Church of God, New World Ministries

What Happens After Death?

You have known people who have died. Perhaps you have had a close brush with death yourself. Death is indeed a fact of life. It is around us everywhere, in newspaper headlines, on radio and television. Every day around this plague-ridden, war-wracked world, tens of thousands of people die. Millions die each year from sickness, disease, accidents, old age – you name it.

 The record of history is, in one sense, nothing but the obituary of mankind. Except perhaps, for those in the last chapter, all the people you’ve read about in history books are now dead.

Death isn’t a pleasant subject to discuss at the dinner table or with friends on the way to work. But it is a question that lingers, that nags in the back of people’s minds.

We have all lost close friends, relatives, or a brother or sister. What happens to them at death? Will you ever see them again? More important did you ever seriously consider what will happen to you when you die?

Isn’t it time that you quit wondering? Isn’t it time you found out what death is? The answers are available. Helping you find them is the purpose of this article.

Speculation about the hereafter has been rife throughout history. In most early cultures the afterlife, it was believed, consisted of a series of rewards and punishments for conduct here on earth. The followers of ancient Persian religion adopted the notion of a spiritual bridge to be crossed at death – broad for the righteous and narrow for the wicked -- which would fall into hell.

From ancient India came the idea that souls “transmigrated” upward or downward in successive reincarnations, depending on attitudes and conduct in the previous life. In ancient Egypt, there was a pre-occupation with the idea of reuniting the body and soul after death. To effectuate this, the body was carefully preserved by mummification while the soul was thought to haunt a special chamber near the tomb.

Plato considered immortality an intricate part of mans’ nature. Augustine also regarded men’s souls as being essentially eternal.

But not everyone accepted the concept of man’s intrinsic immortality. The Epicureans and Stoics believed that there was no hereafter. The Sadducees of Jesus’ day likewise rejected the idea, taught by the Pharisees, that the dead would be resurrected from their graves at some future date.

However, after traditional Christianity became established in the Western world, the concept of a resurrection proliferated as evidenced by the custom in ancient Sweden of burying a looking glass with an unmarried woman so that she could fix her hair on the day of the resurrection, or the ancient Irish practice of removing the nails from the coffin lid just before lowering it into the grave so that the dead would have no trouble getting out on the day of judgment.

Many of today’s secular thinkers are generally skeptical of an afterlife. But the view currently held by most of the world’s religions is that man is some kind of immortal soul in a material body, and that this would will be punished or rewarded after the man dies.

The prospect of living forever has intrigued man through the centuries. But only in recent years has man actually attempted by technological means to achieve immortality. This new technology is called the science of cryogenics.

Associations have been formed for people who believe that if their bodies are quick-frozen when they die, perhaps sometime in the future – 50 years, 100 years, or even a 1000 years, who knows? – Science may eventually discover a cure for whatever it was that killed them. They would then be thawed out, revived, and administered the cure, and thus be granted renewed physical life (and eternal life if science could somehow learn to control the aging process). Currently, few have taken this notion of man-made immortality very seriously. But it does demonstrate the depth of man’s desire to live forever.

Since death is such a common-place occurrence and it so inevitable, you would think it’s one topic science and philosophy would so thoroughly understand that no one would have a doubt about what it is. But where is the great work of philosophy or literature which proves the existence of an afterlife, and what is it like? Where is the science text which details what happens to humans after they die?

Death is one subject about which humans beings should be educated. Yet, it is the one area in which most of us seem to know little or nothing.  We could know. But our society has rejected the one source which could tell us. That source is the book upon which Christianity is supposedly based, the Bible.

Have you ever looked into this most neglected book to find out what it really says about death? It may not say what you think it says.

For the first time in history, people who were pronounced dead have been medically revived. They have reported exactly what “death” is like. Said one South African heart transplant patient: “I was dead, absolutely lifeless for 70 minutes. I have visited the great beyond, and I can assure you that there is nothing there, emptiness, just zero.”

According to God’s Word, the dead are exactly that – dead! They have no consciousness or thought processes. The Old Testament writer Job wrote: “So man lieth down (dies), and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep” (Job 14:12). They are figuratively asleep and will remain so, as long as the present scheme of things continues.

Now notice Eccl. 3:19: “For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast.  As a dog dies, so dies a man. As a cow or ox dies, so die human beings. That is what your Bible says.

When a human being dies, “that very day their thoughts perish” (Ps. 146:4), and “the dead know not any thing” (Eccl. 9:5). This may not be what you have been taught or heard. But these are the plain statements of the Bible.

Even David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), “is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us until this day,” said the apostle Peter (Acts 2:29). David has not gone to heaven (Acts 2:34). He is in his grave unconscious, just like every other human being who has ever died, except Jesus Christ.

The Bible is plain! Death means death – not life in some other form or place. Yet the Bible also teaches that the dead will not remain in their graves forever. Rather, the Word of God talks of a raising back to life, a resurrection, a resurrecting of human beings.

Large sections, even whole chapters of books such as Ezekiel, picture a resurrection from the dead, not only of individuals, but also of entire nations.

