Life After Death - Part 8
John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon
What is the
biblical view of death?
Death per se
is a condition of separation. According to the Bible, there are
only two kinds of death. First, there is physical death, which
involves the temporary separation of the spirit from the body.
In the resurrection, the body is later rejoined with the human spirit.
Second, there is spiritual death or the eternal separation of
the human spirit from God. This condition has no remedy.
Death is not
good—it has never been good. Physical death—separation from the
body—is not good since man is left "unclothed" (2 Cor. 5:4; Phil.
3:21; 1 Cor. 15) and in an unnatural state. Spiritual death—separation
from God—is also obviously not good since it is eternal.
"life" are irreconcilable and opposite conditions of existence
in both this life and the next. Apart from Christ, death leads to one
thing only—eternal judgment ("It is given for man to die once and then
comes judgment" Heb. 9:27). But with Christ, death leads to
life: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall
live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall
never die" (John 11:25-26). And, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who
hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and
does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life"
teaches that prior to salvation, even as they are alive, all men and
women exist in a state of spiritual death or separation from God.
Their human spirits are dead to those things that God is truly
concerned about (see Luke 15:24-32; Eph. 2:1; 1 Tim. 5:6; Rev. 3:1).
Even though they are alive physically, they do not consider the one
true God, nor do they thank Him, nor do they care about His interests.
Whatever concept of God they may believe in, they do not accept the
one true God. This is why Jesus Himself referred to "the dead burying
their own dead," explicitly teaching that the living human beings
around him were, as far as God was concerned, spiritually dead (Luke
9:60; Rom. 3:10-18).
tells us that physical and spiritual death exist for one reason—sin.
God warned Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him, in that day, they
would die (Gen. 2:17). This is why the Bible teaches that "the wages
of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23).
causes death, the problem of sin must be dealt with before death can
be eradicated. This is the reason for the Christian teaching on the
Atonement—that Christ died for the sins of the world. As Jesus taught,
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that
whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John
3:16). Whoever receives Christ as his personal Savior is "born again"
or made alive spiritually. That person receives true life after death
or, in biblical terms, eternal life (John 6:47). But what actually
happens, of course, is that the believer’s state of spiritual death is
cancelled at the point of receiving Christ. There is no longer the
possibility of suffering God’s judgment for his sins, which is the
second death. Instead, at the point of physical death, he will join
God forever. This is the essence of the term "saved." But it must be
stressed that the system is conditional. Men must believe in the
atoning death of Jesus Christ or they cannot be saved. This is the
condition: that they accept what God has done in the person of Christ.
Christian hope then is in physical resurrection and eternal
immortality based on Christ’s resurrection and life, not a mediumistic
view of gradual, spiritual self-progression after death (Rom. 4:25; 1
Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14; 5:1; Eph. 1:15-21; 2:4-10; Phil. 1:21; 3:21;
Col. 3:4, etc.). Those who accept Christ inherit heaven for eternity,
while those who reject God’s mercy inherit hell for eternity.
biblical view is that the saved are with God—they go to be with Him at
the moment of death (Luke 23:43; John 12:26; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5:8;
Phil. 1:23, etc.) while the unsaved dead are confined and under
punishment. Furthermore, there is no possibility of altering one’s
condition after death. Death, then, is not extinction, as many cults
teach. It does not involve a condition of reincarnation, where the
soul experiences many lifetimes, as the occult believes. It does not
involve a condition of ultimate union or absorption into some
impersonal, divine essence, as many Eastern religions teach (Eccl.
12:5; Luke 12:46-47; 16:19-31; Acts 1:25; Heb. 9:27; Psa. 78:39; 2 Cor.
5:11; Heb. 10:31; 12:27-29; 2 Pet. 2:4,9; Rev. 20:10,15).
if the saved are with Christ and the unsaved are confined and in
judgment, then the dead are not free to roam around, and therefore not
who they claim to be. This takes us to our next question.
What is the
biblical view of the afterlife?
the near-death experience [NDE] and the Bible? The biblical view of
death is far different from that which is implied by the NDE, but this
is not to say that the NDE is necessarily unreal or imaginary. The
spirit does, in fact, leave the body at true death (Luke 8:55; 1 Kings
17:22; Eccl. 12:6-7). It is at least theoretically possible that some
natural "trigger mechanism" or spiritistic influence could
occasionally produce a similar result prior to death. It may be
possible, then, to temporarily enter a spiritual dimension where, for
example, angels (both good and evil) might exist.
literature spirits have claimed the ability to induce out-of-body
experiences in humans.1
And biblically we are told that the devil does have, in some sense, an
influence over death (Heb. 2:14). In our opinion, the evidence from
the testimony of psychics, gurus, occultists, etc., regarding astral
projection or out-of-body experiences indicates that the separation of
the body and spirit of the living is a temporarily possible condition.
