What happens When You Die?
“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again”(KJV).
A boss asked one of his employees, “Do you believe in life after death?”
“Yes sir,” the employee replied,
"Well then, that makes everything just fine," The boss went on. "After you left early yesterday to go to your grandmother’s funeral, she stopped in to see you.”
I am sorry that is an old joke. One thing is for sure, however, from the smallest to the greatest, from the richest to the poorest, everyone eventually dies. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Every minute on earth, 108 people die. Ultimately, everyone dies. It is not a matter of if, but when.
Some seek death, considering it the only solution. Others try to delay the inevitable through exercise and eating right and taking the right medicine. Still others tragically lose their lives through time and chance. Sometimes disease or other illnesses bring a death sentence, leaving the person with nothing to do but wait for the end.
Many view the end of their lives with anxiety. They wonder, “What’s next?”—“Will I live again?”—“Will I ever see my loved ones again?” People have gone to great lengths to try to find out about life after death.
On 6 February 1921, Thomas Lynn Bradford sealed the doors and windows of his rented room in Detroit, Michigan, blew out the pilot on his heater, and turned on the gas. He committed suicide and so he found out about an afterlife, but he wanted more than that. He wanted to report back to the rest of us on his discovery. Some weeks earlier, he had placed a newspaper advertisement seeking a fellow spiritualist to help him with his quest. Ruth Doran responded. The two met and agreed, as The New York Times put it, "that there was but one way to solve the mystery - two minds properly attuned, one of which must shed its earthly mantle". So Thomas Bradford “shed his earthly mantle,” committed suicide, and went into the great unknown. The plan was to contact Ruth Doran and tell her what it was like over there. He never did. The Times ran a follow-up under the headline "Dead Spiritualist Silent." (http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg19225780.075-the-big-questions-what-happens-after-you-die.html).
Actually, I do not see the logic in Bradford’s committing suicide to find out about life after death. We are all going to find out eventually. Death is an unavoidable reality. It is coming even for us, and so we have to come to terms with it somehow.
We read about death all the time. Tornadoes raged this week across much of the south and 55 people died. Our media is full of people dying, in the civil war in Kenya, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People die of heart attack or cancer or stroke.
Sometimes death is controversial. For instance, the legality and ethics involving capital punishment is a highly emotional and politicized debate. Also, there have been high-profile cases in the media in which medical patients remain in a persistent vegetative state as family members disagree on whether the person should continue to live. Then there is euthanasia, the question of whether a person should have the right to choose when and how he dies. On an almost daily basis, we are confronted with the subject of death in various forms.
Many of the most powerful human emotions are tied to the cessation of life. The end of life can bring families, communities, nations, and sometimes even the world, to a standstill. In the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, the entire world stopped in its tracks. People of every nation found themselves asking, “What if I had lost my family members?” Witnessing other people die on their television screens—in real time—was an emotionally overwhelming experience. What about all the victims of that tragic day? Do they have a future beyond death? Or are their lives over—forever?
And then there is the personal grief one feels when a close family member or friend dies, which can almost seem unbearable. There are few things in life starker than facing the harsh reality that you will never again see that person in this life. All that remains are photographs and memories.
And so we ask, is that all there is to life? Is there anything after death?
What does religion say about death? There are many religions in this world, and many opinions about what happens when you die. I suppose that most people think something like this: After death, the “good people” go to heaven or some form of paradise and “bad people” go to hell or some form of punishment. But the details differ from religion to religion. Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation. Christians, Jews and Moslems tend to believe in some form of resurrection.
Just as religions vary, so do beliefs surrounding the burial of the dead. Some are buried in watertight caskets so the body is not exposed to the elements underground. Others are just wrapped in cloth. Some cultures expose their dead above ground, some burn the dead. The list of superstitions and taboos surrounding dead bodies is endless.
For atheists, what happens after death is not important. According to their philosophy, life should be enjoyed in the “here and now.” But what if they are wrong? What if God does exist and he offers us an awesome future beyond the grave?
