The Mystery of Life After Death

Vol. 28 No. 4 | May-Jun 2018

On May 10, 2000, my father died. During the funeral service, the priest attempted to comfort my grieving family. “Did you know, dear friends, that Frank is up in heaven?”

Despite the fact that my father was considered to be a very good man, and the priest had just stated he was in heaven, according to the Catholic Church he wasn’t quite there yet. He was in purgatory being purified for heaven. Catholics will pay for special masses to be said, to shorten their loved ones’ stay in purgatory. For a very considerable sum of money, my family made sure that my father received this benefit.

As the homily ended, the priest directed his closing remarks toward the hope of the resurrection. “Don’t be troubled. On the resurrection morning, Frank will be called from the grave.”

Knowing the Bible truth about the dead, my daughter and I sadly shook our heads. Why couldn’t thinking people see the inconsistencies? How could my deceased father be in more than one place at the same time? And how could such confusion be considered “comfort” for us?

A few months later, my sister Rosemary asked, “People say that Dad is here, or he’s there, but I want to know where Dad really is. Is he watching us now? Does he watch us all the time? It all seems sort of spooky.”

Using her Catholic Bible, we showed her the text in Eccles. 9:5: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”

We also told her about Lazarus and how Jesus described death as a sleep. According to the Bible, Dad was neither in heaven, nor in purgatory, but in the grave waiting for the resurrection. Relieved, she admitted, “This really makes sense. I believe it. This is so comforting.”

I. WHAT IS DEATH?

1. When a man dies, what happens to his emotions? Eccles. 9:5, 6His thoughts? Psalms 146:3, 4

His memory? Psalm 6:5

2. How does the Bible describe the state of death? John 11:11–14; Psalm 13:3
3. Where are the dead while they experience this “sleep”? Acts 2:29, 34, 13:36; Dan. 12:2
4. Where will the dead be when Jesus resurrects them? John 5:28, 29
5. When do the dead—both righteous and unrighteous—receive their eternal reward? Matt. 25:31–34, 41, 46

The Bible shows that the dead “sleep” in their graves until Christ resurrects them. The righteous do not go straight to heaven, nor do the unrighteous go straight to hell when they die. Therefore, people are not immediately rewarded or punished when they die. This happens for the righteous when Jesus returns and at a later resurrection for the unrighteous.

II. WHAT IS THE SOUL?

1. At Creation, how did God transform man’s body into a living soul? Gen. 2:7
2. What happens to the living soul at death? Eccles. 12:7; Gen. 3:19

The word “spirit” in Ecclesiastes 12:7 comes from the Hebrew ruwach, literally, “breath.” In Job 27:3, the parallel is clear. “All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils.” When God takes back the breath of life, the soul ceases to live.

III. CAN THE DEAD TALK TO US?

1. What does God say about conversing with spirits of the dead? Lev. 19:31
2. What deceptions will occur in the last days regarding the dead? 1 Tim. 4:1

God warns that in the last days some people will be communicating with “seducing spirits,” which can deceive us by appearing in familiar forms, such as church members, friends, or relatives who have died.

IV. WHAT IS HELL?

The term “hell” conjures up pictures of people writhing in flames of eternal torment. Did you know that the Bible teaches something very different about hell than most churches teach? The Bible’s references to “hell” (sheol in Hebrew and hades in Greek) are commonly translated “grave” or place of the dead. To understand the truth about hell, let’s start with a study on the fires of hell.

 

1. For whom was the “everlasting fire” originally prepared? Matt. 25:41
2. How did Jude describe the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Jude 7
3. According to the Bible, how will the chaff (or wicked) be destroyed? Matt. 3:12
4. What will be the final destiny of Satan? Rev. 20:10
5. Who else will be destroyed in this lake of fire? Rev. 20:14, 15; 21:8
6. How does God feel about the death of the wicked? Ezek. 33:11

On a number of occasions, the Bible refers to the fires of hell as eternal or everlasting. But the Jewish idea of everlasting was related to effect, not time. Ex. 21:6; 1 Sam. 1:22, 28. “Everlasting fire” is the fire that cannot be quenched until it has completed its destruction. Only the effects of the fire are eternal.

V. WILL HELL EVER BURN OUT?

1. Ultimately, what will be the final state of the wicked? Psalm 37:10, 20; Mal. 4:1, 3
2. When all traces of sin have been destroyed in the universe, what has God promised? Nah. 1:9; Rev. 21:4

Ashes and coals are all that will be left of sin and sinners. A God of love would not punish sinners forever.

VI. THE RESURRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS

1. What is God’s purpose for those who believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son? John 3:16
2. At the Second Coming, what happens to the righteous dead who “sleep in Jesus”? 1 Thess. 4:13–17

Martha, Lazarus’ sister, understood this plain teaching of Scripture. When Jesus told her that she would see her brother alive again, she responded, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” John 11:24.

3. At the resurrection, what will become of our mortal bodies? 1 Cor. 15:51–54
4. What comfort did Jesus give His church when facing persecution? Rev. 2:10

Even faithful Christians who are martyred may be comforted because their physical death is still only a sleep. God has promised to resurrect all faithful believers.

5. What will ultimately happen to the righteous? Rev. 21:1–3, 23, 24

God’s faithful people will ultimately live on Earth, in the New Jerusalem, with God and Jesus Christ forever.

SUMMARY

When a man dies, all his thoughts perish. He is not aware of anything. The Bible describes this unconscious state as a sleep. Therefore, the dead cannot actually communicate with the living. However, evil spirits can impersonate familiar dead friends or relatives.

When the dead are buried in the grave, the righteous do not rise again until the resurrection at the Second Coming. Job 14:10–15. The wicked who did not believe in Jesus are resurrected later for eternal destruction in the lake of fire. All that is sinful will be burned until nothing is left. But Christian believers who died having accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will be resurrected by Jesus to inherit eternal life.

COMMITMENT

If I die before Christ returns, by the grace of God I want to be a part of the resurrection of the righteous. In the meantime, I want to be protected from deceptions about the dead.

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