Today we want to talk about, I think, one of the most important questions that we’ll address ever. And the question is, is there life after death? I mean, what we know is one hundred percent of the people that you’ll ever meet are you going to die.
Mortality, the ratios are about one hundred percent to zero. Everybody dies. And so the question is, is that it? What happens to you after you die? And if so, what’s the basis of that? How does it work?
I’ve got seven evidences here of life after death and, and trying to be as objective as I can, I can’t say that any one of these singularly prove that after your heart stops, after your brainwaves cease, that there is absolute scientific empirical proof that there’s life after death.
But, I would say, when you take these cumulatively together, I think the evidence is overwhelming that for you and for me and every person you’ll ever meet, that when they take their last breath it will certainly not be the end of their life. But they will experience a different kind of life.
So let’s look at the seven evidences. The first evidence is from nature. We learn a lot from nature. The pattern, the cycle - things go in a cycle and they die. We have this thing called winter where everything gets dark and, and the leaves are gone and then we have this thing called spring where life comes back.
It was Plato who said that I’m not sure what’s after death but nature seems to give us a picture of what it will be like, some new kind of life after death. Inside of every piece of fruit is a seed and if you plant the seed, you get the tree that brought it. An oak tree has an acorn and the acorn, if you plant it, you get another oak tree. The caterpillar goes into this cocoon and it seems to die and then it bursts forth as a butterfly.
The second evidence for life after death is anthropology. Anthropologists say, every culture on the face of the earth believes in some type of afterlife - from primitive cultures to the Amazon to the Himalayas to urban cultures and universally.
Something about us human beings believe that after we die, there’s something. So some people build pyramids and other people have all kind of rituals. Some people think they can take their riches with them. There’s a universal belief system in terms of life after death - a common thread of all people.
We have this innate, inner longing. Psychologist call it that sense of ‘there’s got to be something more’ - that hunger, that thirst for meaning, significance – it never quite gets satisfied. For example: if I only had enough money, if I just find the right person, if we ever have kids, if we just do this, if I could ever get the right job.
No matter what we accomplish, no matter how good it gets, there’s always that, hmmmm, we’re not quite there. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, it’s because God has placed eternity inside our hearts so nothing fully in this life will ever answer that big question that says, you’ve arrived.
So you have nature, anthropology, psychology. Ethics. Morality demands justice, right? I mean, if something’s moral, evil should be punished, goodness should be rewarded, and since life’s not fair, and a lot of evil things appear, at least in this life, to prosper. People who do some really, really good things experience tremendous injustice, the argument goes, in order for justice or a balancing of the scales, there needs to be an afterlife to deal with some things. In fact, even in scripture, we have Jesus speaking of some that - in this life, you got this and this is what you’ll receive in the next life. It’s the argument of justice.
The next one is very similar, philosophically. Immanuel Kant took this idea of ethics and he took it to its logical conclusion. He said, philosophically, you need to have an afterlife because if there’s morality and if there’s purpose and there’s saneness because life isn’t fair, to have a consistent philosophy, he went through a lot of logic and reasoning but he basically says, you really can’t have meaning and purpose in life, philosophically, without justice; you gotta have ethics and all that that requires… and all that can’t get done in this life. There has to be more than this to come up with a philosophical basis for living a life of morality and goodness and caring about people.
And then, science - we have the “NDE” or the near death experiences. Eight million Americans claim to have near death experiences.
The early stories came out and they were mostly anecdotal. You maybe remember a book that came out, Embraced by the Light. There are these anecdotal stories of ‘I went through a long tunnel and then there was light’ and they meet various religious figures or sometimes they’ll meet old relatives. They were all sort of this ooey gooey wonderful, after you die, everyone gets embraced by the light.
It became very popular. Well, two people did some empirical research. One was a psychologist named Ring and the other was a cardiologist named Sabon. They wanted to get definitive of what are we talking about when we say ‘a near death experience’. So they said the only people in our studies that are going to qualify for a near death experience had to have their heart stop and their brainwaves cease. Those people seem to be more dead than someone who just had a close brush. And then, what they did is, they took all the people and they began to do evaluations of what they actually experienced.
And by the way, if you went into a long dark tunnel, that’s not the kind of thing, when you almost die, that you tell your friends and family about. Hey, you know what? My heart stopped, the brainwaves, I was out for seven and a half minutes, I had a horrifying experience… that wasn’t one that people were sharing at family reunions.
Here is what Ring and Sabon, in their research, discovered. Ring’s research, empirically, found that sixteen percent of the people, in a near death experience, experienced the light. Twenty-three percent entered into a tunnel of darkness. According to Sabon, twenty-eight percent entered the darkness and twenty-three percent entered this light experience.
Now, what’s interesting about this is, lots of it is actual, real testimonies. One lady, I remember reading a testimony; she was dead, clinically, for three hours, which obviously, if she ever comes back her brain should never work. Nothing should work, etcetera, etcetera.
