Question from a reader:
I would like to know where the Bible talks about the state of soul after the soul leaves the body. Like the Catholics believing in purgatory, what do Christians believe in?
Thank you for your question about the state of the soul after death. I believe that our definitive passage on this is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. When the rich man died, he went to a place called “Hades” (verse 23), which was a place of torments. When Lazarus died, he went to a place called “Abraham’s bosom,” which Bible scholars have associated with the word “paradise.”
When people died in Old Testament times (including the times referenced in the Gospels), their bodies went into a grave, but apparently there was a temporary holding place for their souls. The Bible uses a term called hell, such as in Matthew 5:22, but the terminology is slightly different than what we normally use. Hell is the lake of fire where all unbelievers will spend eternity (Revelation 20:14-15). Apparently, however, the temporary holding place (sometimes called Sheol, or Purgatory) had a compartment for separate compartments for believers and unbelievers. (This is where the Catholics (mistakenly) built their doctrine of purgatory.) Unbelievers spent this period in the part called torments (Luke 16:23), while believers spent this time in a place called paradise (Luke 23:43).
However, with the resurrection of Jesus (the first resurrection), these Old Testament believers were transferred from paradise to Heaven. This is apparently what was going on in Matthew 7:53, which is a very difficult passage.
Now, for us, it’s completely different. Since the resurrection of Christ has already occurred, and He has ascended to Heaven, when believers die today, our bodies go to a grave, and our spirits go straight to Heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1-8) to be with Christ.
I hope this helps.
Thank you very much!