My last article looked at the question of what happens to infants and unborn children who die. But what about us who have actually sinned and have beheld the glory of God through the created order? How the Bible answers that question is based on whether you are trusting in Christ alone to save you from the wrath of God. If you do not submit to Christ and repent of your sins, then at death you will be condemned (John 3:18, 36). Peter describes the current state of the wicked who have died in this way: “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” (2 Pet 2:9). This punishment is depicted in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 as a “place of torment” that should be avoided at all costs. And the only price that avails is the blood of Christ (1 Pet 1:19).
There are no more second chances after death. The Bible says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). Postmortem evangelism, the belief that people can believe the gospel after they die, is a myth based on a misunderstanding of 1 Peter 3:19 which is talking about the preaching of Noah when the ark was being built to those who are now dead. At the resurrection of the dead, the wicked will be judged and condemned to the lake of fire (Rev 20:10-15; 14:9-11; Matt 25:46). The good news of the gospel is that Christ has died for sinners and has been raised from the dead to give repentance and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31). The Holy Spirit says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Flee to the mercy of Christ to escape his wrath (Psa 2:12).
But if you are a born again Christian who confesses Christ as Lord, then death is the translation of your soul into the presence of Christ in heaven. Revelation 6:9 describes the saints in heaven in this way: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” They are waiting patiently for the resurrection of the dead when they will be reunited with their bodies which will coincide with the judgment of those who killed them. Paul expresses this same truth when he says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:21-23). In 2 Corinthians 5:8-10, Paul says the same thing but adds the fact that Christians must give an account of themselves before God: “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Both believers and unbelievers must stand before Christ, but those who trust in him stand in the garments of Jesus’ blood and righteousness and will be acquitted on the basis of what he has done for his bride (Rom 8:34; 14:12; Phil 3:8-9). We must nevertheless give an account for how we have used the resources God has given us (Matt 25:23). A common question about the day of judgment is whether our sins will be brought up when we stand before Christ. I think Thomas Brooks gives a good answer to that question starting on page 52 of volume 5 of his works. As regards the chronology of eschatological events, the Bible’s focus is always first and foremost on encouraging Christians to endure to the end. Passages on the second coming of Christ exist to strengthen the faith of the church in the midst of suffering and equip them for tribulation and affliction, not to create a prophecy chart (Rev 1:9; 3:11).