They were pushing her into the morgue and she spontaneously, comes back to life. And so, obviously, the person pushing that cart had a rough day. Ah! You know?
Then, she begins to explain to the doctors what they were wearing, the jokes they told, what happened. She described what many describe of coming out of their body, being able to see what was going on.
One person even talked about going out up through the roof of the hospital and, by the way, said, I think it’s about the sixth floor, there’s a tennis shoe out on the ledge and this is what’s on top of the hospital. They went, got the tennis shoe, it was verifiable.
This is really interesting, they’ve done studies with people that were physically blind who had a near death experience and they describe what was happening in the operating room.
The medical research seems pretty strong to indicate that although a person’s heart may completely stop and the brainwaves completely cease, that their awareness and life doesn’t necessarily end.
Now, it’s all over the map in terms of how people interpret those experiences and who they see and why and what. If you want a good read for yourself you can Google ‘NDE’ and see what’s going on. It’s interesting research.
The seventh is, Jesus and the Bible. There’s only one person who’s claimed in any religious movement to have died, been there, done that, and come back, and tell people very specifically what it’s like. It wasn’t in a dream, it wasn’t to a prophet, it wasn’t to a teacher, and it wasn’t second hand.
It was forty actual days on the earth after He died, came back to life three days later, interacted with over five hundred eyewitnesses at twelve different occasions, and told people, this is how you need to prepare for the afterlife.
So, I think when I look at nature and anthropology, psychology, ethics, philosophy, science, and the Bible, the cumulative evidence of these make a belief in the afterlife the most rational, plausible, and intellectually defensible conclusion to the question, is there life after death? That’s all I want to establish.
If there is life after death, what’s it like? And what does the Bible actually teach? What does the Bible teach about the moment you die; you’re actually dead, what happens?
The Bible says a lot about what happens after people die. And so what I wanted to do is, I thought, if I could just step back the lens of the camera and give you four broad brush strokes. Here’s what people from all theological camps would agree that we know for sure happened according to scripture after you die.
Four summary statements…now, we could get more particular about, there are different resurrections at different times and there are different judgments for different people at different times. I’m not going to go into all that. Just four broad strokes that we know for sure.
Summary statements of what happens the moment you die. Number one: At death, every person’s soul or spirit, the immaterial you, enters immediately and consciously into the relational aspects of eternal existence. Your physical body goes in the grave and your soul, your spirit, prior to resurrection, has an immediate, conscious relationship to eternity.
No pit stops, no soul sleep, no annihilation. And we have two paradigms in the New Testament. We have Jesus’ paradigm explaining the afterlife and then you have Paul explaining the afterlife. And so, if you want to look in your New Testament, follow along.
I want to read out of Luke chapter 16 where Jesus explains, in the culture of His day, to people very clearly, His view of the afterlife. Luke 16 beginning at verse 19.
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
In his vernacular, what is he saying? They’ve got the Word of God. They got Moses, they’ve got the prophets.
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Interesting how Jesus, almost tongue-in-cheek, is talking about even someone from the dead, they wouldn’t believe.
But think about what we know here. There are two distinct possibilities according to Jesus. They have conscious awareness. There’s a chasm that is fixed. Once someone dies, there’s not a second chance. They’re not in some remote place. He dies and has awareness. There is a place of torment and there is a place of, of paradise, relationship with Abraham. You have Jesus laying out pretty clearly, this is what happens after you die.
The Apostle Paul in II Corinthians chapter 5 would use a different metaphor. He talks about our body being a tent. But I want you to get verse 8. But pick it up in verse 1, he says, “ 1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in” speaking of our body, “is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands”. He has assurance that there is a place; there is a reality after you die.
“2 Meanwhile” or presently, “we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent,” or this body, “ we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight.
8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”.
And so all I would say is, at death, every person’s immaterial part, your soul or your spirit, enters immediately and consciously into relational aspects of eternal existence.
Now, there are a lot of different words and it gets technical about Sheol and Hades and Gehenna, and Tartarus, and various compartments and all kind of different things that theologians, many of the times, have argued about. But that key statement is very clear in scripture.
Second broad stroke truth about what happens after you die: Every person will one day be resurrected and live forever. Everyone will live forever. The Apostle Paul knew what would happen, remember in Philippians 1, he didn’t know whether he should live or die. He said to remain on here, it would be for your benefit but if I die, that’s better to be with Him.
Later, the Apostle Paul speaks in Acts, actually, it was earlier in his ministry. He’s in prison and he gets to give his testimony. He talks to this King Agrippa, to Festus, and to others and he begins to explain the Christian life.
As he explains the Christian life, he says, notice Acts 24:14 to 15. He says, I’m on trial for the resurrection. He says, “14I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way”, that’s what the early Church was called, “which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15and I have the same hope in God as these men”, He’s been accused by the Jews of pulling down the temple and the law of Moses and all the rest. He says, I believe the same as these men “that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked’.
