By R.W. McAlister
In Heb. 9:27 the Bible says, “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the
judgment:” In Rom. 14:11-12, the Lord says, “… every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” That’s a reference to final judgment. In II Cor. 5:10, the Bible says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” The Bible is very clear about the reality of a final judgment. I think the real question is, “What happens to us before Judgment?” II Peter 2:9 addresses this, and it reads, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” The Greek text suggests the idea of keeping the unrighteous “under punishment (present tense— continual punishment) unto (looking towards) the day of judgment.” The phrase “under punishment” reveals that the penalty was already being inflicted at the time the apostle is writing.
The punishment begins at the point of death, in somewhat the same way an individual
apprehended in the commission of a crime is jailed until his trial. In that case, he is being
punished before actual judgment has been passed.
In Luke 16, we find the story of the rich man and Lazarus, who begged at the rich man’s gate. We don’t have time to read all of it, but beginning in v. 22, the Bible says, And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
It’s important to understand that both Lazarus and the rich man are in a place called,
“Hades.” The Hadean realm is divided into two parts, separated by a great gulf (Luke 16:26): “Abraham’s Bosom” (also called Paradise – Luke 23:43), and “torment” or, “Tartarus.” Hades, consisting of Paradise and Torment, could be viewed as “Eternity’s Waiting Room,” where all departed souls await final judgment, which is guaranteed to come, as we’ve already noted from Heb. 9:27, Rom. 14:12, and II Cor. 5:10. It is on the Day of Judgment that souls who are in Paradise will be ushered into Heaven, and those souls found in Torment will be consigned to Gehenna Hell, the final and eternal abode of those who die apart from God.
In short, if I die as a faithful Christian, my soul will await final Judgment in the Paradise half of Hades, but if I die outside the body of Christ, or as a once-faithful Christian who has turned his back on God and never repented, I will, upon my death, await final Judgment with the rich man of Luke 16, in Tartarus, being tormented in fire. None of us wants that to be our ultimate fate, so I urge us all to seek out God’s plan of salvation in the Scriptures and obey it.
- R.W. McAlister served as a minister to the Anna Church of Christ in Anna, IL until his death in October 2021.This was his own home congregation in which he grew up. R.W. was a beloved member of his community and a popular teacher in the agriculture department at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, MO. To visit the congregation's website go to: http://www.annachurchofchrist.com/