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 (Heaven) or to a resurrection of condemnation (Hell) 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).
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
13 Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.
9 But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.
25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?