What happens after death? Don't most of us want to know? Unless you are an atheist, you have probably wondered about the afterlife. There are many religions and spiritual beliefs, but they all have one thing in common–life after death.
This article focuses on the biblical view of eternity and what's in store for us after we take our last breath–which we all will do sooner or later.
If we are honest with ourselves, don't we want to live forever? And if we live forever, don't we want to think we will be happy? Have you ever asked yourself, "Is hell real?"
According to the Bible, as perhaps all of you are aware, there are two possible destinies for humans in the afterlife–heaven or hell. Of course we all want to believe in some kind of heaven, but how many really want to go to hell.
When people say, "I'll see you in hell," or sing songs like, "I'm on the highway to hell," do they really believe it? Or are they just joking about the whole concept? The only people that really want to go to hell are the ones who have been deceived into thinking that it's a good place to be. They might say, "Satan will give me power when I'm there," or "All my friends will be there anyway." I ask you, if hell is real, what is hell like?
Other people think that God is too loving to ever punish someone in hell or that only the really bad people go there. You may have heard of a movie title called, "All dogs go to heaven." Many believe that "all people go to heaven," or whatever term a person would use for eternal bliss.
Many people don't know why we should believe the Bible. However, if we accept that the Bible is truly inspired by God (II Timothy 3:16; II Peter 1:20,21), then we cannot accept what it says about heaven and disregard what it says about hell. The Bible does indeed reveal what happens after death–eternity in the lake of fire or eternity in the presence of God. We need to know what the Bible says so we can be confident in the destiny of our own afterlife.
So what does the Bible say about these two opposite destinies? Let's take a look.
What is hell like?
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. – Matthew 10:28, NKJV
Many people think that God is so loving He would never sentence a person to Hell. The Bible clearly teaches otherwise. If we believe that God is love from the Bible, we must also believe that God is a judge from the Bible. We should fear God's judgment more than an earthly judge. The above verse teaches that God will "destroy both soul and body in hell." So yes, the Bible says that Hell is real.
But what is Hell like? Do we want to take a chance? Will it be so bad that we really have to avoid it. After all, becoming a Christian, or at least too serious a Christian, would be such a boring life.
And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, … cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. – Luke 16:23,24, MKJV
In hell worms that eat the body never die, and the fire is never put out. – Mark 9:48, GW
…reserved the blackness of darkness forever. – Jude 1:13b, NKJV
He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone … they have no rest day or night, – Revelation 14:10,11, NKJV
…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, …These shall be punished with everlasting destruction. – II Thessalonians 1:8-10, NKJV
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 13:41,42, NKJV
Many sleeping in the ground will wake up. Some will wake up to live forever, but others will wake up to be ashamed and disgraced forever. – Daniel 12:2, GW
And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. – Revelation 20:15, NKJV
Is hell real? If we believe the Bible–it is. What is hell like? Torment…worm-filled body…fire is never put out…darkness forever…fire and brimstone…punishment with everlasting destruction…wailing and gnashing of teeth…shame and disgrace. What is literal and what is figurative? Does it matter? Do we really want to take a chance? What is the alternative?
How to change destinies
First of all, why is anyone going to hell in the first place?
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. – Romans 5:12, NKJV
Death! We must all die physically and spiritually because of Adam and Eve's first act of disobedience (Genesis 2:16,17; 3:1-7). We all recognize what physical death is. But what is spiritual death? That is eternal separation from our Creator. When we physically die, since we are not in a relationship with God in this life, we cannot be in a relationship with God in the afterlife. Therefore, Hell is our eternal destiny from the time we are first born.
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. – John 3:18, NKJV
We are already condemned from the moment of birth because of our sin nature. God is a holy God and cannot have a relationship with an unholy people. But God provided a way for us to escape our eternal destiny of hell. Jesus Christ!
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23, NKJV
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. – Romans 5:8,9, NKJV
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. – John 3:36, NKJV
We will experience the wrath of God in our original destiny of hell. But what happens after death depends on if we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are already on our way to hell from the time of our birth. We just have to switch tracks while we are still alive on earth. As soon as we believe in Jesus Christ as our only way to heaven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), we are declared righteous. Therefore we now enter into an eternal relationship with God.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. – John 5:24, NKJV
As soon as we become a Christian, we switch eternal tracks from hell bound to heaven bound. We already pass from death into life.
What is heaven like?
First of all, heaven must only be considered a general term for where believers go in the afterlife. At most, we will be in heaven until the resurrection at Christ's return (John 6:39,40; I Thes 4:13-17). Then we will reign with Christ on earth for 1000 years. After that, the New Jerusalem will come down to earth, and our Father will also dwell with us on earth. So heaven - as we are familiar with it now - is not where we will be for all eternity.
