“To be or not to be, that is the question.” (Hamlet: Act 3 Scene 1)
So stated the Melancholy Prince as he contemplated taking his own life. In this most famous of all Shakespeare’s Soliloquys, Prince Hamlet weighs the value of his painful life with the possibility of escape to a peaceful sleep in death. People still wonder about what will happen when they die. In this four part series we are examining the key questions of how some people think or have been taught, and what the Bible actually says.
In the first installment we presented some of the popular but erroneous concepts of life after death that many today, even some Christians, accept as fact. Here is quick review;
1. Total Annihilation – This view says simply that there is no life after death. It assumes with total resignation, that physical death is the end of conscious existence. It is typical of Naturalists.
2. Reincarnation – This view assumes that people’s conscious spirits are immortal and are reborn into new physical bodies. Those who hold this view actually can give no objective evidence, either scientific or historical, that it is valid. This is characteristic particularly in Far Eastern Thought and the New Age Movement.
3. Spiritism – Spiritism or Necromancy is the belief that when people die physically, their immortal spirits go to a disembodied spirit world. These spirits may be contacted by the living through mediums. We indicated that the Bible condemns all occult practices, especially Spiritism or Necromancy (see Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:9-22; I Samuel 28; I Chronicles 10:13,14; Isaiah 8:19; 19:3; 2 Kings 23:24; Acts 8:9-24; 13:5-12; 19:19-20).
4. “It’s a Wonderful Life” – Another misconception held by many people, even some Christians, is that when good people die they become angels in heaven. The Bible, however, gives no indication that this is the case. People do not become angels.
5. Conditional immortality – This view maintains that humans are not naturally immortal or have immortal souls. So, when people die, they wait in the grave in an unconscious state until a physical resurrection at the end of time. This is the official perspective of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So if all these views are wrong, what is right? We must go to the source of truth, the Bible, for our answers. In this installment, we look at what Scripture says about what happens at the time of death. In the following installments we will consider the final destinies of both the saved and the lost at the end of time.
Here are several essential teachings from Scripture on what happens at death.
The first thing to address is whether or not there is life after death at all. The Bible absolutely affirms the expectation that people will live on after this life. For Christians, this belief is based primarily on one of the best attested facts of ancient history; the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This belief is based on several key lines of evidence that are virtually indisputable. (1) Jesus Christ was crucified, was dead, and was buried. (2) His tomb was found empty on the first day of the week when examined by both friends and enemies. (3) More than 500 people were convinced they saw the risen Jesus after his resurrection. (4) The New Testament church was absolutely convinced the resurrection was true and no other reason can explain why it grew so rapidly in and around Jerusalem in just a few years (see: Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21; Acts 1; 1 Corinthians 15).
So, strong historical and eye-witness evidence supports the Christian contention of live after death. But what then will it be like? And will everyone experience it alike? The Bible provides good clues about what to expect.
At death, all people experience an interim period of a disembodied state waiting for bodily resurrection. The Bible indicates that when a person’s body dies, his or her spirit lives on. Believers are ushered immediately into the presence of Jesus. There they will stay in a conscious but disembodied state to await the final resurrection at the end of time. Unbelievers, likewise, will be in a conscious state until the Lord’s return when they also will be raised to face God’s judgment. But it will not be the same for both groups.
At death, this interim state has several joyous qualities for the Christian. First, in will be in the presence of God. (see: Ecclesiastes 12:7; Luke 16:22; 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; and 1 Thessalonians 4:14). Second, it will be in a heaven like place called Paradise (see Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Revelation 2:7). Third, the believer will be completely awake, fully conscious, and communicative (see Matthew 22:31-32; Luke 16:22-23; John 11:26; Philippians 1:23). Finally, it will be a state of blessed rest (see Revelation 14:13). Thus, it will be a blessed, but incomplete, state of existence for the believer.
In contrast, at death this interim state has dire qualities for the unbeliever. As with the believer, the unbeliever will be fully awake, conscious, and communicative (see Luke 16:23-26). However, It will be a place of separation from God (see Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:23-26). Also, it will a place of torment for the lost, but not their final state of existence (see Luke 16:23-26; 2 Peter 2:9). That will be determined at the final judgment.
In both cases, for the believer and the unbeliever, these interim states are temporary. Life after death has its fulfillment in a bodily resurrection and final judgment where all people will be consigned either to eternal life in heaven or eternal separation from God in hell. These final destinations will be subjects of the following two installments.
© 2012 Tal Davis