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Q&A: Death Before Jesus

Question: I know that when we die we go to heaven because of Jesus. But, where did people go before Jesus died on the cross for them?

God originally created a place down in the earth to confine the fallen angels until the day they are judged (II Peter 2:4). This place was known in Hebrew as Sheol, in Greek as Hades and in English as Hell. Scripture tells us that after the judgment of the rebellious angels, they will be confined in the Lake of Fire. This lake was not originally created for mankind.

When Adam knowingly rebelled against God by eating a forbidden fruit, his eternal and now sinful spirit could no longer ascend at death into Heaven to be in the presence of a Holy God. So, by necessity, God created a special separate place in Sheol for the spirits of mankind to reside. Jesus personally told His followers about the existence of this place (Luke 16:19-31). God then divided this place in Sheol with a deep chasm. On one side He temporarily put the spirits of the dead whom He deemed righteous because of their faith in a Creator God. This side was referred to as Paradise. On the other side, He confined the spirits of the unrepentant unrighteous. They, along with the spirits of the fallen angels, are awaiting judgment and confinement in the Lake.

A sin free Jesus self-sacrificed Himself as a way for God to be able to offer eternal life to mankind. But Scripture is clear that He also allows people to choose this offer of redemption or reject it. Paul tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection, He went down into Sheol and led those righteous spirits held captive there since the time of Adam up and into Heaven to be in the presence of God (Ephesians 4:7-9). They could now be in the presence of God because their sin debt was paid by Christ. However, the unrighteous remained in Sheol.

Today, when a righteous person dies, their body is temporarily buried, but their spirit is immediately with Christ with the promise of a future resurrection of their body. The spirits of unrighteous people continue to be held down in Sheol to await judgement. This judgement is known as the Great White Throne Judgment of God. This event take place at the end of the last day of the thousand year Reign of Christ on Earth. The location of this event is not given in Scripture but it is not on the earth and the people of God are unaware that it is taking place. Scripture states that once these people are confined in the lake, their names are blotted out from the Book of Life (Exodus 32:33; Revelation 20:12, 15). This means that they will be instantly forgotten by those who once knew them because it will now be as if they never existed. This will allow the righteous children of God to fully enjoy all that He will provide for them with no memories of missing people that might diminish their joy.

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