What Does the Old Testament Teach about the Afterlife?

Before Christ, where do souls go?

The Psalms talk a lot about a place called Sheol, sometimes translated “the pit” or “the grave.” It was the understanding of most of the Old Testament ancients that whether they were saints or not, everyone went to the same place.

Sheol is a sort of holding place for souls. We don’t know exactly how it was understood by the people in the Old Testament. They did not have a robust afterlife system as part of their beliefs. So it would be inaccurate to try to give more background on this place.

All of the times it is spoken of, it is simply a place where the soul goes after death. If we are to understand Peter’s reference to Jesus preaching to the souls in prison (2 Peter 3:19) as Jesus visiting Sheol and proclaiming himself as the person many have believed in from the Old Testament, then this was a holding place for souls that have yet to hear the good news of the gospel.

But we can’t be definitive about this place and what it meant to ancient peoples in the Old Testament. All we can understand is that they believed that they would go to a pit or just known as the grave when they died. We don’t know if they expected anything more than that for their souls after death.

Job provides one hint that Old Testament saints had a hope in God for more than just death and nothing afterward. Job 19:25-27 suggests that saints will see the Lord even after their bodies have decayed. Some of the Psalms also talk about seeing their fathers and ancestors in the pit.

So there was somewhat of a hope for some of the Old Testament saints. But this was the belief, that they were held in this sort of waiting place. We can understand that somehow they were with the Lord if not then, eventually. Jesus teaches a parable in Luke 16:19-31 about a poor man, Lazarus, who was mistreated by rich man.

They both died but the poor man went to “Abraham’s side” while the rich man went to Hades. We may infer from this parable that Abraham was in heaven. Neither of these people went to the holding place of Sheol.

So it is possible that even the Old Testament saints went to be with the Lord based on the belief they had at the time and the knowledge they had of God even though it was not complete until after Jesus died on the cross.

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

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