What Happens to a Person Who Dies as an Unbeliever?
By Jonathan Mitchell
Heb. 9:27 instructs us:
"27. And now, according to as much as it continues lying-away (or: laid away; reserved-off; stored) in (or: with; for; to) mankind (or: people) to die-away once, but after this a process of evaluating (a separating and making a distinction to be a judging and determining; a deciding)."
This seems to be a general pronouncement about the immediate situation that happens for each individual, once he or she dies. The question is, upon what is this process of evaluating, this "separating and making a distinction to be a judging and determining," this "deciding" based? This verse does not tell us, but the prior context of the entire chapter from vs. 1-26, and again in vs.28, engages the Messiah's fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, when the sin of all the people (as a corporate entity) was covered by the blood of the offering, and then the scapegoat carried the sins outside the camp - that is, away from the people. The people and the tabernacle were then all made clean from all sin and every mistake. That day, with its cultic activity, took care of everything and everyone. So it was with the day that the Messiah was crucified. He was,
"God's Lamb (or: the Lamb from God; the Lamb having the character and qualities of God; or, in apposition: the Lamb which is God), the One continuously lifting up and progressively carrying away the Sin of the world, and removing the sin which belongs to and is a part of the System (or: habitually picking up and taking away the failure and error brought on by the organized system; progressively removing the falling short and the missing of the goal from the world of culture, religion, economy and government, society, and from the aggregate of humanity)!"
Now 2 Cor. 5: 10 instructs us:
"for it continues (or: is repeatedly) necessary for us - the all (= the whole of humanity) - to be manifested in front of Christ's elevated place (a step, platform, stage, or place ascended by steps to speak in public assembly in the center of a city; or: = an official bench of a judge or public official), to the end that each one may himself take into kindly keeping, for care and provision (= be responsible for), the things [done] through (or: by means of; or: [during our] passing through [with]) the body - [oriented] toward what things he practices (or: she accomplished), whether good or bad, whether serviceable or inefficient, whether fair or foul, whether capable or careless.
(or: for you see that it continues binding for us all to be set in light so as to be clearly seen in the presence of the judgment seat which is Christ, so that each should keep and provide for the things performed through the body, with a view to, and face to face with, what things [were practiced], whether virtuous or vile)."
Notice that the transaction in front of Christ's elevated place is with a view toward things he practices or she accomplished. This is a "judgment" of works, deeds and accomplishments - not of the person himself/herself. But notice that Paul uses the plural pronoun "us" - those who are in Christ also experience this. Furthermore, he does not state that this just happens when we die: we live corem deo, in His presence. Even Elijah knew this, declaring in 1 Ki. 17:1,
"As Yahweh, God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand..."
Rom. 14:10b-12 instructs us:
"For you see, we will all continue standing in attendance alongside on God's elevated place (platform or stage which is ascended by steps, from which one speaks in a public assembly; or: we will all repeatedly present ourselves at the seat, dais or throne which is God [some MSS: Christ]), for it has been written, 'I, Myself, am continuously living. The Lord [= Yahweh] is saying that in Me (by Me; to Me; for Me) every knee will repeatedly bend in worship, or, to sit down (or: I live, says the Lord, because every knee will repeatedly bend to sit down in Me), and every tongue will continue to agree, bind itself and promise to God (speak out of the same word in God; publicly acclaim/acknowledge God; openly profess by God).' [Isa. 45:23]
Consequently, then, each one of us will continue giving a word (presenting a message; rendering an account) about himself to God (or: for God; by God; in God)." Once again, this seems to portray a picture of giving account for our life. And note the future progressive of the verb in the first clause,
"we will ALL continue standing in attendance..."
The last phrase, "to God," is in the dative case with no preposition expressed in the Greek text. The parenthetical expansion, "for God" would fit the agreement, binding itself in the quote of Isa., and thus "render an account for God." But, as the instrumental function of the dative, all of this can be done "by God" - i.e., by His power and by His Spirit into which these folks have been immersed (or: baptized), because they are "IN GOD" (the location function of the dative). As to this last function, we are reminded of what Paul said in Acts 17:28a,
"For you see, within the midst of and in union with Him we continuously live (or, as a subjunctive: could be constantly living), and are constantly moved about and put into motion, and continue existing (experiencing Being)."
