What Happens When We Die?

Speaker: Pastor Darin Browne

Last week I started a series on Heaven, and hell. You might think, well that’s not a cheery subject, but it’s something we should all understand. Today I will speak very plainly and tell you the truth. Fact is, every one of us has an appointment we must keep…we will all die. Rich, poor, straight, gay, black, white, Christian, and non-Christian, every single one of us will die. Life has a zero percent survival rate.

We all know we are going to die, but the question is, what happens then? Do we soul sleep or do we come back as an ant or a king? Do we face judgement or do we have a heavenly party forever? Jesus said…

Luke 16:22-23 (ESV)
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

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.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

This parable makes it clear that when we die, we are conscious, and our souls continues to exist either in heaven or hell…for the moment. That parable teaches us that you cannot move from one place to the other, you cannot relieve the torture of hell, and you cannot float back as a spirit to warn people what is to come if they don’t repent. The rich man was a missionary minded man in hell.

So, what Jesus describes here, is it real or figurative? What happens when we die?


Unless you suffer a sudden death, dying is a slow, protracted process. Dr Colin Dicks shared on this last year, Death, Dying and Donuts and he described the process of dying. As blood supply weakens, people tend to sleep more, and their bodily functions begin to shut down. The body breaks down, organs like kidneys start to fail, and breathing becomes laboured. The lungs fill with fluid and the death rattles begin.

Then as death approaches, the skin becomes waxy, then the heart stops and breathing stops. In a few minutes the brain ceases functioning, the skin starts to cool, and the person is officially dead. But something happens beyond the mere physical death.

Many people, me included, have experienced something beyond death. In my case, I suffered anaphylaxis and died on the operating table, for several minutes. I could see the doctors and nurses down a long tube operating on my body, but I was surrounded by light and liquid love. I remember when my breathing had stopped, I panicked for a few seconds, but then I was completely at peace, safe in the arms of my Lord. He spoke to me, said there was more for me to do for Him, and slowly I floated towards the people working on my body. Paul wrote…

Romans 14:8 (ESV)
For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

All religions recognise that upon dying our soul separates from our body and something happens spiritually. So, what happens to our souls when we die?


The Bible says…

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV)
And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

We die once. There are no multiple lives, that’s a lie. There are no second chances, that too is a lie. We die once, and we are then destined to be judged.

Understand this…

Romans 3:23 (ESV)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romans 6:23 (ESV)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Every single one of us have sinned, therefore every one of us must face the consequences of that sin, which is eternal death. No sugar coating it, our collective destination is hell, not heaven. We all deserve death and hell forever, but God graciously offers us heaven because His Son Jesus paid the price in our place. We don’t deserve it, but grace allows us access to heaven if we accept God’s free gift of His Son. But so many want to live their own life their way, so they reject the gift and ignore Jesus.

C. S. Lewis said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Today I want to describe to you what the Bible says about hell and heaven. Most people are sliding quietly into hell without realising it, so today we are going to talk frankly about the lies the devil feeds us, and about what happens when we die.


Satan doesn’t want you to learn the truth about heaven and hell. So, he makes hell sound attractive. Jesus didn’t…

Matthew 22:13 (ESV)
Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Gnashing of teeth. Is this gnashing because of pain? Possibly. But I think it is also because of anger, anger towards God for His righteous punishment. So, here are some of the lies an angry devil will try and divert you with.


Hell is a place of conscious punishment for sins, with no hope of relief. Question…is hell a cosmic overreaction to sin? Is God being unjust? Unfair? No, it is a just and fair punishment. But does God want you to suffer in hell? One lie often perpetuated in our society is that God is love, therefore He will not send anyone to hell.

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God’s loving heart doesn’t want you to go to hell, but His Holy justice demands it as a consequence of your wilful sin.

When we hear of serial murderers on trial, something within us tells us that six months probation is not justice that fits the crime. Agree with it or not, there are some crimes so heinous that the death sentence seems the only fitting consequence. If a judge gave Ted Bundy six months probation, you’d be rightly outraged. If God let everyone into heaven, heaven would be hell.

God’s love doesn’t compromise His standards for righteousness. But His love sent Jesus to pay the price and fulfil both justice and mercy.


Common wisdom declares heaven nice but boring, playing harps all day, whereas hell is you, your mates, a pack of cards and a carton of beer. Me and my mates boozing on for eternity. Truth is, nothing could be further from truth.

Hell is separation from God, and everything about God, for eternity. God is light, love, fellowship, joy, companionship, excitement. Hell is the opposite. It’s pain, misery, intense loneliness. No mates, no fun, just endless misery, loneliness, and regret. Jude described hell like this…

Jude 1:13 (ESV)
wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

Imagine misery that never ends. Imagine replaying all the times you could have accepted Christ but refused. Maybe that regret is the hell of hells.


The medieval church wanted to get people working and wanted to raise funds, so they invented purgatory. The idea is that, when you die, there’s a halfway place. You suffer as if it it hell, but get a couple of hours off a day, and then, if you or your relatives pay enough, you can eventually make it to heaven.

This is un-Biblical, and a complete lie. Hell is forever, no breaks, no second chances.


