What happens when I die…
Please note this is an abridged version of a 30 minute talk!
It can be surprising to realize how many different opinions there are amongst Christians about what happens after we die: Soul sleep? Purgatory? Limbo? Resurrection? Body-less, spirit existence? Can we pray to the dead? …or for them? Should we try to speak with the dead? What about ghosts? As with everything though, the most important question is ‘What does the Bible teach?’
The most important thing is to realize that when a Christian dies, our bodies return to dust, but our spirit continues in conscious existence as we enter the presence of the Lord to know Him, love Him, and enjoy Him in a far deeper way than we’ve ever experienced before (Lk.24:43; Phil.1:21-26; II Cor.5:1-10; I Thess.4:13f).
The ‘me’ that is this mortal, perishable, weak body is the same ‘me’ who will be given an immortal, imperishable, resurrected body, and is the same ‘me’ when I’m away from the body and at home with the Lord; there’s a vital unbroken connection and continuity. I never stop being ‘me’, but at the moment of death, when I am finally set free from ‘this lowly body’ (Phil.3:21), I will, as a believer, be made perfect. Note that Paul (and the Bible) doesn’t have a negative view of our bodies and physicality per se. Quite the opposite! But there is a negative view in the Bible of what our bodies have become as a result of our sin. Heaven is pure and perfect and free from all sin and sickness, and therefore when God takes us home to heaven He makes us fit for the experience of enjoying it - by making us perfect in holiness too.
It’s important to remember that the purpose of the Bible’s teaching about what God has prepared after death for those who love Him, is not to simply to satisfy our intellectual curiosity (though it does do that), but is to encourage us to live confidently in hope and obedience before our death. Whatever questions we may be left with, our faith in Jesus as our Saviour guarantees that God has already prepared for us everything we will need in order to enjoy Him in a way we’ve never known before, or even guessed could happen! And our spiritual bodies will be perfectly adapted to our new environment.
In a culture where interest in spirituality is being re-discovered, and opinion about the paranormal is growing, it is important that we are thinking about life after death in ways that are informed by the Bible. In the pages of Scripture there are only two alternatives for life after death… there is no prospect of passing between them (e.g. after a period in purgatory), or existing outside of them in some limbo state. While it seems it is possible for the dead to ‘return’ (e.g. John 11:43-44; Mark 5:41; Matt.27:52-53) and for them pass between the seen and unseen worlds (e.g. Matt.17:3, though note that Moses and Elijah only speak with Jesus; I Sam.28:13-15), these seem to be exceptional events, and in fact, attempts to seek to contact the dead are prohibited (e.g. Dt.18:11; Is.8:19). The Bible makes it very clear that there are both good and evil ‘spirit beings’ active in this world, but these are not humans, but are rather angels and demons. It also seems to negate the idea that the spirits of deceased human beings can remain on earth and haunt the living.
Life after death is far more substantial than ethereal ghost stories would suggest. Words have not yet been invented that could convey what eternity will be like, and the limited capacity of our brains cannot handle the glory and greatness of Heaven. There are aspects of that life that are too glorious for us to perceive, and as such are still beyond the reach of our knowledge (e.g. I Jn.3:2). And yet, when we are in heaven, we still haven’t arrived at the fullness of the Christian hope. In the presence of the resurrected and ascended Christ, we will continue to be looking forward to the resurrection of our own bodies. Disembodied existence, enjoyable as it is promised to be in the presence of Jesus, is not God’s final and greatest purpose for us. We are intrinsically physical beings, and the pinnacle of God’s future for us is as soul and body in the New Heavens and the New Earth He is preparing us for. We’ll be looking at this in the last two sessions of our Lent Course.
God has done far more for us than we can ever appreciate, and will do far more for us than we can ever conceive. Our home in heaven is a prepared place for a prepared person (John 14:1-6). We will never feel completely satisfied on this fallen and cursed earth because we were made for more. We will have times of happiness here but nothing compared with what God has planned and prepared for us in our experience of life after death, and most fully in our resurrection. This mindset is an important one to hold on to. When life gets tough, when we’re overwhelmed with doubt, or when we wonder if living for Christ is worth the effort, we need to stop and remember that we're not home yet. At death you won’t leave your home, you’ll go home.
Read - 2 Corinthians 5 vv 1- 10.
1- If you had to explain this section to a new Christian or a non-Christian, how would you condense it down to just three or four simple short sentences?
2- Is there anything in this section which you found particularly difficult to understand or explain?
3- Is there any phrase or verse which especially caught your attention and would like to remember?
4- Since we were made to last forever, how should the fact that life on earth is just a temporary stage in our lives change the way we are living right now?
from Mere Christianity by C S Lewis:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.
If that is so, I must take care on the one hand never to despise or be unthankful for these earthly blessings, and on the other hand never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a copy, an echo or mirage.
If I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall never find till after death, I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.
In your opinion, what point is C.S. Lewis making, and does it have any connections with what the Bible says?
You may want to start by comparing it with: Phil.3 vv 7- 21 & Col. 3 vv 1- 4.