A few months ago we were eating at Boondocks, a restaurant in Glen Arbor Michigan, as Ashley posed a question/thought at a table filled with my brother in law Dave, my sister Beth, and myself. She knew about her dad’s eternity, she had assurance from God’s grace…but what happened the moment he died? The moment he breathed his last breath what happened? It is this question that is going to drive my next few blog posts. Not specifically about Bud, but about all of us. What happens the moment we die?
Everyone seems to have an interest in the afterlife. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes that God has planted eternity in the hearts of men. In other words everyone everywhere wants to know about the afterlife. What happens when we die, where do we go, what do we do when we get there? Is Hell real? What are we going to do in Heaven, will we get bored?
The last few years there has been a multitude of books that give first hand testimonies of these questions. The most popular of these being the book Heaven is for Real. This book was number one on the New York Times best seller list for 156 weeks in a row (as of November 2013).
Here is a description of the book from Amazon.com:
“A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven. Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us. Told by the father, but often in Colton’s own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.”
People read these things in this book and they are captivated by it. They are drawn to it. They soak it up. They soak it because everyone wants to know about the afterlife.
There are several books in the same category-covering Heaven and Hell. Going to the “Christian” book store section in most stores will have these books front and center. Some of these stories appear interesting, maybe even inspiring. What all these stories have in common are they are all subjective experiences. These books all contradict each other, and contradict scripture. It is important that people don’t confuse where they find their answers for a critical questions such as, “What happens after we die?” Our source of authority should be scripture. I could write an entire post on the dangers of these books, maybe another day, but today I want to dive in to what scripture says will happen when we die.
2 Corinthians Chapter 5
Our Future after Death
For we know that if our temporary, earthly dwelling is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. Indeed, we groan in this body, desiring to put on our dwelling from heaven, since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. And the One who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.
So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight, and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord. Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless.
Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we seek to persuade people. We are completely open before God, and I hope we are completely open to your consciences as well. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to be proud of us, so that you may have a reply for those who take pride in the outward appearance rather than in the heart. For if we are out of our mind, it is for God; if we have a sound mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died. And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
From now on, then, we do not know anyone in a purely human way. Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way, yet now we no longer know Him in this way. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
First scripture says your spirit will separate from your body. Scripture teaches us that our souls never die. We are not merely physical beings. Our current physical body is our temporary home. When our bodies die, as all will, our souls will go to be with God. Paul uses a metaphor to help us in chapter 5. He says our body is like a tent. Our bodies won’t last. They will break down eventually.
When we die we will know our eternal destiny. Most people in American almost all seem to believe in universalism. This is the belief that, for the most part, when you die everyone goes to Heaven. This seems appealing. People like to hear it. At minimum- at funerals, all people become universalist. Everyone likes to assume that a person is ok. In America it seems we determine what we want to be true based on what we like. If I like it, then it must be true- or- if it doesn’t feel right then it must not be true. Truth is subjective then. That’s not reality though. Truth it true regardless of if you like it or not. Those who die without Christ will instantly experience the punishment.
2 Thessalonian 1: 3-12
We must always thank God for you, brothers. This is right, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you among God’s churches—about your endurance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure. It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, since it is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to reward with rest you who are afflicted, along with us. This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength in that day when He comes to be glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed. And in view of this, we always pray for you that our God will consider you worthy of His calling, and will, by His power, fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified by you, and you by Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christians.
When you die there are two possible paths that can be taken. When we die our bodies die- but our souls are made to live forever. Any person who doesn’t know Jesus, their souls go to “Hades”. A place of torment, agony, pain, regret, etc… It is a place where God is not. When Jesus returns at the second coming, their souls receive a physical body, and we read about the fact that they will stand before the great white thrown of judgment.
Revelations 20: 13-15
Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
The other path that we read about is for those who have accepted God’s gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus. The Bible teaches that for Christians when we die, we go directly to be with God.
And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” When Jesus returns we will receive a new body for the new Heaven and the new Earth. An example of this is Jesus tells God before His death that His spirit will go to Him. His spirit goes to God- His body goes to a tomb. Three days later He receives a resurrected physical body. One day this will be true for us. We will die- our spirit will go to be with God. Our body is buried, and when Jesus returns we receive a new body. A new physical resurrected body.
Before that point, some people have this idea that we will be these spirits that float around clouds, etc.. Paul addresses that in the beginning of 2 Corinthians chapter 5.
One day we will all have healed bodies. We will not have any more flaws. No more knee pains, no more cancer, no more chest pain, no more asthma, no more diabetes, no more death. We will all have bodies of which God originally intended- free from the pollution of sin.
So when we die, our souls separate from our body- but we are with God. We will know our eternal destiny. We will still stand before God on the day of Judgment (v. 10).
This, at first, seems scary…knowing that we will have to stand before God…But read Romans 8:1-4.
Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
I think this day will be focused more on God’s grace rather than our condemnation. God’s amazing grace will be revealed to us. I don’t know how this will be. One possibility I imagine is there being a gigantic book in front of me. A huge book that will list every sin I have ever done. This book gets opened and all the pages are blank. They are blank because Jesus took my sin upon Himself. Another possibility, I stand in front of God and there is an account of all the sin I have ever committed. I would realize the gravity of my sin. I would realize the seriousness, and the wrath due to me that I deserve. And then I realize that there is nothing I could ever do to earn my way into Heaven- Jesus did it for me. All debt is paid, all dues are collected, and all fines are erased. That’s grace. I can also see God going through every single sin with me, at first it is humiliating and embarrassing- but eventually it becomes less about what I have done- and more about what He has done for me. The gratitude I would feel. That’s grace. Whatever it is like, I know it will be a day of no condemnation. God’s grace will be reveled and all of creation will worship Him.
We hear judge and we naturally think we will be punished. This is not always the case. For Christians it will be a day of rewards.
1 Corinthians 3: 14-15
If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.
It is important to realize that this is not our home, we are here for just a little while…so we must put our time into something that will have an impact for trillions of years.
You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.
The ESV version says mist. This life is just a mist. It is gone before we know it. We are never guaranteed tomorrow. Today could be the day that you die. If not today, someday death will come. It is not a question of if- only when.
If that is true- if our entire lives here are just a mist, then doesn’t it change everything? We shouldn’t be living for now, we should be living for later. We should be giving our lives to something that will last, not something that will be here and quickly vanish. Let’s not waste our lives.