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“Moses wrote to die you will die (“מוֹת תָּמוּת“–qal infinitive followed by qal imperfect ). The death contemplated here was not immediate physical death, but spiritual death. In some sense, they would no longer be alive spiritually. 2.2 Departing. At the moment of dea…”
The Soul and Death of the Body
What Happens to Your Soul at Death?
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What happens to your soul at death? People tend to ignore that question or make up answers to that question rather than study the Scriptures to find answers from God. People tend to focus upon the physical world and live in spiritual darkness. Many people do not think much about their souls. In fact, many people teach that the soul and spirit mean the same thing in the Bible. Because God breathed out every word of the autographs of the Bible, we must study those original texts to understand our souls and what happens at death to our souls. The study below selects a few verses, but does not exhaustively deal with the usage of the term “soul” as it relates to death.
Old Testament Concepts of
the Soul and Death
Because God breathed out the entire Bible, the theology of the Old Testament does not conflict with the theology of the New Testament. Revelation certainly progresses, but God continues to unfold the truth. We can look at a few verses below to understand the relationship between the soul and death in the Old Testament.
Body, Soul and Spirit
1.1 Body, Soul and Spirit. When Yahweh Elohim created Adam, Yahweh Elohim made the body first by forming it from the dust of the earth. Then Yahweh Elohim into the nose of man blew breath of living ones, and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). [[Yahweh Elohim blew into his nose breath of living ones (“יִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים“) and the man became a living soul (“וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה“). Later, Elohim determined to ruin all flesh under heaven in which is spirit of living ones (“ר֣וּחַ חַיִּ֔ים“); all which is in the earth shall perish (Genesis 6:17). All flesh (“מִכָּל־הַבָּשָׂ֔ר“) having in it spirit of living ones (“ר֥וּחַ חַיִּֽים“) went into the ark (Genesis 7:15). When the flood came, all flesh with the breath of spirit of living ones (“נִשְׁמַת־ר֨וּחַ חַיִּ֜ים“) in their nose died (Genesis 7:22). The translation of “חַיִּֽים” as “living ones” captures the writer’s intention in using a plural noun and contrasts with the dead ones (“הַ֭מֵּתִים“–qal participle). As a side note, God formed (“יִּיצֶר֩“) the body just like He forms (“יֹצֵ֥ר“) the spirit in each man (Zechariah 12:1).]] Therefore, the living soul and spirit of living ones remain separate and distinct from the body of flesh. So, the order of human creation was (1) Yahweh Elohim formed the body from the dust of the earth; (2) Yahweh Elohim breathed the living soul into the body; and (3) the body received the spirit of living ones at the same time it received the living soul.
♦ Yahweh Elohim created the body of man first.
♦ Yahweh Elohim breathed the living soul into the body.
♦ Yahweh Elohim gave the man the spirit of lives.
The Soul and Death
2.1 Tree of Knowledge. Yahweh Elohim warned Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of knowledge, for in the day you eat from it, to die you will die (Genesis 2:17). [[Moses wrote to die you will die (“מוֹת תָּמוּת“–qal infinitive followed by qal imperfect ). The death contemplated here was not immediate physical death, but spiritual death. In some sense, they would no longer be alive spiritually.
2.2 Departing. At the moment of death, the soul departs from the body. Rachel gave birth to a son, but died soon after. As her soul was departing because of death, she named her son. [[Genesis 35:18 describes her soul departing (“בְּצֵ֤את נַפְשָׁהּ֙“) from her body because of death (“כִּ֣י מֵ֔תָה“).]] Therefore, we know that the soul does not remain in the physical body after death. The soul continues on after death. Where does the soul go after death? That destination depends upon salvation and redemption.
