44. What happens after Death?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 44. Q.6. What happens after Death?

Heb 9:27,28    And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The Question:  Death is the cessation of physical life, and many not only fear the way of dying (which can involve a painful and prolonged disease) but also what might happen after death. Moreover it might be helpful to add, what does the Bible teach about the future, beyond physical death? The one thing it does teach is that physical death is not the end. There is existence and experience beyond physical death. Let’s consider the content of our two verses above:

The Fact: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once.”  Death is the one certainty we have; it will happen, we will all experience it.

Followed by: “and after that comes judgment.”  Judgement means assessment and accountability. Now the one thing we cannot say is exactly ‘when’ this occurs. Does it occur the second after our life here ceases, or does it happen, according to our present measuring of time, at some yet future time after a number of other things indicated in scripture happen, and for the person who has died, is there no sense of time passing so it is literally the next thing they experience? (check Rev 20:11-15, 21:27) For the ‘Lamb’s book of life’ see also  Phil 4:3, Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12.

Salvation Provided: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” Because Christ died on the cross for our sins, there is forgiveness for all who receive him. Thus those whose names are in the ‘book of life’ referred to above, who God knew from before the foundation of the world would respond to Him and turn to Christ, these people have nothing to fear from appearing before God.

Second Coming: “will appear a second time.” Christ’s coming a second time, prophesied by the angels at his ascension (see Acts 1:11), brings to an end the present dispensation. When he came the first time it was to reveal the Father and to become our Redeemer. Each time he comes he comes to do what no one else can do. When he comes a second time it is for a different purpose.

Receiving Salvation: “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” The picture of the end of time in this present age is one shown through Revelation where there will be a faithful remnant living in the midst of an ungodly and unrighteous world. He comes, the second time, to bring an end to that ungodliness and unrighteousness and to save his people there on the earth still, from it all. The picture that the writer to the Hebrews brings is of a Saviour who came the first time to bring in the kingdom of God but who comes a second time to wind up the initial expression of that kingdom. Wherever we find ourselves in history and in the economy of God, we can be secure in the love and the sovereign purposes of our God that are established, being worked out and will be brought to a conclusion in our Redeemer, the Christ.

Uncertainties and Questions: There are certainties at the end which we will return to but it is a foolish person who says some of the end of Revelation is quite clear. Uncertainties abound! There are ‘events’ that are spoken of quite clearly, but whether they are to be taken literally or as prophecy to be taken figuratively, is unclear. (The philosophical idea of ‘alternate realities’ existing at the same ‘time’ may be nearer the truth, even though it blows our minds!) There are schools of interpreters who take differing views and so we will not join in but simply note the things John brings to us:

– Christ will come as a conquering king – the Second Coming (Rev 19:11-16)

– he will war against his enemies of evil and will triumph (v.17-21). Note the beast and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (v.20) while all their followers are killed by the sword (word of God) (v.21)

– Satan is bound for a thousand years (20:1-3)

– during this time believers reign with Christ (20:4-6)

– Satan is then released, deceives the nations and they come against the people of God at Jerusalem, fire falls and destroys all his followers but he is thrown into the lake of fire (20:7-10)

– Then comes the final judgment (v.11-13) and unbelievers are thrown into the lake of fire to be consumed. Note there is no mention for them (only the previous three) of it being eternal.  Fire elsewhere in the Bible destroys unless otherwise shown (The burning bush, the disciples at Pentecost, the Beast, the False Prophet and Satan – these latter three being spirit-beings.) The rest of unbelieving humanity is thus destroyed.

– Following this(??) we are shown a new heaven and a new earth (21:1) When he says the first have ‘passed away’ that doesn’t need to mean destroyed but simply moved on from. It is not that the present heaven is inadequate, more likely that the new heaven is simply heaven with a new flavor, if we may put it like that; it is filled with the redeemed and there is sense of conclusion to the initial salvation or redemptive purpose of God. The ‘new earth’ – still distinct from ‘heaven’ is thus presumably still a physical existence for the redeemed people to enjoy. Whether there are dual existences available for the people of God to enjoy, in both heaven AND earth, only time will tell us.

– This new existence is free of suffering (21:4) where God dwells with His people (21:2, 22-26) and all sin has been removed and destroyed (21:8,27)

– Further it is a place (existence) of life and light and abundance (22:2-5).

Certainties: We have already noted that physical death (the ‘first death’) is the cessation of physical life and is the destiny of every single human being. Yet there will be a resurrection of all the dead (Rev 20:13) to stand before the throne of God in the Final Judgment (20:12). Only Believers’ names are written in ‘the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15,  21:27) and they alone are saved for eternity. The rest, who refuse to believe and so live an ungodly and unrighteous lifestyle (21:8, 22:11,15) are consigned to ‘the second death’ (Rev 2:11, 20:6, 21:8).

We may thus summarize all this, these certainties, as:

–  all godly believers are saved and saved for a glorious eternity,

–  all ungodly and unrighteous unbelievers will be destroyed.

