What The Bible Says about Life After Death

The words of Jesus on the cross to the penitent thief suggests that we may well remain in a state of consciousness once the natural body has been put off at death. Then he [the thief] said to Jesus, Lord remember me when You come in Your kingdom. And Jesus said to Him, Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. Luke 23:42-43. The objection raised concerning this particular verse as a support for the immediacy of life after death has to do with the placement of the comma, is it; a) Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. b) Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise. Most authorities run with a). above. The fact is that the original Greek is not punctuated so it could be argued that doctrinal bias determines where the translators choose to place the comma. So as it stands on its own this verse informs us that there is a state called Paradise and that this state of life is with the Lord after death. What it doesn’t tell us is whether this state is something entered into immediately at the point of death or at some point in the future in something like a universal resurrection. So to get a sense of what the Lord actually meant here we need to have a look at the usage of the word Paradise elsewhere in the Bible. We find it used is two other places in the New Testament; 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7. The actual Greek word translated Paradise is paradeisos and it means a park or more specifically Eden, the garden of God. which is captured in the verse from Revelation below with its reference to the Tree of Life. The one who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To the one overcoming, I will give to him to eat of the Tree of Life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. Revelation 2: Of this Paradise Paul gives the following remarkable account; I know a man in Christ fourteen years before–whether in the body, I do not know, or out of the body, I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up to the third Heaven. And I know such a man–whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know; God knows – that he was caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable words which a man is not permitted to speak. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 While it is not explicitly stated who this man Paul speaks of is, it is fairly widely accepted by Biblical scholars that he was speaking concerning himself. What is clear is that whoever this was they were conscious of another plane of existence that was so real to them that they couldn’t discern whether they were still in their body or not. It is said that this level of consciousness was of Paradise. Two things need to be said here; this Paradise is something a person can be conscious of while still possessing a body whether in it or not and that it is equated with the third Heaven. (reference to multiple heavens is also found in Ephesians 4:10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) That it is a plane of Heaven strongly suggests that the person who experienced this did so as to their spirit and not as to their material body. It’s notable that it is something that could be experienced some 14 years prior to Paul writing this, making Paradise a current accessible reality at the time, which further suggests that Jesus’ words to the thief can without difficulty take the form of a) above pointing to consciousness in the spirit fairly soon after the death of the body. From Paul’s account we see that the person being spoken about, while in the spirit, had sensation that was as vivid as that of experience obtained through the senses of the material body. For anyone to perceive what is spiritual they must have senses designed for that purpose and these must be attached to a mind able to process the perception through some kind of perceiving body. We know that the natural man cannot perceive what is spiritual but that spiritual things are spiritually discerned. Paul says as much in the following statement; But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 And further to this in speaking of types of bodies he states that there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul also draws a distinction between the body of the flesh and the body of the spirit in speaking about an inward and an outward man. The outward man being of the flesh and the inward man being of the spirit if indeed our outward man is being decayed, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every family in Heaven and on earth is named, that He may give you, according to the riches of His glory, by His power to become mighty in the inward man through His Spirit, that through faith Christ may dwell in your hearts, having been rooted and founded in love, Ephesians 3:14-17 The spiritual body is as real, in fact more real than the natural body for it is of a finer substance that is attuned to the things of the spirit. Our experience of life in that body is infinitely more vivid than anything that can be experienced through a physical body. The Apostle John declares that he was in the spirit on the Lord’s day Revelation 1:10 when he saw what was about to take place. John like all the Prophets before him had the spiritual senses of his spiritual body opened and this enabled him to experience things beyond the perceptive faculties of the material body. Further, on the subject of the natural and spiritual, body Paul speaks of our having an earthly house and a house not made with hands, eternal in Heaven. This latter house, which in the context of his discourse is clearly a reference to a spiritual body, clothes us when we put off our earthly house and in this way the mortal is swallowed up by life. In fact he speaks of a desire that is experienced by those who are following the Lord, a longing to put off the earthly that the heavenly might be put on. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle is taken down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in Heaven. For also in this we groan, greatly desiring to be clothed with our dwelling place out of Heaven, if indeed in being clothed, we shall not be found naked. For indeed, being in the tabernacle, we groan, having been weighted down, inasmuch as we do not wish to be unclothed, but to be clothed, so that the mortal may be swallowed up by the life. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 That the human spirit is the person that lives on with every human faculty in consciousness after the death of the body, virtually without interruption, is vividly captured in the following account Jesus provides in the Gospels. And there was a certain rich man; and he was accustomed to don a purple robe and fine linen, making merry in luxury day by day. And there was a certain poor one named Lazarus who had been laid at his doorway, having been ulcerated, and longing to be filled from the crumbs that were falling from the table of the rich one. But coming, even the dogs licked his sores. And it happened, the poor one died and was carried away by the angels into the bosom of Abraham. And the rich one also died and was buried. And being in torments in hell, lifting up his eyes, he sees Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. And calling he said, Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering in this flame. But Abraham said, Child, remember that you fully received your good things in your lifetime, and Lazarus likewise the bad things. But now he is comforted, and you are suffering. And besides all these things, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those desiring to pass from here to you are not able, nor can they pass from there to us. And he said, Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house; (for I have five brothers, so that he may witness to them, that they not also come to this place of torment). Abraham said to him, They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them. But he