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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 (Jude 1:6). 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 a 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 into heaven to be with a Holy God. So, by necessity, God created a special separate place in Sheol for the spirits of all mankind to reside until the Messiah could atone for their sin debts against God. Jesus personally told His followers about the existence of this place (Luke 16:19-31). Please see related: "Rich Man Poor Man". God then divided the land of 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 (Luke 23:43). On the other side, He confined the spirits of the unrepentant unrighteous. They, along with the spirits of the fallen angels, are awaiting their judgment and eternal confinement. This lake is the place that most people confuse with Hell. While Jesus redeemed mankind, He did not redeem the fallen angels. The angels continue to hope that their leader Satan, will find a way to free and keep them from God's judgement. But, While Jesus redeemed mankind, these Angels along with Satan, have no redeemer thus their fates are sealed (Revelation 20:1-15).

A sin free Jesus gave up His life as a way for a righteous God to then be able to offer eternal life to sinful mankind. But Scripture is clear that He also allows people to freely choose this offer of redemption or reject it (John 17:2, 6, 9, 20). 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 (Revelation 1:18; 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 or cremated, but their spirit is immediately with Christ with the promise of a future bodily resurrection (II Corinthians 5:8). We can know for certain that those who are cremated will receive resurrected bodies because Scripture states that those who died in the sea are resurrected (Revelation 20:13). The spirits of unrighteous people and fallen angels continue to be confined down into Sheol to await their judgement and confinement. This judgement is known as the Great White Throne Judgment of God. This event takes 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 judged and confined, 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 appreciate all that He will provide for them throughout eternity as they have no past memories that might diminish their present and future joy.

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