Consider this. Suppose you came to a fork in the road—how would you decide which way to turn? If you had been told that one road leads to a dead end in a desert, and another to a beautiful oasis, would you not choose the way of hope, the one that says it leads to an oasis. The atheist says that life is a dead end. When you die, the body shuts down and your consciousness ceases to be. And that is it. Who would choose to believe that? Understand that the atheist does not know what happens after death either. No one knows. We are talking about faith here. And if I must choose in faith I am certainly not going to choose the dead end way of Atheism.
You might ask, well what does the Bible say about Death. The Bible is God’s Word. It is God’s instruction manual to humankind. It provides all the answers necessary to enjoy a wonderful, happy, and abundant life. But what does it say about death?
First of all the Bible says what we already know. Ecclesiastes chapter 3: “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return” (19-20 ESV). What it says is just common sense. A human body is composed of the same elements as any animal, and this body will suffer the same fate as any other animal.
Now I have to say that in the Bible there is a progressive revelation about death. In Jesus time, there was a Jewish sect know as the Sadducces which did not believe in life after death. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Bible and these books, which are called the Torah, make almost no mention of an after life
Ecclesiastes has much the same view. Thus we read in chapter 9: “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (vs. 4-5).
This leads to the age-old question asked in the Book of Job: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (14:14). The second half of the verse hints at an answer: “…all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.”
That is, as I said, a hint. It is in the NT that these OT hints are spelled out into our doctrine of life after death.
Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The soul of the departed believer goes immediately to be with God in heaven. IICOR5:1 “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The apostle Paul is saying here that our bodies are like a tent or a tabernacle that we live in while we are on this earth, but when these tents are destroyed, God has a place for each of us to live, and God is a master builder. We can depend upon his construction.
That is the promise for the believer, not for the unbeliever. The unbeliever does not go to heaven. Jesus told a parable about Lazarus and the Rich Man. Both died and Lazarus went to heaven but the rich man was condemned to a place of torment. The rich man represents all those who put their faith in things of this world, all those who do not believe in Jesus.
Now most people stop with that. Believers go to heaven and unbelievers go to hell, that covers what happens after death, but not really. The NT says that heaven and hell are temporary residences that are only for this age. We live now in what we call the Church Age, between the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven and his Second Coming. During this time, when people die, they go to heaven or hell.
But when Jesus comes back there will be a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth, and at time there will be a bodily resurrection of dead, of all the dead, both saved and unsaved.
1CR15: “Behold, I show 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (51-53).
This is the “change” of which Job spoke—a change from this temporary, physical existence to eternal life. This is God’s ultimate goal for humankind. Your soul will not live for all eternity with God in heaven. God has a much bigger plan than that for you. In God’s plan you will be fully human, body and soul, and you will have a purpose in God’s renovated creation.
That is not God’s plan for everyone. There will be a Last Judgment. You have probably heard of that, but some people have a misconception about the Last Judgment. Some folks have the idea that we are all brought before the throne of God and the book of life, which contains all of our words, thoughts, and deeds, is opened, and we are judged according to our works. That is works salvation. If that were true, we would all be condemned because all our works are mixed with sin and error and folly.
So what then is the Last Judgment? It is the final recognition of what we are. God’s people are those who believe on Jesus Christ. They are recognized as such and go on to immortal life as children of God. What happens to everybody else? The last book of the Bible, the book of revelation, says that death and hell are cast into the lake of fire and burned up, with all their occupants. So all those who are not God’s people cease to be. They are punished forever, they are finally and totally annihilated.
To sum up then, what happens when you die? Many people are worried about that question. They are anxious about their eternal destiny. But if you have believed in Jesus, you should have no fear. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says death has lost its sting. Death has lost its sting for a Christian because we have the promise of heaven with God and a new resurrected life with Christ. Believe in Jesus Christ then. Put your trust in the Lord. You will not regret it in this world or in the next.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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