said, No, father Abraham, but if one should go from the dead to them, they will repent. And he said to him, If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if one from the dead should rise. Luke 16:19-21 Some discount this story as having any real insights on the nature of consciousness after death saying that Jesus is simply using a story to make his point more vivid and that this story is just a parable. While we don’t know if the characters of the rich man and Lazarus here were actual people they certainly embody two universal types of people and there is nothing to suggest that the details concerning the lot of these types of people are fabricated for effect. In fact the whole point of the story is to drive home the nature of life after death and the bearing our choices in this life have on our eternal state. Jesus used stories to communicate spiritual realities and the true nature of things. So the historical nature of this story in terms of its characters is irrelevant to it holding truths concerning the nature of life after death. From it we learn that a person after death has all their faculties despite having put off the body that is they see, hear, speak, and feel and so are fully conscious of their surroundings. That the way we live our life in this world has a bearing on how we experience life in the next. Those who are in Abraham’s bosom are comforted and those who are in hell are tormented and there is a great gulf fixed between the two states of life over which none can pass to the other side. Finally Jesus instructs us that this knowledge of states of life after death can be found in the Word (Moses and the Prophets) and in fact in stories such as this one. It is clear from the following passage in 1 Samuel that those who have departed this life live on. In this account king Saul has approached a medium to call back the prophet Samuel who has died and who amongst other things declares that Saul’s sons will die in battle and be with him the next day. And he said to her, What is his appearance? And she said, An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a robe. And Saul knew that he was Samuel. And he bowed his face to the earth, and prostrated himself. And Samuel said to Saul, Why have you disturbed me, to bring me up. And Saul said, I am grievously distressed. And the Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned from me and has not answered me any more, either by the hand of the prophets, or by dreams. And I called for you to make known to me what I should do. And Samuel said, And why do you ask me, since Jehovah has departed from you and is your foe? And Jehovah is doing for Himself as He spoke by my hand. And Jehovah is tearing the kingdom out of your hand, and is giving it to your neighbour, to David. Because you did not listen to the voice of Jehovah, or execute the anger of His wrath on Amalek, on this account Jehovah is doing this thing to you today. Yea, Jehovah is also giving Israel into the hand of the Philistines along with you. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. And Jehovah will give the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines. 1 Samuel 28:14-19 Then we have in the Gospels the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. During this event he was seen by the disciples with Him talking to Moses and Elijah who had passed from this world some centuries before. Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. And behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. John 17:1-4 Finally on the subject of consciousness after the death of the body Paul states that to be present in the body is to be absent from the Lord and that we can have confidence in the fact that when we are absent from the body we are present with the Lord. Then always being confident, and knowing that being present in the body we are absent from the Lord (for we walk by faith, not by sight), but we are confident, and think it good rather, to be absent out of the body, and to be present with the Lord. Because of this, we also are striving to be please Him, whether present or absent. 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 Jesus in a confrontation with Sadducees who didn’t believe in life after death had this to say, But concerning the dead, that they are raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, as God spoke to him at the Bush, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead, but God of the living. Mark 12 26-27 The implication of this statement being that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still living despite each having suffered the demise of their natural body. A few further references to consider; And when He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those having been slain for the Word of God, and for the witness which they had. And they cried with a great voice, saying, Until when, holy and true Master, do You not judge and take vengeance for our blood, from those dwelling on the earth? And there was given to each one a white robe. And it was said to them that they should rest yet a little time, until might be fulfilled also the number of their fellow-slaves and their brothers, those being about to be killed, even as they. Revelation 6:9-11 After these things I saw, and behold, a great crowd which no one was able to number them, out of every nation, even tribes and peoples and tongues, standing in front of the throne, and before the Lamb, having been clothed with white robes, and in their hands palm branches. And they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation to our God sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb. And all the angels and of the elders and of the four living creatures stood around the throne. And they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God, saying, Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying to me, These, the ones having been clothed in the white robes, who are they, and from where did they come? And I said to him, Sir, you know. And he said to me, These are those coming out of the great tribulation; and they washed their robes and whitened them in the blood of the Lamb. Because of this they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. And He sitting on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. And they will not hunger still, nor will they thirst still, nor at all shall fall on them the sun, nor any kind of heat. Because the Lamb in the midst of the throne will shepherd them, and will lead them on living springs of waters; and God will wipe off every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:9-17 Paul clearly believed that upon his death he would be with Christ; For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour: yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. Philippians 1:21-23 While Peter speaks of spirits being in prison to whom Christ preached which clearly suggests they were conscious and capable of hearing; For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death but being made alive by the Spirit by whom He also went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is eight souls were saved through water. 1 Peter 3:18-20

Key Points

  • A person has a spiritual body and a natural body
  • The spiritual body is the inner man, the natural body is the outer man
  • The inner man is renewed and strengthened by the Spirit the while the outer man degenerates
  • People are conscious after death; they have senses by which they can see, hear and feel their surroundings. They can experience torment and comfort, thirst etc.
  • The kind of life lived in this world determines a person’s eternal state of life in either heaven or hell
  • To be absent from the earthly body is to be present with the Lord and to be clothed with a spiritual body
  • There are at least 3 heavens
  • It is possible to experience spiritual realities as vividly as natural ones while in the natural body by having the senses of the spiritual body opened.