Jesus Christ, the central figure of the Bible, said: “I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25). He spoke of a resurrection of the just and the unjust. Indeed, the resurrection of the dead was the focal point of the message of the New Testament church. The hope of the Christian and his basis for belief in Jesus Christ revolves around the fact of the resurrection from the dead. I Cor. 15:17 describes the Christian faith: “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” Actually, the entirety of Christian belief stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection.

Paul firmly believed in a resurrection from the dead. Once he found himself caught in the middle of an absolutely tumultuous controversy between the religious organizations of that day because of his belief in the resurrection (Acts 23:6-10). In other historical accounts of the Bible are examples of the resurrection of human beings to physical life. The most famous occurred when Jesus resurrected Lazarus in the sight of many Jews. The entire plan of God is, in fact, centered around the fact that every man, woman, and child who had ever lived will ultimately be raised from the dead.

The Bible speaks not only of a resurrection, but also of resurrections. Notice Rev. 20:5, last part: “This is the first resurrection.”

The Bible reveals that the “first resurrection” is to occur at: Christ’s second coming. Note Paul’s description of the event: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (I Thess. 4:16). Paul said to the Corinthians: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible (immortal)” (I Corth. 15:51-52).

But what about those who died, never having an opportunity to be converted, these millions who never had a chance to learn and know God’s truth? What about the kindreds of millions alive today in Asia and Africa and on other continents who have never even heard the name of Jesus Christ, the only name whereby men can be saved (Acts 4;12), much less done what he says?

Will these multitudes fry, sizzle and blister in an ever-burning hell, writhing and screaming in a seething, burning pool of lava, leaping from one hot brick to another, shrieking out their agony for all eternity, just because they were guilty of being born into the wrong place or time?

Is there such an everlasting hell? Jesus Christ faced the question about what will happen to the multitudes who have lived and died in spiritual ignorance. And He answered it! He spoke of a resurrection to life, the first resurrection and of a resurrection to “judgment” (John 5:29). (This verse is incorrectly rendered in the KJV. The word “damnation” in the KJV is properly translated “judgment” in modern versions.)The resurrection to judgment, of which Christ spoke, is a second resurrection. It occurs a thousand years after the first resurrection. That is why we read in Revelation 20:5 “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” This part of verse five should have been translated as a parenthetical thought. It should have been placed within parentheses because the preceding verses and the last half of verse 5 are about the first resurrection.

John writing about what he saw in this second resurrection, the resurrection to judgment says, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God” (vs. 11-12). Here, the rest of the dead, those billions who never had a previous opportunity for salvation, are pictured as having come back to physical life in a second resurrection.

Try to picture this colossal event in your mind: multiple millions, even billions of people, a veritable sea of human beings who never had the opportunity to understand God and his Word before: the men and women, small and great, of ancient Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome; peasants and nobility of the Middle Ages; the millions who have been taught atheism in China, and Russia and elsewhere; those who have died from sickness or were killed in warfare through the centuries; your friends and relatives who have died – all suddenly brought back to life in a resurrection to “judgment”! But how will they be judged?

Notice again in Revelation 20:12 “and the books were opened.” What books? The Greek word for “books” in this case is Biblia, which is the root world for “Bible.” “The books” here means the books of the Bible, by which we are all to be judged!

Continuing: “and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Their names are in the (or given a chance to have their names written in the book of life) picturing salvation being made available to them. They will be able to compare the results of Christ’s 1,000-year reign on the earth (v.5) with the world of sin they previously lived in. The overwhelming majority will certainly choose life and begin to live God’s way of joy and abundance.

During this period of judgment, the “book of life” is still open. Here are people who have their names put into the book of life, who can qualify for eternal life. This period of judgment will not be a sentencing for deeds done solely in past ignorance. These billions will, instead, be given the wonderful opportunity to hear, accept, and live a life free from the burdens of a sinful society such as we now have.

“But, you may ask, “what about the wicked, those who refuse to obey God, those who have already had their chance to do God’s will, but have spurned his mercy? What will happen to them?”

The Bible reveals that they, too, will be resurrected, in yet a third resurrection. Turn to Revelation 20:13-14:”And the sea gave up the dead which were in it: and death and hell (hades in Greek, meaning “grave”) delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”

Notice that there is no book of life here. Their names have already been blotted out! What a tragic fate – and all could have avoided it! They will be cast into what is called the “lake of fire.” They will be burned up. They will suffer the “second death” – the death from which there will be no resurrection. The lake of fire will be the absolute end of the wicked. They will have no more life, no more existence, forever!

God doesn’t look forward to imposing such a fate on anyone. He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (I Peter 3:9). But for the rebellious, God has no other choice. Disobedience produces unhappiness, and God will not allow humans to be unhappy for all eternity. He will, therefore, mercifully destroy the wicked.

But for the righteous, undoubtedly the great majority of human beings, God offers “pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone “forever” (Rev. 21:4). 

God reveals there is a life after death, a beautiful, joyous, abundant life in splendor and glory for all eternity, but only for those who obey Him! Will that include you?

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