Dying and death

WHAT HAPPENS TO ME AFTER I DIE?

 We are all different in so many ways… but one thing that’s common to us is that sooner or later we die. It’s a fact of life! But what happens next?

Although, sadly, some people die when they are young, most of us grow old before our life ends. The Bible tells us about the time following death and answers questions such as: What does it feel like? Where will I go? Who will be there? What awaits me?

Whatever our view about death, let’s be encouraged that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “Death has been swallowed up in victory!”

Many questions are asked about death and ‘being dead’. For example:

  • What happens to your spirit/soul the moment you take your final breath?
  • What does dying feel like?
  •  Is there a ‘holding area’ for everyone until Christ returns and judges the world?
  • Do Christians go straight to Heaven and non-Christians to Hell?
  • Is Heaven “up there” and Hell “down there”?
  •  Where and what is “Paradise”?
  •  Will we see and know our loved ones again? (If so, what body will they have?)
  •  Can the dead see what is happening on earth?
  •  Do the dead remember what happened to them on earth?
  •  Is there such a thing as ghosts?
  •  Do children who die appear as stars in the sky?
  •  Has anyone ever been to Heaven and come back to earth?
  • Other than Jesus, has any human being ever been raised from the dead, never to die again?
  •  What difference did the resurrection of Jesus make to our destiny after death?
  •  Will there be a ‘second chance’ for people to repent at the end of the world?

Before we continue further…

There is no way that we can cover everything in one article… the Bible has so much to say on this subject. Consequently, I shall not be covering the 2nd Coming of Christ or making more than a passing reference to the Revelation given to John. Bear in mind, however, that the New Testament reveals things that are only dimly seen in the Old.

Whatever your view about death and the hereafter, I want to give a strong reassurance about two things…

  1. First, John writes in I John 3:2 that “when we see Him (the Son of God) we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is
  2. Second, Jesus’ words recorded in John 14: 1-3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Whatever we might agree or disagree about, we can be confident of the fact that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

 Even in the secular world there is a desire for eternal security… For instance, here are the words of a song written by Paul Francis Webster called I’ll Walk With God:

I’ll walk with God from this day on

His helping hand I’ll lean upon

This is my prayer, my humble plea:

May the Lord be ever with me

There is no death, though eyes grow dim

There is no fear when I’m near to Him

I’ll lean on Him forever

And He’ll forsake me never

He will not fail me as long as my faith is strong

Whatever road I may walk along

I’ll walk with God’ I’ll take His hand

I’ll talk with God—He’ll understand

I’ll pray to Him, each day to Him

And He’ll hear the words that I say

His hand will guide my throne and rod

And I’ll never walk alone while I walk with God.

In considering the issues relating to dying and death, we should hold firmly in mind the promise about God’s unfailing faithfulness during life, as expressed in Psalm 92:12-15:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree. They will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age. They will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright. He is my rock and there is no wickedness in Him

 They say that you know when you’re getting older because you regularly check the obituary column to see if your name is there!

Death is inevitable but those who live well know how to die well. Here are some quotations about Death, some of which are laced with dark humour

“In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes” (Benjamin Franklin)

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours” (Yogi Berra)

“Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it” (W. Somerset Maugham)

“Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die” (Joe Louis)

“He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt” (Joseph Heller)

“I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter” (Winston Churchill)

“I don’t mind dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens!” (Woody Allen)

“I wouldn’t mind dying – it’s the business of having to stay dead that scares me” (Anonymous)

So why do we joke so much about growing old and dying?

The most important thing is to see what the Bible has to say on the subject…

Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes are instructive… they show that even the greatest mind and wisest person can be confused about what happens following death… For example, in Ecclesiastes 9: 2-4

All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good,
so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterwards they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope – even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

And in Ecclesiastes 3: 19-21

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: as one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath (spirit); humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?’

Solomon was partly right and partly wrong as he pondered the future…

  • He was right that animals and humankind all die
  • He was wrong to conclude that “all go to the same place“, as we shall see…

Remember Jesus’ words in John 14: 1-3 quoted earlier…

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms …Heaven is never full!

Death held no terror for the Apostle Paul… in fact, quite the opposite!

So he writes in Philippians 1: 22-24

If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (i.e. alive)

And in Revelation 20: 11-15…

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire

We know that death can strike at any time… but what is meant by “being dead”?

There are three types of death mentioned in the Bible:

Physical death… when the soul is separated from the body. For example, Hebrews 9:27:

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgement… (Note: not reincarnation in returning, as in coming back to life as a different creature!)

Spiritual death… separation of an individual from God’s grace and favour due to sin. For example, Isaiah 59:2:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

Eternal death… separation from God forever in Hell (Gehenna). Thus, in Revelation 20: 14: Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.

