What really happens after you die? Do believers in Jesus Christ immediately go to heaven? And nonbelievers, to hell? Or is there an intermediate stage?
Texas Pastor Randy Frazee of Oak Hills Church wasn't confident in his understanding of the afterlife even after theological training and many years as a pastor. But after his mother, who was on the brink of death, asked him whether Jesus was enough for her to gain eternal life in Heaven, Frazee decided to delve into the Scriptures to find answers that he can be sure of.
Today, Frazee offers Christians a clearer picture of the afterlife in his new book What Happens After You Die: A Biblical Guide to Paradise, Hell, and Life After Death. One thing he wants Christians to know is that the uninspiring vision of spirits floating on clouds and singing all day, everyday for eternity is not an accurate picture of Heaven.
That vision didn't appeal to him nor does it appeal to most Christians.
"This is not the vision that God has for us," Frazee told Christian talk show host Janet Mefferd. "He has a vision to restore what was lost."
"God's plan of redemption … it's not us up there, it's us down here," the multi-site church pastor explained. "It's not us as spirit beings, it's us as resurrected … bodies. It's not God up there, but it's God down here, walking with us like He did with Adam and Eve."
But that vision of Heaven comes after the return of Jesus Christ.
Until then, what happens to those who die?
Afterlife for those who accepted Jesus Christ as their savior
Frazee pointed to an "intermediate state" — the state between death and the return of Christ — which he said only three or four passages in the New Testament describes.
"We don't know a lot about it," he admitted. But "we do know this is not where the pearly gates and streets of gold" are.
"It's not even a place as much as a spirit is with a person. You are with God," he told Mefferd. "I don't even believe it's in space and time. I believe you're outside of [that]. The day is not droning on like it does here on earth, waiting for this major event … which is the return of Christ."
He emphasized that life "in between" death and Heaven is "wonderful, peaceful."
"God's got us," he noted.
"But what we're really holding out for is the return of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies."
Afterlife for nonbelievers
When a nonbeliever — someone who choose not to take advantage of Christ's offer to forgive his or her sins — dies, that person's spirit goes to Hades.
"It's not the final destination for you. It's basically a holding tank. … It's like being on death row," Frazee said, describing Hades as "blackness, darkness."
"You're waiting for the final judgment yet to come."
The Texas pastor stressed that God does not send people to Hell. Rather, "He merely honors their choice."
"Everybody would be saved. No one would perish. But in order for them to not enter into this place called Hades and ultimately the lake of fire, then they need to accept Christ now and if they don't, He will honor your choice of keeping you separated from Him for all eternity."
When Jesus Christ Returns
Once Jesus Christ returns, believers will be in paradise, much like it is described in Genesis 1 and 2. And rather than in the clouds, Heaven will be on a "new and renovated earth without sin and death."
Nonbelievers, meanwhile, will stand before the great white throne of judgment and if their name is not written in the book of life, they will be judged and cast into the lake of fire.
Frazee explained why people must accept Jesus' offer of forgiveness in order to gain eternal life with God. He noted that everyone is conceived in sin because of their connection to Adam, the first man on earth.
"We cannot rid ourselves of this sin. Someone has to take it on for us," he said, citing Jesus as the only way.
"It is a gift but you must believe in Him in your heart and you must confess it with your heart and then by God's grace, you will be saved."
Frazee clarified that God did not create Hell for people. Hell was created for Satan, death and the demons.
"You don't accept Christ because you're afraid of going to Hell. You accept Christ because of what He's saving you for — not only eternal life … but laying out for you a purposeful, meaningful, hope-filled life."