A Crash Course on Heaven and Hell


If I could draw a pie chart that revealed what the Bible says about our eternal state and what I want to know about it, the chart would look like the image above. Scripture has precious little to say about the afterlife (compared to how much I want to know!). The Bible was written to teach us how to live in this lifetime; not what to expect in the next. Nevertheless, God has revealed some important facts about our eternal destiny.

Despite what is clear about the afterlife, there are numerous misconceptions. This article is meant to be a “crash course” on Heaven and Hell. Entire books have been written on this subject, and there are all kinds of different views and interpretations on specifics. These are the basics. 

Present Evil Age

Before we talk about what is NEXT, let’s understand what is NOW. The Apostle Paul calls this life “The Present Evil Age” (See Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 5:16).

This age is “evil” because this world is dark (Colossians 1:13; John 1:5) and sinful (1 John 2:16). Satan is active (1 Peter 5:8), he has power to blind and deceive unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4), and he is scheming plans to attack believers (Ephesians 6:10-11). Our flesh pulls us away from God and towards self-destruction (Romans 7:13-20). In the end, death is feared by all (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

All people, whether believers or unbelievers, wrestle with these realities. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ become “citizens of Heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In other words, we still live and operate in this world, fighting against sin; but God has started a process of forming us into the likeness of Jesus (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:29; I Corinthians 15:49).

Intermediate State

So what happens when someone dies? Here is where things get a little confusing. Part of the problem is all the Looney Tunes cartoons we’ve seen of characters sprouting wings and playing harps on the clouds...

Scripture describes two different realms people go to immediately after death:

1. Heaven (2 Corinthians 5;1-2; 12:2; Matthew 6:19-20; John 14:2-3; Philippians 3:20)
2. Hell (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:5; Revelation 1:18; 2 Peter 2:4)

We know very little about these places. But there are two basic facts you should know: First, these two places are like “holding cells” until Jesus returns and sends everyone to their final eternal destination. Second, Scripture seems to indicate that these are disembodied realms, meaning at death one’s body is separated from his soul; the body remains on earth while the soul is taken to either “heaven” or “hell.”

The Bible does not outline an orderly account of the intermediate state. It comes up in stories and pictures, and these two realms are even called by different names (like Hades, Sheol, Abraham’s Bosom, Paradise, etc.). I have lots of questions; I’m sure you do too! The most basic understanding of the intermediate state includes disembodied spirits longing to be reunited to our bodies (2 Corinthians 5:8; Romans 8:23; Luke 16:19-31).

Both the present evil age and the intermediate state will end upon the second coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus will literally and physically return to earth (Acts 1:11; Revelation 22:20) marking the “end of [this] age” (Matthew 24:3, 30).

The Age to Come

Once Jesus returns to Earth, this will begin what Scripture calls “the age to come” (Matthew 12:32; Mark 10:30; Hebrews 6:5). There are numerous different views and opinions on three major aspects of the eternal state: the Millennium, the Rapture, and the Tribulation. That is too much ground to cover in a “crash course.” But here is what almost all conservative theologians teach about the age to come.

First, Jesus will resurrect all bodies, both those in “heaven” or “hell.” Our disembodied spirits will once again be clothed in a body and sent to our final destination (see Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Revelation 20:11-15).

Second, all humans will stand before God to give an account of their life (Revelation 20:11-12). There is no reason for us to picture a modern courtroom or assume we are literally approaching a throne. Put simply, we will meet our Creator. (See 1 Corinthians 4:5; Matthew 25:21; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4

Lastly, God will then send all humans to one of two places:
(1) The New Heavens and New Earth (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13)
(2) The Lake of Fire (see Revelation 20:15; Matthew 10:28)

Revelation 20:11-21:4 explains this event, elaborating on Daniel 12:2. The resurrected dead who are not written in the book of life are sentenced to the lake of fire. Those who are found in the book enter a new heaven and earth. The “book of life” represents the names of those who have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin; Jesus’ substitutionary death paid the penalty for their sins, making them righteous in God’s eyes (2 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Peter 5:4; Matthew 25:34; James 2:5; Titus 3:7).

It’s important to note that the age to come is a physical existence, not just a spiritual one (1 Corinthians 15:54; Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Furthermore, believers will live forever with the Lord on this planet. Revelation 21:5 tells us that, on the new earth, God is making “all things new” - not “all new things” but “all things new.” There are two words used in the Greek language for “new” - one means brand new, and one means renewed. God is in the business of renewing things - He is renewing us and He will renew this universe (Romans 8:21.

There you have it! That’s a crash course on Heaven and Hell. But what do we do with this information? Scripture repeatedly, when talking about end times, tells us knowledge of the age to come ought to shape how we live in this life. We are to live godly lives and be prepared for the day that Jesus returns and calls us to rule with Him in the eternal state (2 Peter 3:11-13; Colossians 3:2; Hebrews 11:16).