And So?  The offer is clear in Scripture – eternal life and a wonderful existence with God for those who will turn to Christ – but so is the warning – rejection and death for all who reject God’s offer.  Rejoice in the wonder of the offer; tremble for those who disregard it. Amen.

9. Hope

Meditations in Colossians: 9. Hope

Col 1:4,5   we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven

What is strange about these two verses, and which we often miss, is that Paul says that faith and love spring from the hope that is stored up for us in heaven. In other words, hope comes first and then faith and love follow. As we read on we will see that this hope comes with the Gospel and as we receive it, it releases faith and love in us.

Let’s try and envisage how it works. There we were, before we came to hear about Christ and, as we noted in an earlier meditation we were filed with fears – fears about God, fears about who we were or weren’t, fears about yesterday’s guilt, fears about coping today and fears about what might happen tomorrow. At one level all those fears were rolled together into one ball. We feared we would have to face God one day, and we feared He would hold us answerable for all the things we got wrong yesterday, today and tomorrow, we feared He would condemn us and write us off as a bunch of sinners worthy only to be consigned to hell.

But then someone brought us the Gospel. We heard that Jesus had come to die in our place so we wouldn’t have to go to hell, that he had taken the punishment for our sins of yesterday, today and tomorrow and he offered us forgiveness, cleansing and an opportunity to be declared adopted sons of God empowered by God’s own Holy Spirit, and because these things were all present-today-on-earth things suddenly the future after death also changed. Yes, we would still have to face God but instead of being condemned we will be accepted, we were told, because Jesus had done everything that needs to be done to pay for our sins and, anyway, we would enter God’s presence as His children, gladly welcomed into heaven. This was the Gospel – that the present has been dealt with so that there can be an eternal future free of fear and filled with blessing. The future is something to be welcomed, not feared. It is a future in heaven where there will be a glorious reality that makes anything we experience now look like it was in the shade.

That is what is the hope in the Gospel. Hope is the assurance of the future, something not yet received but something guaranteed to happen. When we were presented with this Gospel and we surrendered our lives to God on the basis of it, something amazing happened: we started thinking differently, we started ‘hearing’ God and responding to what we were hearing – this was faith. And as we entered into this new life, a life empowered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. We also found His character coming out in us – love. We found we thought about God differently and we found we felt about people differently. It was Him working from within us and it was all released in us when we responded to the hope presented to us and we were born again by His working in us. Faith and love flowed from this hope.

Can we emphasise something we said above: hope is the assurance of the future. In everyday life we say things like, “I hope the weather will be nice for the picnic today,” or “I hope to be a surgeon when I grow up,” or “I hope Uncle Jack will leave me something in his will.” Each of these are an expression of our desire. I would like it to be sunny, I would like to become a surgeon, I would like to inherit something. They are things I want, things I would like, things I hope might come about. But of course we have no say, or perhaps little say, in bringing them about. I can’t control the weather, I may not be bright enough to become a doctor let alone a surgeon, and Uncle Jack may have set his heart on giving everything to a local cat’s home! But when it comes to our eternal future we are talking about something that is guaranteed – because God has said it.

How can we be sure that is what He will give us eventually?  Because we can trust His word because everything He has done so far shouts at us, “This is a God who is love, who is good, who never lies, and who always has our good in mind.” We look at the first coming of Jesus and we see God’s love and goodness manifested. We observe the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and we see power unleashed – on our behalf! We find His Holy Spirit working from within us, guiding us, leading us, blessing us, equipping and generally empowering us and it is all good. It is all as He has promised in His word. As we read about our eternal destiny His Spirit within us witnesses to this truth and we know it is true, we know this is how it will be. We have only been told the equivalent of the tip of an iceberg about this eternal future and so we are left wondering how wonderful it will be and from this standpoint, anything we see about that eternal future is as clear as looking through smoked glass or a poor quality mirror (1 Cor 13:12). Nevertheless He witnesses within us – it WILL be! That is our hope.

On a lighter note. Writers such as C.S.Lewis have speculated on the wonder of this eternal future, about what it will be like, about what we will be like. Again and again, I am sure we will fall short in our dreams of what it will be like. One day my wife and I were at an Air Show and watched in awe as an F111 fighter came as slow as it could over us with incredible power and noise. “Wow,” my wife went, “when I get to heaven I’m going to fly one of those.”  I couldn’t help the riposte, “Oh come on, when I get to heaven I’m going to fly like one of them!” We may both be wrong; it will probably be infinitely more glorious than anything our finite minds can comprehend.

And one more serious note with which to conclude: if this is truly what we believe, why do we try to hold on to aged loved ones who are tottering on the brink of death, why do we deny them entering into this wonder? The answer has got to be a selfish reason. Natural, but selfish. The hope we have is glorious, infinitely more glorious than anything we can presently experience or comprehend, so don’t place too much value on the temporary, material things of today, and especially don’t ever let the enemy make you think they are so important that you end up putting your eternal destiny in jeopardy.