by Steven Chan
Is there life after death? That’s the question that some have asked.
The Bible says in James 4:13-16: “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
In the afore-stated passage, it says that our life is “even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” Does this mean that life “vanishes” at death – and that there’s no life after death? Not at all. In ensuring that we do not misinterpret the Bible, we need to consider the immediate context of what James was discussing about. He was referring to the “life on earth” because he referred to our daily life on earth such as planning for our business: “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit.” James said nothing in this immediate passage about there being no life after death; he merely said that “life on earth” would “cease or vanish” for those who have died.
Now, let’s consider the wider context of the writing of James on this same subject matter. In James 2:26, James wrote thus: “For as the body without the spirit is dead”. So, James said that at death our body is separated from the spirit.
When the separation of the body from the spirit happens, according to Ecc 12:7, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
In Gen 2:7, the Bible tells us about how God made man: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” We can read of the two parts that formed man: the dust from which God formed man; and the breath of life or the spirit that was given by God.
As a consequence of man’s sin, God said to man in Gen 3:19: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” But while the body which was made from dust returns to the dust (that’s what happens after the body is buried), the spirit that was given by God shall return to God who gave it. That’s why, in Matt 10:28, Jesus warned: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
So, when one asked the question whether there’s life after death, one should be careful to ascertain what is meant by “life after death”. Life on earth as we know it, will cease or vanish at death. But will there be a part of us that will continue to live on? The Bible’s answer is, “yes”: the spirit part of us which “separates from the body” will “return to God who gave it”. So, the spirit part of man will live on after death. That’s why in Heb 9:27, the bible warns us: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement”. If man ceases to exist after death, then one need not be concerned about the judgement.
In his second epistle to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul discussed the situation when our “earthly tent” (i.e. our body) is destroyed at death, we (i.e. our spirits) can look forward to a “building from God, a house not made with (human) hands)”:
“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor 5: 1-11).
The Bible tells us that our mortal body shall put on immortality when Christ comes again and the dead are raised on that last day:-
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? (1 Cor 15:50-55).
The apostle Paul said the same thing to the church at Thessalonica:-
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess 4:15-18).
In the November 6, 2016 issue of the Malaysian Insider, one writer wrote about life in this manner:-
“I’ve never thought of life this way – through death. And now that I think of it, I see how much of a difference it makes. There is no heaven. There is no hell. Once your eyes shut for that final time, you’ll never see again – that’s it, curtains, the end, the final full stop. And that final time could be the next second, the next minute, the next anytime. If everyone accepted this as the ultimate truth – that there is nothing beyond, that all the time we’ll ever have is the time we have here – then I’m sure the world would be a very different place. We spend way too much time chasing down our tomorrows and lose track of our todays.” (http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/beyond-the-grains-of-coffee-beans-kumarendran-balachandran)
The apostle Paul made a similar observation as the above writer in I Cor 15:32: “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” But Paul had a very important qualifier in that statement: “if the dead do not rise (i.e. IF there is no future resurrection)” then it would be true that “all the time we’ll ever have is the time we have here” – let’s live in the present: ‘eat, drink and make merry’ for tomorrow we die – and that’s the end!
But Jesus said in John 5:28-29 that there will be a resurrection of the dead:-
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
In Acts 17:29, the inspired apostle Paul said that there will be a judgement day in the future: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
God has provided us with the evidence for the Day of Judgement by ‘raising Jesus from the dead”. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then we need not believe in Him nor in what He has taught. Had He failed to rise from the dead when He had prophesied that He would rise from the dead, then we cannot trust Him: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.”(Luke 9:22). His resurrection from the dead after three days, proved that Jesus was indeed the Son of God: “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”(Rom 1:4). Jesus said that there will be a resurrection of the dead and that He will be the Judge of all man on the last day (John 5:22-29; 6:40; 11:24; 12:48; Acts 10:42; Rev 20:11-15). Man does not cease to exist after death.
Jesus taught us about what happened after death in Luke 16:19-31. Man will go to one of two places, ‘Abraham’s bosom’ (paradise – where Jesus went after His death: Luke 23:43) or Hades (Tartarus – place of torment – where the rich man went after death) :-
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell[d] from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
The Bible does not teach the idea of purgatory where the dead go to be cleansed, and after prayers are made by the living on his behalf, for a period of time, say 12 months, he can be cleansed from his sins, and thereafter the dead can ascend from hell into heaven. As noted by Jesus in the above account, when one goes into one of the two places, none can go from one place to the other: “there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”(Luke 16:26). If the rich man was merely in purgatory, he need not worry too much as he would soon be able to be cleansed and moved to Paradise. If the rich man was only being tormented temporarily, then his request to Lazarus would be to ask his five brothers to pray for him so that he could be quickly cleansed and be able to move across to Abraham’s bosom. But he did not ask for that. He understood what Abraham meant when he said that no one can cross that gulf that has been fixed. As the Bible clearly says in Heb 9:27: “now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”
There is no second chance after death. Judgement awaits all after death. Let’s be ready to give an account of our lives to God (Rom 14:12; 2 Cor 5:10).
The good news of our Lord Jesus is that we can have eternal life in heaven through Jesus Christ: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23). Jesus assured us in John 14:1-6:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And 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. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” 5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
If we put our trust in Jesus (John 8:24) and obey Him by repenting of our sins (Luke 13:3), acknowledging Him as our Lord (Rom 10:9-10), being baptized for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Gal 3:27), being added into His body of the saved ones (Acts 2:47; I Cor 12:13) and committing our lives to do His will (Matt 7:21-27) then God’s grace through Jesus Christ will enable us to be saved to the uttermost (Heb 7:25; Eph 2:8-10; Rom 5:2) as we continue to live by faith in Him (2 Cor 5:7; Rom 1:17; Heb 11:6; Gal 2:20). Jesus has assured us that He has gone to prepare a place for us and that He will come again to receive us into heaven throughout all eternity (John 14:1-6;1 Pet 1:3-4).
When you have placed your trust in Jesus (2 Tim 1:12) then “once your eyes shut for that final time”, the next time they open, you will be in Abraham’s bosom, a place of comfort – and after Judgement, heaven awaits us where “God shall wipe away every tear from our eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more” (Rev 21:4).