My mother died this week. Fortunately, she was a long-time Christian. I’d like to know what the Bible teaches about what happened to her after death.
Death and dying is a 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.”
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.” However, God still had work on earth for him to do. So, he stayed around a little while longer.
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).
I’d like to expand on this thought and share a short dissertation of the biblical teachings about death and afterwards from the present and out into eternity.
The Bible is quite clear about what happens after death.
To begin with, let’s put to death the idea of Reincarnation. Reincarnation is the idea that we come back to earth again and again for multiple lives. Reincarnation teaches that our present life form—from insect to human—is a direct reflection of how well we behaved in previous lives. The better we were, the farther up the food chain we return.
When General Patton arrived on the Carthaginian battlefield he observed, “I have been to this battlefield before. I fought here with the Romans.” Unfortunately, Patton was deceived. We only get one life. Sylvester Stallone once related that in a previous life he was a monkey in Central America. That may be true!—no, probably not
Reincarnation is foreign to the Bible. In fact the Bible teaches just the opposite. Hebrews 9:27 declares: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that comes judgment.” The essence of reincarnation allows us to avoid the reality of facing God in judgment for our behaviors.
Why might some believe in reincarnation? The Bible teaches that there are evil spirits (“familiar spirits”) who have been around for centuries. These spirits know intimately the lives of others down through the centuries and may influence present-day people with thoughts, emotions, and experiences of people who are long dead. These deceived people begin to believe that they have existed in previous lives and that the thoughts and emotions of others are really theirs.
Also, our brains are capable of connecting all sorts of our present and past events and then melting them together in ways that make us think we have lived certain situations and events before. Reincarnation is the ultimate déjà vous.
Let me weave together a number a verses which summarize succinctly what happens after death.
At death, the bodies of all believers and unbelievers go to the grave. At death, the spirits of Believers in Christ go to Heaven, in the presence of Christ. At death, the spirits of Unbelievers go to Hades, which is a waiting place of torment (Luke 16:22-31).
The second coming of Christ is in two parts. The first part is often called the “rapture” from the Latin word meaning “catching away”. At the rapture the Bible says that Christ comes in the air with the spirits of the Christians who previously died and gone to Heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). At that moment the Believers’ bodies will be resurrected from their graves and joined with their spirits. This is the called the “first resurrection”. They now have spiritual bodies which will one day be redesigned when God makes the permanent Heaven as described in (Revelation 21:1-5).
A twinkling of an eye later the Christians who are alive at that time will be instantaneously transformed into their spiritual bodies, and will ascend into Heaven to receive the rewards that they earned for Christ on earth. They will stand before the “Bema” or “reward stand” to receive crowns based on profitable ministry during their lives on earth (1 Corinthians 3:10-13). We will lay these crowns at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:9-11; 5:9-14). Only He is worthy to receive them. They will then sit down to enjoy a time of great fellowship at the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
The bodies of Unbelievers are not resurrected at this time. Their bodies remain in their graves and their spirits remain imprisoned in Hades. Part two of the second coming occurs 1000 years later when Christ returns to establish His Kingdom on earth.
At the conclusion of the millennial reign of Christ on earth the Great White Throne Judgment occurs (Revelation 20:11-15). Jesus sits as the judge. The bodies of all Unbelievers in Christ (non-Christians) will be resurrected from their graves to stand at the Judgment. Simultaneously, their spirits, long entrapped in Hades, will come forth for the Judgment.
No Christians will be in attendance here—only those who died without receiving Christ—thus having their sins forgiven.
All in attendance at the Great White will be judged according to how well they lived their lives on earth. Since not one of them is perfect and, they will be judged unworthy to enter into the Heavenly kingdom and will be thrown into the Lake of Fire—consigned to Hell forever. The Lake of Fire is referred to as the second death.
According to the Bible, we want the first resurrection and only one death. What we don’t want is the second resurrection (to the Great White Throne) and the second death (to the Lake of Fire) (Revelation 20:1-6).
By the way, Christians are not perfect either; however, their sins are forgiven and blotted out by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross to forgive all the sins of all time. So, none stand before the Great White Throne. This is why Jesus pleads with us to settle our cases out of court before we come to trial (Matthew 5:25-26). When we receive Christ and accept His work on the cross our sins are forgiven before we die and we never come to trial. This is grace and mercy. If we die unforgiven then we will receive justice from God. We don’t want justice. We want grace and mercy. So, avoid the second death at all costs (Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:4, 8). Receive Christ before you die and your destiny is determined forever!