2.3 Life. David described all the inhabitants of the earth as people who will go down to the dust and will bow before Yahweh (Psalm 22:29). David further described that man as “his soul not life.” [[David wrote his soul not life (וְ֝נַפְשֹׁ֗ו לֹ֣א חִיָּֽה–piel perfect; because I found no other use of the term as a piel perfect (“חִיָּֽה”), in the context it appears to be intensive-causative, meaning cause to live his soul. ). When you compare Genesis 2:7, Yahweh Elohim brought Adam to soul life (“לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה“), using the same Hebrew terms for soul and life. These people still had souls, but the souls no longer had life (“חַיָּֽה“).]] David meant that everyone who dies will bow before Yahweh, even after their souls will no longer have life on earth. [[Compare Philippians 2:10.]] Therefore, souls continue to exist after they no longer have life on earth.
2.4 Deliver. Yahweh delivers from death.
2.4.1 Alive in Famine. Yahweh’s eye is on those who fear Him and hope in His lovingkindness. He looks to deliver their souls from death and to keep them alive in famine (Psalm 33:19). [[The Psalmist described Yahweh as looking “to deliver from death souls” (“לְהַצִּ֣יל מִמָּ֣וֶת נַפְשָׁ֑ם“). The constructs of “deliver” (hiphil infinitive construct–causal) and “soul” (absolute singular feminine noun with masculine plural preposition) mean that Yahweh causes their souls to be delivered from death.]] Yahweh causes them to maintain great life during the famine. [[The Psalmist used an intensive form of “life” (“וּ֝לְחַיֹּותָ֗ם“–piel infinitive construct with masculine plural suffix).]] Therefore, Yahweh delivers some souls from death during famine.
2.4.2 Light of the Living. The Psalmist said that Elohim delivered his soul from death, so that he may walk before Elohim in the living Light (Psalm 56:13). [[The Psalmist wrote: Elohim delivered my soul from death (“הִצַּ֪לְתָּ נַפְשִׁ֡י מִמָּוֶת֮“), so that I may walk myself (“לְ֭הִֽתְהַלֵּךְ“) before Elohim in light of the living ones (“בְּ֝אֹ֗ור הַֽחַיִּֽים“). See Genesis 2:7, “spirit of living ones” (“ר֣וּחַ חַיִּ֔ים“) and Genesis 2:9, the tree of living ones (“עֵ֤ץ הַֽחַיִּים֙“) and Genesis 6:19, the spirit of living ones (Genesis 6:19).]] Therefore, Elohim delivers some souls from death, so that they may walk before Elohim in the Light of the living ones.
2.4.3 Tears and Stumbling. The Psalmist declared that his soul should return to its rest, because Yahweh has delivered his soul from death, his eyes from tears and his feet from stumbling (Psalm 116:8). [[The Psalmist wrote: “you have delivered my soul from death” (“חִלַּ֥צְתָּ נַפְשִׁ֗י מִ֫מָּ֥וֶת“).]] Therefore, Yahweh delivers some souls from death, and so those souls continue their rest on earth.
2.4.4 The Rod. God instructed parents to discipline the child and strike him with the rod and so deliver his soul from Sheol. [[The proverb provides: deliver his soul from Sheol (“נַפְשֹׁ֗ו מִשְּׁאֹ֥ול תַּצִּֽיל“). Disciplining a child delivers the child from Sheol. The child has not died yet, but the hand of Sheol constantly reaches out for people and children because it is never satisfied (Proverbs 30:16).]] Therefore, the souls of disobedient children go to Sheol, unless parents discipline the child and strike that child with the rod and so deliver the child’s soul from Sheol.
2.5 Sins. The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4). [[Ezekiel wrote: the soul that sins will die (“הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַחֹטֵ֖את הִ֥יא תָמֽוּת“). Notice that the soul dies because of sin. So souls both sin and die. Rather than equate the person with the soul, God used specific words here.]] The soul sins and the soul pays the penalty of death. Ezekiel meant in the context that the soul of the father and the soul of the son each belong to Yahweh, but the soul of the son shall answer for its sins and the soul of the father shall answer for its sin independently of the son. Therefore, the soul of each person belongs to Yahweh, and the soul of the son remains separate from the soul of the father. Each soul answers to God for its own actions during life on earth.
♦ The soul departs the body at death.
♦ The soul of the man who dies and goes down to the dust does not have life.
