My ten year old nephew, Skyler, asked where people go after they die. Do people go right to hell? Are Christians asleep (in the grave) until the coming of Christ, or do they go right to Heaven? These are excellent questions that he has asked, and the way to answer them is to pray for help from the Lord to find the answers, and to turn to God’s word to find them.
First of all, when people die they go to one of two places, depending on whether or not they have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ or they have rejected Him. Sheol (a Hebrew word from the OT, called Hades in the Greek NT) is where all people who die without Christ immediately go after they die. On the other hand, people that have received God’s gracious gift of salvation, through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross, go immediately into the presence of the Lord. In 2 Cor. 5:8, Paul said that he would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. In other words, to die is to go to be with the Lord in Heaven.
So, non-Christians go to Sheol/Hades and Christians go to be with the Lord. Hell is called Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire. It is prepared for the Devil and the fallen angels. The first ones to go there will be the anti-Christ and his false prophet (Revelation 20:10). Then Satan, and at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ, all of the "unrighteous dead", those that died without Christ and have been kept in Sheol, the place of the dead, until this time.
Jesus described this place in a story in Luke 16:19-31. It used to house the righteous dead also, until Jesus paid the price for our sin at the cross. That is when Christ led "captivity captive", if you remember that verse. He descended into this place before He rose again and brought Abraham and all of the Old Testament saints to heaven. Now all Christians go right to Heaven when they die and non-Christians go to Sheol until the final "white throne" judgement, spoken of in Rev. 20.
Now, "asleep" is just another way of saying “dead” in the Bible. Those who have “fallen asleep” in Christ are just Christians that have died. So, that really has nothing to do with sleeping or a particular place like the grave. Paul used these words in 1 Thessalonians when he wanted to clear up some confusion and misunderstanding about the rapture, the 2nd coming of Christ and where and how living and dead Christians alike fit in to these events. There were some believers that thought that their friends who were Christians and had died were going to miss out because the 2nd coming hadn't taken place yet. They were confused about Jesus' return and the establishment of His kingdom. They were rightly expecting His imminent return, like we are today.
Paul said, But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep (your Christian brothers and sisters who have died), lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep (who have died) in Jesus (with faith in Jesus) (1 Thess 4:13-14).
He's telling them that those Christians that had died are with Jesus and He will bring them back with Him when He returns (the rapture, not the second coming is in view here).
Paul continues in verses 15 through 18, 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Paul is explaining that some Christians will be alive when Christ returns. This event is called the rapture of the church. The church on earth at that time will be caught up (rapturos in Latin) in the air with the Lord to meet those Christians who have already died and who are already with Jesus. Paul speaks of the rapture of the church again in 1 Cor. 15:51-54:
51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep (die), but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
At that time, those Christians that are alive will go to meet all of the believers that have ever lived, and will be with Jesus in Heaven. Just after the rapture of the church from the planet, the earth is going to go through it's last 7 year period, the Great Tribulation (aka, the Day of the Lord or the Day of Jacob's Trouble). Revelation 4 and 5 give us a picture of what the Church is doing in Heaven at that time! Then the entire Church returns with Christ at His second coming, which is immediately after the end of the Tribulation period. Christ's eternal kingdom will be established, first with the Millennial reign of Christ (the thousand year reign), and then with the New Heaven and New Earth. All of this is described in the last three chapters of Revelation.
Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints (Jude 14). This statement by Jude is describing the 2nd coming of Christ, with His church. The rapture happens first, but no one knows the day or the hour of this event, so we are to be ready at any time. Are you ready? Have you asked Jesus to be your Savior and your Lord? If you have, you are filled with the joy of the Lord, and the hope of His coming and His glory. If you have not, just turn from your sin now and place your faith in Christ, receiving the free gift of eternal life that is only through Him. Not just an everlasting life, but a life of true satisfaction and joy as we learn to walk in step with our loving and faithful Creator.
*******I would recommend going through Revelation with Pastor Chuck Smith (one of many great Bible teachers). Find his free audio teachings at
Another great resource is the Blue Letter Bible, found at