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Scripture Studies

“What Happens After Death?”

seasons of lifeIt is a question that boggles everyone’s mind. Philosophers, scientists, and theologians don't seem to agree. Within Christianity, differing and contradictory beliefs abound as to what happens after a person dies. Predominant is the idea that after death, an “immortal soul” or spirit of a person departs from the body to be consigned to a “heaven” or “hell”. Others introduced the idea that a temporary place called “purgatory” exists for nominal souls needing more prayers. Still others believe that after death, the soul will be judged immediately and will be taken to a “temporary” heaven or hell, awaiting their eternal and final locations and without any chance of an appeal.

Is there anyone who can tell us this mystery of life and death? The surprising answer is yes! The Lord Jesus Christ himself died and was buried, and three days after, He was resurrected back to life! 

After His resurrection, He plainly told the disciples, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:26). 

What did Jesus prove by resurrecting to life? Prior to His death, he made a very startling revelation,

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25).

Surprising as it may seem, Jesus stressed something very few really understand today: the idea of a future resurrection.

One of the most significant miracle of Jesus recorded in the Bible is the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Lazarus’ resurrection is unique in that while the Bible recorded other instances of people who had been raised from the dead, he had been dead for a much longer period of four days (Jesus was in the grave for 3 days). Upon knowing that Lazarus died, note what Jesus said, “‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” (John 11:11-13)NKJV      

So a clear distinction was made, while the disciples thought that by “sleep”, Lazarus was simply taking a nap, Jesus meant that Lazarus was already dead. Sleep is a biblical metaphor that describes death. In fact, Bible compares death to sleep more than fifty times. As we are “asleep”, we are unconscious; we are not aware of the passing of time or of what is going on around us. That is what death is like as well.

It makes sense that when Lazarus died he was absolutely unconscious, his memory ceased to work for him. He couldn’t tell any thing, except that once he was dead, and now he is alive! He didn’t experience hell or heaven. Otherwise, there was no reason why Jesus needed His “good friend” Lazarus to be pulled out from an eternal state. He was simply “sleeping” in his tomb.

Jesus told Martha, "‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day’" (John 11:23–24). While Martha understood that there is a future resurrection, Jesus as the Son of God, demonstrated that power of the resurrection (see, John 11:39–40).

The Bible declares, “for the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing… their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). See also Psalm 146:4; 115:17

The apostle Peter understood this very well, when on the Day of Pentecost said the same of King David,

“Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David,

that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day…

For David did not ascend into the heavens…(Acts 2:29, 34).

Contrary to Christ’s clear demonstration from Lazarus’ life, traditional Christianity clings to an ancient Egyptian-Greek belief of an “immortal” after life. But what does the Bible teach about the composition of life? Describing the creation of man, it declares,

“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 soul” (Genesis 2:7, KJV).

Other Bible translations say, “. . . and man became a living being” (NKJV; NIV). God did not put a soul into man, man was that “soul”. He formed the body from the dust of the ground, and then He breathed His life-giving spirit into the lifeless body—and the result was a soul, or a living being. There is no mention of an independently conscious “immortal souls” in man. Thus, when a person dies, the reverse takes place. The breath of life departs from the body, and the soul ceases to exist.

That’s the meaning in Ecclesiastes, when it says. “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit [breath] returns to God who gave it” Eccl. 12:7 NIV).

So man does have a “spirit” within him. This spirit gives him consciousness or self-awareness, conscience, independent will, intelligence, and creativity. Said Job, “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding (Job 32:8). As the prophet Zechariah observed, “The burden of the word of the Lord against Israel. Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him. Zech. 12:1)

The apostle Paul affirmed this, when he wrote, “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).

At the moment of death, this same “spirit in man” leaves the person and returns to God who gave it (Eccl.12:7). This spirit does not live as a separate being or entity, for that would mean man have immortality. Only God is immortal (see 1 Timothy 6:15, 16). The Bible shows that immortality is a gift from God! "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23, KJV). If you already had an immortal life—if you already had eternal life—then you would not need it as a gift from God.

The Scripture plainly teaches that a dead person remains dead until the resurrection. Both the Old and the New Testament consistently refer to death as the absence of life. Jesus called it as a sleep, and one who is dead has no consciousness outside of the body—remaining in the grave until the resurrection. Again, note what Jesus said,

"Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28–29).

Paul declared that the righteous “seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7). It is for this purpose that we need Jesus Christ to pursue  this (it is yet future)!

This dramatic transformation is fully described to happen at the moment of Christ’s return.

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’" (1 Corinthians 15:51–54). 

Yes, there is life after death! God will resurrect all who have died (but each in his/her own order). 

But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:23-26).

When Jesus Christ returns, those who are asleep will be awaken from their tombs. It will not matter how long or short the time has passed, to them it will just be a split-second of their consciousness, and they will awaken in the resurrection to a new and glorious body of immortality—no more pain, sickness, and death (Revelation 21)!

“If a man dies, shall he live again?
All the days of my hard service I will wait,
Till my change comes”. (Job 14:14)

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)

“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

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