- What is Life After Death?
- Is There Life After Death?
- Is There Eternal Life?
- What did Jesus say about the Afterlife?
- Existence of Life After Death
- Resurrection of Jesus Christ
- Resurrection of the Dead
- Characteristics of the Risen Body
- Life After Death in Scripture
- Existence of Heaven
One of the great mysteries of life is what will happen after we die. The true answer is profoundly comforting and brings peace into our minds and hearts. Death is not the end, but rather just a step that we must all take. Death separates us from this temporal world but does not end our existence. When a person dies their spirit departs from this world and moves into the spirit world.
Given that we never cease to exist, we will one day all be able to see our loved ones again and talk with them. What joy this knowledge brings! The most meaningful aspects of life here on earth are the endearing relationships with family and friends and the personal progress of our spirit. These relationships and our spirits do not disintegrate with death. They continue on; we continue on.
If you are troubled with the thought of dying or with losing a loved one, then please allow the power of this message to comfort your heart. The truth is joyful.
Isiah 25:8, “He shall cast down death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from every face, and the reproach of his people he shall take away from the whole earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
Revelation 21:1-7, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To him that is thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life freely. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-58, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption; and this mortal must put on immortality. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
While in this life, people ask the questions: Is death the end, or is there something of people that survives after death? What kind of existence will one have after one dies? Will it be good or bad? Is there anything one can do to make it good? Every culture on earth has believed in life after death. The majority of the worlds religions believes in life after death. However, but only in the Christian religion can one experience eternal life:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“And the dust return into its earth, from whence it was, and the spirit return to God, who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory. It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power. It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42–44).
Life after death is a doctrine that is absolutely central to the Christian faith. Without this belief in future good, our faith would be meaningless, and so would our lives:
1 Corinthians 15:12-19, “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; for you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
In fact, down in verse 32, the apostle Paul is even more blunt: “If the dead are not raised: Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” That is, if we did not believe that we were to rise again from the dead, we might live like the impious and wicked, who have no belief in the resurrection.
Christ most certainly affirms there is an afterlife in a number of biblical passages. For example, in an encounter with the Sadducees who denied the teaching of resurrection, Christ rebuked them by saying, “Regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken” (Mark 12:26-27). Jesus clearly told them that those who have died centuries before are very much alive in spirit at that moment.
In another passage, Jesus comforts His disciples (and us) by telling them specifically that they can look forward to being with Him in Heaven: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going” (John 14:1-4).
The Afterlife - Two
Jesus also speaks authoritatively about what types of destinies await every person that dies: one with God and one without God. In Luke’s account of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus says, “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22–23). As the writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
The existence of life after death is a universal question. Job speaks for all of us by stating, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure....If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:1-2, 14). Like Job, all of us have been challenged by this question. Exactly what happens to us after we die? Do we simply cease to exist? Is life a revolving door of departing and returning to earth in order to eventually achieve personal greatness? Does everyone go to the same place, or do we go to different places? Is there really a heaven and hell?
The Bible tells us that there is not only life after death, but eternal life so glorious that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to the earth to give us this gift of eternal life. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Jesus took on the punishment that all of us deserve and sacrificed His life to pay the penalty for our sin. Three days later, He proved Himself victorious over death by rising from the grave. He remained on the earth for forty days and was witnessed by thousands before ascending to heaven. Romans 4:25 says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
When Jesus was talking with Martha about the death of Lazarus, her brother, He declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Right here, Jesus started presenting the astonishing claim that there is life after death. Jesus then went the next step and brought Lazarus back to life after four days in a tomb. At that point, Jesus put everyone on notice that He would later overcome the grave Himself!
The resurrection of the Christ is a well-documented event. The apostle Paul challenged people to question eyewitnesses for its validity, and no one was able to contest its truth. The resurrection is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can have faith that we, too, will be resurrected. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate proof of life after death. Christ was only the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again. Physical death came through one man, Adam, to whom we are all related. But all who have been adopted into God’s family through baptism and faith in Jesus Christ will be given new life (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). Just as God raised up Jesus’ body, so will our bodies be resurrected upon Jesus’ return and be united with our soul in Heaven (1 Corinthians 6:14).
