Everyone reading this sentence will stop breathing one day.
Hi! Welcome to my blog. 🙂
The only caveat to that first statement is: unless Jesus returns first.
But if Jesus doesn’t return in our lifetimes, there will come a moment in time when we will die. As comedian Nate Bargatze told his daughter about their dying dog, “She will die. I will die. Your mom’s dead.”
Death is certain.
These aren’t morbid thoughts. They’re reality. And it’s this reality that sends our minds to contemplate what happens after we die.
Some responses to a recent article I wrote on the tendencies of Christians to hold nonbiblical views of the afterlife, revealed the need to explore the subject in greater detail. The key to clear thinking and speaking truthfully must come from the Bible.
The temptation, even for Christians, is to let pop culture images of Heaven or sentimentalism drive beliefs. Faithful Christians let the Bible shape our worldview on these matters. We want our beliefs and expectations of the afterlife to be unrelentingly rooted in the Scriptures.
That is what this series of blogs seeks to do. I will write one post per week on some aspect of life after death according to the Bible. Statements and conclusions will reference Scriptures to support them.
I will address very specific questions like “What happens to babies when they die?” and “What will we do all day in Heaven?”. But I will also tackle important theological foundations that help us answer these types of questions.
If you have questions you’d like to see addressed, leave comments and I’ll add them to the growing list.
Now back to death.
The certainty of death is not only discovered biblically, but experientially. The greatest figures in human history die. Whether they ruled kingdoms, made billions of dollars, or excelled in some field of expertise, they meet the same end as everyone else. Most people know someone who’s died. We attend funerals. We see hearses drive through our towns with a parade of cars following.
We know death is inevitable from experience, and the Scriptures affirm its certainty (Genesis 3:19) and cause (Romans 6:23). So there’s no need to mount a heavy defense of death’s certainty.
The question we move on to is: then what?
What happens the moment our bodily life ends?
God instructs us in Hebrews 9:27, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.“
There are several insights this passage reveals that deserve our attention and exploration.
1. Man continues existing even after his bodily death.
Just because we die physically doesn’t mean we cease to exist. This shows us that man is not just a body, a machine. People comprise both body and soul. Our souls are the combination of our mind, will, and affections. For example, our thinking and memories, which collaborate with the brain, are not merely products of the brain. Our mind is a faculty of the soul and is the seat of our thinking, beliefs, and memories.
Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Again, notice the dichotomy of body and soul. The body will die, but the soul cannot. We should never fear other people. They could take our lives, but they cannot kill our souls. Our souls live forever. However, Jesus warns that there is a healthy fear of the One who can sentence our soul to hell for eternity.
Each of us continues to exist after our bodily death. More on the nature of that existence in a future post.
2. There is a judgment immediately after death.
The Hebrews passage says we die and face judgment. It’s important to note that our standing in judgment implies a Judge to stand before. And that Judge will rule according to a standard of justice, not whim or opinion. It behooves us to learn what standard the Judge will decide by. And thankfully, the Judge tells us through His Word (John 3:15-18).
The question on that day: were our sins atoned for by Christ at the cross, and secured by us through faith OR will we self-atone and suffer the wrath of God for our sins?
When we stand before God, will we try to wear a righteousness of our own or will we be clothed in the righteousness of Christ? Only those in Christ stand before God at death with confidence of eternal life in Heaven. The Judge is looking for faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The judgment rendered determines whether we will spend eternity in the presence of God (in Heaven) or separated from Him (in Hell).
A crucial distinction needs discerning between the judgment that takes place immediately after death and the judgment described in Scripture as the Great White Throne judgment when Christ returns to the Earth (Revelation 20:11-15). This will be the subject of the next blog post.
3. There is a continuity between Earth and Eternity.
We continue to be who we were on earth after we die. The judgment we receive will stem from our actions and lives on Earth. They follow us.
We keep our memories. There are no indications from Scripture that we get the Men In Black “Neuralyzer” treatment and have our memories erased. In fact, in Revelation 6:10 we see the believers murdered on Earth for their faith, asking the Lord how long before He avenges their blood. This shows they know and remember how they died. They know they were murdered for the faith.
The prophet Samuel had died and the king, Saul, sought a witch in Endor to conjure up his spirit from the dead (1 Samuel 28). Samuel speaks to Saul (vs 16-17) and says, “Why are you asking me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and has become your enemy? The LORD has done exactly as I prophesied! The LORD has torn the kingdom from your hand and has given it to your neighbor David!”
Samuel not only knows what is happening on earth, but he remembers what he prophesied before he died. There is a continuity of personality, memories, and personhood.
So this is our starting point for discussing life after death. Death is certain. We continue to exist after death. Judgment awaits us on the other side of life in the body. That judgment is based on faith and determines whether we go to Heaven or Hell. There is a continuity from this life to the next.
We don’t become angels — we will judge the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3) — or reincarnate into another life or creature. We are created in the image of God and for His glory (Genesis 1:27). Our sin fell short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but through Christ, we are reconciled and given an inheritance that will never fade or perish (1 Peter 1:4).
The inheritance that awaits us is what we’ll look at in the posts ahead.