♦ Yahweh delivers souls from death and keeps some people alive during famine.
♦ Yahweh delivers souls from death, so that the soul may return to its rest on earth.
♦ Parents must strike their children with the rod to deliver the child’s soul from Sheol.
♦ The soul that sins must die.
The Soul and Sheol
3.1 Souls Abandoned to Sheol. David knew that Yahweh would not abandon his soul to Sheol after death (Psalm 16:10). [[David said that Yahweh would not forsake his soul (“כִּ֤י׀ לֹא־תַעֲזֹ֣ב נַפְשִׁ֣י לִשְׁאֹ֑ול“) to Sheol. He then described the Holy One’s body as not undergoing decay. Compare Acts 2:27-29 where David’s soul was not forsaken to Hades, but his body underwent decay. In contrast, the body of Jesus was not abandoned to Hades and His body did not undergo decay.]] Therefore, Yahweh abandons some souls to Sheol, but Yahweh would not abandon the soul of David to Sheol and David knew it.
3.2 Up from Sheol. David thanked Yahweh for (a) bringing his soul up from Sheol; [[David used the phrase up from Sheol (“הֶֽעֱלִ֣יתָ מִן־שְׁאֹ֣ול נַפְשִׁ֑י“) to describe the feeling of going to Sheol, but never actually dying a physical death.]] and (b) keeping his soul alive; [[David used the phrase “keep alive my soul” (“נַפְשִׁ֑י חִ֝יִּיתַ֗נִי“–notice the piel (intensive) perfect verb describing vigorous living).]] and (c) not allowing his soul to go down to the Pit. [[David indicated his soul did not go down to the Pit, meaning he never died (“מִיֹּורְדִי בֹֽור“).]] David meant that he felt as if he were in Sheol, but he had not died and so was not in Sheol. In fact, David knew that his soul would never go to Sheol (Psalm 16:10). His body may decay in the grave, but his soul would never go to Sheol after death. Therefore, Yahweh brings some souls up from Sheol while the person still lives on earth. Yahweh also keeps souls alive on earth and beyond. Yahweh does not allow some souls to go down to the Pit at death.
3.3 Lower Part of Sheol. David wrote that Adonai his El had delivered his soul from the lower part of Sheol (Psalm 86:13). [[David described the great lovingkindness of God as “you delivered my soul from the lower part of Sheol (“הִצַּ֥לְתָּ נַ֝פְשִׁ֗י מִשְּׁאֹ֥ול תַּחְתִּיָּֽה“). See Christ Ascended and Descended.]] David’s soul was not in Sheol, because he was alive on earth at that time. He spoke about the pains of Sheol he experienced while alive on earth. Therefore, Adonai El delivers some souls from the lower part of Sheol, while the person still lives on earth.
3.4 Near to Sheol. The Psalmist declared that his soul had enough troubles (Psalm 88:3). [[The Psalmist wrote: “For my soul had its fill of evil (“כִּֽי־שָֽׂבְעָ֣ה בְרָעֹ֣ות נַפְשִׁ֑י“).]] His life had drawn near to Sheol. [[ The Psalmist wrote: “My life has touched Sheol (“חַיַּ֗י לִשְׁאֹ֥ול הִגִּֽיעוּ“–notice the hiphil for “touched”).]] Therefore, some souls touch Sheol while the person experiences troubles on earth.
3.5 Power of Sheol. The Psalmist posed two questions: (a) What man can live and not see death? [[The Psalmist wrote: “What man can live and not see death?” (“מִ֤י גֶ֣בֶר יִֽ֭חְיֶה וְלֹ֣א יִרְאֶה־מָּ֑וֶת“)]] and (b) Can he deliver his soul from the hand of Sheol? (Psalm 89:48). [[“Can his soul escape from the hand of Sheol?” (“יְמַלֵּ֨ט נַפְשֹׁ֖ו מִיַּד־שְׁאֹ֣ול“).]] Therefore, all men will die and no man can escape from the hand of Sheol. Of course, God delivers His children from the hand of Sheol.