One strand of belief in the afterlife is the resurrection of the dead at the end of the world. In this literal view, bodies will rise from their graves, return to life and be united with the soul of the body with whom it lived with while on earth. The resurrection is thus the rising again from the dead, the resumption of life. The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that all men, whether elect or reprobate, “will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear about with them”. In the language of the creeds and professions of faith this return to life is called resurrection of the body, and that for a reason: since the soul cannot die, it cannot be said to return to life.
The resurrection of the dead was expressly taught by Christ (John 5:28-29; 6:39-40; 11:25; Luke 14:14) and defended against the unbelief of the Sadducees, whom He charged with ignorance of the power of God and of the Scriptures (Matthew 22:29; Luke 20:37). St. Paul places the general resurrection on the same level of certainty with that of Christ’s Resurrection: “If Christ be preached, that he rose again from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen again. And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” (1 Corinthians 15:12 sqq.). The Apostle preached the resurrection of the dead as one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, at Athens, for instance (Acts 17:18, 31, 32), at Jerusalem (33: 6), before Felix (24:15), before Agrippa (26:8). He insists on the same doctrine in his Epistles (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:12 sqq.; 2 Corinthians 4:14; 5:1 sqq.; Philippians 3:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:12-16; 2 Timothy 2:11; Hebrews 6:2), and in this he agrees with the Apocalypse/Revelation (20:12 sqq.).
Although all bodies will eventually be resurrected, not everyone will go to heaven. A choice must be made by each person in this life, and this choice will determine one’s eternal destination. The Bible says that it is appointed for us to die only once, and after that will come judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Those who have been made righteous by faith in Christ will go into eternal life in heaven upon death, and at the resurrection will their bodies be joining them in there, but those who reject Christ as Savior or dies in mortal sin will be sent to eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46). Hell, like heaven, is not simply a state of existence, but a literal place. It is a place where the unrighteous will experience never-ending, eternal wrath from God. Hell is described as a bottomless pit (Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1) and a lake of fire, burning with sulfur, where the inhabitants will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). In hell, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, indicating intense grief and anger (Matthew 13:42).
God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires them to turn from their wicked ways so that they can live (Ezekiel 33:11). But He will not force us into submission; if we choose to reject Him, He accepts our decision to live eternally apart from Him. Life on earth is a test, a preparation for what is to come. For believers, life after death is eternal life in heaven with God. For the unbelievers and unrighteous, life after death is eternity in the lake of fire. How can we receive eternal life after death and avoid an eternity in the lake of fire? There is only one way—through faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and by following his commandments. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die...” (John 11:25-26).
The free gift of eternal life is available to all. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). We will not be given the opportunity to accept God’s gift of salvation after death. Our eternal destination is determined in our earthly lifetimes by our reception or rejection of Jesus Christ. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). If we trust in Jesus Christ and do penance for our sin against God, then we can faithfully believe and hope for, not only a meaningful life on earth, but also eternal life after death, in the glorious presence of Christ!
All shall rise from the dead in their own, in their entire, and in immortal bodies; but the good shall rise to the resurrection of life, the wicked to the resurrection of Judgment. It would destroy the very idea of resurrection, if the dead were to rise in bodies not their own. Again, the resurrection, like the creation, is to be numbered amongst the principal works of God; hence, as at the creation all things are perfect from the hand of God, so at the resurrection all things must be perfectly restored by the same omnipotent hand. But there is a difference between the earthly and the risen body; for the risen bodies of both saints and sinners shall be invested with immortality. This admirable restoration of nature is the result of the glorious triumph of Christ over death as described in several texts of Sacred Scripture: Isaiah 25:8; Osee, 13, 14; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Apocalypse 2:4. But while the just shall enjoy an endless felicity in the entirety of their restored members, the wicked “shall seek death, and shall not find it, shall desire to die, and death shall fly from them” (Revelation 9:6).
These three characteristics, identity, entirety, and immortality, will be common to the risen bodies of the just and the wicked. But the bodies of the saints shall be distinguished by four transcendent endowments, often called qualities.
The first is “impassibility”, which shall place them beyond the reach of pain and inconvenience. “It is sown”, says the Apostle, “in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42). The Schoolmen call this quality impassibility’, not incorruption, so as to mark it as a peculiarity of the glorified body; the bodies of the damned will be incorruptible indeed, but not impassible; they shall be subject to heat and cold, and all manner of pain.
