Wednesday, February 05, 2014

What happens after we die? Part 2

English: The Shade of Samuel Invoked by Saul Р...
The Shade of Samuel Invoked by Saul Русский: Аэндорская волшебница вызывает тень пророка Самуила (Wikipedia)
(Part of a series on death and the hereafter)

The prior post looked at five questions about what happens when we die. Today we look at five more.

Do we become an angels after we die? No. We will be like angels only in that we, like they, will no longer die (Luke 20:36). Angels are actually lower life forms than human beings who are made in the image of God.[1] Angels are created beings as servants of those who are redeemed (Heb 1:14). They are of differing makeup, do not have access to redemption, and are only following along as servants wanting to know what is taking place (1 Peter 1:12). Why would one want to step down in created order from the grace of redemption and authority over the earth (Gen 1:26-30).

Will we be judged when we die?
Yes, but only what is called the judgment of faith. Our initial judgment is based on our faith in Jesus Christ, not our works (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). There is some disagreement about when believers are judged on their works. Those who are pre-tribulational envision the judgment of rewards to come during the Tribulation in heaven, between the Rapture and the physical return of Christ to earth. The final judgment will be the judgment of works for both believers and unbelievers before the judgment seat of Christ (Rom 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Cor 3:13-14). The final judgment will determine rewards (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-28; 3:21). Unbelievers face a final judgment at the Great White Throne just before the beginning of Eternity (Rev 20:11-13).

Is this heaven part of our universe or another? Some have trouble envisioning an unseen realm, but scientists at Yale, Princeton, and Stanford postulate the string theory that there are ten unobservable dimensions and likely an infinite number of imperceptible universes. If leading scientists believe this, then why would anyone feel self-conscious believing in one unobservable dimension, a spiritual realm of angels, demons, heaven, and hell? Stephen saw into that realm once just before he died (Acts 7:55-56). Elisha prayed and God showed his servant Gehazi a glimpse of the spirit realm (2 Kings 6:17).[2]

Will Time be no more? Some, like the venerable evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce, argue that there is no such thing as an intermediate state. They say that once physical death occurs, time ends, we enter eternity (kind of an eternal now), and we immediately experience the resurrection of the body. Since we have entered timelessness, the resurrection may seem later to those of us on the time-bound earth, but it seems immediate to the dead.
John Hammett doubts this idea for several reasons. First, the Bible seems to teach that time continues until the End-time. That may sound either simplistic or smart aleck, but note that the martyrs in Revelation 6 seem to exist in time. They ask how long until their deaths are avenged. They are told to wait a little longer (Rev. 6:10-11). It also seems that angels learn things in time, not in an eternal now, but as history unfolds (1 Peter 1:12; Eph 3:10).

Also, the Bible seems to teach that there are four focal points in history: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. We now live in an intermediate time between Christ’s Redemption and the Consummation of all things. Therefore it does not sound too far afield after physical death to live in the intermediate state, looking forward to the Consummation of Christ’s purposes.

What about ghosts and contacting the dead? The Scripture is clear that we should not try to contact the dead (Deut. 18:10-11; Isaiah 8:19-20). In the incident of Saul and the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:8-16, Saul was clearly doing something he should not have been doing, and the appearance of Samuel, causing the witch to cry out in fear indicates that this was an exceptional situation and not one we should seek. Seances or contacting the dead is forbidden because people are trafficking with demonic familiar spirits. But what about ghosts? Are they the departed dead? Can they contact us? Is there a basis for ghost stories or the claims of appearances? The great cloud of witnesses is cheering us on from heaven (Heb 12:1).

[1] The translation in KJV of Psalm 8:5 man being made “a little lower than the angels,” the Hebrew actually reads, “made a little lower than Elohim,” i.e., God.
[2]Several of these questions are found in Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Nashville: Tyndale House, 2004), 41-49.