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Do Good People Really Go to Heaven When They Die?

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William was a teenager when his father died. He was devastated because he loved his dad. He remembered the times when he walked beside his dad with his little fingers clutching his father's much larger hand.

He couldn't help but wonder why a loving God, if indeed there were such a Being, would allow his father to die prematurely, before his time. It just didn't make sense. His anger turned him away from the God that he had learned about in Sunday school. “If God works this way, I want nothing to do with him,” he lamented.

He sought answers from his pastor, but the minister said he didn't understand it either, that God worked in mysterious ways. This didn't help young William get over his anger. After a few years, he simply gave up in frustration with the thought that there was no answer as to why or where God took his father.

Sometimes, thinking his father was up in heaven and could somehow hear him, William would try to talk to his dad—but, as always, there was no response. Little did he know that what the Bible revealed about where his father went and his father's future were quite different from what he had been taught.

Are good people promised heaven?

When good people die, do they go directly to heaven as so many believe? Since life here is so short and eternity is so very long, shouldn't we want to clearly understand the truth on this crucial subject?

To comprehend what the Bible teaches about heaven, we first need to understand that there is more than one heaven. Often the Bible refers to heavens, plural. In fact, three distinct “heavens” are mentioned in the Bible.

The first of these is simply the sky above us—earth's atmosphere, containing the air we breathe. It is in this heaven that birds fly and clouds give rain and snow (2 Samuel 21:10 2 Samuel 21:10And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped on them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.
American King James Version×
; Job 35:11 Job 35:11Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the fowls of heaven?
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 55:10 Isaiah 55:10For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
American King James Version×
).

The second biblical heaven is the realm beyond earth's atmosphere, what we commonly call outer space. Here we find the “stars of heaven”—the planets, stars, constellations and galaxies of this awesome physical universe (Genesis 22:17 Genesis 22:17That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
American King James Version×
; 26:4; Deuteronomy 1:10 Deuteronomy 1:10The LORD your God has multiplied you, and, behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.
American King James Version×
; Isaiah 13:10 Isaiah 13:10For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
American King James Version×
).

The “third heaven” is different still—it is the location of God's majestic throne (2 Corinthians 12:2 2 Corinthians 12:2I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
American King James Version×
).

Obviously the deceased, Christian or not, are not floating around unnoticed in the first two heavens. No one seriously believes they can be found drifting about the sky or in outer space. Therefore they must be in the third of these heavens, right?

Many people assume so, but the whole argument about heaven being the reward of deceased Christians runs into a brick wall with these words from the apostle Peter's first sermon: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day … For David did not ascend to heaven …” (Acts 2:29 Acts 2:29Men and brothers, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day.
American King James Version×
, 34, New International Version, emphasis added throughout).

God called this same King David “a man after My own heart,” one who would “do all My will” (Acts 13:22 Acts 13:22And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.
American King James Version×
). Surely, if anyone had a right to heaven, wouldn't it be a person such as David? Yet Peter tells us God did not carry David off to heaven. The only one who had ascended to heaven, said Peter, was Jesus Christ (Acts 2:29-35 Acts 2:29-35 29 Men and brothers, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day. 30 Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; 31 He seeing this before spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. 32 This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he has shed forth this, which you now see and hear. 34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he said himself, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit you on my right hand, 35 Until I make your foes your footstool.
American King James Version×
).

Was Peter mistaken? Did he simply misspeak?

We might assume so, but notice what the Gospel of John says: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man [Jesus Christ]” (John 3:13 John 3:13And no man has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Jesus never promised Christians heaven after they died. The New Testament plainly says that of the faithful men and women who had gone before—such spiritual giants as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses, to name some of those listed in Hebrews 11—not one has ascended to heaven. In fact, says verse 39 of Hebrews 11, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (NIV).

If they aren't in heaven, where are they? And what was it they were promised, if it wasn't heaven?

No consciousness in the grave

Many people are surprised to discover what the Bible really says about what happens to us when we die. Yet, when we remove our preconceived notions, the answer becomes quite clear from the Scriptures—and it is immensely encouraging to all.

Notice what God inspired King Solomon to write about the state of the dead: “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5 Ecclesiastes 9:5For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
American King James Version×
).

Scripture clearly tells us that at death we cease to know anything. The dead are unconscious and unaware. All our emotions, thoughts, knowledge and feelings go to the grave with us. No consciousness continues living in another place or state. We do not have an immortal soul that goes on living somewhere else. In Ezekiel 18, verses 4 and 20, God plainly tells us that “the soul who sins shall die”—not continue living apart from the body.

The patriarch Job echoes Solomon's words. He writes: “… Man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he? As water disappears from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dries up, so man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, they will not awake nor be roused from their sleep” (Job 14:10-12 Job 14:10-12 10 But man dies, and wastes away: yes, man gives up the ghost, and where is he? 11 As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decays and dries up: 12 So man lies down, and rises not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
American King James Version×
).

Job goes on to ask the most crucial question about life after death: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (verse 14). His answer is found in Jesus Christ's own words.

