What happens after death?
What happens after death? Does anyone not wonder/worry about this question at some point in life? The existence or non-existence of life after death is crucially important. It plays a foundational role in a person's worldview. If there is no afterlife, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32). If there is an afterlife, "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him" (Luke 12:5). Whether or not there is life after death is directly connected with whether or not there is a God. And, whether or not one believes in the existence of God has a tremendous impact on how one lives life.
Is there life after death? — The Attacks
Most atheists say that the afterlife is a fairy tale. They claim that it is nothing but a myth designed to provide comfort from the fear of death. Really? How exactly can they make such a statement, considering the afterlife is something that cannot be examined scientifically? Ultimately, atheists make statements like these because they hope there is no afterlife. If there is an afterlife, then there is a Being to whom we will be held accountable. Many atheists are undeniably brilliant, but statements like this reveal the truth of Psalm 14:1, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Atheists allows their hatred towards the idea of God to lead them into making foolish statements they cannot possibly know and definitely cannot prove.
Atheists believe this physical universe is all that exists, and that human beings do not have a spiritual aspect to our existence. The idea of an afterlife requires the existence of a spiritual aspect to human life. Therefore, atheists deny the afterlife because they deny the existence of God. They recognize that an afterlife is only possible if there is some kind of God-like Being who created humanity with a spiritual aspect that carries on after physical death. Denying the existence of heaven (and hell) is a necessity for atheists, because they recognize that belief in the afterlife ultimately must lead to belief in the spiritual, which ultimately leads to belief in God.
Is there life after death? — The Experiences
On the opposite side of the irrational and condescending statements coming from prominent atheists, there was a rash of books describing the experiences of those who claim to have gone to heaven and/or hell in near death experiences: 23 Minutes in Hell, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Heaven is for Real, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, etc., etc. The fact that so many of these books made it to the best-seller list is proof of the interest we innately have in what happens after death. It is not the purpose of this post to review the various life-after-death best-sellers. The only thing I want to point out is that if a person were to have a legitmate near-death experience, it would not in any way contradict what the Bible says about life after death.
Is there life after death? — The Viewpoints
It would be great if all followers of Jesus Christ had the exact same beliefs regarding what happens after death. As with many other issues, though, there is some disagreement about what happens after death, and when it happens. Roman Catholics believe in heaven and hell, but also believe in purgatory, sort of a temporary realm of cleansing for some before they are granted entrance into heaven. Protestant Christians are pretty universal in their rejection of purgatory, but have other disagreements amongst themselves, such as soul sleep, the intermediate state, levels of heaven and hell, etc. These issues have been debated for pretty much all of the 2000 years of Christian church history, and I am not going to settle the debate with a blog post.
Is there life after death? — The Core Truths
For now, let's cut straight to the heart of the matter. What does the Bible say about what happens after death? Simply, if you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, by grace alone, through faith alone, you will spend eternity in heaven. If you do not receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will be eternally separated from God (Matthew 25:46). The side issues of when we arrive at our final and eternal destination and in what form / what location we exist until that time can be debated, with apparent biblical support for varying interpretations. But, the core message of what the Bible says happens after death cannot, or at least should not, be debated. Believers in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth described in Revelation chapters 21-22. Unbelievers will spend eternity in the lake of fire described in Revelation 20:14-15.
S. Michael Houdmann
What happens after death?