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FAQ: What happens when I die?

I did some research and found that if you want to have a great shot at being a New York Times bestseller… you need to write about dying and coming back to life! Everyone is dying to know what happens when they die!

For instance – this book is called 90 minutes in heaven and it’s written by a guy that got into a wreck on the highway and the paramedics threw a tarp on him and waited for the medical examiner because they thought he was a goner. 90 minutes later he was alive and now we have this book…   Number one seller on the NY Times!

And there’s this book, 23 Minutes in Hell. Cause if one is going to sell you better believe the other will – except this guy didnt die. He doesn’t have the credentials – if you are going to write a book like this you have to be dead first. But this guy writes that he had visions of what it was like. And it also is – it claims at least, to be a big seller. People want to know. But I’ll give you a hint – this guy is cashing in on people’s curiosity. I would recommend passing on it, because I think it’s bunk.

The gold standard, of course, is this book, Heaven is for Real, about a 3 year old boy who died and then later began talking about all the people he met in heaven. And who’s going to argue with a kid, right? It made like 100 million dollars at the box office. That ain’t shabby. People want to know, right? #1 best seller!

I have never died. So I can’t tell you what I experienced when I was dead. But what I can do it talk about what the Bible says will happen to you when you die. Okay? So let’s get cracking.

First – let me tell you what will not happen to you. You will not be reincarnated. Reincarnation, of course, says you come back as someone else. Your soul gets a reboot. And so Karma dictates what you come back as – if you were good you come back better, bad you live in a slum. And no one helps you because you obviously deserved it by being a naught human being in 1602.

It’s not in the bible anywhere. You will not find a shred of a hint of a whisper of it.

Neither will you turn into an angel. No wings for you! Angels are angels – you are human. Human’s don’t turn into angels. Angels don’t turn into humans. And so – sorry if I’m messing up an image you had – but you are not an angel now and biblically you will never be an angel.

Neither will you turn into a ghost. And I’ll not talk too much about that but suffice it to say that human souls after they die don’t just wander about the earth seeking peace and haunting houses… not scriptural.

Here’s what else will not happen to you. You will not end up in purgatory.

Purgatory is an in-between state after death where people they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. Limbo is another form of purgatory – usually designated as the place where unbaptized babies go to upon death.

And I know that there might be some in here who have a background in the Catholic Church and you’ve learned about purgatory and I will tell you that its a doctrine that cannot be backed up Biblically. And it has a checkered past.

So what then will happen to me when I die? 

Well first – it’s important to know that biblically, we are more than material beings. We have bodies and souls. Death is the separation of body and soul, not the end of our personhood. When we die our bodies become lifeless and are no longer the place where we “reside,” but we continue to exist as souls.

And at death the immaterial part of us separates from the body and scripturally one of two things occur. The Bible leaves us only two options. We are either with Christ in glory or separated from Christ for eternity. There is a heaven and there is a hell.

Can we talk a little bit about hell? Some people don’t like to talk about hell. Some would rather just cut it out all together – because it makes us sound like fear mongering, or threatening or trying to scare people into heaven.  It makes me sound like a typical fire and brimstone, bible thumping red necks. Let’s just talk about love and compassion, people say, let’s not talk about hell. It’s unpleasant.

But since when is it compassionate to conceal unpleasant truth?

Have you ever heard of Kate Shelly? There’s a bridge named The Kate Shelley Bridge in Iowa, and the story is that in 1881 at the age of 17 there was a terrible train wreck near her home. It was during a terrible thunderstorm but she knew that there would be a passenger train from Omaha coming through in less than an hour and so she took off in terrible weather – at one point crossing a railroad bridge on her hands and knees across the Des Moines River to try to reach the station in time to stop the train from coming through. And she did make it. And lives were saved. And she was called what? 

What do you call someone who let’s you know that if you continue to travel down this track – destruction and death awaits? Do you call that person a fear mongerer? No! You call that person a hero and rightly so.

Did you know that no one talked more about Hell than Jesus? He spoke often and warned often, about a path that leads to destruction. Why did he speak so often about it? Because he knew it was a reality and he wanted to warn people to stop traveling down that path.

Now I will be honest with you – apart from hell being a reality that awaits those who refuse to believe in Jesus – there is much about hell we do not know. I would be doing you a disservice if I pretended that I knew more than we do.

What do we know about hell? I’ll share three things about hell.  

  • It’s real, according to Jesus.
  • It’s eternal – meaning that if you go there you will not be getting out. There is no escaping it.
  • It’s a place you would not want to go.

The word most commonly used to describe Hell is fiery. Jesus most commonly likened it to the city dump on the outskirts of Jerusalem – that was continually burning with refuse. So this is where the image of fire comes from. Based on the story that Jesus tells in Luke 16 – there appears to be no exit from hell.