Death's mystery solved

The key to the mystery of life after death is revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26 John 11:25-26 25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Believe you this?
American King James Version×
).

It is because Christ was resurrected from the grave that we can be assured we, too, will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:12-21 1 Corinthians 15:12-21 12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
American King James Version×
). Throughout the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul eloquently argues this important fact—that since Jesus was resurrected from the grave, He will resurrect all those who have been faithful to Him.

Job, as we saw above, raised the question of life after death. Notice how he answered it: “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time [the time of the resurrection], and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee …” (Job 14:13-15 Job 14:13-15 13 O that you would hide me in the grave, that you would keep me secret, until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! 14 If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. 15 You shall call, and I will answer you: you will have a desire to the work of your hands.
American King James Version×
, King James Version).

Job understood that life after death comes about by God's divine power. Speaking of each person whom the Father would call to understand His truth, Jesus explains, “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
American King James Version×
).

The promise of life after death hinges on Jesus Christ's resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). The fact that Jesus Christ was resurrected to become “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18 Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 1:5 Revelation 1:5And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
American King James Version×
) means that He has opened the way for others to follow in a resurrection from the grave. The raising of the dead is a mighty and magnificent part of God's great master plan. Through it, mankind has the opportunity to live again, as faithful Job knew and confirmed.

The doctrine of the resurrection is listed among the fundamental doctrines of the Bible (Hebrews 6:1-2 Hebrews 6:1-2 1 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
American King James Version×
). It is the hope of all true Christians, for it nullifies and makes void death itself (1 Corinthians 15:54 1 Corinthians 15:54So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
American King James Version×
).

The resurrection voids death

Paul confirms that many people were eyewitnesses to the fact that Jesus Christ had indeed risen from the grave:

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve [apostles]. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep [in death]. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brothers at once; of whom the greater part remain to this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
American King James Version×
).

Too many credible witnesses saw and interacted with Christ Jesus after He was raised from the dead for His resurrection to be denied.

Paul also offers a simple but incontestable logic about how our resurrection from the dead is directly tied to Jesus' resurrection: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

“More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [in death]. For since death came through a man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man [Jesus Christ]” (1 Corinthians 15:12-21 1 Corinthians 15:12-21 12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The mystery of what happens to human beings after they die is incontrovertibly solved in the vibrant life of the resurrected Christ. Our future life beyond the grave is directly connected to the resurrected Jesus Christ and the fact that He is the One who will raise us from the dead. When this happens—and it surely will—the Bible reveals it will not be so that we can go to live in heaven forever.

Death likened to sleep

When Christians—or any others—die, they do not go directly to heaven or to any equivalent of heaven. Their bodies simply decay in the grave, returning to the dust from which they were made (Genesis 3:19 Genesis 3:19In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust shall you return.
American King James Version×
).

Solomon confirmed the fact that the dead are unconscious, knowing nothing. He illustrated the superiority of life over death with an interesting analogy: “Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing …” (Ecclesiastes 9:4-5 Ecclesiastes 9:4-5 4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

The writers of the Bible describe our experience after death not as going to heaven or hell, but simply as sleep. Notice, for example, how Daniel refers to the state of the dead in this prophecy of the resurrection: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2 Daniel 12:2And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
American King James Version×
). When an individual is in a deep sleep, he has absolutely no conscious awareness of the passing of time nor any knowledge of events that are occurring while he is asleep.

Paul repeatedly compared death to sleep (1 Corinthians 11:30 1 Corinthians 11:30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
American King James Version×
; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
American King James Version×
). Peter similarly writes of the patriarchs who “fell asleep” in death (2 Peter 3:4 2 Peter 3:4And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Himself also spoke of death as sleep. Speaking of a deceased girl whom He intended to raise from the dead, He told the mourners, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping” (Luke 8:52 Luke 8:52And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleeps.
American King James Version×
; compare Matthew 9:24 Matthew 9:24He said to them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleeps. And they laughed him to scorn.
American King James Version×
).

Before He resurrected Lazarus, He told the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” The disciples misunderstood, thinking Lazarus was sleeping because he was ill. “However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep” (John 11:11 John 11:11These things said he: and after that he said to them, Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
American King James Version×
, 13).

When will the dead be resurrected?

We can see that the Bible clearly teaches that good people don't go to heaven at death; instead they sleep in the grave awaiting the resurrection of the dead. All of the dead —good and not so good alike—will eventually be resurrected, each in his own time (1 Corinthians 15:20-23 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
American King James Version×
).

The dead in Christ will be resurrected to immortal life at Jesus Christ's return to earth, and those faithful servants who are still alive at that time will be changed from mortal to immortal. Specifically, this happens at the sounding of “the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
American King James Version×
), called “the last trumpet” in 1 Corinthians 15:52 1 Corinthians 15:52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
American King James Version×
and corresponding to the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×
.

