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What happens when we die; is death the end? When our body is laid to rest in a grave, or cremated – is there anything more than that or is death the final end?
What happens to us at the moment of death is a controversial subject and hotly contested by those with differing viewpoints. Atheists believe death is the final end; nothing beyond the death of the body exists. Catholics believe in Heaven, Hell, and a supposed in-between realm called Purgatory. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists believe that upon death the body and the soul remain in the grave – the soul is sleeping, referred to as ‘Soul-Sleep’ – until the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. Yet others believe that upon death; those who believe in Jesus go immediately to Heaven to be with Him, and those who do not reside in Hell. Who is right and who is wrong?
The only way to answer the above questions is to look for answers in the only place we have available to us – the Bible, the Word of God.
Atheist beliefs I will not address here as they are beyond the scope of this article. The Bible as a whole refutes their beliefs.
Catholics claim that if a soul that is bound for Heaven is not pure upon death, it goes to a place called Purgatory. Rather than expound on this, I will here give you a simple definition of Purgatory from a Catholic web site:
Purgatory (Lat., “purgare”, to make clean, to purify) in accordance with Catholic teaching is a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who, departing this life in God’s grace, are, not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions. (Source: New Advent – Catholic Encyclopedia)
In the first place we do not “pay” for our transgressions – Christ paid for them for us. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross is not enough – as if we as humans need to add to that sacrifice by our own works to complete the process of salvation. That is works based salvation and refuted by the Bible. Consider the words of Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
We are saved by the grace of God; His gift to us, we can nothing – no works – to save ourselves. God may choose to punish us; discipline us in this life – as King David was punished by God, (2 Samuel 12) but these things are punishment, not payment for our sins – there is a difference.
Second, there is no biblical evidence of anything remotely like Purgatory. The only way one can come to the conclusion that there is a Purgatory is to twist the Word of God to say what it does not say.
Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. The Greek word for paradise here is Paradeisos – meaning a garden (This same word in Genesis 2 and 3 refers to the Garden of Eden) Heaven, a part of Hades where the good reside. We die and we are in heaven right away – no waiting in Purgatory or “sleeping” in the grave.
Soul Sleep as previously mentioned is the idea that upon death, the soul “sleeps” until the return of Christ and the resurrection. Luke 23:43 sheds light on that idea strongly suggesting that “Soul Sleep” is a myth. The Apostle Paul also gives us some insight into this:
Philippians 1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.
Notice Paul says to depart and be with Christ, not to “sleep” awhile and then be with Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Here Paul says in effect that upon the death of the body, we will be present with the Lord – not “sleeping” in the grave.
Matthew 17:1-4 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. (Elias is the same as Elijah)
Clearly Moses and Elijah were not “sleeping” in the grave as evidenced by this passage – long after Moses death and Elijah being “caught up to Heaven” they returned to speak with Christ.
As noted above, there is no in-between destination at death – we either go to Heaven, or Hell. While it is true that the final Heaven is not yet created, that does not preclude there being a Heaven now. There is a lot of evidence to back this up in the Bible – not my words – God’s words.
Matthew 22:32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
Clearly we cannot die and that is the end, for God is the God of the living and not the dead – or sleeping, living! The body dies, the soul moves on to Heaven or Hell.
Luke 15:10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
Notice what is being said here; there is joy in the presence of the angels – who could that be referring to if not believers that have died? Believers that are in Heaven with God, not sleeping.
Genesis 5:24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.
God took Enoch directly to Heaven, if there is one believer there in Heaven, there are more – God is no respecter of persons. This same thing happened with Elijah (2 Kings 2:11)
Luke 16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried.
If Lazarus was escorted into Heaven at death, then so shall we be. In the following verses (Luke 16:23-31) Lazarus is comforted and the rich man is in Hell and tormented.
If we as believers are upon death immediately escorted to Heaven; and that there is no such thing as “Soul Sleep”, then it is only logical to believe that those who do not know Christ are upon death sent to Hell.
Psalm 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
The wicked (unbelievers) will be in Hell, not after sleeping awhile – immediately. If there is no “Soul Sleep” for believers, then there is no such thing for those who do not believe either.
Revelation 20:13-15 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Notice in the verses above it says, death and Hell delivered up the dead which were in them – and they (the dead) were judged. If “Soul Sleep” were a truth, there would be no dead coming from Hell!
Luke 16:23-26 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And 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. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
Lazarus dies and is immediately in Heaven with Abraham who died long ago. Like wise the rich man who revered God not – is in Hell in torment. Some will say this was but a story to illustrate what Christ was speaking of. If it were only a story, a parable – there would not be actual names used in the account.
We have only two destinations at death: Heaven or Hell. Choose carefully.
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