If we are on the heaven bound train, aren't we a little curious about what's going to happen once we get there? When we go on a trip, we look at brochures. We read about the amenities. We see photographs. Well, the Bible has given us some information about our eternal destiny in the kingdom of God. To say it's a much better alternative than Hell is an understatement when we think about how long eternity really is.
and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord. – II Corinthians 5:8, HCSB
That is a statement every believer can confidently say. As soon as we breathe our last, our souls enter the presence of the Lord while our bodies lay still where we died. Our bodies are then buried or cremated by our loved ones, but we live on–in heaven with God, the angels, and the believers who have passed into eternity before us. Some people believe that Christians go to paradise (where Abraham and Lazarus were, Luke 16:19-31). What matters is that we are awaiting our resurrection in the place God designates for His people.
But guess what, we will get our bodies back, just like Jesus did when He was raised from the dead. When the last trumpet sounds and Jesus comes like a thief back to earth at His second coming, our bodies will also be resurrected and our souls returned to them. Jesus promised:
And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day. – John 6:40, NKJV
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. – I Thessalonians 4:16, NKJV
Our bodies must perish because of the curse of death, and they cannot enter the presence of a holy God. When Christ returns and causes the resurrection of believers, our souls will be reunited with transformed bodies:
Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s Kingdom; neither does the perishable inherit imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 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 will be changed. For this perishable body must become imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. – I Corinthians 15:50-53, WEB
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, … – Philippians 3:20,21, NKJV
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. – I John 3:2, NKJV
We are going to receive beautiful, bright, and marvelous bodies. What an upgrade! We will be recognizable for who we are. The disciples knew Christ when He was raised from the dead. He could also pass through doors and could eat food as well (John 20:18-20; 21:12-14). Our bodies will be remarkable. Perhaps it will be the first time we will be able to eat and drink since our deaths.
What is heaven like? As I said, heaven is a general term we use for the afterlife. There is what we think of as the "third heaven" (II Cor. 12:2), where God dwells and where our souls originally go when we first die (or paradise if that is where Abraham and Lazarus still remain). There is also going to be heaven on earth–in two stages. When Christ returns, He will reign on earth for 1000 years, and believers will be here in our resurrected bodies with Him. Surviving unbelievers will also be alive at that time, but Satan will be temporarily imprisoned in the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1-6). Then after 1000 years, and the final battle of Gog and Magog with Satan and the unbelieving nations (Rev. 20:7-10; Ezek. 38:1-23), a new heaven and earth will be birthed. The New Jerusalem will come down from heaven and the tabernacle of God will be with men forever (Rev.21:1-27; 22:1-5).
What heaven is like is described in different details during different stages of eternity. We can't always tell what stage the Bible is referring to–the third heaven, the earthly reign of Christ, or the New Jerusalem. Some of the aspects of eternity would certainly be experienced in all realms. Others are specific to the particular stage.
Jesus told His disciples that He would prepare mansions for them in heaven (John 14:2,3). Perhaps we all have some kind of great room whether it's in the third heaven or after Christ returns upon the earth.
Some things we read concerning the millennial kingdom pertain to resurrected saints and other things pertain to survivors of the great tribulation who now physically live during that time.
One thing taught in Isaiah certainly refers to "heaven on earth". Every type of wild beast will be at peace with lambs, goats, and calves. Children will have no fear of harm with them and will even be able to touch the head of a snake (Isaiah 11:6-9).
The Bible speaks of eternity as a place of no violence, destruction, sickness, pain, hunger, depression, grief, or tears. Rather, we will experience joy and gladness. We will no longer need the sun or moon because God will be our everlasting light. There will be a river of life, clear as crystal. We will have fountains of water to drink, and the tree of life (divided into multiple trees) to eat from–bearing twelve kinds of fruit every month (Isaiah 33:24; 35:10; 60:18-20; Rev. 7:16,17; 21:4-6; 22:1-5; Ezek. 47:12).
In the context of the above verses, much of it refers to our eternal state in the New Jerusalem, but we will certainly experience the same emotional benefits the moment our souls leave our bodies even now, and I believe we will be eating and drinking as we reign with Christ for 1000 years.
What does it mean that we will reign with Christ for 1000 years? We will have positions of authority. We will be priests and kings. We will have power and dominion over nations, and it seems even over deceased unbelievers (Rev. 20:4-6; Daniel 7:27; Rev. 1:5,6; 2:26,27; 3:21; 5:10; Psalm 49:14). That doesn't mean that we will be as God. He will just promote us to positions of authority under Him.
Lastly, God will bless those who overcome this world through faith in Christ in a variety of other ways in our eternal state:
To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. …I will give you the crown of life. …I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. …He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments. … I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. – Revelation 2:7,10,17; 3:5,12, NKJV
What more could we ask for.
Have you switched tracks yet? Humble yourself today. Don't take a chance by staying on the track you're on. Call on the name of the Lord and be saved today (Romans 10:9-13). The following prayer is not a magical formula or the only words that can be verbally spoken to express your faith in Jesus Christ. But if you believe what you are saying, God will rescue you from Hell and switch tracks to your eternal destiny.
Father God, thank you for sending Jesus to die on the cross in my place. I believe that you raised Him from the dead. I repent of my sins and I confess that Jesus is Lord. I confess that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. I confess that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is Christ come in the flesh. Please forgive me. Cleanse me in the blood of Jesus and fill me with your Holy Spirit. In Jesus Name, Amen.