If you search the Bible, you will find that nowhere in scripture is purgatory ever mentioned. Purgatory is a belief which was born in the 12th century (Le Goff, 1984). As Christians began to give more thought about the interim between death and the return of Christ, medieval theologians decided that there must be an actual, physical place for the dead to suffer and be punished for their sins, but with the possibility that they could eventually gain admittance to heaven. Later in the Middle Ages, the Catholic church offered the sale of indulgences as an act of intercession to those who died. Family members of the departed would buy these indulgences for fear that their loved ones needed to be saved from the miseries of purgatory. Modern Catholics still believe in purgatory, yet no longer believe it to be a place of fiery trials, but rather a holding place until the soul of the dead is purified enough for the joy of heaven.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines purgatory as: “A state after death according to Roman Catholic belief in which the souls of people who die are made pure through suffering before going to heaven.” As already stated, nowhere in the Bible is purgatory ever mentioned, so then where do the dead go? What does the Bible say about what happens after we die?
Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 says, “For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust.” Here we are told that we came from the dust and we will once again return to the dust. We did not exist before birth and we cease to exist after death. In Eccl. 9:5, we are told that the “dead know nothing,” and in Eccl. 9:2 that both the righteous and the wicked “share a common destiny.” Eccl. 9:10 explains even further that, “… there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (place of death) where you are going.” So we see that death is a state of non-existence. In fact, the Apostle Paul likened it to a sleep. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” Christ Jesus himself likened death to a sleep when he explained to his apostles that their friend Lazarus had “fallen asleep,” and that he was going to awaken him, (John 11:11). Viewing death as a sleep implies that a person who is in the state of death, or sleep, can be awakened and indeed that is what the Bible tells us! Each one of us will be awakened from the dead! We are told in 1 Corinthians 12:22 that, “for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.” All will be made alive again! All will be resurrected from the grave. All will have a chance to come into accordance with God and know Him, for it says in Isaiah 11:9, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” All will be resurrected and all will know God someday. This is a wonderful promise!
So we see that the Bible does have a plan for everyone. Purgatory is nowhere to be found in scripture and though the medieval theologians thought there needed to be a place like purgatory to purify the dead, we see that it is Christ Jesus who has paid the price for us, and only Christ can save us from everlasting death (1 John 2:2) (John 3:16). No amount of indulgences or anything we do can save us from death, but because Jesus died on our behalf while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8) we will be awakened to life once more and be given the opportunity to know our Heavenly Father.
Le Goff, Jaques. (1984). The Birth of Purgatory. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.