In Revelation chapter 20 verses 11 through 13, there’s a resurrection that talks about believers. There’s a resurrection about unbelievers. There’s a resurrection that talks about the judgment of nations.
I don’t know why, but I was a Christian about five years. I didn’t grow up reading the Bible. I never opened the Bible ‘til I was eighteen and I read through the New Testament two or three times ‘cause that other part seemed so big.
Then eventually I got where I started and I’d read through the Old and the New Testament and I actually, give a good plug here. I could not figure out most of the Bible, candidly. I didn’t know who the Hittites were and I didn’t know all the history.
And I got a Bible called the Daily Walk Bible. Actually, it used to come out in magazines. It’s put out by Walk Thru the Bible and it has every book and every book of the Bible starts out with a chart of the entire book and then you read a little section each day and it gives you historical background, then you read it, and then application.
I bet I read that Daily Walk Bible at least the first ten, twelve, fifteen years I was a Christian. Every year. Every year. Every year. Until finally, I figured out, now this is who Jeremiah’s talking to and Moses, this is back here and they would have pictures to show you.
You know when you read Leviticus, when you can only take it so long so you skip and say, man, I’m not going to read through the Bible this year if I stay in Leviticus very long. But it’s really neat when someone explains to you what all those offerings mean and how it ties in.
So, I would do that. But I’d been a Christian five years and I don’t know why it never dawned on me. Everyone lives eternally. Do you realize that? Everyone. Everyone gets resurrected. There’s a resurrection for the righteous, there’s a resurrection for the wicked and we will both live forever. Boy that’s… that’s strong.
Broad stroke number three that ties into it. Every person will be judged and granted the extended capacity to fulfill an eternity, the deepest yearnings and desires of their heart while on earth. Hebrews 9:27 says 27 “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”.
I like the older version. It’s appointed unto man once to die but after this, the judgment. Every single person is going to give an account. And, and we’re going to be judged based on, how did we respond to the offer.
It talks about the response of our works, our activities. But our activities will reveal our belief system. And so we’re going to be judged. In fact, the judge is outlined in John 5:25 to 27, if you want to know exactly how or who is going to judge and why.
It says, I tell you the truth. Jesus speaking. “25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in Himself. 27 And He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man”.
Judgment is universal for all. There are no second chances. Jesus is the judge and judgment will be our response to Jesus and the Gospel. How did you respond to the Gospel?
Now, God doesn’t do any slam dunks. I want you to really think about that phrase, ‘after you die, you get an extended capacity to fulfill the deepest yearnings and longings of your heart in eternity’. If, during your earthly life, you’re deepest yearnings were about you and your fulfillment and your greed and your stuff and you’re in control and you stiff-arm God. I don’t want to be near God, I’m tired of people telling me what I need to do. I’m tired of the Bible shoving down my throat. I don’t want God or anyone else telling me. I’ll think about that later, my deepest yearnings are about me, my life, my pleasure. I want to distance myself from God.
God says, for those who do that, because he’s a righteous God who honors the dignity of our free choices, you will have an expanded capacity to be free from God for the rest of your life.
If, by contrast, your yearning was to draw near to God and you’d received his forgiveness and you wanted to know him and you found yourself saying I want to get to know God through his Word and I want to be around the community of God’s people and, sure, it’s three steps forward and two steps backward - but the deepest yearning is to please God and to honor God and to love people and discover why I’m here and what’s my purpose and what are my spiritual gifts.
Yes I go to work and yes, I have struggles here and there but my deepest yearnings are and the greatest joy I have is to honor God and to please God and to see other people that don’t know him get to know him and allow him to change my life. When you die, you will have an extended capacity to know him and enjoy him and worship him. And actually get to work. Heaven is not sipping iced tea and floating on clouds.
Heaven is going to be…there’s an intermediate heaven but heaven will be a new heaven that’s very concrete that has culture and life and music and food and jobs and rewards and God’s presence. You will have an extended capacity forever and ever to enjoy that.
This idea that God arbitrarily slam-dunks people - you don’t believe so I hate you, or from the foundations of the earth he says I love this group, I hate this group. No, no, no. God is absolutely sovereign, but he honors the free choosing will that he gives to each of us and you will be judged and I will be judged on what we did with the work of Jesus.
A free gift has been offered. No amount of good works, no amount of your own morality or philosophy can ever make you right with a holy God. To be right with a holy God, your test scores need to come in one hundred points. No errors. One hundred points is passing.
Even if you’re a ninety-seven or a ninety-eight, like maybe a Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, whoever, you fail. If you’re a minus five, like an axe-murderer, you fail. So, it takes the grace of God, it takes the gift of Christ on the cross, to atone. That’s what the word means. To atone or cover for your sin and so when Jesus died on the cross, he paid for your sin, my sin, and according to 1 John, the sins of the whole world. That whosoever would receive the free gift of Christ’s work as their substitute might not perish but have everlasting life. The moment you die, you have an extended capacity to enjoy that relationship.