, there would be no way to prove his claims.
Capturing evidence of the afterlife is impossible. The issue of understanding what happens after death begins with recognizing you are going to have to believe someone’s view of the afterlife. Will you believe the Vikings and their visions of Valhalla? Will you believe Buddhist or Hindu concepts of Nirvana? Will you believe the Muslim ideas of Paradise? Will you believe the Atheist’s idea of death as final? Will you believe the Christian teachings of Heaven? One’s understanding of what happens after death is a matter of faith. You must decide who you are going to believe. I invite you to believe the information that comes directly from the One who created man, who has died and returned to life, who created Heaven and Hell and who has told us what happens to those who die. The Bible is the only reliable source of information about what happens after death.
The Bible teaches that man is a living soul. When God created man He breathed into man the “breath of life and man became a living soul.”(Genesis 2:7) God formed man out of the dirt, but He gave to man something else, something that was not from dirt but directly from God. He gave to man a spirit, a soul, which does not crumble away or cease to exist but lasts forever. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” So the first thing we need to know is that death does not end our existence. Our body returns to dust, but our soul returns to the God who created it.
At death, God deals with the soul of man according to his relationship with Christ. John 3:18 says “He that believeth on (Jesus) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Before we die our fate is already decided based upon whether or not we have believed in Christ for forgiveness and salvation.
At death the soul goes immediately into heaven or hell. In Luke 16 Jesus tells about two men, one rich the other a beggar. These two men died and one went immediately into heaven and the other directly into hell. We know this was immediate because the man in hell prayed that someone would go tell his brothers lest they also come to hell. The entered immediately into a place of punishment or blessing, without long delay, a time of sleep, limbo or purgatory.
The deciding factor in where the soul goes is if you have turned to Christ for salvation. This issue is not decided based upon whether you have been good, gone to church faithfully, been baptized, confirmed or prayed over. The decision is made by you. If you believe Jesus is God the Son who became a man, died on the cross to forgive your sin, rose from the dead three days later and if you have confessed Jesus as God trusting in only Him to remove your guilt God declares you will have eternal life in His presence. If you trust Jesus for salvation you will enter into heaven and live forever in joy. If you do not, you will enter into hell and be forever separated from God in sorrow and suffering.