I’m in a church sponsored small group. We’ve been studying the book of Ecclesiastes and last night we came to chapter 12. The chapter seemed very confusing until we realized that Solomon was speaking with symbols about the dying parts of the body. Solomon is describing what it’s like to grow old and die.
We got into a rousing discussion about what happens after death. Since most of the people in our small group are new Christians, they have a lot of thoughts about what happens when we die! They had no idea what the Bible said about the subject.
Would you mind addressing this issue? We are continuing our discussion next Wednesday night.
Death and dying are the subject on the back burners of everyone’s minds from preschoolers to the oldest adult. Some 9-year-old children were asked what they thought of death and dying.
Brittney: “When you die, they bury you in the ground and your soul goes to heaven, but your body can’t go to heaven because it is too crowded up there already.”
Judy: “Only the good people go to heaven. The other people to where it is hot all the time like in Arizona.”
John: “Maybe I’ll die someday, but I hope I don’t die on my birthday because it is no fun to celebrate your birthday if you’re dead.”
Martha: “When you die, you don’t have to do homework in heaven, unless your teacher is there, too.”
Let me begin by sharing six of the most common misconceptions regarding what happens after death. Then, I will review yesterday believes of the major world religions. Finally I will share what the Bible says is going to happen to us as we pass on to eternity.
FIRST, NO LIFE AFTER DEATH.
This is the view of naturalistic, secular humanist that says there is no God. When we die there is nothing. I suppose everything just goes dark when the lights are turned out.
This view is primarily espoused today by Richard Dawkins. He is a devout atheist who has made a career attempting to debunk Christianity and take away hope from all those who follow Christ.
Claiming that there is no God takes a lot of faith especially when scientific discoveries are making the reality of God more believable all the time. Quantum Mechanics is proven to be true at every point it has been tested. According to quantum mechanics some higher being had to exist before the birth of the universe. This is downward causation. God is the agent of downward causation.
This is what makes Hebrews 12:6 so exciting. The author says that God made the universe out of nothing. This Bible verse, written 2000 years ago, in some manner describes quantum mechanics.
It breaks my heart that Dawkins and other atheists are trying to take away the hope that is within us as Christians. Memories are strong; but hope is stronger. People can live without memories; but they struggle to live without hope. Shame on Dawkins for dashing peoples’ hope in the afterlife!
SECOND, SOUL SLEEP
“Soul sleep” is the belief that after a person dies, his/her soul “sleeps” until the resurrection and final judgment. The concept of “soul sleep” is not biblical.
Paul refuted that when he taught that for believers, as soon as we die we immediately are in the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Philippians 1:23).
Until the final resurrection, there is a temporary heaven called “Paradise” (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4). The temporary hell is known as “Hades” (Revelation 1:18; 20:13-14). In Jesus story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar, as told by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31, no one in Hades is sleeping.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church and Jehovah's Witnesses, just to name a few, are believers in soul sleep.
Reincarnation is the idea that after we die, we return again and again for multiple lives. Life is a cycle of coming and going, birth and death.
Many believe that a good and blessed life is a reflection of how well we behaved in previous lives. The better we were, the farther up the food chain we return.
Reincarnation is foreign to the Bible. The Bible teaches just the opposite. Hebrews 9:27 declares: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that comes judgment."
The idea of reincarnation has been around for millennia. Think about it. After wintertime came Spring and the planting of crops. Plants grew in the summer and were harvested in the Fall. Everything died in the winter and then came alive again in the Spring. It’s easy to see why ancient peoples believed in reincarnation. They experienced it in the repeating seasons.
FOURTH, THE BRIGHT LIGHT
We’ve all heard people testify of near death experiences in which they look down a long hall and see a bright light. I have some experience with that.
Fighter pilots wear pressure suits to keep them conscious during high-speed turns. It is possible for a pilot to make such a tight turn that the blood begins to drain out of his brain. At about 9 Gs his field of vision has closed in on all sides to produce a long tunnel with only a small light at the end.
I had heart rhythm problems since I was 13. On numerous occasions my heart rhythm went into supra ventricular tachycardia, when the upper chambers beat over 400 times per minute and the lower chambers, the ventricles, tried to keep up. The result was a quivering heart with no pumping action.
With no blood going to my brain, everything started to go dark. When SVTs hit, I knew that I had only seconds to get on the ground. I was going down.
You know what it’s like when you stare too long at an electric light bulb? That’s what it looked like to me when my heart was failing to get blood to my brain. There was nothing spiritual about this. It was totally explainable as a physical manifestation.
The idea behind Purgatory is that many people are not good enough to go straight to heaven. They are placed in a “holding tank” until enough people pray for them so that they can get out of purgatory and on to Heaven.
Purgatory is never mentioned in the Bible. It is mentioned in one of the apocryphal books that were written by the Jews for the first century. The Jews do not accept this book as divinely inspired. Unfortunately, it is seen as Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church. It did not make it into the actual Canon of the 27 books of the New Testament.
The idea of Purgatory comes from 2 Maccabees 12:39-46. By acting honorably Judas Maccabaeus was qualified to make atonement for friends who had been involved in sin. These men needed someone to pray them out of hell.
I must mention that there is one enigmatic verse concerning this subject. In 1 Corinthians: 15:29 Paul mentioned people who were being baptized for the dead.
“Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?”
This is the only time that this subject is ever mentioned in the Scriptures. Good biblical hermeneutics says that it’s not good to build a doctrine around one inscrutable verse with no other supporting verses in the Bible.
SIXTH: ST. PETER AT THE GATE
There seems to be an idea commonly accepted by many Americans that when they die they will meet St. Peter at the gate. On the basis of their behaviors on earth Peter will determine whether they can go to heaven or must go to hell.
Unfortunately, too many people feel that the Bible teaches that going to heaven or hell is based on how many “ goods” or “bads” they’ve done.
That is never true. Going to heaven or hell is based on our response to the gospel. Jesus died on the cross to forgive the sins of the world and whoever believes in Him might have sins forgiven and live eternally.
SEVENTH: THE TRUTH OF THE BIBLE
Jesus promised that at the moment of our death He will personally take us by the hand and escort us to our new home in Heaven. This is not a job for angels. He reserves for Himself the right to personally accompany us into Heaven’s glory (John 14:1-6).
Death is nothing to fear; in fact, we Christians can look forward to it with anxious anticipation. In Philippians 1:21-23, Paul declared: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”
TEACHINGS ABOUT THE AFTERLIFE FROM SOME MAJOR WORLD RELIGIONS
Most of the world’s religions have a strong viewpoint regarding life and death. Nearly all the religions believe in afterlife, reincarnation, heaven and hell, or soul
MUSLIMS believe that death is a movement from one world to another. It can be described as a journey through a separate dimension of existence.
HINDUS believe in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls. According to Hinduism, death is a natural process in the existence of soul. When a person dies, the soul travels to another world and finally returns to the earth to continue its journey.
BUDDHISTS view death as taking a break from the materialistic world. Buddhists do not view death as a continuation of the soul but consider it as an awakening. They believe in reincarnation: once a person dies he/she will be reborn to a new life and the status of that life depends on the work he did before his previous death.
Paul declared: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” I am like Paul. I look forward to meeting Christ face to face!
Bonita, I hope you find this helpful. I’ll say a prayer right now for your small group to know the truth and be set free!