This event is called “the first resurrection” in Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
American King James Version×
. In John's vision of the future, those in this resurrection came to life and “reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (verse 4), during the period commonly known as the Millennium. Notice that they do not go to dwell in heaven—they live and reign with Jesus on earth, to which He has returned to establish God's Kingdom!

Verse 6 goes on to explain: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power [because they will then be the resurrected, immortal children of God], but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
American King James Version×
confirms that they will be “a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (NIV). (For more details, see “God's Awesome Purpose for Those in the First Resurrection,” .)

Since Christ is coming back to earth (Zechariah 14:3-4 Zechariah 14:3-4 3 Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. 4 And his feet shall stand in that day on the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall split in the middle thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
American King James Version×
), it makes good sense that that's where we will be. After all, Jesus said that we would be with Him: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3 John 14:3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
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; compare Isaiah 11:1-9 Isaiah 11:1-9 1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. 6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatted calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. 9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
American King James Version×
). Clearly, Jesus is coming back to earth and we will reign with Him here, not in or from heaven.

Another resurrection follows

So if there is a first resurrection in which God's faithful servants are raised to immortality to reign with Jesus Christ, will there be other resurrections? And what happens to those who lived and died without ever knowing or hearing the name of Jesus, the only name by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
American King James Version×
)?

Those who died without knowing Christ will be resurrected to physical life and given their time to repent and receive salvation 1,000 years later (Revelation 20:11-13 Revelation 20:11-13 11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
American King James Version×
). Verse 5 tells us clearly that “the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.”

Ezekiel 37 vividly describes a second resurrection to a temporary physical existence, when human beings who have never understood God's truth in this life will be raised from the dust of the earth to learn God's way for the first time. God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” and “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version×
; 1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×
). He will not unjustly condemn those who never had an opportunity to come to that knowledge, repent and receive His gift of eternal life.

Each person raised to life again in this great resurrection will be given sufficient time to learn God's way of life (see Ezekiel 37:12-14 Ezekiel 37:12-14 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14 And shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall you know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, said the LORD.
American King James Version×
, 23-24), during which they will be judged or evaluated according to their works, by the standards and values “which were written in the books” (Revelation 20:12 Revelation 20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
American King James Version×
).

These “books” (biblion in Greek, from which we get the word Bible) are the Scriptures, the only source of the knowledge of eternal life and the basic standard by which all are ultimately judged. Most, probably the vast majority, will go on to receive eternal life because the Bible tells us that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26 Romans 11:26And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
American King James Version×
)—and by extension most of the gentile world likely will be saved as well. (To learn more about this resurrection, see “All Those in the Tombs Will Hear His Voice “.)

Some individuals, regrettably, will stubbornly choose to reject this marvelous opportunity for eternal life. But rather than suffer torment for eternity in hell (as many people incorrectly assume the Bible teaches), Scripture shows their fate will be to be consumed in the lake of fire, “the second death.” As Malachi 4:3 Malachi 4:3And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×
states, they will be burned to ashes and simply cease to exist.

You can take something with you

People of many ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, buried items of physical worth with their dead. They believed that the deceased would be able to use those important things in the next life. Yet the patriarch Job refuted this idea: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there” (Job 1:21 Job 1:21And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
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). This may be where we get the oft-repeated saying, “You can't take it with you.”

However, this old cliché is not entirely true. In a sense, God will allow you to take something with you when you die—godly character. A true Christian is one who builds God's character for the duration of his Christian life (1 Corinthians 3:9-15 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 9 For we are laborers together with God: you are God’s husbandry, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
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). When raised to life again in the resurrection, that same character will be a part of us in our new life. For the true Christian, that godly character will be with him forever (1 John 2:15-17 1 John 2:15-17 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God stays for ever.
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).

The Egyptians and many other long-dead peoples didn't know this, or they would not have buried valuable physical objects with their dead. But a young teen learned this truth from God's Word, the Bible.

A teen learns the truth

Do you remember William, whose father died prematurely while he was a teenager? That youngster is the author of this article; William is my middle name. Eventually I came to understand the purpose of life and the fact that the dead are not lost in the grave, that all men, women, children and babies who have ever lived will be resurrected, each in his or her own time. All will eventually have the opportunity to learn God's truth.

In time I came to comprehend that the common denominator to all human death was and is the resurrection of Jesus Christ to eternal life, and that His resurrection guarantees our resurrection, too. Although death is a great enemy of human beings—and it has hurt and stung me deeply three separate times—we can take great comfort in God's truth. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? 56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be you steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
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, the resurrection from the dead removes this great enemy and its sting!

Jesus Christ reveals that in time God the Father will come to the earth (Revelation 21:1-3 Revelation 21:1-3 1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
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, 10). Listen to Jesus Christ's description of this time: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 Revelation 21:4And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
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).

Knowing God's ultimate plan for mankind—that human death doesn't end it all—gives us a great and wonderful comfort and sets us free from the myth of a passive eternity in heaven or eternal torment in hell. Finally, the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 1 Thessalonians 4:18Why comfort one another with these words.
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urges us to share this holy truth with others: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” GN

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