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When a Person Dies . . .


I told my friend that when a person dies, itís like theyíre asleep until Jesus returns and resurrects them. But she says that when people die, they go to a kingdom and wait there until the Lord comes. How do I tell her that when people die, they donít really go anywhere?

Steve Answers:

What happens after a person dies has been a topic of high interest from the beginning of time. In virtually all religions and civilizations there’s a common belief that some type of life exists after life on this earth. And the way you get it is by being good while you’re on earth, or else by pleasing someone in the other realm who can get you there.

Sometimes Christians mistakenly believe that their good works will get them to heaven instead of trusting Jesus to provide them with this gift that they can’t obtain themselves (see Ephesians 2:8, 9).

Another emphasis is reincarnation–if you’re not good enough in this life, you get to do a rerun next time and the next . . . Not surprisingly, people who believe this way aren’t motivated to do much. They’ll just try next time rather than right now.

I know one religion that teaches that if you’re really good in this life, you’ll be given a planet of your own. Perhaps that’s a variation of getting a kingdom.

Another popular Christian religion teaches that after you die, you go to one of three places–heaven if you’re good; hell if you’re bad; or purgatory if you’ve been good and bad.

If you’re in purgatory, you can get to heaven if you get special favors either from heaven or from those on earth praying for you or giving money to the church on your behalf. Otherwise you’ll eventually end up in hell. How’s that for a fund-raiser!

Some interesting behaviors are practiced by people who rely on getting a good afterlife by pleasing someone in the other realm. To get their gods’ attention they do bizarre things, such as sacrifice their children, walk on burning coals, make pilgrimages through torturous conditions, mutilate their bodies, etc. They do these things hoping it’ll all be worthwhile in the end.

Christians by name are believers in Jesus Christ, which means we trust Jesus to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21) and to provide us with eternal life (Romans 6:23).

Christians look to Jesus as the source of life and the source to help us find out about life. We consult the Bible as a record of the life and teachings of Jesus before, during, and after His time on earth. Let’s consider a few passages from the Bible concerning the topic of death and kingdoms. Look up in your Bible what the texts say. I’ll just list the texts and provide a few comments.

Genesis 3:3, 4–Eve told Satan that God had said that eating or even touching the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil would result in death. Satan’s response was "You won’t die." Many people have considered this to be the very first lie recorded in Scripture. And it’s a lie that people continue to believe to this day.

Genesis 2:7–A simple equation: dust + God’s breath = an alive human being.

Ecclesiastes 12:7–The reverse of the previous equation: an alive human being — God’s breath = dust returning to earth. That doesn’t sound like another kingdom to me.

John 5:24–Those who hear and believe the message of Jesus have eternal life (starting right now) and have moved from the "kingdom" of death to the "kingdom" of life.

John 3:16–Believers in Jesus have eternal life. All others perish (would you consider that to be a kingdom?).

John 11:11-14–For Jesus, what we consider as "death" is merely like "sleep."

John 11:23-27–The Jews believed in a resurrection at the end of time, not a separate kingdom for dead people. Jesus pointed out that the resurrection is based on Him since He’s the source of life.

John 17:3–Eternal life is based on knowing Jesus.

1 John 5:11-13–In case you didn’t get it earlier, we’re back to a simple equation: you have Jesus = you have eternal life. If you don’t have Jesus = you don’t have eternal life. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground or other territory or kingdom.

If you’d like a few challenging, isolated verses on this topic, try 1 Peter 3:18-22 or 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. Check them out. Consult with a Bible commentary or ask your pastor or other believers for an explanation. Or feel free to write back to me and ask for one.

The idea that many Christians have of people going to heaven right after they die isn’t based on the Bible. It has its roots in Greek mythology, which exerted an influence on the early Christian church and continues to do so today.

As far as knowing what happens after you die, perhaps some people will never believe for themselves until it happens to them. But we all know what the resurrection scene will look like. It’ll include all heaven, earth, and even the devil and his underworld. Get a glimpse of it in Philippians 2:9-11. 

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