THE POST-MORTEM TIMELINE
Considering the “unhappily” rendered sheol and hades and the co-opting of the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) to serve as hell, as well as the parable-mistaken-for-real-life story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we must conclude that hell has no scriptural basis on which to exist and therefore has no claim to the souls which people do not have.
Well then, what are we to do with the 45 billion1 bodies of the people who were born, lived, and died on this planet since it was created? They are in their graves, in the sea, or returned to ashes all over the globe. We cannot just leave them there.
So, lets construct a timeline.
What we are getting into now is referred to as Eschatology – our belief concerning the end of the world, and the ultimate destiny of humanity. As such, we refer to passages of scripture that are set in a context of prophecy and can be ambiguous with regard to the chronology of these events, leaving the timeline open to interpretation. What I am about to present is, for the most part, a common view shared in broad strokes of how the end-of-age events unfold. Again, this unfolding of events does not enjoy total agreement among those who study end-time Theology.
Prophetic events are typically preceded by signs of their coming. The disciples, for instance, asked Jesus about this very subject:
“Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” Matthew 24:3 RSV
The very next event on Eschatology’s calendar is the “catching away” or the rapture of the church and all the signs leading up to it have come and gone. It could be tonight, tomorrow, or next week that Christ comes for His church. This is what the event looks like:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 NIV
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in 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. 1 Corinthians 15:50-52 NIV
The church, after the rapture, stands at the Judgement Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10) where our work is tried by fire. Paul used the terms gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble to represent the quality of our work as it undergoes the test. Some of our works will be burned to ashes having little or no eternal significance. Some, however, will withstand the heat, proving they created a mark on the ages. We will be rewarded or suffer loss based upon the quality of these works, but our salvation is secure. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
Meanwhile, back on earth, a chain of events is set to take place. While the rapture signals the beginning of a new age for the Christian, it is the beginning of a new rule on earth. You see, it turns out that the church, the universal body of Christ, being filled with His Spirit, is what has been holding the Antichrist back from setting in motion his nefarious agenda.
For the mystery of lawlessness [rebellion against divine authority and the coming reign of lawlessness] is already at work; [but it is restrained] only until he who now restrains it is taken out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 AMP
The Spirit of Christ in His church, having been caught away, now leaves the world vulnerable to the reign of the lawlessness of Satan. This is the beginning of a 7-year period known as Jacob’s Trouble or the Great Tribulation when there will be destress such has never been seen before and that will never be equaled again. (Matthew 24:21)
The book of Revelation reveals events associated with this period of time:
The seven seals are opened, setting free what has been called the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. A great earthquake rips through the world, the sun is turned black, and the moon is turned red.
The sounding of the 7 trumpets unleashes hailstorms mingled with fire, a mountain engulfed in flames is cast into the sea and a third of the ocean dies and its ships are destroyed. A third of the waterways are poisoned and many die.
Smoke is let out of an abysmal pit that blots out the sun and spawns hordes of locust that sting like scorpions. A third of humanity is wiped out by an army of 200 million. Described as horseman with fire, smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouth, these could very well be modern fighter aircraft and other vehicles of war.
All those things are followed by the mark of the beast and the last plagues (festering sores, the seas die, waterways turned to blood, the sun’s heat scorches the earth and those living on it). Judgement comes to the kingdom of the beast, the great river Euphrates is dried up, evil spirits from the dragon, the beast and the false profit entice the kings of the earth to gather for war against Israel at Armageddon.
The most destructive earthquake ever registered levels the mountains, sinks islands, and reduces cities to rubble. One-hundred-pound hail stones fall. The judgement of the great harlot, the fall of Babylon and the battle of Armageddon is waged and lost, Satan being cast into the bottomless pit.
These events take place over the seven years of tribulation that follow the rapture of God’s church. Many people of the earth curse God through all of this and refuse to repent, but there are those who turn to God, as well. Many die of both those who resist God and those that repent.
Those dead that glorified God along with those who refused the mark of the beast and were killed, are raised, and join those who were caught away seven years earlier and are set up to reign with Christ for a thousand years – the Millennial Reign. This is the completion of the first resurrection. (Revelation 20)
Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. Revelation 20:6 NIV
There is a passage of scripture that is important to us here. The Bible tells us that, all the rest of the dead did not live again until a thousand years later (v 5). Think about who those people are: Adam and Eve are in that number as is Noah, the patriarchs – everyone who live before Christ. Other than those who died in Christ, all who have lived in the Christian era are in that number too, as are all those who die unrepentant during the Great Tribulation. None of them live again for another thousand years after this point in history.
We have been saying all along that the dead are dead until the resurrection of the dead – either the first resurrection or the second.
After the thousand years are complete:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 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 [the grave] gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and [the grave] were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15 NIV
This will be an ominous sight – 45 billion or more, raised from the dead to stand before the great white throne, many living for the first time in over 7,000 years, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those who possibly died moments ago at Gog and Magog.
Once judgement is complete, celebration begins as the bride, Christ’s Church, is adorned for her bridegroom and the marriage supper of the Lamb takes place ushering in the Age of the Great White Throne Judgement of God.
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:6-9 NIV
This is the event of all time. We are told, “His bride has made herself ready.” Are you ready for the Wedding of the Lamb? Does the reading of Revelation make you uneasy? It does not have to be that way. Follow the pulling of God on your heart to a place of repentance. This is simply a decision to change the direction of your life and to follow the Lord Jesus. Once you have done this you can be baptized in water and filled with His Spirit.
You can move in that direction right now.
1WorldOMeter (Current World Population) https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/, retrieved 6/6/2021.