Many people assume that we go directly to heaven or hell as soon as we die. According to the Bible this isn’t true, but where we go when we die does depend on how we live.
Jesus gives us a glimpse of what we can expect in Luke chapter 16, verses 19-31. There are two men. One is rich and lives like a king, the other a beggar named Lazarus, his body riddled with sores, who hopes to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table.
Both men die. Although the King James Version renders it “hell” in verse 23, the men do not go immediately to either heaven or hell. The Greek word Jesus uses to describe their destination is translated hades, the place where spirits go when death comes. This is where all departed spirits wait for Judgment Day.
But hades is composed of two parts. The beggar is carried to a place Jesus calls “Abraham’s bosom.” Abraham was the father of the Jews, and he lived a righteous life. Jews of the first century could hope for nothing better than to be with Abraham when they died.
The rich man isn’t so fortunate. He ends up in hades too, but his destination is a place of “torments” (v. 23). The rich man looks up in agony and sees Abraham in the distance, with Lazarus. He cries for mercy and begs Abraham to send Lazarus with just a drop of water to cool his tongue, “For I am tormented in this flame” (v. 24).
Here’s what we know so far. Two men have died and are in Hades, but one is resting comfortably with Abraham, while the other is in misery. Judgment Day is still in the future when Jesus comes again. Lazarus the beggar is in the part of hades that provides rest, while the rich man is in that part where the unrighteous go—a place of torment.
When the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus over to bring him some relief, Abraham explains that the two have swapped roles. When they were alive, the rich man lived well while the beggar suffered, but now on the other side it’s the beggar who is comforted (v.25). Why the reversal?
The answer comes in verse 29. While he was alive, the rich man did not “listen to” Moses and the prophets—he didn’t heed the word of God. Apparently, the beggar did. And now, after death has come, two men await the Judgment, but in very different circumstances.
If death comes to you before Jesus returns, which of these men will you join when you leave this world? Your destination will be based on whether you listen to the words of Jesus Christ (John 12:48). Are you ready?