Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: What Happens After Death?
Last night my small group got into a discussion about what happens after death. Since most of the people in our small group are new Christians, they have a lot of thoughts about what happens when we die! They had no idea what the Bible said about the subject.
Would you mind addressing this issue?
Death and dying are on the back burners of everyone’s minds from preschoolers to the oldest adult. Some 9-year-old children were asked what they thought of death and dying:
Brittney: “When you die, they bury you in the ground and your soul goes to heaven, but your body can’t go to heaven because it is too crowded up there already.”
Judy: “Only the good people go to heaven. The other people to where it is hot all the time like in Arizona.”
John: “Maybe I’ll die someday, but I hope I don’t die on my birthday because it is no fun to celebrate your birthday if you’re dead.”
Martha: “When you die, you don’t have to do homework in heaven, unless your teacher is there, too.”
Common Misconceptions of What Happens after Death
1. No life after death
This is the view of naturalistic, secular humanist that says there is no God. When we die there is nothing. I suppose everything just goes dark when the lights are turned out. This view is primarily espoused today by Richard Dawkins. He is a devout atheist who has made a career attempting to debunk Christianity and take away hope from all those who follow Christ. But in Hebrews 12:6
, the author says that God made the universe out of nothing. It breaks my heart that Dawkins and other atheists are trying to take away the hope that is within us as Christians.
2. Soul Sleep
“Soul sleep” is the belief that after a person dies, his/her soul “sleeps” until the resurrection and final judgment. The concept of “soul sleep” is not biblical. Paul refuted that when he taught that for believers, as soon as we die we immediately are in the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8
; Philippians 1:23
Until the final resurrection, there is a temporary heaven called “Paradise” (Luke 23:43
; 2 Corinthians 12:4
). The temporary hell is known as “Hades” (Revelation 1:18
). In Jesus story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar, as told by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31
, no one in Hades is sleeping. The Seventh-Day Adventist church and Jehovah’s Witnesses, just to name a few, are believers in soul sleep.
Reincarnation is the idea that after we die, we return again and again for multiple lives. Life is a cycle of coming and going, birth and death. Many believe that a good and blessed life is a reflection of how well we behaved in previous lives. The better we were, the farther up the food chain we return. Reincarnation is foreign to the Bible. The Bible teaches just the opposite. Hebrews 9:27
declares: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that comes judgment."
The idea of reincarnation has been around for millennia. Think about it. After wintertime came Spring and the planting of crops. Plants grew in the summer and were harvested in the Fall. Everything died in the winter and then came alive again in the Spring. It’s easy to see why ancient peoples believed in reincarnation. They experienced it in the repeating seasons.
4. The bright light
We’ve all heard people testify of near-death experiences in which they look down a long hall and see a bright light. I have some experience with that. I’ve had heart rhythm problems since I was 13. On numerous occasions, my heart rhythm went into supraventricular tachycardia, when the upper chambers beat over 400 times per minute and the lower chambers, the ventricles, tried to keep up. The result was a quivering heart with no pumping action.
With no blood going to my brain everything started to go dark. When SVT hit I knew that I had only seconds to get on the ground. You know what it’s like when you stare too long at an electric light bulb? That’s what it looked like to me when my heart was failing to get blood to my brain. There was nothing spiritual about this. It was totally explainable as a physical manifestation.
The idea behind Purgatory is that many people are not good enough to go straight to heaven. They are placed in a “holding tank” until enough people pray for them so that they can get out of purgatory and on to Heaven.
Purgatory is never mentioned in the Bible. It is mentioned in one of the apocryphal books that were written by the Jews for the first century. The Jews do not accept this book as divinely inspired. Unfortunately, it is seen as Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church. It did not make it into the actual Canon of the 27 books of the New Testament. The idea of Purgatory comes from 2 Maccabees 12:39-46. By acting honorably Judas Maccabeus was qualified to make atonement for friends who had been involved in sin. These men needed someone to pray them out of hell.
6. St. Peter at the gate
There seems to be an idea commonly accepted by many Americans that when they die they will meet St. Peter at the gate. On the basis of their behaviors on earth, Peter will determine whether they can go to heaven or must go to hell. Unfortunately, too many people feel that the Bible teaches that going to heaven or hell is based on how many “goods” or “bads” they’ve done. That is never true. Going to heaven or hell is based on our response to the gospel. Jesus died on the cross to forgive the sins of the world and whoever believes in Him might have sins forgiven and live eternally.
7. The truth of the Bible
Jesus promised that at the moment of our death He will personally take us by the hand and escort us to our new home in Heaven. This is not a job for angels. He reserves for Himself the right to personally accompany us into Heaven’s glory (John 14:1-6
Death is nothing to fear; in fact, we Christians can look forward to it with anxious anticipation. In Philippians 1:21-23
, Paul declared: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”
Teaching about the Afterlife from Major World Religions
Most of the world’s religions have a strong viewpoint regarding life and death. Nearly all the religions believe in the afterlife, reincarnation, heaven, and hell, or soul.
Muslims believe that death is a movement from one world to another. It can be described as a journey through a separate dimension of existence.
Hindus believe in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls. According to Hinduism, death is a natural process in the existence of the soul. When a person dies, the soul travels to another world and finally returns to the earth to continue its journey.
Buddhists view death as taking a break from the materialistic world. Buddhists do not view death as a continuation of the soul but consider it as an awakening. They believe in reincarnation: once a person dies he/she will be reborn to a new life and the status of that life depends on the work he did before his premature death.
Paul declared: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” I am like Paul. I look forward to meeting Christ face to face.
Bonita, I hope you find this helpful. I’ll say a prayer right now for your small group to know the truth and be set free.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: November 12, 2015