Matthew 25:46 (ESV)
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The Greek word for “eternal” is AIONIOS, literally no beginning and no end. Human minds cannot even comprehend it. The Hubble telescope has just discovered a star called EARENDEL, 28,000 light years away. That is over one billion 800 million times from earth to our sun. Eternity is beyond that, bigger than we can comprehend. It has no end.

Don’t believe Satan’s lie that it’s unloving to speak to people about Hell. If you had two roads, one leading to Brisbane while the other led to a sheer cliff, wouldn’t you want to warn a person and describe both to a person?

2 Corinthians 5:11 (ESV)
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

Lonely, boring, purposeless. Miserable, painful, regretful. This is what hell looks like.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV)
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

People’s souls are eternal. They live forever. Forever with the Lord in heaven, or forever separated from everything to do with God…forever


All the jokes you’ve heard about heaven are wrong. The line up to get checked in…wrong!

The taxi driver who gets moved up the line before the preacher, because when he drove, he put the fear of God into more people than the preacher ever did…wrong!

All of the jokes assume you need to do something good, more good than bad, to get into heaven. This is one of many lies about heaven. If the devil can’t sell you on one, he will try another. Here are some lies the devil promotes (do you believe them?)


Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.


Matthew 7:13 (ESV)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.


Psalms 16:11 (ESV)
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


John 14:6 (ESV)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.


Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

In several places throughout Scripture, it tells us that all we need is to have our name written in one specific book. The book of life…

Revelation 21:27 (ESV)
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. When we accept Jesus, we realise that Jesus has paid in full for our sin, and therefore has the right to write our names into His book of life, and He does so in ink—not pencil. Accept Jesus as Lord, and your name is written in.


Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
he has put eternity into man’s heart,

Everyone has an awareness that there’s more to life than this life, that somewhere out there is eternity. We know that, upon death, our soul separates from our body. The soul has gone. The question is, gone where? No one can produce proof either way as to what happens. Some, like me, have glimpsed behind the curtain. The Bible teaches that, our body returns to the dust…

Ecclesiastes 3:20 (ESV)
All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

But what about the real you, what I see behind your eyes, your soul?


The real you, your soul, lives forever. When a Christian dies, he or she goes to heaven, or paradise, and this is an “intermediate state.” Life in the Heaven we go to when we die, where we’ll dwell prior to our bodily resurrection, is “better by far” than living here on Earth under the Curse. Jesus called it Paradise when He spoke to the thief on the cross…

Luke 23:43 (ESV)
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Paul also talked about going to a wonderful place upon death…

Philippians 1:21-23 (ESV)
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour 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.

Heaven is not defined by the place; it’s defined by the person. It might change location one day, but the defining factor is who is there, not where it is.

Heaven is where the Lord Jesus is, whether now or on the new earth, spoken of in the last two chapters of the Bible. Heaven is where Jesus is, and where we get to be there. But Heaven will be just the start!


As great as Heaven will be, and as horrible as hell will be, both are not our final destination. For heaven there is even better to come, and for those who go to hell, there is far, far worse to come, and both these will last for eternity! When we die, we are in the final countdown!


When we die, our soul doesn’t sleep, or cease to exist. We cannot make changes to our eternal destiny, but we experience the consequences of decisions we have made during our lives. Our actions are not eternally judged at death, that comes later, but there are only two kinds of people…those that know Jesus, and those that don’t!

Paradise, the current heaven, is a wonderful, joyous, fascinating place, but it is also temporary. So too is what the Bible calls Hades, the place of the dead, what we read about with the rich man. It’s where unbelievers go upon death, and it is terrifying and horrible, but it also is just a foretaste of the misery of being eternity separated from God.

To help us understand, Jesus gave us illustrations. Heaven, He said, is His Father’s, mansion with many prepared rooms for us. About hell, Jesus said…

Matthew 10:28 (ESV)
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The Greek word used in this and many other verses for hell is GEHENNA…Hades, the place of the dead. This is very graphic. He could have used North Queensland in January to illustrate hell, but He chose this.

GEHENNA is the name of the valley of Hinnom, a Valley just outside Jerusalem, the garbage pit of the ancient city. It was here the people dumped their garbage, the corpses of their livestock, and the fires there never went out. It’s an apt picture of hades, the temporary hell. It was hot, smoke, and stunk to high heaven, or rather stunk to low hell, and constantly had the smell of death and dung and refuse.


I heard one comedian say, “I’m going to live forever…so far, so good.” Whether your soul goes to heaven or hell is not determined by what you’ve done, by weighing your good and bad deeds, or what you believe, or what you think you know, it rests solely on who you know! For those who love Jesus, we are absent from the body, present with the Lord. Paul writes…

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)
So, we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Let me illustrate. We who love Christ, when we die it’s like we are taking a luxury cruise to the best destination ever. The cruise is great, the food amazing, entertainment stellar, comfort, excitement, and joy. But the best is still yet to come!

For those without Christ it’s the opposite. Here’s another picture. Hades, GEHENNA, what most call hell, is like a county gaol. It’s incarceration, it’s pain, it’s lack, it’s misery, but those without Christ are only there until final judgement is pronounced. After that it’s off to the state penitentiary, the final destination.

Next week we are going to explore the final, eternal destinations we face. For now, given even the temporary nature of what happens to us when our soul leaves our body, we need to stop and pray for those we love.

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