What happens after death?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Ministries

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.

What are some recent developments in the "what happens after death" question?

Stephen Hawking, world-renowned theoretical physicist, says that heaven is a "fairy story." Really? How exactly can Hawking make such a statement, considering heaven is a realm that cannot be examined by physics, theoretical or otherwise? Ultimately, Hawking and other 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. Hawking is undeniably a brilliant physicist, but this statement (and others) reveal the truth of Psalm 14:1, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Hawking allows his hatred towards the idea of God to lead him into making foolish statements he cannot possibly know and definitely cannot prove.

Hawking believes that 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, Hawking (and other 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 Hawking, because he recognizes that belief in the afterlife ultimately must lead to belief in the spiritual, which ultimately leads to belief in God.

On the opposite side from Hawking's irrational and condescending statement, lately, there has been 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 have 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. One thing the books should do, though, is motivate us to seek after the one truly important question:

What does the Bible say about what happens after death?

It would be great if all followers of Jesus Christ had the exact same beliefs in regards to 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. Let's save that futile effort for a future blog post.

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 spend eternity in hell (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. 'Nuff said!

Related article: "What happens after death?"


Image credit: M62; "Angel sculpture"; Creative Commons

TagsEternity  | False-Teaching

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Published 5-20-11