The next quality is “brightness”, or “glory”, by which the bodies of the saints shall shine like the sun. “It is sown in dishonour,” says the Apostle, “it shall rise in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:43; cf. Matthew 13:43; 17:2; Philippians 3:21). All the bodies of the saints shall be equally impassible, but they shall be endowed with different degrees of glory. According to St. Paul: “One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars. For star differeth from star in glory”’(1 Corinthians 15:41-42).
The third quality is that of “agility”, by which the body shall be freed from its slowness of motion, and endowed with the capability of moving with the utmost facility and quickness wherever the soul pleases. The Apostle says: “It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power” (1 Corinthians 15:43).
The fourth quality is “subtility”, by which the body becomes subject to the absolute dominion of the soul. This is inferred from the words of the Apostle: “It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44). The body participates in the soul’s more perfect and spiritual life to such an extent that it becomes itself like a spirit. We see this quality exemplified in the fact that Christ passed through material objects.
You cannot believe the Scriptures without believing that there is life after death. Just consider the following examples.....
Matthew 25:46..... “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
John 3:16..... “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:36..... “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
John 5:24..... “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
John 6:40..... “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 11:25..... Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
Romans 5:21..... “so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 6:23..... “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10..... “Seeing it is a just thing with God to repay tribulation to them that trouble you: And to you who are troubled, rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with the angels of his power: In a flame of fire, giving vengeance to them who know not God, and who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who shall suffer eternal punishment in destruction, from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his power: When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be made wonderful in all them who have believed; because our testimony was believed upon you in that day.”
Titus 1:2..... “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.”
Titus 3:7..... “so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
1 John 5:11-13..... “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Revelation 20:15..... “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
So hopefully you can clearly see that the belief in eternal life is absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith.
There is a heaven, i.e., God will bestow happiness and the richest gifts on all those who depart this life free from original sin and personal mortal sin, and who are, consequently, in the state of justice and friendship with God. The existence of heaven is, of course, denied by atheists, materialists, and pantheists of all centuries as well as by those rationalists who teach that the soul perishes with the body — in short, by all who deny the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. But, for the rest, if we abstract from the specific quality and the supernatural character of heaven, the doctrine has never met with any opposition worthy of note. Even mere reason can prove the existence of heaven or of the happy state of the just in the next life. We shall give a brief outline of the principal arguments. From these we shall, at the same time, see that the bliss of heaven is eternal and consists primarily in the possession of God, and that heaven presupposes a condition of perfect happiness, in which every wish of the heart finds adequate satisfaction.
God made all things for His objective honour and glory. Every creature was to manifest His Divine perfections by becoming a likeness of God, each according to its capacity. But man is capable of becoming in the greatest and most perfect manner a likeness of God, when he knows and loves His infinite perfections with a knowledge and love analogous to God’s own love and knowledge. Therefore man is created to know God and to love Him. Moreover, this knowledge and love is to be eternal; for such is man’s capability and his calling, because his soul is immortal. Lastly, to know God and to love Him is the noblest occupation of the human mind, and consequently also its supreme happiness. Therefore man is created for eternal happiness; and he will infallibly attain it hereafter, unless, by sin, he renders himself unworthy of so high a destiny. Sadly, the gospel declares that very few are saved due to the many sins that are perpetrated by the human race.
God made all things for His formal glory, which consists in the knowledge and love shown Him by rational creatures. Irrational creatures cannot give formal glory to God directly, but they should assist rational creatures in doing so. This they can do by manifesting God’s perfections and by rendering other services; whilst rational creatures should, by their own personal knowledge and love of God, refer and direct all creatures to Him as their last end. Therefore every intelligent creature in general, and man in particular, is destined to know and love God for ever, though he may forfeit eternal happiness by sin.
God, in his infinite justice and holiness, must give virtue its due reward. But, as experience teaches, the virtuous do not obtain a sufficient reward here; hence they will be recompensed hereafter, and the reward must be everlasting, since the soul is immortal. Nor can it be supposed that the soul in the next life must merit her continuance in happiness by a continued series of combats; for this would be repugnant to all the tendencies and desires of human nature. God, in His wisdom, must set on the moral law a sanction, sufficiently appropriate and efficacious. But, unless each man is rewarded according to the measure of his good works, such a sanction could not be said to exist. Mere infliction of punishment for sin would be insufficient. In any case, reward for good deeds is the best means of inspiring zeal for virtue. Nature itself teaches us to reward virtue in others whenever we can, and to hope for a reward of our own good actions from the Supreme Ruler of the universe. That reward, not being given here, will be given hereafter.