And Heb. 12:29 informs us that
"our God [is] a continuously all-consuming Fire." Cf Deut. 4:24; 9:3
We don't have to go anywhere to experience His Fire. We read in Mal. 3,
"Behold, I will send forth my messenger... the messenger of the covenant... Who can endure the day of his coming?.... For he shall be like a refiner's FIRE, and like fullers' soap. And he shall sit down as a refiner and cleanser of silver, and shall cleanse the sons of Levi. He shall purify them like gold and silver..." (vss. 1-3b; JMP Smith)
His FIRE's purpose is TO REFINE and TO CLEANSE. John Gavazzoni has pointed out the correlation between God being a "consuming fire," which is also a "cleansing fire." In 1 Cor. 3:13 we are told,
"each one's work will make itself to be visible in clear light (or: will become apparent), for the Day will make [it] evident (show [it] plainly). Because it is being progressively unveiled (continually revealed) within the midst of Fire, and the Fire, Itself, will test, examine and put to the proof (or: prove by testing) what sort of work each one's exists being."
Now the context of this verse is work done on God's temple (the body of Christ), but notice that
"the Fire, Itself, will test, examine and put to the proof (or: prove by testing) what sort of WORK each one's exists being."
Again, it is an evaluation, by the Fire (i.e., by God), of people's works. Then notice the results for those who build with material that lacked value and honor, in 1 Cor. 3:14-15
"If anyone's work which he built upon [it] will remain, he will receive wages (pay; compensation). If anyone's work will be burned down, he will incur a loss (sustain the damage; forfeit [it]), yet he himself will be saved (rescued and delivered; healed and restored to health; returned to his original state and condition), and as in this way - through FIRE!"
In Mk. 9:49 we find a revealing statement that Jesus made:
"Indeed, everyone (all humanity) will be salted (seasoned and preserved) in (with; by) FIRE!"
John the baptizer told folks concerning the Messiah that,
"He, Himself, will proceed immersing (or: baptizing) you folks within the midst of set-apart Spirit (or: set-apart spirit; sacred attitude; Holy Breath-effect) and (or: even) FIRE - "Whose winnowing shovel (or: fork) [is] in His hand to thoroughly CLEAN His threshing floor... then He will progressively burn down (or: up) the chaff (husks and straw; = the useless remains of the dead plants) with (or: in) an inextinguishable Fire" (Lu. 3:16b-17).
Then 1 John 1:7 instructs us,
"Yet if we keep on walking about (= continue living our life) within the midst of and in union with the Light, as He exists (or: is) within the Light, we constantly have common being and existence (or: hold common fellowship, participation and enjoy partnership) with one another, and the BLOOD of Jesus, His Son, keeps continually and repeatedly cleansing us (or: is progressively rendering us pure) from every sin (or: from all error, failure, deviation, mistake, and from every [successive] shot that is off target [when it occurs])."
John Gavazzoni has observed that God's FIRE and God's BLOOD do, and thus are, the same thing. Recall Israel's sacrificial cultus: both fire and blood were involved in the cleansing of Israel. We see this in Acts 2:2-3 as an "in this life experience,"
"Then suddenly and unexpectedly there came to be (or: was birthed) from out of the midst of the atmosphere (or: sky; heaven) a roaring noise (or: sound) as of a continued rushing and driving of a violent wind (or: exactly like a continual carrying of a forcible breath), and it filled (pervaded; permeated; saturated) the whole house where they were sitting. Then progressively dividing and self-distributing tongues - as if of FIRE - were seen by them, and He (or: it; or: [one]) sat down upon each one of them."
So, is there any Scriptural evidence that God (Who IS this FIRE) changes? When we are evaluated by Him after we finish this life, and He determines that we have impurities - like the imprinting of the "beast" system developed by estranged humanity (the first Adam) in how we think (figured by the "forehead") or how we act (figured by the "hand"), in Rev. 14:9-11 - would He likely decide to purify us in the FIRE of His presence, as we stand before Him? As He has transformed people in this life, will He continue to transform folks in their next existence? Will they still exist within Him, as they did in this life? Is there anywhere that they could be where He is not? If they have
"made their bed in Sheol (= death)," He will be there (Ps. 139:8).
