The single thing that everyone agrees that we can count on in this world is that we will die. What happens after we die is the point that people don't agree on. I'm writing this article for the most part to clarify my own thoughts and maybe to learn a thing or two as well. Of course I believe that if you're a Christian you go to heaven and if you're not you go to hell. This is the part that you need to believe. The rest of this article is perhaps relevant, but not as important. Due to the nature of the topic, I will admit that so much of it is speculation, but I still want to set out a structure of some sort of belief about the afterlife. Feel free to criticize, correct, or comment.
Many people look at near death experiences (such as when someone is pronounced dead, before they "come back to life") as evidence of what is to come in the life afterwards. Common near death experiences include (with thanks to wikipedia.org, among other sources):
- A sense/awareness of being dead
- An out-of-body experience, where one can observe their own body from an outside perspective
- A "tunnel experience". A sense of moving up, or through, a passageway or staircase.
- Encountering "Beings of Light", "Beings dressed in white", or similar. Also, the possibility of being reunited with deceased loved ones.
- Having their life flash before their eyes, or a "life review"
- Having a sense of peace, painlessness, being loved
The more one is disconnected from our physical realm, the more we are susceptible to the spiritual realm (I can go on and on showing examples of this and its implications, but that isn't the point of this particular article). When one's body "dies," that's pretty much as disconnected to this physical realm as you can get, and as open as you can be to the spiritual realm. That is why people experience visions that seem so real. But, evil spirits exist in this world, and they thoroughly enjoy taking advantage of these opportunities to display falsehoods about the afterlife. Why do I call them falsehoods? Well for one, they often contradict the bible. Two, they contradict each other. The truth remains constant.
If we can't trust our own experiences, than what can we trust? Yes, this is the part where I say we go to the bible, God's Word.
Before I go too much further I want to make it clear to the reader that when one dies, the body/flesh dies, but the spirit doesn't. Our bodies are just a physical shell, and it's importance is in its representation of our spiritual bodies. We want to take care of our bodies and use it properly because by doing so we keep pure the physical way we worship God. Once we die, however, our body and our spirit are disconnected. To me this makes things simpler to understand, being as so many physical bodies are cremated and ashes scattered. It is our spirit that makes us human, that sets us above the level of animals, that makes us eternal beings. When I go on talking about what happens after death, I'm talking about what will happen to our spiritual bodies, as we all know what happens to our physical bodies.
1 Corinthians 15: 35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
The Waiting Grounds (not to be confused with Purgatory, which doesn't exist)
Matthew 25:31-46 depicts the time when Jesus comes again, and will send people to either hell or heaven. But what will happen before that?
The Book of Enoch isn't recognized as a book of the bible, nor will I use it to support my beliefs (although the book was quoted by Jude, an interesting tidbit I discovered today), but it describes "Sheol" as a waiting ground of sorts divided into four sections, categorized by how righteous/wicked a soul is. I found evidence to support a waiting ground of sorts, although it really only distinguishes two sections.
In one of his parables Jesus describes a story of a rich man and a poor man (Luke 16:19-31). In this parable, both the rich man and poor man die. However, the rich man ends up in torment in Hades and the poor man ends up in a blessed place at Abraham's side (as a side note I want to point out that this doesn't support the common misconception that it is better to be poor than to be rich). At first glance, one may wonder if this is really describing the ultimate heaven and hell. However, Revelation 20:13 describes the point where the sea and Hades gives up those that are in them to be judged.
2 Peter 2:4 says that the angels that sin are sent to hell to be held for judgment.
In Luke 23:43, Jesus says to one of the criminals that he was being crucified with "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise." To me, this solidifies my belief that Jesus didn't go to hell when he died, as hell can’t be described as "paradise." It is more likely that he went to a section of the waiting grounds where the righteous go. Perhaps it was during this time that he preached across the chasm to the people in Hades, to the people who died in the flood during the time of Noah (1 Peter 3:18-20). Whether or not this is the case, I want to restate that I believe that Jesus didn't go to hell when he was crucified.
Matthew 27:52-53 explains that after Jesus' death the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. It says that that they "appeared" to many people in the holy city. This really begs the question of whether they were just in the ground/graves, or were they in the paradise section/Abraham's side section of the waiting ground, before they came back to life. Recall how Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, in the flesh (Luke 24:39): Luke 24:43 says that he ate in their presence.
The NKJV version of the Matthew 27 passage describes the holy people as being asleep before they came back to life. Referring to "dead" people as being "asleep" is quite familiar to those who attend church on a regular basis.
Matthew 9:24 and John 11:11 both describe miracles of Jesus, bringing people who were not dead, but asleep, back to life. Whether or not these two people have actually passed into the "paradise" land of the dead, we can't know for sure at the moment. Personally, I'm thinking that they hadn't yet, that God knew that they would walk this land once more so he kept them from this area. But I don't think the definition of this kind of "asleep" means that the person has not passed into the waiting ground, as there are other instances that this word is mentioned in the bible.
From what I could find, all the instances that "asleep" is used in this way (including Acts 7:60; Acts 13:36; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 5-10) describes those who are "asleep in Christ," or the dead Christians. The way I see it, we as Christians have a life given to us by Christ that not even death can take away from us. When our physical bodies die, we aren't truly dead, we're just resting for a moment before we are raised to experience the new life God has for us.
Of course, this whole thing could simply do with the way one word is translated, I'm no scholar.
The Second Death
Revelation 20: 11 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. 12 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. 13 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. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Heaven and Hell - Please see my article on "The H Words"
One of my friends said that when one of his relatives died, the moment after, in a completely different location, he felt this person's presence for a moment. This phenomenon is one among many that I do not have an exact explanation. Perhaps there is some sort of spiritual bond between people, such as between two ones who love each other or twins, that connects them no matter the distance between them. Perhaps evil spirits/angels themselves take the place of this connection, prompting one to know when something major is happening to the other. I don't know.
But here's what I do know. . .
The bible mentions Hades, but it has no mention of human spirits being trapped in this physical plain. It has always been my belief that one can't communicate with the dead. That mediums/psychics who claim to do so are merely communicating with evil spirits. It is a simple thing for an evil spirit to impersonate a human. They get to watch us our entire lives. They know what makes us tick better than we ourselves do. I also know that it is a sin to consort with such spirits (Leviticus 19:31).
That's all I have to say on this topic for now. Perhaps I'll add on to this topic later. Like I said before, feel free to criticize, add to, comment on, anything I have said here.
I look forward to meeting with you all in paradise!