My mother and father purchased cemetery plots side by side. However, my mother was a worrier and got to thinking about worms crawling into her casket so she traded their plots for two in the above ground mausoleum. Dad died first and mom said to me, “What if a tornado hits the mausoleum. Maybe we should change back?”
“Mom,” I said, “Your spirit will be with Christ and He can take care of your body whatever state it’s in when the time comes.”
So, now their bodies rest side-by side, awaiting the trumpet to sound announcing the Rapture, while in Heaven their real selves are enjoying the presence of God Himself.
More important, death ushers us into the presence of the one our heart cries out for—the one, true, God, and this is our greatest consolation.
There is life after death. Let me illustrate with a most encouraging story from the here and now.
Paul Yongi Cho is pastor of largest church in the world. I went to Seoul, Korea in the early 1980s and watched 18,000 people crowd onto 5 acres again and again to worship every hour and a half beginning at 6:30 am and continuing all day long.
Cho shared the following story at the pastor’s conference. He also included it in one of his books about his life.
In 1978 his primary school aged son, Samuel, and several of his friends stopped by a fry vendor on the way home from school. In Korea fried silkworm is a fine and delicious treat. But this afternoon, the farmer who had brought the catch into town had put them into an empty bag which had contained a strong insecticide.
Cho was speaking to a men’s meeting downtown when his wife’s emergency telephone call had come. Cho raced home to find his wife frantic and helpless. Samuel was lying asleep on his father’s bed, and by now he could not be awakened. Before dropping into such a deep sleep he had said to his mother, “Tell Daddy to pray for me.” Then rolling his head on his pillow he added, “But I’m pretty sure I’m going to heaven tonight.”
Cho dialed the neighborhood doctor. “Well, it’s no use, Pastor. Eight boys have died tonight already. There is not anything we can do for Samuel now. If he is in that sleep like you say, then it’s too late; he will go in peace.”
Go in peace? Samuel was his son who had loved him and patted him with his baby hands. “No, Lord, not Samuel! Not yet!”
Then crawling to the middle of the bed Cho began to pray. “Father, I will not let my boy go!”
For two hours, Cho prayed for Samuel’s life and confessed his sins.
When Cho opened his eyes again, Samuel appeared to have no life left in him. No one could rouse him or communicate with him in any way. He went on praising God past midnight, still sitting cross-legged on the bed.
After a while he got off the bed, stood facing the boy and in a thundering voice commanded, “Samuel!” He clapped his hands together in a loud, jolting manner. “Samuel! in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
The boy sprang to his feet!
Cho bolted backwards in fear.
Samuel crumpled and fell halfway across the bed, vomiting upon the sheets.
His mother bent to bathe his face, but she was almost afraid to touch him too soon.
Samuel spoke and gestured with his hand. “Say hello to Jesus, Papa.” He said it again. “Say hello to Jesus. He’s right there.” The boy pointed.
Going along with his son’s strange talking, Cho bowed politely toward the space where the boy had indicated and said softly, “Hello, Jesus.”
“Didn’t you see us coming down the hallway? Didn’t you see us, Papa? Jesus carried me in His arms like this.” Both voice and gestures were weak but the parents could make out his words perfectly.
“Jesus was carrying me next to His chest to a beautiful place.” He stretched out the word along with his hand.
“It was bright, brighter than anything I’ve ever seen. All the colors of the world are dull next to those colors He showed me.
“And music! Mama, you’d love it too. It was the most beautiful music my ears have ever heard. I couldn’t recognize the tune, be we kept getting closer and closer to it.”
“Then Jesus said to me, ‘We have to go back.'”
“No,” I said.
“Yes, we have to go back. Your father won’t let you go.'”
“And He was bringing me in here to the bedroom. Didn’t you see us coming down the hall? You were calling me, and you commanded me to get up. That’s when Jesus let go of me. There He is-oh, He’s not there. He must have gone back, I guess.”
Jesus Christ is the only one who cheated death. He promised that if we believe in Him we can cheat death and live forever, too.
Well, Susan, since your mom was a Christ follower, she is now in the presence of Jesus. I hope you find this answer helpful, informative, and comforting. Ask me another question some time.