Otsego Festival Question Series: When You Die Where Does Your Spirit Go?

This question is related to what theologians call the intermediate state, the time after death but before the resurrection.  The Bible describes this condition as an intermediary state when the spirit is without the body.  After death the physical body is normally placed in a grave where it will decay, i.e. “return to dust.” 

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19).

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days’ (John 11:38-39).

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption (Acts 13:36).

That the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21).

Though the body decays, the spirit lives on.

and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead (James 2:26).

The Apostle Paul also affirms the division of the spirit from the body at death in 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23-24,

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

When a person’s spirit leaves the body at death, it departs to one of two destinies. Catholics hold to the doctrine of purgatory as a third possible destiny, but this is not supported anywhere in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament. According to Catholic teaching purgatory is a place for,

all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven (Catechism of the Catholic Church [New York: William H. Sadlier, Inc., 1994], §1030). 

This is based on the tradition of the councils and the Apocrypha in 2 Maccabees 12:46,

Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. 

Evangelical Christians reject the doctrine of purgatory because the Bible is clear in presenting two destinies, not three.  In any case, the spirit of an unbeliever goes to Hades to suffer conscious torment according to Luke 16:22-24 until the second and final death as found in Revelation 20:13-14

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, [23] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. [24] And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’ (Luke 16:22-24)

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-14). 

Hades or Hell is a place of outer darkness (Matthew 22:13), fire (Matthew 5:22; Jude 7), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48), conscious torment (Matthew 13:40-42; Luke 16:23, 28; Revelation 20:10); it is eternal (Matt 25:41, 46), and worst, it is irrevocable separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).  This is a horrific and terrible place—it is dreadful.

The spirit of a believer, on the other hand, goes to Paradise in the presence of God.

And [Jesus] said to [the thief on the cross next to Jesus], ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43).

And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows (2 Corinthians 12:3).  

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. ‘To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’ (Revelation 2:7).  

Paradise is an Edenic and idyllic place—it is glorious!  

Ultimately, there will be a resurrection of both the just and unjust,

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29 ] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29)

But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, [15] having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Act 24:14-15).

For one to understand what the Bible says about where one’s spirit ultimately ends up is incredibly important for two reasons.  First, it reminds us that though our bodies die, our spirits lives on forever.  So we need to be ready for the life to come.  The Bible does not teach that we simply cease to exist after we die, known as annihilationism.  Second, it sets before us the sober truth that if we reject Christ, God will reject us forever. Jesus said in John 12:48,

The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

On the other hand, those who humbly receive Christ can claim the same promise the thief on the cross obtained when Jesus said,

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). 

In conclusion, death is biblically defined as separation, when the spirit departs from the body.  One’s spirit departs to one of two final destinies.  The spirit of the unbeliever goes to Hades—a horrific and terrible place—it is dreadful!  The spirit of the believer goes to Paradise—an Edenic and idyllic place—it is glorious!  Following the final resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous, both soul and body will continue in their final destiny forever.  Be ready!

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One thought on “Otsego Festival Question Series: When You Die Where Does Your Spirit Go?

  1. thank you so much , i just had a vision of the judgment and i woke up t try to google the picture of what i saw. so terrible hell is real . May His Grace be with us.

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