Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

John 5:28-29

The Gospel lesson at a funeral service comes from John 5:24-30. While the passage ostensibly speaks about the authority of the Son of God in relation to God the Father, there is also specific teaching on death. The passage begins as Jesus says in John 5:24: “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word and believe Him who sent Me; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”  Very early on in this series, we discussed how “life” refers to being in the presence of God, while “death” is being absent from God. “Judgment” (or condemnation) is used synonymously with “death” in this passage. Thus, those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God do not come into judgment but pass from death and enter eternal life.

We also know that it is not only belief that leads to salvation. There must be work, and there is also the grace of God which allows us to into eternal life. In 5:29, we read the word “done” two times, confirming it is not only what we believe but what we “do” with that. Jesus says that “those who have done good” will go to the “resurrection of life,” and “those who have done evil” will go “to the resurrection of judgment.”

Which brings us to the question of what exactly happens when we die? There are a lot of teachings out there about this, from both Orthodox and non-Orthodox sources. Terms like “toll houses” and “trials” have been written about. Purgatory is a Catholic doctrine, that a person enters a state where they must undergo purification from their sins. This is based in part on Revelation 21:27, where we read Nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. ( The Orthodox Church does not have a doctrine regarding purgatory.

Let us introduce another term, used both by the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. It is the word “Theologoumenon.” And it means, for the Orthodox, a “theological statement or concept in the area of individual opinion rather than of authoritative doctrine.” Further, it can be defined as “acceptably orthodox theological opinion that can develop into pious traditions but which nevertheless can be erroneous or imperfect.” ( This is where a lot of understanding about death and what happens after can be categorized. Theologoumenon is based on Scripture which leads to some logical conclusions. For instance, in Matthew 22:30, concerning marriage in heaven, Jesus says “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” From this statement, we can deduce that not only is there not a classification of married or unmarried in heaven, but other classifications, such as rich or not rich, educated or uneducated, with children or without children, etc. are true as well. We don’t know this, because we haven’t been to heaven and come back to talk about it, but we can deduce things like this from scripture.

There are many places in the Bible that give insight into a judgment that will happen before God. We’ve discussed already the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30, that man entrusted talents to his servants, and “after a long time, the master of those servants came and settle accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:19) In the Parable, the “master” is God, who entrusts talents (time, ability, opportunity) to each person and at some point, we will have to account to Him for what we did with what He gave us. Even more succinct is Matthew 25:31-46, where we read about the judgment of the nations, when everyone will be gathered before the throne of God and be judged worthy of eternal life. This judgment will be based on six metrics—“I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed Me; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”(Matthew 25:35-36) The judgment will be based on what we did, not what we didn’t do, which is a comfort I think. We all have regrets about things we didn’t do or should have done. The judgment will be based on things we did, not things we failed to do.

Another question is exactly when we will go to heaven and when will the judgment be. In Luke 23:43, Jesus tells the thief on the cross, “TODAY you will be with Me in Paradise,” which seems to indicate that we go to heaven, if that is our destination, immediately after death. Matthew 25:31-33 seems to be in direct contradiction to this, when Jesus says “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.” This seems to indicate that the judgment will take place at the end of time, and that we won’t enter Paradise until that time. Then there is 2 Peter 3:8, which reads But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years a day. This seems to indicate that our time and God’s time work in different ways, on different planes. Does this then leave open the possibility that the day a person passes away they enter God’s time and the day they pass away and the day of the last judgment actually can be the same day? The Epistle of St. Peter seems to leave the door to this possibility open. It is very dangerous to try to speak dogmatically about this subject. I am certainly not trying to do that. There are certainly much more educated theologians and God-inspired saints than me out there—I am neither. What I believe with certainty is that I will stand in judgment one day before the Lord and give account for the things I did with my life. And then God will judge whether I am worthy to enter into Paradise, or not. I believe that with certainty!

Something else I also believe with certainty is that not every person will be judged worthy to enter into everlasting life. That’s why Jesus indicates there is a judgment, not just an automatic entrance into the Kingdom of God. Therefore, what we believe, and what we do with our belief, absolutely matters. In our world of political correctness, people think that God wouldn’t dare discriminate against anyone and not allow them into heaven. The Bible does not support this.

Matthew 24:40-41 reads “Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left.” This seems to indicate that fifty percent will go to heaven and fifty percent do not. Which then causes people to judge themselves against other people, i.e. if I’m in the top 50 percent I’m in. Whether there is a percentage, and what that percentage is, is irrelevant. Jesus says in the Bible, confirmed in the Gospel of John that is read at the funeral that some will go to the Resurrection of life and some will go to the resurrection of judgment (condemnation). The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) also supports that not everyone will go to heaven. Other theories like the rapture have a lot of traction in some churches. This is not an Orthodox doctrine.

What I believe for certainty is that there is a judgment between all of us and heaven/hell. I believe I will stand in judgment before God. I don’t know when that will be, I don’t know how much longer I will live. Therefore, I worry about my “stewardship” of today, what I am doing with this day that God has given to me. I personally don’t get wrapped up in whether there will be a rapture or trials or purgatory. I focus on giving God glory through serving others today. The judgment is His and His alone. I will fare better at the judgment if I’ve used what He has entrusted me. It goes back to how we view salvation. I have the potential to be saved because of the death and Resurrection of Christ and my entrance into the life of Christ through the sacrament of baptism. I am working on my salvation based on how I glorify God and serve others today. I will (hopefully) be saved by His grace, which will be extended (or not) at my judgment before His throne.

Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, both low and high, rich and poor together! My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me, men who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, ha he should continue to live on forever, and never see the Pit. Yea, he shall see that even the wise die, the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they names lands their own. Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who have foolish confidence, the end of those who are pleased with their portion. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd, straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Be not afraid when one becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. Though, while he lives, he counts himself happy, and though a man gets praise when he does well for himself, he will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never more see the light. Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish. Psalm 49

There is a lot of unknown as relates to death and what happens after. What we know is that we will stand in judgment before God and those who have done good (according to His judgment) will go to the resurrection of eternal life and those who have done evil (according to His judgment) will go to the resurrection of judgment (condemnation).