NOTE THE COMMON THEME… “separation

Physical death is common to us all

Spiritual death… unless we have been “made alive” in Christ, so that death loses its sting and the grave loses its victory

Eternal death… the one thing that breaks the heart of God, who desires that every person be saved

IN THE OLD TESTAMENT violent death was all too common…

If people survived the many challenges and dangers of living during those times, they generally lived longer… but note, for instance, that Abel died young, killed by his brother, Cain… (Possibly in Damascus, which means “blood brother”)

  • And, of course, millions died during the Flood, both old and young

But there are a number of significant and unusual “death” events to note from the Old Testament…

Enoch (Genesis 5:18-24)… pleased God and was taken by Him, so he did not experience death (Hebrews 11: 5)

  • Death is an experience
  • The strong implication is that although Enoch did not experience death, nevertheless, he still died!

Widow of Zarephath’s son (I Kings 17: 17-24)… Zarapheth is in modern day Palestine…It’s the first recorded instance of someone being raised from the dead (by God through Elijah)

Elijah (2 Kings 2: 11-12)… was taken by God in a whirlwind… Elisha was privileged to catch a rare glimpse of “Heaven”…Perhaps Heaven is as much ‘alongside’ us in another dimension as it is ‘up there’ … {More in a moment} See also Paul’s experience of the 3rd heaven

Witch of Endor, Saul and Samuel (I Samuel 28: 11-15)…

Then the woman asked, ‘Whom shall I bring up for you?’

‘Bring up Samuel,’ he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, ‘Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!’

The king said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. What do you see?’

The woman replied, ‘I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.’

‘What does he look like?’ Saul asked.

‘An old man wearing a robe is coming up,’ she said.

Then Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’

  • Note that although ‘ghostly, Samuel was recognisable… he could speak… he felt emotion (in this case, anger with Saul)
  • Importantly, both the witch and Samuel himself speak of coming or being brought ‘up’… brought up from where, precisely?

The Shunnamite’s son restored to life (2 Kings 4: 8-37)… (through Elisha)

The man brought to life after being thrown into Elisha’s tomb onto his bones (2 Kings 13:21)…

Hezekiah’s life extended (2 Kings 20: 1-6)…he was granted an additional 15 years to his life… but…it could be that Manasseh was born during this time, who turned away from God throughout nearly all of his long reign

  • NOTE: We can sometimes pray for someone’s recovery… but they still die… we wonder why… but God sees the end from the beginning and knows what is best

Elijah, Moses and Jesus on the mountain top (Matthew 17: 1-8) … Note that the disciples (Peter, James and John) recognised Elijah and Moses. How? Elijah had been “taken” by God… Moses had been buried. Yet here they were in human form and able to speak about Jesus’s “departure” from Jerusalem (Luke 9: 31)

  • It appears that after death, the righteous immediately gain new powers, including, perhaps, knowledge of the future

It also indicates that between death and resurrection—when we will be given new bodies—we shall have a ‘temporary’ new body {As noted with the witch of Endor / Samuel event earlier}

Death before the resurrection of Christ involved leaving behind the mortal body before going ‘down’ to Sheol (“Hades”)… the place of departed spirits…

  • But also being given a temporary new body that allowed them to be recognisable … to speak and feel emotion.

It appears that Sheol (Hades) consisted of TWO PARTS… as we shall see in a moment when we consider the story that Jesus told about Dives and Lazarus

IN THE NEW TESTAMENT we have other fascinating insights into what happens when we die… The most important by far is the death of Jesus

There are at least three instances of people being raised to life by Jesus:

  • The widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7: 11-15)…Nain was just south of Nazareth
  • Jairus’ daughter (e.g. Matthew 9, Luke 8)… Jairus was the organiser for synagogue services…NOTE that Jesus spoke of her that she was “only sleeping”… such is the experience of death when Jesus is involved
  • Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha (John 11:38-44)

And others recorded in Acts…

  • The raising of Tabitha (Dorcas) by Peter in Acts 9: 36-43
  • The raising of Eutychus by Paul in Acts 20: 7-12… (Eutychus fell from a 3rd storey window when the preacher went on too long!)
  • The amazing resurrection of Paul at Lystra in Acts 14: 11-20 … (Paul had been stoned to death and his body thrown onto the rubbish tip… He went back into the city!)
  • There is also a stunning mention in Hebrews 11: 35… “Some women received back their dead, raised to life again

However, all these people died again eventually… so what was the point of resurrecting them?

  1. To show that God cares about individuals
  2. To show that death is not the end
  3. To show that God is the master of life and death

SO WHAT HAPPENED TO JESUS?

We know about the events… but what exactly happened: (a) to the body of Jesus and (b) to the ‘person’ (soul/spirit) of Jesus?