♦ Yahweh abandons some souls to Sheol, but David knew Yahweh would not abandon his soul to Sheol.
♦ Yahweh brings some souls up from Sheol before the person has died on earth.
♦ Yahweh keeps some souls alive on earth.
♦ Yahweh does not allow some souls to go down to the Pit.
♦ Adonai my El delivers some souls from the depths of Sheol, while the person still lives on earth.
♦ The Psalmist declared some souls draw near to Sheol while the person still lives on earth, but they are experiencing severe troubles.
♦ The Psalmist asked if any person can deliver his soul from the hand of Sheol, indicating that people do not have the ability within themselves to deliver the soul from the hand of Sheol.
The Soul and Life
4.1 Alive. 2.3 Life. David described all the inhabitants of the earth as people who will go down to the dust and will bow before Yahweh (Psalm 22:29). David further described that man as “his soul not life.” [[David wrote his soul not life (וְ֝נַפְשֹׁ֗ו לֹ֣אחִיָּֽה–piel perfect; because I found no other use of the term as a piel perfect (“חִיָּֽה”), in the context it appears to be intensive-causative, meaning cause to live his soul.). When you compare Genesis 2:7, Yahweh Elohim brought Adam to soul life (“לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה“), using the same Hebrew terms for soul and life. These people still had souls, but the souls no longer had life (“חַיָּֽה“).]] David meant that everyone who dies will bow before Yahweh, even after their souls will no longer have life on earth. [[Compare Philippians 2:10.]] Therefore, souls continue to exist after they no longer have life on earth.
♦ Prosperous people on earth die and then go down to the dust and not have soul life.
The Soul and Redemption
5.1 Refuge and Redemption. Yahweh redeems the soul of His servants (Psalm 34:22). [[David wrote: “redeems soul” (“פֹּודֶ֣ה נֶ֣פֶשׁ“) of His servant (“עֲבָדָ֑יו“).]] Therefore, we know that redeemed souls continue after death, because none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. While the immediate context relates David’s time in Gath with Abimelech, the greater view looks to eternal redemption and the condemnation of the wicked slain by evil. Therefore, the soul taking refuge in Yahweh on earth continues with God after death because Yahweh redeems the soul of His servant, resulting in deliverance on earth for David and living with Yahweh after death on earth.
5.2 Sheol and Redemption. The Psalmist looked forward to the promise of Elohim: surely Elohim will redeem my soul from the hand of Sheol, for He will take me (Psalm 49:15). [[The Psalmist wrote: “אַךְ־אֱלֹהִ֗ים יִפְדֶּ֣ה נַ֭פְשִׁי מִֽיַּד־שְׁאֹ֑ול“.]] In contrast, the foolish have been appointed to Sheol. Death shall shepherd them (Psalm 49:14). Therefore, Elohim redeems souls who trust in Yahweh from the hand of Sheol.
♦ Yahweh redeems the soul of His servant while on earth, resulting in deliverance for David from his enemies, and life of the soul after death on earth.
♦ Yahweh will redeem the soul of His servant from the hand of Sheol at death.
♦ Yahweh will take the believer at death, so that the believer’s soul will be delivered from the hand of Sheol at death.
Summary of Old Testament Verses
The writers of the Old Testament uniformly maintain that God redeems the souls of people who have taken refuge in Him. At physical death, the soul leaves the body. Once the soul leaves the body, then the hand of Sheol takes the wicked to Sheol. For those people taking refuge in God while alive on earth, at the moment of physical death, God delivers those souls from going to Sheol by the mighty strength of His hand and He keeps them with Him.
New Testament Concepts of
the Soul and Death
The New Testament continues the revelation of the soul. God describes how the soul continues its existence after the physical body dies. God will impose judgment upon the soul. Paul prays that both the soul and spirit may be found complete at the coming of Jesus. We will also see souls in heaven, awaiting vengeance from God.