Exactly where they go in something like astral travel is unknown. But
one also cannot rule out demonic deception, or a manipulation of the
mind that only gives people the feeling of being out of their bodies
when, in fact, they are not.2
the NDE still does not supply a fully accurate description of the
biblical heaven. The Bible describes heaven as an entirely new order
of existence that is wonderful beyond comparison. But it is only for
the redeemed. The common cultural myths—heaven as a reward for good
deeds, people floating on clouds, plucking harps or polishing halos,
Peter at the pearly gates checking invitations, etc.—are absent. What
we can imagine from the biblical descriptions given is that the
redeemed become spiritual in nature, changed completely. They become
truly one with God, yet retain their unique individuality—spiritual
beings who are distinct personalities and are not, as in Eastern
traditions, absorbed into God. We are still who we are, but
wonderfully recreated. The common analogy suggested from nature is
that of the simple larva emerging as a magnificent butterfly.
Scripture clearly teaches that God is love, a fact so thoroughly
demonstrated at the cross, heaven will be a place that is imbued with
love. It will be a completely loving environment—a place where we
eternally enjoy the presence of the very essence of love, peace, joy,
beauty, creativity, and everything that is sublime. This glorious
future is hinted at in 1 Corinthians 2:9: "Things which eye has not
seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of
man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him."
It is God’s
nature to give, and we can only guess at what God will give those He
loves throughout eternity. Jesus simply said, "Great is our reward in
heaven," and the Apostle Paul, who was surrounded with sufferings,
assured us that "the sufferings of this present time are not even
worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us"
most awesome fact of heaven is not only that we will be in the
presence of Jesus, but also that we shall be "like Him" (1 John 3:2).
We are reminded of the statement by C.S. Lewis that if any person on
earth could now see one of the redeemed, they would be tempted
to worship them as a god. Each of us shall be completely sinless,
joyful, and powerful. We will not only know the personalities of the
Bible, but also our own saved friends and relatives who have joined us
for eternity, and even our "guardian angels" as we think of them. We
will be content, with no wants. We will be with, talk with, and
constantly commune with the God who loves us and has redeemed
us forever. Time and space will no longer exist as we know them, but
we will continue in fellowship with the Maker of time and space.
We will have
every question answered, and yet because God is infinite there will be
throughout eternity new things to learn about Him. But whatever we
learn, we shall forever be mindful of the infinite love of God for us
expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus
to inherit heaven is to inherit all that God is (1 Cor. 3:21-23) and
all that exists in His universe as He originally intended it.
Bible also teaches that there is an eternal hell for those who have
willfully refused the love and mercy of God. In large measure, the
real hell about hell is that people choose it for themselves.
Theologian Harold O.J. Brown once commented that "Hell has been called
‘the most enduring monument to the freedom of the human will.’"3
C.S. Lewis emphasized, "There are only two kinds of people in the end:
those who say to God, "Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says,
in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’"4
In his book The Problem
of Pain Lewis expanded on this idea: "If a game is played, it must
be possible to lose it. If the happiness of a creature lies in
self-surrender, no one can make that surrender but himself (though
many can help him to make it) and he may refuse. I would pay any price
to be able to say truthfully ‘all will be saved.’ But my reason
retorts, ‘without their will, or with it?’ If I say, ‘without their
will,’ I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme
voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say ‘with their
will,’ my reason replies, ‘how if they will not give in?’"5
There is no
other authority than the Bible when it comes to the subject of life
after death. Occult experiences that are demonic deceptions cannot
tell us about the afterlife, nor can cultic theology, nor endless
human speculation from the dawn of time. Only God knows what death is
like. And He has told us. Unfortunately, many people who swear by the
passages on heaven in the Bible completely reject the passages on
hell, however irrational this might be. We stress that God is "not
wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. He
desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"
(2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). Nevertheless, for those who refuse to do so
there is a place of punishment for their sins that is eternal.
described in the Bible in a variety of terms: "outer darkness," "the
resurrection of judgment," "the black darkness," "the punishment of
eternal fire," "the place where there is weeping and gnashing of
teeth," "eternal punishment," etc. (Matt. 3:7-12; 8:12; 22:13; 25:46;
Mark 9:43.48; John 5:29: Rev. 19:20; 20:10-15, etc.).
