INTRODUCTION. Many persons wonder:
What— if anything— will happen to me after death?
Are my dead friends and relatives alive somewhere now?
The Bible answers these questions. I briefly summarize the Bible's answers below.
THERE IS LIFE AFTER DEATH. The Bible undeniably teaches that a human is eternal and that this eternal part lives forever in a conscious state.
God's gift to Adam and his descendants. Adam was not necessarily the first man. Adam is Hebrew for man. Perhaps anthropoligists are correct and ape-like beings populated the Earth for millions of years. (The Earth was not necessarily created in six days. The Hebrew word translated as days in the Genesis six-day creation account is yom, which can be translated day, as in Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement], or as an indefinite period of time— even millions of years, as many scientists maintain.) At some point God apparently singled out an adam (a man) — possibly even from millions roaming the Earth? — and declared (Genesis 1:26-27): Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God made a special gesture for this Adam (Genesis 2:7): And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. In both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, there is a word picture of breath, spirit, and wind as sharing the same word and having the same concept.
What is the image of God? God does not have human features, but is a Spirit. Man was not created in the physical image of God but in the spiritual image.
What is the breath of God? The breath of God is His eternal character. At the moment God chose an adam and made him in God's image and breathed His eternal spirit into him, man became an eternal being. Man's eternal nature comes at a price, though. Man must live as God dictates, or he will be punished.
What is the significance of Eve's creation? When God created Eve (Genesis 2:18, 20b-24), He took a rib from Adam, establishing the Covenant of Marriage. (Covenants commonly involved the shedding of blood and division of an animal.) This rib transplant transferred Adam's eternal nature, given by God, to Eve. All of Adam's race (descendants of Adam and Eve) since that first creation have inherited an eternal quality. This quality is often called a soul.
Judgment for every person. All persons will be judged (Hebrews 9:27): ... it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,.... Persons eventually admitted to New Jerusalem (Heaven) will face the Bema Judgment. (See also: MY CROWNS for a brief discussion of the Bema Judgment.) Persons eventually cast into the Lake of Fire (Hell) will face the Great White Throne Judgment. These two judgments may be contrasted, as follows:
|BEMA JUDGMENT (FOR SAVED PERSONS)||FEATURE||GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT (FOR UNSAVED PERSONS)|
|2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15||SCRIPTURAL REFERENCE||Revelation 20:11-15|
|Paul, apparently a sports fan, was familiar with the bema, a raised platform at the finish line of a race from which a seated judge could view athletes as they crossed the line in order to award prizes. Paul depicted Jesus, sitting on His bema, to judge and determine how well each Christian finished his/ her life's race||GENERAL COMMENTS||John saw a great white throne, apparently a most impressive sight, which symbolized the majesty and sovereignty of God and which may also give a glimpse of the wonder of Heaven that a condemned soul has missed because of his/ her rebellion against God|
|Immediately after the rapture/ resurrection of the saints (DEFINITION: saint, from the New Testament Greek hagios = most holy one, and is a sinner who has overcome his/ her sins because of acceptance of God's grace of forgiveness and Jesus' atoning sacrifice on the cross||TIME OF JUDGMENT||One-thousand years after the Bema Judgment (at the end of the Millennial Kingdom)|
|Saints who believed in/ followed Jesus (accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior) in life and overcame their sins||THOSE APPEARING AT JUDGMENT||Persons who did not believe in/ follow Jesus in life (and who did not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior) and who died in their sins|
|To award rewards (crowns), based on faithful work provided for the Kingdom of God||PURPOSE OF JUDGMENT||To establish the reasons a person will spend eternity in Hell and probably pronounce the severity of punishment|
|Is the person's name written in the Lamb's Book of Life? If so written: innocent. Other books will be opened||EVIDENCE PRESENTED AT JUDGMENT||Is the person's name written in the Lamb's Book of Life? If not written: guilty. Other books will be opened|
|Scriptures are silent on any appeals||APPEAL||Many will come, arguing Lord, Lord, did I not... (see Matthew 7:21-23), but Jesus will deny their appeals (I never knew you) and will cast them into the Lake of Fire|
|INNOCENT! Jesus' sacrifice has redeemed this saint from the second death (death of the soul). Jesus' blood has washed the saint's sins from him/ her. He/ she passes into Heaven||VERDICT OF JUDGMENT||GUILTY! This person has not accepted Jesus' sacrifice, and his/ her sins have not been forgiven. He/ she is thrown into Hell|
Argument: Resurrection and eternal life are only New Testament inventions. Wrong! The Old Testament clearly taught bodily resurrection after death and final judgment before God. For example, see: Genesis 25:8, Job 19:25-26, and Daniel 12:2. One of the most tender, moving accounts of parental love and faith is found in 2 Samuel 12:14-23: King David lusted over beautiful Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. He arranged to have Uriah killed in battle so that he might marry the widowed Bathsheba. David and Bathsheba had a son, who lingered on the verge of death for a week. A distraught David fasted and begged God for his son's life (2 Samuel 12:18-23, underlining added for emphasis): Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. For they said, Indeed, while the child was alive, we spoke to him, and he would not heed our voice. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He may do some harm! When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food. And [David] said, While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. David believed he would have life after death, and he and his dead son would be united some day.
