Blog #32 – What Does the Bible Say Happens Right After Death?

By John Cline
We have recently had two of our elderly saints at McLaurin Church pass away and go into “glory”. We firmly believe that both the Rev. Dalton Grant and Mrs. Irene Christenson are safe for all of eternity with their Lord in heaven. But, what does the Bible tell us regarding what happens right after death?
Before we explore the answer to that question we have to say this: heaven is spectacular and deceased believers are there. The Book of Revelation, chapters 4 and 5, gives us the fullest glimpse of heaven. I encourage you to read those chapters on your own but, in part, here is what is described: a throne with God sitting on it and Jesus the Lamb of God in the center of the throne. Around the throne of God are 24 others “thrones” with “elders” seated on them, and around them are angels, and four “living creatures”, and “every creature in heaven” gathered to sing praised to the Lord. The colours in heaven are vivid and the jewels fantastic. There is nothing impure in heaven. Everything and everybody worships the Lord there.
So, what does the Bible tell us regarding what happens right after death? The first thing is an appointment with  God. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote, “it is appointed for a person to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27), so we know that a judgment comes after a person dies. But, what is that judgment? John 3:16-18 reads this way: “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. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only son.’ The text in unclear whether those were Jesus’ own verbal words or the written, explanatory words of the author John the apostle. Either way, the message is clear:  God in His love and mercy sent Jesus into the world to save people. Salvation is certain through faith in him. Our prayer is that those who do not profess him while alive might, on their deathbeds, confess him as their personal Lord and Saviour.
A second point that must be made involves awareness: those who die are immediately aware of what is going on. Many, many books on the subject of “life after death”, only “life after life”, or “near-death experiences” all indicate the same thing – that the person who has died is immediately aware of what is happening both on heaven and on earth. Jesus gives us a story about a rich man and Lazarus, a very poor man whom Jesus identified as a beggar. The rich man died and went to hell while Lazarus, the poor man, went to heaven. The rich man begged to get out of hell. When that was refused he then asked that someone from heaven go and warn his five brothers to not make the mistakes in life he made. What is clear here is that waiting until you die is too late if you are hoping that then will be the chance to convince God to let you into heaven.
So, one moment after an unsaved person dies, they are already in torment and can experience physical pain (Luke 16:23-24) but also have mental anguish and regret (Luke 16:28), but by then, it is far too late. That’s why the New Testament says that “today is the day of salvation”, because tomorrow may be too late if Christ returns or you die without trusting in Christ. From what the Bible teaches, we know that in the very next moment after death, the children of God are with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Two final points have always fascinated me with those who reject the Christian view of heaven and hell and who claim that everyone makes it to heaven. First, such a belief does away with the concept of God being fair, just, and merciful for surely no one would argue that some of the people who have done despicable things in this world (Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, unrepentant rapists and pedophiles, etc, etc) should be welcomed into heaven by God. That would not be just or fair or right. Second, if universal salvation is true then Christians are saved no matter what. Christians have won either way, through universal salvation or by faith in Jesus Christ.  But, for those who reject Christ the odds of heaven for them after death is, at best, 50-50. I would rather take the certain thing than the uncertain one, any day.
In any case, Christians are not superior to anyone else. We do not judge others. We cannot judge therefore we must not judge. But, God does judge. Our prayer is that all would be saved and spend eternity in heaven. Dalton and Irene and millions of others are there already, waiting for us while worshipping the Lord with all of the angels and living creatures and elders. As the old hymn goes, “What a Day it Will Be When My Jesus I Shall See”. It truly is “glory”.
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