The concepts of heaven and hell require that a person lives in some form after death. You don’t really die. Both heaven and hell are places where people live for eternity. If you wanted an expert in the field of going to heaven, I doubt you could do better than Billy Graham. He says:
“Heaven for the Christian will be a place of glorious life that will never end. Joy inexpressible, limitless peace, pure love, beauty beyond description – that’s what heaven is. Greatest of all will be the presence of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, with whom we will enjoy fellowship forever. Loved ones who have known and loved the Lord will be there.
“Heaven will be what we have always longed for. It will be the new social order that men dream of. All the things that have made earth unlovely and tragic will be absent in heaven. There will be no night, no death, no disease, no sorrow, no tears, no ignorance, no disappointment, no war. It will be filled with happiness, worship, love and perfection.”
So, what is hell? Again, going to an authority on the subject, Christianity Today:
“Hell is a place of total, conscious eternal separation from the blessings of God. And there is a sense in which hell is people getting exactly what they want.” In that if a person rejects God all throughout life, never submitting to Him in repentance, then the person will enter eternity after death without God.
“People think of it as a lake of fire and that certainly is a biblical image. Also, the Bible describes hell as lashings or scorpions or darkness where there’s great gnashing of teeth. There’s not just one biblical image of hell. Hell is a place for the soul of extreme torment by being separated from the blessings of God.”
If you believe in life after death, then you will believe that you have an immortal soul that cannot die. These two concepts of heaven and hell are based on an eternal life that carries you forward from death. What is an immortal soul, since we’re making some definitions here?
An immortal soul is “A part of humans regarded as immaterial, immortal, separable from the body at death, capable of moral judgment, and susceptible to happiness or misery in a future state.” An immortal soul is a part of you, but it’s separate from you. It is the part of you that leaves the body at the point of death and carries on. The body goes to the grave, and the soul continues to exist as a separate entity.
The Greek word for immortal is athanasia; deathlessness, or immunity from death. Immortal means continuation so we have need for somewhere for this immortal, indestructible soul to go after death because it “doesn’t die, it moves on”. So, based on this life if you are good you go to heaven. If you are bad you go to hell. However, if you are a lukewarm Catholic then some believe that you end up somewhere in between in a place called purgatory.
If man has an immortal soul, we could reasonably expect it to be described in the creation of man. In Genesis 1:24 we can follow the days of creation, referencing the various developments of life. On day five the living creatures, the birds and the sea creatures all being created according to their kind. On the sixth day: ‘Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. . . .” (Genesis 1:25).
When we get to man, the whole tenor changes in terms of creation. The ‘kind’ concept continues, everything being made after its kind so that it would reproduce after its kind. Now we come to man and Man is made after the God kind: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26).
Genesis 2:7 is where people develop concepts of the immortal soul, some aspect of life that is different from the physical body. It says: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” The Authorized Version (AKJV) says, “a living soul.” The ‘kind’ that man was made after was God. To give man life God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Without this breath man dies. We see that in the account of the flood.
“The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died” (Genesis 7:20-21). The word ‘spirit’ is not in the Authorized Version. When the water cut off the breath of life man died because the breath of life is air, and it contains oxygen which the body needs for life.
When God breathed into man’s nostrils man became a living nephesh. That is the Hebrew word. Some were translated ‘soul’, some were translated ‘a being’. The dust of the ground now had life. But is nephesh an immortal soul? That is what some people would say.
However, back in Genesis 1:24 we read: “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind… .” (it’s talking about the animals.) The word ‘creature’ is nephesh. Animals are a nephesh. Man is a nephesh as well. The breath, which is life giving air made man and animals living beings, a living nephesh. So man is a soul. He does not have a soul. There is nothing immortal about the air that God breathed into his nostrils.
Solomon made this observation: “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 3:19). The prophet Ezekiel also confirms this truth: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4,20).
So why is air the breath of life? “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul . . . for it is the life of all flesh. Its blood sustains its life…” (Leviticus 17:11,14). Christ’s sacrifice involved His blood being poured out. Isaiah, speaking of Christ says: “Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death…” (Isaiah 53:12).
So, death is the cessation of life. It’s the opposite of deathlessness. Without life there is no consciousness: “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. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun. . .Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6,10). Solomon is pointing out to us the importance of life while we have it.
Paul explains a principle about the resurrection from the grave in 1 Corinthians 15:46: “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.” By creating a physical creation God was molding, shaping and creating in a material that was not permanent, but with the potential to become so. While man lives, he has the potential to know God and to develop his character after God’s character. At the end of his allotted time, he returns to the earth. “From dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
So, while man’s mind is unique, it is not immortal. The mind is a combination of a physical brain and a spirit essence given by God to every human made in His image and it imparts the means to be able throughout our lives to develop into the image of the Creator. After the God kind.
Paul gives a better distinction of what that spirit in man does when he says of human life: “For what man knows the things of a man (this is operating on the physical level) except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (I Corinthians 2:11). That’s what the spirit in man does. It combines with the brain to allow the physical brain to function as a mind; to think, to know, to reason and so on. It’s not the Holy Spirit, however.
We know that at death the brain, being physical, ceases to function. But the spirit, being spirit, doesn’t die, but returns to God who gave it. “Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21). “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
It’s not clearly stated in scripture, but since the spirit formed the mind, worked with the brain, it is logical that the spirit of man plays a part in his resurrection. The spirit records the personality. It records the life span and then God uses that spirit in a resurrection. Paul wrote that at Christ’s return, some are awake, and some are asleep. Some are alive and some are dead. It is a transitional stage between the physical and the spiritual. When a person dies, they go to the grave.
Scripture in Acts 2:29,34 clarifies: “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens…” David is in the grave, waiting for the resurrection and he knew, that saying of himself that “. . .God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me” (Psalm 49:15).
Isaiah explains that “Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, And the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19 ESV). Thankfully, the power of the grave is temporary.
Another aspect to consider is why did Christ go to hell? We see in Acts 2:31: “he (David), foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades (translated as hell), nor did His flesh see corruption.” When Christ died, they buried Him. He was in the grave, but not long enough for His body to decay, to return to the dust of the earth.
Regarding heaven, scripture simply says in John1:18: “No one has seen God at any time…” Only Christ, the Son of God, has seen the Father. “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13).
Building on the previous things that Christ said about no one having gone to heaven, He went on to say in John 5:25-29: “Most assuredly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
Everyone will have their opportunity to know God. There will be a day of judgment to come, however, God is not the author of eternal torment.
One final statement from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia sums it up: “Immortality may therefore be defined as the immunity from decay and death that results from sharing divine life in the resurrected state.” That is when man will receive immortality and a body that will live forever.
Paul speaks about death being swallowed up in victory:
“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades (grave), where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:55-57).
We are corruptible as physical human beings, but we will get to the position where we put on incorruptibility, when we put on immortality; when this body is changed into a glorious spirit body and we are members of the God family. That’s the completion of the cycle of being created after the God kind.