Terminology. Although different Old Testament and New Testament names may be confusing, I will try to sort these out in the following paragraphs.
Sheol and Hades. Sheol (Old Testament Hebrew) and Hades (New Testament Greek) refer to the same place. Translators translate the Hebrew Sheol as hell or the grave in different verses. Translators usually translate the Greek Hades as the abode of the dead. Hell, called the Lake of Fire by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation, is the final destination for any sinner whose name is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life (that is, a sinner who has not accepted God's grace through the atoning blood sacrifice of Jesus).
Intermediate state. Jesus taught:
Unredeemed (lost) souls wait in an intermediate state of Hades, awaiting resurrection and judgment at the Great White Throne. In Hades, they suffer torment.
Redeemed (saved) souls wait in Abraham's Bosom or Abraham's Side (faithful Jews before Jesus' birth) or in Paradise (Christians), awaiting resurrection and ultimate eternity in New Jerusalem, or Heaven. In Paradise, they enjoy comfort and the goodness of God's bounty.
A great chasm or gulf separates the two sides (Luke 16:19-31).
Paradise. Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, and freed the captives (Ephesians 4:8-10). The soul of a believer in Jesus as Lord and Savior immediately leaves the body to be with Jesus forever— first in Paradise. This freeing of the soul— the spirit of God first breathed into Adam's nostrils— is immediate:
(Luke 23:43, underlining added for emphasis): And Jesus said to [the thief saved on the cross alongside Jesus], Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.
(2 Corinthians 5:8): We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
Paradise comes from a Middle Eastern (Persian?) word, par-DACE, meaning park, preserve, enclosed garden, forest. Some suggest that this beautiful place may represent a re-established Garden of Eden (Garden of Eden = Genesis, chapters 2 and 3). Dead followers of Jesus as Lord and Savior, who eventually will populate New Jerusalem (Heaven), are now in Paradise, awaiting resurrection.
Have some glimpsed Paradise? I am fascinated with the near death experience (NDE). Before cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) became so successful throughout the world, people whose hearts stopped beating were declared dead and were buried. Now, resuscitation— the restoration of heart and lung activity— is commonly performed. Even the author, before retirement, successfully resuscitated patients in the hospital, and many communities and churches offer CPR classes for the public. (Do you know how to perform CPR and rescue a choking victim? If not, try to learn as soon as possible!)
Many, many resuscitated persons tell of events while they were dead. Commonly, they see and are drawn toward a brilliant light, have an out-of-body experience, stop sensing pain, lose all cosnciousness of time, and see loved ones waiting to welcome them to this place. This place is beautiful beyond description. They often see a Person, many identify as Jesus. When they are resuscitated, the pain of any injury resumes, they are rapidly drawn away from the light, and they return to the real world. Many resuscitated persons are resentful that they have been removed from this wonderful place. Millions of accounts and articles about NDE may be accessed through this Google search inquiry. NDE is undeniably a real experience. Does NDE represent a glimpse of Paradise? Or, does NDE represent extraordinary activity of a dying brain?
Years before he wrote the second epistle to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul was stoned at Lystra and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). Paul apparently experienced a near death experience at this time (2 Corinthians 12:1-7): It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago— whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows— such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man— whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me. And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
EXPLANATION— THIRD HEAVEN: The Greek world at the time of Paul divided the heavens into three compartments. We would call the first heaven the Earth's atmosphere; we would call the second heaven space; and the third heaven was believed by the ancients to be where God lived.
Although Paul would not tell of the wonders he saw and heard, the Apostle John was given a glimpse of New Jerusalem (Heaven) and commanded to write what he saw and heard (Revelation 1:11, 1:19, 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, 2:18, 3:1, 3:7, 3:14, 14:3, 19:9, 21:5). His account of the afterlife is included in the Book of Revelation, especially chapters 21 and 22. Read these two chapters to gain a little knowledge about the wonders awaiting the Christian throughout eternity. Paul assured us of the grandeur of these wonders, quoting Isaiah 64:4 (1 Corinthians 2:9): But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
Purgatory? Roman Catholics teach there is a purgatory— a physical place intermediate between Earth and Heaven. See: What Catholics believe: 10 truths about purgatory, and How to Explain Purgatory to Protestants, and Cathecism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1030 through 1032. I find no Biblical support for this belief. Rather, it is a manmade doctrine (a tradition), concocted at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The Cathecism teaches: Purgatory is for those who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification in Purgatory to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. It is believed that the living may offer prayers for the dead, that they may be delivered from their sin. And, the living may engage in almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance on behalf of the dead. Numerous Protestant rebuttals for the concept of Purgatory have been advanced. See thousands of objections in this Google search. Each person is solely responsible for his/ her own sins, seeking forgiveness from God, and displaying repentance for that sin (see Ezekiel 18:20, Galatians 6:5, and other Scriptures).
