I was recently asked a question about the possibility of a second chance after one has died. The question was along these lines: What happens to souls that pass before they can attempt to make it right with Jesus? Do they have an opportunity to respond to Jesus Christ after they die but before the day of judgment?
Some have promoted the idea of a second chance after death. But the Bible does not indicate that people get an opportunity to repent or to put faith in Jesus after they die. Hebrews 9:27 says, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.”
Jesus said that people will be judged based on what they did during their lives. In Matthew 16:27, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
Some point to John 5:25 as evidence that those who have died will have the gospel preached to them: “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”
But this interpretation takes the verse out of its context. The entire passage is John 5:25-29, which makes clear that the context is the final judgment. The passage reads as follows:
“Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. ‘Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out– those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.’”
Verses 27-30 make it clear that the context is final judgment. Everyone, including those in the graves will “hear his voice” and then be raised from the dead either to a resurrection of eternal life with God or to a resurrection of condemnation where they are separated from God. All people will “hear the voice of the Son of God” when the Son of God judges the world and not at some pre-judgment event when he preaches the gospel to people who have died but never accepted him.
Consider also the parable Jesus told in Luke 16:19-31, which indicates that the rich man went immediately to a place of punishment. There is no indication that he was going to get another chance. In fact in the story, Abraham says that no one can pass over from the realm of punishment to the realm of reward or vice versa (16:26).
Despite these truths, however, we need to be careful of assuming the eternal destination of people based on our external assessment of their lives. We are not in the position of God to know the inner workings of a person’s heart and mind, particularly in the hours preceding death. We need to rest in the assurance that both judgment and salvation belong to the Lord (Psalm 96:13, Jonah 2:9) and that the God of all the earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25).
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