By Jacob Toman
So, back in March, we published an article called Death & Life After, part 1. And then...we failed to publish the second part of the series. But we have it ready now! If you’d like to catch up on the first part, click here before reading part 2 below.
In our first post about Death & Life we studied 4 beliefs Christians hold concerning death:
1. Death is something that humanity wasn’t originally designed for.
2. Death is the result of choices made by humanity.
3. When a person dies, they are separated from the world they’ve known prior to death.
4. Death doesn’t end a person’s existence.
The last of these 4 is the launching point for discussion today. If death doesn’t end a person’s existence, what happens after death?
There are 3 beliefs that Christians hold about what happens after death:
- After death a person’s spirit and body are separated, and the body ceases to function.
- After death a person continues to exist without their body for a period.
- After death a person is given an eternal destination for their ongoing existence.
After death a person’s spirit and body are separated, and the body ceases to function.
The body and spirit split in death. This separation isn’t as God originally created humanity. God made humanity to be a creature of one unified being - body and spirit. This is part of what makes death so dreadfully horrible. Death is a consequence of sin. In a person’s death, what never ought to take place, takes place. The unique spirit of an individual made in God’s image is evicted from the unique physical dwelling of the individual.
This separation means that both the body and spirit must have destinations. Christians believe that each person has an eternal state, a continuum of existence that persists beyond the death of a person. In this eternal state there are two places for people to dwell eternally. One dwelling is in the bliss of peace, rest, and glory. The other dwelling is a place of absolute anxiety and separation.
One of the most vivid examples we have in scripture of bodies and spirits separated is found in Ezekiel 37.
The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”
The physical bodies of these long deceased people are lifeless. It is not until God does a supernatural act that the dead are given “breath” or life. God shows himself to be the maker and giver of life. The bones of these people were nothing more than objects without the spirit of life within them.
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.
The bones became an army, a host of people listening to Ezekiel prophesy after life had been returned. Our bodies are nothing more than inanimate objects without the breath of life. Our bodies rot and decay over time without a person’s spirit. Our spirit continues on, outside of our bodies.
After death a person continues to exist without their body for a period.
Death is not the final “game over” for any person. Death is a cessation of one part of life and separation from physical body, but it is also a dynamic change in the existence of a person. Prior to death a person’s eternal condition is in a state of uncertainty. After death, the eternal dwelling of a person is sealed.
The details the bible gives us about life beyond death is often through word pictures, and descriptions of what is absent. Often times death is referred to as slumber or sleep:
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
1 Kings 2:10
This He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep." The disciples then said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.
This state of sleep isn’t one where a person ceases to exist. We are told multiple stories of people who have died and give an account of something of their experience after death. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells of a rich man who didn’t care for the poor and died. A beggar also died that lived near the rich man. Both men continues to exist even though their bodies have died. The rich man has a conversation with a poor beggar that the rich man neglected his whole earthly life. Both men exchange conversational lines during this exchange to further emphasize that they are not only conscious during the afterlife, but able to communicate.
While we’re not able to pin down what exactly are the parameters of life beyond the grave, we are able to say for certain that life continues beyond the physical body. What does that existence look like?
After death a person is given an eternal destination for their ongoing existence.
In the parable of the rich man and the beggar, both men are given new places of residence for their existence after their bodies have died. The book of Hebrews describes a scene after death that is reminiscent of a courtroom.
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.
This final judgement is one that ultimately is based on a person’s relationship to God. For those who are not in relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ, there will be an eternity of loneliness and sorrow. For those who have a relationship with God the creator through his son Jesus Christ, there is an eternity promised of peace, rest, and ultimately, a reunification of spirit and body.
For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.
1 Thessalonians 5:7-10
Here is another instance where sleep isn’t in reference to earthly unconsciousness. Death is inevitable, but what happens after death - the destination of the eternal existence of a person - is variable. For those who have faith, those who, as 1 Thessalonians puts it, “receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”, eternity isn’t a daunting, frightening prospect, but rather a hopeful one.
The reality of an eternal life beyond our present existence is one that may frighten you, or may make you curious. For us at Gospel & Gaming, we take seriously the reality of a person’s eternal residence; as missionaries our task is to share the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the one who came to resolve the broken relationship between humanity and God the creator. We hope that these two articles help give you a glimpse into what we as Christians believe about these questions of death and life afterwards.