Summary. I do not have space to discuss in an adequate, comprehensive manner the differing fates for followers of Jesus the Christ and non-followers, but I will try to summarize the fates in the following table:
|FATE OF A FOLLOWER OF JESUS (A CHRISTIAN)||FATE OF A NON-FOLLOWER OF JESUS (A NON-CHRISTIAN)|
|Life on Earth: the person accepts and follows Jesus as Savior
Person's name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life
WARNING: Jesus, John, Paul, and others warn that many believe they will enter Heaven, but will be excluded and enter Hell for various reasons. Search Scriptures carefully!
If he/ she dies, his/ her soul is immediately taken to Paradise to live in comfort with Jesus and other followers
When Jesus returns in the air to call His Church home, he/ she is resurrected and the eternal soul (breath of God first given to Adam) is united with an immortal (incorruptible) body
When Jesus returns in the air to call His Church home and the person is still alive, he/ she is raptured and the eternal soul (breath of God first given to Adam) is united with an immortal (incorruptible) body
Life in Paradise— life during the Tribulation: whether resurrected or raptured, those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life meet with Jesus and Heavenly beings in Paradise; in Paradise, they are spared the horrors of the Tribulation, the seven-year period in which God's judgments and the evils of the Unholy Trinity must be faced by Earth's inhabitants
The person gives an account of his/ her life at the Bema Judgment (Judgment Seat of the Christ); rewards (crowns) are given or withheld by Jesus, depending upon service given to the Kingdom, but the verdict that might send the person to Hell, rather than Heaven, is NOT GUILTY! Jesus paid the price for that person's sins.
All persons (now, saints) attend the Marriage of the Lamb; here, each Christian— as a bride— is eternally wed to the Bridegroom Jesus
All celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, spiritually consumating the Marriage by drinking wine with Jesus (the fourth cup of wine He deferred drinking at the Passover Seder He observed with His disciples just hours before His crucifixion)
Return to Earth: Jesus (King of kings and Lord of lords), accompanied by all raptured/ resurrected saints and an army of angels, returns to Earth to defeat the Unholy Trinity (Satan, Antichrist, and False Prophet) and their armies at teh Battle of Armageddon; Satan is bound for one-thousand years in the Abyss, awaiting his final attack on God; the Antichrist and the False Prophet are cast alive into the Lake of Fire (Hell) for eternity
Nations are judged (see Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Matthew 25:31-46), the nations being the humans who survived the Battle of Armageddon; the sheep (morally good humans who did not try to harm Jews and Christians) pass into the Millennial Kingdom; humans proliferate
Jesus rules Earth from the newly built Third Temple for one-thousand years (the Millennial Kingdom); saints (resurrected/ raptured followers of Jesus rule with Him as mentors and leaders
Satan is briefly released from the Abyss for a short time; he raises a large army to rebel against God— the Battle of Gog and Magog (the Revelation 20 conflict, not the Ezekiel 38-39 War of Gog and Magog); the rebels with their leader, Satan, are cast eternally into the Lake of Fire (Hell)
The old Earth is destroyed by fire, removing all resemblance of sin, and a new Earth and a new Heaven are created
Life in Heaven: New Jerusalem (Heaven) descends to Earth to be present without end; because they have their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life and have overcome their sins, faithful followers enter into Heaven, a place of unimaginable beauty (see Revelation, chapter 21 and 22)
|Life on Earth: the person rejects and does not follow Jesus as Savior
Person's name is not written in the Lamb's Book of Life
If he/ she dies, his/ her soul is immediately taken to Hades to live in distress with others who have rebelled against God
When Jesus returns in the air to call His Church home, he/ she is not resurrected and the eternal soul (breath of God first given to Adam) remains awaiting an immortal (incorruptible); persons alive are not spared the horrors of the Tribulation, the seven-year period in which God's judgments and the evils of the Unholy Trinity must be faced by Earth's inhabitants
Nations are judged (see Parable of the Sheep and Goats, Matthew 25:31-46), the nations being the humans who survived the Battle of Armageddon; the goats (immoral and evil humans who harmed Jews and Christians) die and pass into the White Throne Judgment
Life in the grave: the spirit languishes in the grave (Hades) for approximately one-thousand years; the spirit (soul) is ultimately united with an immortal (incorruptible) body
The person is judged at the Great White Throne Judgment; books are opened to review the person's life and show why he/ she is not entitled to enter New Jerusalem (Heaven); the only possible verdict is GUILTY!
Life in the Lake of Fire (Hell): a tragic soul found unworthy of entering Heaven spends an eternity with the most reprobate, evil persons who ever lived and with Satan and his demons in the Lake of Fire (Hell); Hell is described as a lake of burning sulfur that can never be destroyed; bodies will never die or be consumed by the fire, but will be in constant pain and torment
Various names for Hell include: sheol, hades, tartarus, gehenna, and Lake of Fire.