Since time began, people have effort to make sense of what happens when we die. Evidence of the earliest humans indicates they buried their loved ones with special items, such as jewelry, tools, and other artifacts, presumably to “take with them” to the after life.
In fact, all major religions on earth believe in some sort of afterlife following physical death. Bost of these ascribe to two wildly differing versions: One, a blissful place of rest and joy (“heaven”) and the other, a place of torment, anguish, and pain, or “hell.”
What do these religions believe? How should Christians view the afterlife? And why are there so many versions of the afterlife? Here, we explore all of this and more.
What Do Non-Christians Believe about the Afterlife?
Every major religion, even those who claim no religion, has some belief about what happens after we die, and all are tied into their ultimate beliefs about the soul, change, and the concept of a supreme being.
Some, like Buddhists and Hindus, believe in reincarnation. Put simply, Hindus believe in the concept of a soul, called atman, and they receive a new body and life depending on the good and bad actions of their previous life.
For Hindus, you can be reincarnated as not only humans, but also animals, insects, and plants. Eventually, you achieve Moksha, when you are freed from the cycle of reincarnation and reunited with Braham, their supreme being or Absolute God.
Buddhists, who ascribe to anatman, or “no soul,” don’t believe in unchanging, everlasting souls. They believe when we die, we shift into another form or body. The goal is ultimately to achieve Nirvana, an escape from the reincarnation cycle, and the end to suffering. Some equate Nirvana to a heavenly paradise.
Others such as Muslims, are certain that after death, they enter a dreamless sleep until Judgment Day when they will be resurrected, judged by Allah (Arabic for “God”), and then enter paradise or hell.
The Jewish faith concentrates more on life on earth but recognize a “World to come,” a heavenly paradise. They trust they live and die only once, and the actions they take in life will regulate their afterlife. Some believe the afterlife involves the resurrection of body and soul, where they will live on in a sort of heavenly Garden of Eden, while others believe it includes living on in some form through their descendants or others they influence in their lives.
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Unbelievers do not believe in God or gods. However, while some don’t believe in any sort of life after death (when you die, it’s the end), others believe in the existence of spirits and an afterlife realm, or reincarnation.
Modern Paganists have varying beliefs. Some trust in numerous gods, while others embrace animism, which is the belief that a life power goes through all things, including pillars, creatures, and plants. Some believe in rebirth after death, while others believe a person’s liveliness passes into something else to live on, such as the earth.
Other Pagans, such as Wiccans, hold to a notion of a Wiccan Summerland, which is much like Christians’ concept of heaven. Either way, they believe all life continues on in some way; there is no end.
What Do Christians Believe about the Afterlife?
All Christians are united in their belief that when they die, if they trust in Jesus as the Son of God, their souls will enjoy everlasting life in heaven. However, some denominations and persons trust in different forms of the afterlife, as well as what takes place to those who do not follow Jesus.
The Bible continually mentions both a heaven — a place of rest and bliss, where they will be part of God’s kingdom, and a hell — a place of darkness and suffering. Some Christians hold to a accurate interpretation of heaven and hell as real places where the soul resides, while others believe heaven and hell are more of a condition, a situation of mind, such as “harmony and joy with God” or “grief and pain without God.”
Others, such as Catholic Christians, believe in Purgatory, a place of punishment or a “middle zone” where the dead go prior to heaven if they need to be purified from their sins.
What Does the Bible Say about the Afterlife?
The concept of life after death is laced throughout the Bible. Hebrews 9:27 refers to the afterlife as an accepted, obvious course of events, noting almost as an aside, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”
And Ecclesiastes tells us, “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Numerous books of the Bible referred a sort of “sleep” people experience after the death of their bodies until an appointed time when many will “awaken.” “Several of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall arise, some to eternal life and some to eternal disgrace and scorn.” Daniel 12:2,
But for those who sleep, there is hope. For those who believe in Jesus Christ shall “not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b).
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul offers reassurance, stating that while those we love may sleep in death,
God will restore with Jesus those who are asleep in him. … The Lord will come down from heaven, with a cry, voice of the cherub and with the triumph of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Afterwards, those who are alive and are left will be gathered up together with them in the clouds to see the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16-17).
And as Jesus comforted Martha, sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who trusts in me will live, even if they die; and whosoever lives by trusting in me will never die….” (John 11:25-26).
Paul stated in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And even years before Jesus walked the earth, the prophet Isaiah foretold, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise — let those who dwell in the dust arise and scream for joy — your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth shall cast out the dead
What Does the Bible Say about Heaven?
For those who repent of their sins and choose to follow Jesus, we get access to God.
As Jesus assured His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one cometh unto the Father but through me. If you actually recognize me, you will recognize my Father as well. Henceforth, you do recognize him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).
These righteous ones, who trust, the Bible tells us, will enjoy eternal life (Matthew 25:46). This eternal life is better than good. Jesus described it as “paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Revelation discloses it as a place of no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:4), a “new Jerusalem,” filled with glory and everlasting victory. It shines with intelligence, its city made of pure gold as “pure as glass,” with foundations of sapphire, agate, emerald, and other precious jewels, and its gates of pearl with angels before each one (Revelation 21:11-21).
Jesus describes our heavenly home as God’s house, a palace with many rooms, noting He is going ahead of us “to prepare a place” for us (John 14:2-3).
What Does the Bible Say about Hell?
However, for those who do not believe, the Bible describes a far different place. Jesus calls it a place of “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), a “raging furnace” with “lamentation and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42).
Hell is not just a idea but an real place. Jesus cautioned us in Matthew 10:28 to “be afraid of the One who can terminate both soul and body in hell,” and wishes us to do whatever we can to escape sin, even to the point of removing an eye that makes us to stumble.
“It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with an eye than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire, where the worms doesn’t die, and the fire is everlasting” (Mark 9:47-48).
It is not only the wicked who clinch sin that go there, either — it is those who do not believe.
“He who believes the son has eternal life and he who doesn’t believe the son shall not see life but the anger of God dwells on him John 3:36.
The Book of Revelation contains a great deal of description about hell, comparing it to a place of anger and darkness, an abyss, and a “burning lake of scorching sulfur.”
Why Are There So Many Versions of the Afterlife?
There are diverse versions of the afterlife because there are so many thoughts of who God is, what our purpose is on earth, and the link between faith and action. But the Bible is clear: Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God repents of their sins, and follows His way is definitely everlasting life.
Our salvation was acquired through Jesus’ sacrifice, which paid our sin-debt for all infinity and whose life illustrates how we are to live both on earth and in heaven: In full obedience and alignment with God, our Father.
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