  • His body did not see corruption… it didn’t rot… it was transformed … It offers us a “pattern” of what will happen to us when we are re-made unto His likeness
  • His spirit was given up to the Father… and then entered Hades (Sheol) to take “many captives” to heaven and to give them gifts… as we read in Ephesians 4: 8-10:

This is why it (God) says: ‘When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.’ What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions (‘into the depths’ or ‘Hades’)? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.

NOTE the use of ‘ascended’ and ‘descended’

  • Not for the first time, we are told that the abode of the dead is ‘below’
  • But that Christ then ‘ascended’ (to glory) with ‘many captives’ (from Hades, where else?) and gave them gifts
  • Paradise was, so to speak, relocated “up” to Heaven

Jesus then returned to earth and appeared to Mary and many others in His new, ‘Easter morning’ transformed body

  • At the ascension, the body of Jesus rose into the air and returned to sit at the Father’s right hand
  • The ‘rising’ of Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament were clearly “types” of Christ…

The clear implication is that before the resurrection of Jesus, all the dead went ‘below’… to one of two parts of Sheol… where they must have been given ‘temporary’ bodies (as we saw with Samuel, Moses, Elijah)

But for those who have died after the resurrection … they, also, go to one of two places… but this time, to Sheol (below) or Heaven (‘above’)

So what happens when I die?

A person dies… before birth… at birth… soon after… some years later… many years later but what happens next?

  • Certainly, our earthly body is placed in the ground or burnt… but what of our soul… our spirit?
  • The clearest evidence is found in the teaching of Jesus

In Luke 16: 19-31 we read of Dives (from the Latin, “rich man”) and Lazarus

  • It’s not a parable because Jesus refers to actual people by name and does not give an explanation (as is normal with His parables)…because it is self-explanatory
  • The one man (Dives) is carried to “Abraham’s bosom” (Paradise) in Hades… the other man is in the torment of Hades…

Jesus’ teaching provides confirmation that Hades had two parts… a part for the righteous… and a part for the wicked… separated by a great gulf

After the resurrection, the righteous from Hades were translated to a place referred to as Paradise to await the final resurrection at the end of the world

NOTE ALSO that the two men were instantly in their respective situations after death… no ‘valley of the shadow’… no ‘crossing the river’… no ‘wandering of departed souls’… no St Peter at the pearly gates… it was bliss or torment

NOTE too that Dives still had his senses

  • He could speak and hear… feel pain… be thirsty… be anxious
  • The idea of the lost having fun while the saved sit around being bored is far from the truth as revealed in the Bible

FINALLY… I Corinthians 15: 51-54, we read of God’s final act for those who trust Him:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’

THE INSTANT THAT WE DIE, WE SHALL BE IN GOD’S IMMORTAL PRESENCE…

  • We shall have new, ‘temporary’ bodies
  • We shall be in a state of perfect freedom… no sin to harm us
  • We shall meet angels
  • We shall meet our loved ones… and shall recognise them

Then at the end of time when the trumpet sounds, our ‘temporary’ bodies will be eternally transformed as all people rise…some to eternal life; some to eternal condemnation (John 5: 28-29)

  • God will re-create heaven and earth

And we shall be with Christ for ever

Perhaps we can now better understand the Apostle Paul when he wrote that he was torn between remaining on earth to serve God or going to be with his Saviour, which is “far better

LIST OF BIBLE REFERENCES IN THE ORDER THEY ARE QUOTED

  1. Psalm 92: 12-15
  2. Ecclesiastes 9: 2-4
  3. Ecclesiastes 3: 19-21
  4. John 14: 1-3
  5. Philippians 1: 22-24
  6. Revelation 20: 11-15
  7. Hebrews 9: 27
  8. Isaiah 59: 2
  9. Revelation 20: 14
  10. 10. Genesis 5: 18-24
  11. Hebrews 11: 5
  12. I Kings 17: 17-24
  13. 2 Kings 2: 11-12
  14. I Samuel 28: 11-15
  15. 15. 2 Kings 4: 8-37
  16. 16. 2 Kings 13: 21
  17. 17. 2 Kings 20: 1-6
  18. 18. Matthew 17: 1-8
  19. 19. Luke 9: 31
  20. 20.Luke 7: 11-15
  21. Luke 9: 41-42; 49-56
  22. 22. John 11: 38-44
  23. 23. Acts 9: 36-43
  24. 24. Acts 20: 7-12
  25. 25. Acts 14: 11-20
  26. 26.Hebrews 11: 35
  27. 27. Ephesians 4: 8-10
  28. 28.Luke 16: 19-31
  29. 29.I Corinthians 15: 51-54
  30. John 5: 28-30

NOTE: I am especially indebted to information gleaned from the following article: http:www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/hades.htm

The Middletown Bible Church 349 East Street Middletown, USA.


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