We should note that in Rev. 14:10, those that took as their identity "the beast" (its mark in their forehead) are "in the presence of (before; in the sight of) the set apart agents, and in the presence of (before) the little Lamb." He is the Lamb that was "lifted up" upon the cross. He has now been raised up to the throne (Rev. 5:6). But recall His words in Jn. 12:32,
"And so then I, if I should be lifted up from out of the earth (or: when I can be exalted forth from the midst of this Land), I will progressively drag [note: drag as with, or in, a net; or: draw, as drawing water with a bucket, or a sword out of a sheath] all mankind (or: everyone) to Myself."
Rev. 14:10 instructs us that these folks,
"will also proceed drinking out of the wine of God's rushing emotion (strong passion; anger) - of the one having been mixed undiluted within the cup of His inherent fervor (natural bent; impulse; indignation; wrath). And [they] will proceed being examined (scrutinized with the touchstone to test their "mettle") within FIRE and Deity (or: in union with Fire, even Divine qualities)..."
When they are in His presence, they will be able to behold Him. Just as in 1 Jn. 1:7, above, these will be existing and
"walking about within the midst of and in union with that Light, as He exists (or: is) within the Light [of His Fire and Deity]."
In Nu. 21:6, Yahweh sent "fiery (Heb.: seraphim) serpents" among Israel to discipline them for their insubordination to Moses, and as a remedy for the "seraphim" bites, Moses constructed a copper (or bronze) serpent and put it on a pole. It was to this that Jesus referred, in Jn. 12:32, above. To be healed, all the Israelites had to do was
"to look to the copper serpent, and live" (Nu. 21:8).
Paul instructs us that when we behold the glory of the Lord (His exalted and enthroned existence) we are transformed by that experience (2 Cor. 3:18). I suggest that the purifying FIRE and Divine Nature will purge out the "beast" character, and as they behold the Lamb on His throne, they will be progressively changed and transformed to now bear His image, instead of the image of the beast nature of the "fallen" Adam.
I also noticed that this purging time in Rev. 14 is described right after the description of those who follow the Lamb, and that setting is Mt. Zion. Just as many scenes in the Unveiling (Rev.) are suggestive of the temple, and it is my current view that Babylon is a figure of Jerusalem, it makes me wonder about the setting for "the lake of the Fire and Deity." Isa. 29 describes Yahweh's judgment upon Jerusalem as His visiting it
"with thunder and earthquake, and great noise with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire" (vs. 6).
In Isa. 30:33 the setting is Tophet (Hebrew: altar; this was another name for the valley of Hinnom, which later became Gehenna) and it says
"the breath of Yahweh, like a stream (valley or brook) of brimstone (= deity) doth kindle it."
And in Isa. 31:9 we see that it speaks of Yahweh,
"whose Fire is in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem."
Recall that Heb. 12:22 tells us that
we have come to Mount Zion, unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Then in Isa. 33:5 I notice that
"He has filled Zion with judgment and righteousness,"
which shows the association of the two. And in vs. 11 He says that they
"will conceive chaff and bring forth stubble [shades of Obad. 18]: YOUR breath, as fire, shall devour you."
Then vss. 14-15,
"... Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with eonian burnings? He that walks righteously and speaks uprightly..."
Next we see Isa. 34:9-10,
"And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone (= deity) and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up unto the Age: from generation to generation..."
Note that "night and day" are here on earth - as are "generation to generation."
