Listen: 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Greek word for “grave” is ‘mneemion’ and it is found 42 times in the New Testament. The King James translators used the words “grave,” “tomb,” or “sepulcher” for this word and in each case it was a literal grave where the body of a deceased person was put. So the answer to your question is “no,” the grave does NOT symbolize hell. The Greek word for “hell” is ‘ge-enna’. It’s found 12 times in the New Testament and it always refers to the final abode of those who die without Christ. No one is in hell yet, but when the lost are consigned to hell their whole person….body, soul and spirit, will be there. This is in contrast to the grave, where the body alone is put.

Because the answer to your first question is “no,” the answer to your second question is also “no.” But that begs the question, “Where do the spirit and the soul of a person who dies go before the Rapture?” For the believer in Christ we have three scriptures which give us the answer. First of all, let’s look at Luke 23:43,And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” These words were addressed to a thief that had just turned, in repentance and faith, to the Lord Jesus. The thief had just said to Jesus in verse 42, Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom.” Imagine the joy that filled the penitent thief’s heart when he was told that he would be in paradise that very day! Paradise is another name for heaven where God dwells. Shortly before the Lord Jesus died He cried out to His Father in verse 46, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost.” Jesus went to be with His Father in paradise and the saved thief joined him! The body of Jesus was taken down from the cross and put in a rich man’s tomb and the thief’s body was also buried, but their spirits departed from their bodies and went immediately to heaven.

The apostle Paul spoke of this same truth in 2 Corinthians 5:8, We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” Paul had been speaking about the body prior to this and how he longed to be given his new, glorified body. Yet he knew that death could occur before that so he expresses his willingness to die, knowing at the time of death he would be “absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” Like the saved thief he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that his spirit and soul would leave his body and join the Lord in paradise!

Later, when writing to the saints in Philippi from a Roman prison, Paul contemplated the possibility of being martyred for his faith and yet he could boldly say, in Philippians 1:22, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He was persuaded that IF he were to die, it would be GAIN for him. Why? Verse 23 gives us the answer, “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.” (NKJV)  Ah, Paul could say that “to die is gain” because he knew it meant he would “depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.” Death for him was but the gateway to paradise where he would be with the Savior he loved, which would be “far better” than any blessing he ever knew here on earth! Again, his body would be buried in some grave here on earth, but his spirit and soul would depart from his body to be with Christ.

If one dies without faith in Christ, their soul and spirit will depart from their body too, but they will NOT go to paradise. I would encourage you to read the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. It is obvious that the rich man died without Christ and it is said of him in verses 22-23, the rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades” (NKJV). The rich man’s body was buried in a grave, but his spirit and soul departed to a place of torment. It could not be said of him “to die is gain,” for his spirit and soul were in conscious torment, awaiting the final judgment when at last his body, soul and spirit will be, according to Revelation 20:15, “cast into the lake of fire.” These are sobering thoughts and I would plead with anyone who is still unsaved to turn to Christ while there is yet time. Receive Him by faith as your personal Savior and then if you were to die before the Rapture, you would be “absent from the body, present with the Lord.” You would join the saved thief, the apostle Paul and all the redeemed in paradise, and even more importantly, you’d be “with Christ, which is far better.”  (139.6)  (DO)