end times - who will rise?

Q. On Judgment Day, the Bible says that Christ will return and raise the dead. I thought when you die your soul goes to Heaven. Who will He raise?

The Bible indicates that the soul goes either to Paradise or to hell immediately upon death. Jesus Himself makes this clear when, on the cross, He speaks to a criminal who asks to be remembered by Him. Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43)

A parable Jesus tells in Luke 16:19-31 gives a brief description of these locations as they exist now. Paradise, or Heaven, is a place where those who have placed their trust in Jesus exist away from the body in conscious bliss in the presence of the Lord. This is often called the intermediate Heaven. Hell, on the other hand, is where the unsaved exist in conscious agony outside the presence of the Lord. The decision to accept or reject Jesus as Savior during life determines where the soul will exist, and there is no further chance of salvation after death.

Eventually everyone, believer or unbeliever, will be raised from the dead in bodily form and receive new spiritual bodies. Christ will return to take His church to be with Him. This will consist of the entire body of believers, both living and dead, as I Thessalonians 4:16-17 shows:

"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. 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." (NKJV)

This event is commonly referred to as "the rapture," though this term is not found in English translations of the Bible. It is also highly disputed as to when this event will take place. Some believe this event is seperate from Christ's second coming, when the Lord will return to Earth. Regardless of when all this may happen, we should constantly be prepared for His coming, which could happen at any time.

There will one day be a new Heaven and a new Earth. But there will also be a new "hell," the lake of fire. Revelation 20:12-15 speaks of this and the fate of the unbeliever:

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the first Heaven and first Earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea."

Each person who is physically dead at the time of these events will be resurrected, and each will be judged in some manner. The unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire, along with Satan and his angels. The Church, Christ's bride, will reside with Him in Heaven to give Him glory for eternity.

Note: End-time events can be very confusing and become major points of dissension among Christians, although this should not be. These disagreements, unless extremely outlandish, are not typically arguments unto salvation, and should not be treated as such. Instead of being distracted by interpretations of possible futures, we should be ready for the Lord to return at any time, and concentrate on the way He wants us to live now. "Plan as though He will not come for 1,000 years, and live as though He will come today."

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