We find this same "FIRE and Deity (or: Divine Nature)" in a figurative "lake" in Rev. 21:10. This is an echo of Rev. 14:10. Next we find a figurative picture of God making decisions based upon the works that people had done (vss. 12-13). Here we find scrolls being opened (and thus, apparently, read). The scroll of "The Life" refers to "The Life of the Lamb" (Rev. 13:8), and Paul uses this phrase "scroll of life" in Phil. 4:3 to refer to members of the covenant community in Philippi. It would be the same here - and we may assume that this represents "believers" who are joined to the Life of the Lamb (Christ). Those who are not found in the "scroll of the Life" are equivalent to those who in this life keep the mark of the beast nature and do the works of the "beast" system within human societies. So let us consider this passage in Rev. 20:
11. Next I saw a great bright, white throne, and the One continuously sitting upon it from Whose face the earth (or: ground; Land) and the atmosphere (or: sky; heaven) flee (or: at once fled). And a place is not found for them (or: And then no position was discovered by them or found in them).
12. Then I saw the dead folks - the great ones and the little ones - standing before the throne. And little scrolls are (or: were) opened up. And then another little scroll is opened up, which is of (or: the one pertaining to; belongs to; or: from) The Life. And the dead ones are judged (were evaluated) from out of the things having been written within the little scrolls, according to their works (down from their actions; on the level of their deeds).
13. And the sea gives (or: suddenly gave) [up; back] the dead folks within it, and death and the Unseen give (or: = the grave gave) [up; back] the dead folks within them. And they are judged (evaluated) according to their works (in correspondence with their actions; in line with their deeds).
14. Next the Death and the Unseen (or: = the grave) are cast (or: were thrown) into the lake (or: basin; artificial pool) of the Fire (or: the marshy area where there is fire). This is the second death: the lake of the Fire (or: the basin which is fire).
15. So if anyone is not found (or: was not found) written within the scroll of (or: which is) The Life, he is cast (or: was thrown) into the lake of the Fire (or: the artificial pool having the character and quality of the Fire; the marshy area from the Fire; the shallow basin, where there is fire).
Take note that the Death and the Unseen (hades; = sheol; = the grave or the realm of the dead) are cast into the lake of the FIRE. This is an apocalyptic picture of the END of the Death and the Unseen (which has been erroneously translated "hell"). Paul gave us a picture of this in 1 Cor. 15:54:b,
"The Death was drunk down and swallowed into Victory (or: overcoming)!"
This happened at the cross of Christ. God IS the lake of FIRE and DEITY. Rom. 11:36 tells us that everything (including people) end up back in God from out of whom they all came. And our God is a purifying, transforming FIRE. Those of us whom He joins to Himself in this time experience His FIRE here in this life. Those who are unbelievers in this life must experience His judgments and correction in the next existence - but that existence in within Him. Just how this happens or in what realm of existence it will take place are not disclosed to us. Jesus Christ remains the same (the Anointed Savior): yesterday, today and on into the ages (Heb. 13:8). Peter tells us that judgment BEGINS at God's house (His temple; His body) - 1 Pet. 4:17. Then it continues on throughout the rest of humanity, so that God can be All in all. In Dan. 3, when Nebuchadnezzar (an "unbeliever") saw
"four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire... and the form of the fourth [was] like a Son of God,"
he blessed God and made a decree in favor of the God of Israel. When the Light shined on Saul (an "unbeliever") on the road to Damascus, he became a believer. God's fire brings Light, and He is revealed within the burning passion of His love. John Gavazzoni has shared:
"His passion (fire) for men is poured out in His life-blood. God is consumed with the holy passion to give all of Himself to us. Intimate communion with Him cleanses our hearts."
In Rev. 1:5 it speaks of Jesus,
"loosing and washing us from our failures and deviations (or: sins; errors; situations and results of where we missed the target or fell short of the goal) within His blood (or: in union with the blood which is Him)."
John Gavazzoni suggests that the "lake of Fire and Deity" can be seen as a lake of His blood (His LIFE). This would be equivalent to being baptized into His death (Rom. 6:4), and so by being immersed into the lake of His life poured-forth on the cross,
"thus also we can walk around (or: we also should likewise conduct ourselves and order our behavior) within newness of life (in union with life characterized by being new in kind and quality, and different from that which was former)."
What it comes down to, is that when an unbeliever dies he then stands before the risen Lord Jesus. Faced with the reality of the exalted Lord, he then becomes a believer. And so his process of transformation begins.
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