Now the mainline teaching – the majority held view of scripture is that the souls that go to hell live there in eternal conscious torment.

I do want to say that there is a minority view among some theologians who propose that souls sent to hell will eventually cease to exist. They will eventually be annihilated.  These people are called “Annihilationists,” and the nutshell teaching is that once we believe in Jesus the gift we receive is eternal life. If we never believe, then we will be sent to hell but we will eventually cease to exist.

I am telling you as someone who has spent many hours studying this from scripture, that view is not without merit. Very strong theologians, brilliant theologian, John Stott, himself gives some credence to the idea that your soul is not automatically eternal. It can be destroyed. And that this destruction is eternal.

I am going to say that I am an agnostic (meaning I just don’t know exactly). There is a part of me very sympathetic with this view. But I can’t say for certain it’s right.

What am I sure about? Hell is real. Hell is eternal – either eternal destruction or eternal suffering. And lastly, it is clearly a place we do not want to be. Jesus sends considerable time warning us about it because it is a dreadful place to be.

Because hell is a place where God is not. And we have never experienced that. Even if you are here today and you don’t believe God exists – you are still today receiving unmerited grace from God. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the wicked and righteous alike. You are experiencing God’s goodness whether you believe in Him or not.

But in the afterlife – God allows those who don’t want Him, to be in a place where he is not. And it’s misery.

It is impossible for us to imagine what life apart from God and the simple graces of God would be like. C.S. Lewis wrote about what he thought hell would be like in his short book “The Great Divorce”.   Lewis basically describes Hell as being a place of loneliness and isolation and fear – but that it is inhabited by people who want to be there. They are living out th enatural outcome of their life. They have wanted to live their lives without a shpeherd- and so Lewis paints a picture of what that looks like in the afterlife.

And again – Lewis’ work is theologically fictional – but at the same time brilliant. And I think it’s interesting because he is proposing an idea that God treats us so much dignity that he will not force himself upon us. Not now nor after death.

So we know it’s real. Once there there is no escape. And it will be a place of misery.

Now there is a different option, of course – What happens to the person who has crossed the line of faith. They have made the decision to freely enter into the Good shepherds fold. They have freely decided to live within the Kingdom of God by placing their faith in Jesus. What happens to those of us who have believed that Jesus is Lord and have decided to surrender our lives to follow him?

Let me show you three things…

First at the moment of death believers will be made perfect and cleansed from all sin. 

When God takes us to heaven He makes us fit for the experience of it by making our hearts perfect in holiness. Colossians 1 says

21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach–

We’ve been talking so much this year about the transformation of our souls. The process whereby God is changing us and making us more loving, more kind, more like Jesus. And we have said that the process will end when we die and we are – what the bible calls ‘glorified’.

Instead of being mortals burdened with sin nature, we will be changed into holy immortals with direct and unhindered access to God’s presence, and we will enjoy fellowship with Him throughout eternity.

So what happens to believer upon death? We are finally put back to original pre-sin condition.

Secondly – We begin a waiting period until Jesus comes back – and he resurrects the dead. And we get a chance to be reunited with our bodies. Did you know that we will NOT spend eternity in heaven? We will one day be reunited with a body – that will be remade without sin.

We often have a wrong view of the age to come. We image ourselves as flying around in heaven for all of eternity. But a disembodied existence is not God’s ultimate and final and greatest purpose for us. As great as it will be to be in heaven after we die, God has something greater in store: being resurrected from the dead so that we will live soul and body forever in the new heavens and new earth.

But lastly – and most importantly… We will be with Jesus.

Listen – this is the most important thing to know when you die. It’s not where you go – it’s to whom you go. Check out these verses…

21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better.23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Philippians 1 NLT

Notice that Paul, who is the guy writing this, is torn. He says if I live I live for Christ and keep serving, which is good. But I long to go – where? It’s not where. He doesn’t say I can’t wait to get to heaven. He says I long to be with Jesus.

He writes something similar here in 2 Corinthians 5

6 So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing.8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.  2 Cor 5 NLT

Again – home where? Not home in heaven – but home with Jesus.

Which brings us back to the beauty of Psalm 23. The beauty and the power of Psalm 23 is that we have a loving shepherd who is with us no matter what we are going through. He is there beside us no matter how difficult the road, how sad the circumstances. He is with us.

And when the day comes and we close our eyes for the last time, we will open them on the other side of reality. And our eyes will open and we will begin to see this universe for the first time as it really is… And we will see the great shepherd of our soul face to face.

You know that is one of those mini themes that emerges from scripture – the reality and the frustration that because of God’s holiness we cannot see him now face to face – his purity would melt us do to our own impurity.

But then, we shall see him face to face. Everything will be different.


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