Question: “What exactly does the Bible say happens after we die? Does everyone go to the same place or do we go to different places? Is there really a heaven and hell?”
Answer: God’s Word most certainly affirms there is an afterlife in a number of biblical passages. The Bible says there is not only life after death, but eternal life so glorious that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth to give us this gift of eternal life. He took on the punishment that all of us deserve and sacrificed His life to pay the penalty for our sins: “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Three days after His crucifixion, Jesus proved Himself victorious over death by rising from the grave: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The resurrection of Jesus is a well-documented event and is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Because Christ rose from the dead, we too can have faith that we will be resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof of life after death.
Although all people will eventually die, not everyone will go to heaven. A choice must be made by each of us in this life, and this choice will determine our eternal destination. Those who have been made righteous by faith in Christ will have eternal life in heaven, but those who reject Christ will be sent to everlasting punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46). God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires all men to turn from their ways so that they can live eternally with Him (Ezekiel 33:11).
One aspect of the afterlife worth noting is that there is no intermediate state for those who die; they go directly to their eternal destiny. For believers in Jesus Christ, the Bible says after death their souls/spirits are taken immediately to heaven because their sins are forgiven by having trusted Jesus as Savior (John 3:16-18, 36). For believers, death is to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23).
On the contrary, for those who do not trust Jesus as Savior, death means everlasting punishment. Hell, like heaven, is not simply a state of existence, but a literal place. Luke 16:22-24 describes a rich man being tormented immediately after death: “I am in agony in this fire.”
The Bible devotes much less space to describing eternity than it does to convincing people that eternal life is available as a free gift from God. Most of the descriptions of eternity would be more accurately called hints, since they use terms and ideas from present experience to describe what we cannot fully grasp until we are there ourselves. These references hint at aspects of what our future will be like if we have accepted God’s gift of eternal life.
How can we receive eternal life in heaven and avoid eternal wrath from God? There is only one way—through faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear on what determines our eternal destination—whether we have faith in Christ and trust Him to save us from our sins.
Salvation by faith in Christ sounds too easy for many people. They would rather think that they have done something to save themselves. Their religion becomes one of self-effort that leads either to disappointment or pride, but finally to eternal death. Christ’s simple way is the only way, and it alone leads to eternal life. Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).