Monday, February 03, 2014

What happens after we die? Part 1

Jesus Christ Bobby
(Part of a series on death and the hereafter)

Paul felt it was important to know what happens when we die (1 Thess. 4:13). Just after we die we enter what is called the intermediate state, the time between physical death and Resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:1-8). What is it like? What happens? Well, it depends on whether you are a
believer in Jesus Christ or an unbeliever. For a believer, this state is only temporary while he or she waits for the full blessings of salvation – the resurrection of the body and the coming of Christ’s Kingdom.

Where do you go when you die? Believers in Jesus Christ go immediately, possibly escorted by angels (Luke 16:22) into the presence of the Lord in paradise (2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil 1:21-23; Heb 12:23). For unbelievers, it is apparent from Luke 16:19-31 that one goes immediately to a place of eternal torment, and it is fixed forever (see 1 Peter 2:9). They are conscious of their situation and fear for others they love who might end up there, too.

Is there a holding room, a tunnel, a light? Certainly there is nothing I have seen in Scripture about a tunnel and moving toward a light or being of light (2 Cor. 11:14-15). For believers, the Bible says they move immediately into the presence of Jesus (2 Cor. 5:8). There is no purgatory or place of waiting. Those ideas are unscriptural developments of the Medieval Church from a misunderstanding of the OT Sheol.

Is that heaven the final destination? No. For believers, the intermediate state is a state of blessedness, but even in heaven there is yet an End coming, when Death is overthrown once and for all (1 Cor 15:52) and God provides us with a new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1). We won’t live forever in the heaven to which we go when we die. That is an intermediate heaven. We will be with the Lord forever, but not in that intermediate state forever. Believers in heaven are conscious and active (Luke 19:16-31; 1 Thess. 5:10; but at blissful rest (Rev. 14:13) and assured in their conscience, contemplating God and his peace, which is still not yet complete but they know for sure is coming. Believers between physical death and the Resurrection are not yet in full possession of the kingdom of God, but they can see what we here can only believe in hope.[1] By the way, hell as we know it will also be replaced after the Great White Throne Judgment when it is cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15).

Will we be conscious after death? Since the immaterial separates from the material at physical death (Eccles 12:7), and the immaterial is our mind and spirit. It goes immediately into the Lord’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil 1:23; Luke 23:43), and they will not remain conscious (Dan 12:2-3; 2 Cor 5:8). The martyrs in heaven after their deaths cry out to the Lord for justice (Rev. 6:9-11). The idea of soul sleep among Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some early Anabaptists, and even Martin Luther himself is a misunderstanding of Paul’s euphemism for death in calling it sleep (1 Thess. 4:13-18; cf. John 11:11-14). Sleeping involves a body, so we can’t sleep. Who would want to sleep in the presence of Christ anyway?

Will our loved ones remember us? Yes, they will know us. We will know them when we get there (2 Sam 12:22-23; 1 Sam 28:14-19; Luke 16:27-28). It also seems on the basis of Samuel’s appearance to Saul, that Samuel has a longer view than Saul did and has some knowledge of what is coming.

[1] Karl Barth, Theology of John Calvin, 146-7, found in Russell Moore, “Doctrine of the Last Things,” A Theology for the Church, 902.