But why must
hell be eternal? First, because God is an infinite being. Sins
committed against Him require the full magnitude of a divine
punishment based upon infinite holiness. Who can deny that
infinite holiness might justly require eternal punishment? Further,
without the punishment of evil, there is no justice in eternity. But
can eternal justice coexist with temporal punishment if no amount of
limited punishment has absolute meaning when compared to the
timelessness of eternity? In other words, if, in eternity,
there is to be divine justice—punishment of evil corresponding to the
offended sensibilities of infinite holiness—one would think it must
last forever or, by comparison, be ultimately meaningless. To punish
someone for a million years and then bring them into heaven for all
eternity is, comparatively speaking, hardly any punishment at all.
those who were never redeemed in this life will continue in the same
spiritual condition they nurtured on earth. Their unredeemed
personality will exist eternally. In their feelings, thoughts, and
will they shall constantly be expressing the fruits of their sinful
nature. In other words, they will continue to sin forever. But the
punishment for eternal sinning can only be eternal punishment.
not we can adequately comprehend hell, the Bible clearly teaches it.
Jesus Himself taught that the unrepentant "will go away into eternal
punishment" (Matt. 25:46).
cultic views cannot be defended biblically.
immortality teaches that the human spirit is not innately immortal.
But no Scripture anywhere proves this, and it goes against the
implication of man being created in God’s image, and, therefore, of
having an eternal spirit. On the other hand, to say that the human
spirit is immortal but that it will be annihilated in judgment rather
than face eternal punishment is also lacking in biblical support.
Universalism, the teaching that all will be saved, is also
contradicted in scores of Scriptures, some of which we have cited.
advocate the above beliefs frequently appeal to (1) philosophical
arguments (e.g., infinite love and eternal punishment are mutually
contradictory); (2) humanistic arguments, none of which are convincing
(e.g., men are too good to be damned); and (3) scriptural or
exegetical arguments (e.g., that the specific Greek and Hebrew words
for eternal really do not mean eternal).
biblical words for eternal do mean eternal, and the words for
punishment do mean punishment.6
In fact, the
Scriptures are as clear on the doctrine of eternal punishment as they
are on justification by faith or the deity of Jesus Christ. It is only
emotional appeal, humanistic thinking, contaminated philosophy or
preexisting bias against hell that can make a "case" for these
scriptural teaching on eternal punishment is not obscure or uncertain;
the very difficulty of the doctrine argues for its biblical clarity.
Given the natural tendency to reject something so unpleasant as hell,
only scriptural certainty could explain the Church’s position of
acceptance for 2,000 years.
is that many people today, including some Christians, refuse to accept
what the Scriptures and their Lord plainly teach. In 2,000 years, all
exegetical arguments that have ever been put forth to reject the
doctrine of eternal punishment have failed. Therefore, conditional
immortality, annihilationism, and universalism are mere humanistic
speculations, not biblical or theological truths—and certainly not
legitimate options for Christians.
In an area
where neither reason nor emotion is sufficient, to reject the clear
scriptural teaching on life after death is to assume agnosticism. As
Dr. Packer observes, "To fall victim to secular philosophy and
ideology has been a characteristic Protestant vice for three
centuries, and it is one from which evangelicals are by no means
If each of
us will die one day, then the most important thing in life is to have
assurance that death can be entered safely. Whether or not we fear
dying, we need not fear death if our sins are forgiven through faith
1 Malachi Martin,
Hostage to the Devil (New York: Bantam, 1977), p. 482.
2 John Weldon, "New Age
Intuition," and "Self Help Therapy: Inner Guides and Imagination as
Personal Healers," unpublished ms.
3 Harold O.J. Brown,
The Protest of a Troubled Protestant (New Rochelle, NY:
Arlington House, 1969), p. 213.
4 C.S. Lewis, The
Great Divorce (New York: MacMillan, 1946), p. 69.
5 C.S. Lewis, The
Problem of Pain (New York: MacMillan, 1971), pp. 118-119.
6 Detailed refutations of
unorthodox views relating to scriptural arguments, interpretation
and biblical words are found in Robert Morey’s Death and the
Afterlife (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1984).
7 J.I. Packer,
"Evangelicals and the Way of Salvation," in Kenneth Kantzer & Carl
F. Henry, eds., Evangelical Affirmations (Grand Rapids, MI:
Zondervan, 1990), p. 110.
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute