The Bible says that, at death, the body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Gen. 3:19; Ecc. 12:7).
Specifically, the spirit of man goes to Hades. Hades is the New Testament word which is generally equivalent to the Old Testament Sheol. Notice that the righteous who die do go to Hades. Jesus went there when He died (Acts 2:27-32), but He went to Paradise (Luke 23:43). Therefore, one who is in Paradise is also in Hades.
But there is another realm in Hades that includes the wicked dead. The rich man in Luke 16:19-31 was in Hades, but he had been wicked in this life. As a result, he was in a realm of Hades where he was in torment in a flame. Lazarus and Abraham, however, who had been righteous in this life, were separated from the wicked man by a great gulf that no one could cross. This was after these men had all died but before the resurrection. This is proved by the fact that the rich man still had brothers living back on earth.
Therefore, Hades is the dwelling place between death and the resurrection for both the wicked and the righteous. But though they are all in Hades, yet they are in different realms and different states. This is just a temporary state until the judgment.
When Jesus returns, the body is raised from the dead because the spirit returns to it (1 Cor. chap. 15). All men are then judged and enter into their eternal rewards (Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:1-11; etc.). At the judgment, Hades will end (along with death), for it will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
After the judgment, the righteous will be in heaven with Jesus in the very presence of God and Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 5:1-10; Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Peter 1:3,4). The wicked will be in everlasting torment (Matt. 25:41,46; Rev. 20:11-15; etc.).
It follows that the Judgment Day will not be the time when the dead will first learn of their eternal destiny. That will be known and sealed at death. Judgment is really the sentencing phase at which the final destiny will be formally announced and executed.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2003
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