God has implanted in the heart of man a love of virtue and a love of happiness; consequently, God, because of His wisdom, must by rewarding virtue establish perfect harmony between these two tendencies. But such a harmony is not established in this life; therefore it will be brought about in the next.
Every man has an innate desire for perfect beatitude. Experience proves this. The sight of the imperfect goods of earth naturally leads us to form the conception of a happiness so perfect as to satisfy all the desires of our heart. But we cannot conceive such a state without desiring it. Therefore we are destined for a happiness that is perfect and, for that very reason, eternal; and it will be ours, unless we forfeit it by sin. A natural tendency without an object is incompatible both with nature and with the Creator’s goodness. The arguments thus far advanced prove the existence of heaven as a state of perfect happiness.
We are born for higher things, for the possession of God. This earth can satisfy no man, least of all the wise. “Vanity of vanities”, says the Scripture (Ecclesiastes 1:1); and St. Augustine exclaimed: “Thou hast made us for Thyself (O God) and our heart is troubled till it rests in Thee.”
We are created for wisdom, for a possession of truth perfect in its kind. Our mental faculties and the aspirations of our nature give proof of this. But the scanty knowledge, that we can acquire on earth stands in no proportion to the capabilities of our soul. We shall possess truth in higher perfection hereafter if we persevere in goodness and piety.
God made us for holiness, for a complete and final triumph over passion and for the perfect and secure possession of virtue. Our natural aptitudes and desires bear witness to this. But this happy goal is not reached on earth, but in the next life.
We are created for love and friendship, for indissoluble union with our friends. At the grave of those we love our heart longs for a future reunion. This cry of nature is no delusion. A joyful and everlasting reunion awaits the just man beyond the grave.
It is the conviction of all peoples that there is a heaven in which the just will rejoice in the next life. But, in the fundamental questions of our being and our destiny, a conviction, so unanimous and universal, cannot be erroneous. Otherwise this world and the order of this world would remain an utter enigma to intelligent creatures, who ought to know at least the necessary means for reaching their appointed end.
Heaven is indeed a real place. The Bible tells us that heaven is God’s throne (Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:48-49; Matthew 5:34-35). After Jesus’ resurrection and appearance on earth to His disciples, “He was taken up into heaven and sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56). “Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24). Jesus not only went before us, entering on our behalf, but He is alive and has a present ministry in heaven, serving as our high priest in the true tabernacle made by God (Hebrews 6:19-20; 8:1-2).
We are also told by Jesus Himself that there are many rooms in God’s house and that He has gone before us to prepare a place for us. We have the assurance of His word that He will one day come back to earth and take us to where He is in heaven (John 14:1-4). Our belief in an eternal home in heaven is based on an explicit promise of Jesus. Heaven is most definitely a real place. Heaven truly does exist.
When people deny the existence of heaven, they deny not only the written Word of God, but they also deny the innermost longings of their own hearts. Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the Corinthians, encouraging them to cling to the hope of heaven so that they would not lose heart. Although we “groan and sigh” in our earthly state, we have the hope of heaven always before us and are eager to get there (2 Corinthians 5:1-4). Paul urged the Corinthians to look forward to their eternal home in heaven, a perspective that would enable them to endure hardships and disappointments in this life. “For that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Just as God has put in men’s hearts the knowledge that He exists (Romans 1:19-20), so are we “programmed” to desire heaven. It is the theme of countless books, songs, and works of art. Unfortunately, our sin has barred the way to heaven. Since heaven is the abode of a holy and perfect God, sin has no place there, nor can it be tolerated. Fortunately, God has provided for us the key to open the doors of heaven—Jesus Christ, and baptism (John 14:6; Luke 3:21). All who are baptized and who believe in Him and seek forgiveness for sin will find the doors of heaven swung wide open for them (John 3:3-5). May the future glory of our eternal home motivate us all to serve God faithfully and wholeheartedly. “Having therefore, brethren, a confidence in the entering into the holiest by the blood of Christ; A new and living way which he hath dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, And a high priest over the house of God: Let us draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with clean water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).