The Soul and Destruction
6.1 The Soul and Destruction. Jesus commanded His disciples not to fear those who can kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul (Matthew 10:28). [[Matthew distinguished the body (“σῶμα”) from the soul (“ψυχὴν”).]] The phrase unable to kill the soul [[Matthew wrote: unable to kill the soul (“τὴν ψυχὴν μὴ δυναμένων ἀποκτεῖναι”).]] indicates that the soul survives death, and the people who can kill the body have no power to kill the soul. Therefore, the soul continues its existence after the body dies. Jesus then continued: “but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. [[Matthew wrote: “τὸν δυνάμενον καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀπολέσαι ἐν γεέννῃ”.]] The only One able to destroy both body and soul in hell is God. At the Great White Throne Judgment, Jesus sentences people to suffer bodily in the Lake of Fire and punishes them commensurate with their evil deeds. Therefore, the wicked suffer body and soul in the Lake of Fire, the place of destruction of body and soul, but not annihilation.
6.2 Shrinking Back. The saints never shrink back to destruction, but faith to gain of soul (Hebrews 10:39). [[The term “destruction” (“ἀπώλειαν”) often means eternal destruction after death, not annihilation. The phrase “to gain of soul” (“εἰς περιποίησιν ψυχῆς”) indicates saints gain their souls by faith. Compare Matthew 16:26: what will it profit a man who gains the world, but forfeits his soul. I prefer the translation of “gain” because of the use of the same term in 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (gain salvation) and 2 Thessalonians 2:14 (gain glory) and 1 Peter 2:9 (a people for God’s gain).]] Therefore, faith brings the gain of soul, so that it is not destroyed after death.
♦ Only God has the ability to kill a soul, even if beings can kill the body on earth.
♦ Saints gain their souls as part of salvation.
The Soul and Riches
7.1 Forfeits His Soul. Because the soul shall be subject to destruction in the Lake of Fire, Jesus warned people that they should be wary of gaining the whole world, but forfeiting their soul. [[Jesus used the word “forfeits” (“ζημιωθῇ”) his soul, implying that in gaining something on earth, you lose your soul for eternity.]] Jesus asked what will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26). [[Jesus used the word “exchange” (“ἀντάλλαγμα”) for his soul.]] Putting the two thoughts together, we understand that Jesus proved two points. First, no matter how much you gain on earth, you can forfeit your soul for all eternity. Second, Jesus proved that man has nothing to offer in exchange for his soul. [[See also Mark 8:36-37–same words for “forfeits” and “exchange”.]] Therefore, some people forfeit their soul for eternity. People have nothing to offer for their souls.
7.2 Soul Demanded. Jesus said that a man who builds bigger and bigger barns to hold his wealth can be very foolish. If the rich man says, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry,” then he will be very foolish because his soul may be demanded of him that very night. Furthermore, who will own all that he has prepared and delighted in? (Luke 12:20). [[Jesus used the word “demanded” (“ἀπαιτοῦσιν”) concerning his soul. Jesus used this same root word “demand” (“ἀπαίτει”) to describe giving something to another and then demanding it back (Luke 6:30).]] Jesus then explained that whoever stores up treasure for himself, but is not rich toward God, acts foolishly (Luke 12:21).
♦ People on earth forfeit their souls by rejecting salvation from Jesus.
♦ People have nothing to offer to avoid forfeiting their souls.
♦ Foolish people build bigger and bigger barns for their wealth, but they do not understand their soul may be demanded that night.
♦ God demands the soul of foolish people.
The Soul, Spirit, and Body
8.1 Sanctify Entirely. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians that the God of peace would sanctify them wholly. [[Paul used the term “wholly” (“ὁλοτελεῖς”–combination of “whole” and “end”), referring to the sanctifying work of God reaching every part of their being and bringing all of it to completion.]] Paul then prayed that their spirit, soul, and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. [[Paul used the word “preserved complete” (“ὁλόκληρον”) to describe the preserving work of the spirit, soul and body, making them blameless at the coming of Jesus. James used similar terms to describe the saints as perfect ones and complete ones (“τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι”) who lack nothing, because endurance (“ὑπομονὴ”) has completed its work in them (James 1:4). See also Acts 3:16 describing complete health (“ὁλοκληρίαν”) after apostolic healing.]] Therefore, the spirit, soul and body may be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
♦ Souls may be preserved until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
♦ Bodies, souls and spirits may be blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
♦ Body, soul and spirit are individual things, not the same things.
