What happens when we die? Part 1

Death is the mother of all mysteries, it is the final destination that none wants  to arrive to. We spend billions of dollars trying to keep it at bay, but to no avail. It comes for us all. Many are scared of it, afraid to talk of it, scared even of the thought. Many are all too familiar with it, having seen young, old, friends, foes, loved ones and others plunge into its depths. We all know we are going there, but most of us don’t know anyone who has actually gone there and come back. Death is the ultimate veil remover; It is in death that we find out if the things that we were taught about God were true or not. Is death just a loss of consciousness? What is this bright light that people describe upon dying? Do people’s spirits still hang around after they die? Is there an afterlife, or just sleep? To many how you see death will effect how you live, because death forces us to find meaning for our lives.

Origins of Death

Scripture tells us that man was not made to die. He was made to live forever with God. In the beginning there was no mystery concerning death, nor even a hint, because man was living in paradise. He had it made. Death entered the world the minute that man sinned. It is here that we understand the true meaning of death.  Death is not just the destruction of our bodies, but the separation between man and the source of life itself; God.  There were two immediate consequences for man’s sin. The first was that the vital connection between man and God was broken, man’s spirit died. Secondly, man set into motion not just his own physical decay, but a deterioration and destruction of cosmic proportions. Soon the perfect order that had God had made with earth, the environment, and all life was disrupted, disorder and chaos soon would reign.

Man would eventually become progressively estranged  from God his father and creator. God, the source of life would become a distant memory, a cloudy dream. Eden would become a myth that man would want to return to, all the more as the world became increasingly marred with sin and its counterpart, death.

Scripture states clearly that sin and death go hand in hand.

For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)

When the first man  Adam sinned he unwittingly made an appointment with death for himself and all of his children. So the problem that all humans face is this; both our bodies and spirits are sentenced to death. Our bodies even in the best environment age and decay. There is a ticking time bomb in all of us preprogrammed but can be adjusted, usually sped up or slowed by diet, sickness, violence, accidents, or nature. Meanwhile our spirits are dead on arrival.

What’s worse is that the scriptures tell us that we are not only sentenced to death but subject to the wrath of God because of our sin.

1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodya and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-2

In Hebrews 11:6 it says

“It is appointed for man to die once and after that judgement.”

So one thing that we can know is that after we die, we all will face judgement. This implies that there will be some consciousness. So are we judged immediately?

Hades as a Destination

Many ancient cultures believed that there was some underground holding area for departed souls after death. Usually there was either one or two areas. Jesus in one of his parables mentioned two specific holding areas, one for the righteous and the other for the wicked. In fact when we look at Jesus parable of the rich man and Lazarus we find some details of what happens after death.

“There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’” Luke 16:18-31

Now there are some scholars who think this is actually a true story, while others think it is a parable. Either way there are some quick takeaways.

  1. After we die angels appear to carry us into out holding cells vs 22
  2. All senses appear to work; memory, sight, touch, hearing, speech
  3. Noone can leave without permission
  4. There are no second chances
  5. There is enjoyment where the righteous are and torment where the wicked are
  6. We are all expected to live our lives based on the Word of God
  7. God will judge us on how we treat others, especially the less fortunate
  8. This does not describe the final judgment of God

As you can see there are many takeaways from this parable, but there is one thing of critical importance that changed since Jesus gave this parable. What is that thing you may ask? It is the resurrection, of Jesus. We will get into this in part 2. But needless to say after the death and resurrection of Jesus the one thing that seems to change is that the righteous no longer abide in Hades, but they are now escorted to heaven.

So what are the implications of this?

One implication is that our spirits do not hover around our families for long periods of time. Now as an aside, there was an ancient Jewish thought, that believed that spirits hung around their bodies for around 3 days before  being taken, but in general it seems that after the body dies the spirit can not move independently. An angel escorts your spirit to its proper destination. If you did not have your sins cleansed by calling on Christ, you are taken to the wicked portion of Hades where you remain until the final judgement.

Another implication is that there is no eternal soul sleep. Atheists and agnostics are banking on the idea that there is no life after this. They are wrong. Even in Jesus’ time there were religious and irreligious people who thought that there was no after life, but Jesus’ often had to correct them by saying that he is not the God of the dead but the living. There will be a resurrection.

So what about people who have seen their relatives after being dead or people who sense their relatives are with them?

I would answer that the mind is a powerful force, but beyond that people leave imprints upon our core beings. This can effect our perception of them being with us.

I do also have to make room for the possibility that people do actually see things. In this case I would say it is not their relatives per se but possibly an angel/demonic apparition.

Scriptures are filled with plenty of example of angels taking the form of humans. So I could not possibly rule those out. There is a lot to the spirit world that we simply do not know, but scripture does teach us that after you pass, your spirit is limited in where it is able to go.

In part 2, I will address the afterlife,  reincarnation, seeing relatives after death and heaven and hell. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.

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