The Soul and Salvation
9.1 Implanted Word and Souls. James commanded people to put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness. In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.(James 1:21). [[James used the phrase “In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (“ἐν πραΰτητι δέξασθε τὸν ἔμφυτον λόγον τὸν δυνάμενον σῶσαι τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν”).]] Therefore, the power of the word implanted during life on earth brings the power to save our souls. Souls receive salvation by faith.
9.2 Sinner and Soul. James taught that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20). [[James used the phrase “save his soul from death” (“σώσει ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐκ θανάτου”).]] The sinner receives salvation, including his soul receiving salvation so that the soul does not die. Therefore, souls at the death of the physical body continue their existence. Some souls may be saved by a faithful friend who turns a sinner from death and a multitude of sins will be covered.
9.3 Faith and Souls. Peter described receiving the end of your faith, salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:9). [[Peter used the term “receiving the end of your faith salvation of your souls” (“κομιζόμενοι τὸ τέλος τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν σωτηρίαν ψυχῶν”).]I prefer the translation “receiving” (“κομιζόμενοι”–present middle participle nominative plural) because similar uses in 1 Peter 5:4 (will receive the unfading crown of glory), Ephesians 6:8 (receive reward from the Lord), Hebrews 10:36 (receive what was promised) and 2 Corinthians 5:10 (receive reward for deeds in the body).]] Faith produces the end of salvation of souls. Therefore, salvation includes the salvation of souls, which continue their existence after death.
♦ The power of the word implanted during life on earth brings the power to save souls.
♦ People may turn a sinner from the error of his ways and so will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
♦ Salvation includes saving the soul as the outcome of faith in God, so that it does not die at death.
The Soul and Heaven
10.1. Souls under the Altar. John provided a view of the souls under the altar in heaven. They had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony they had maintained. John described souls under the altar in heaven, who had come out of the Tribulation on earth. They were crying out, asking God how long He would refrain from judging and avenging their blood on those who dwell on the earth. Each of them received a white robe and they were told to rest until their fellow slaves and their brethren were to be killed (Revelation 6:9-10). Therefore, souls saved by faith on earth, and then martyred during the Tribulation, have life in heaven, based upon what happened to them upon the earth. Those souls speak and ask the holy and true Lord to avenge their blood. They also received white robes, indicating they had some kind of body in heaven, related to their souls. Therefore, after some people are beheaded in the Tribulation on earth, their souls appear under the altar in heaven. Some souls in heaven cry out to the Lord, holy and true, to avenge their blood on those who dwell upon earth. They also receive white robes and an answer to wait a little longer.
10.2 Souls in Heaven. John saw the souls of people beheaded during the Tribulation. Those souls were in heaven because their bodies had been beheaded on earth. They suffered death because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They refused to worship the beast or his image. They had not received the mark of the beast on their forehead or on their hand. They came to to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years during the Millennial Reign of Christ upon the earth (Revelation 20:4). Therefore, some souls suffer death on earth for their faithfulness to Christ Jesus and their refusal to accept the mark of the beast. They reign with Christ during the Millennial Reign of Christ on earth.
♦ Some souls of people beheaded on earth appear under the altar in heaven, seeking God to judge and avenge their blood on those who dwell on the earth.
♦ Some souls suffer death on earth and then appear in heaven, because they refuse to accept the mark of the beast.
Scripture shows in both the Old Testament and New Testament that souls continue their existence after death. The destination of souls after death depends entirely upon whether the person received salvation through Jesus during their lifetime on earth before death. If they received salvation, then they went to Paradise to be with Jesus. If they refused salvation, then they went to Sheol or Hades, where they await judgment before the Great White Throne of God. Today is the day of salvation. Be sure that your soul will be going to heaven to be with Jesus for all eternity.