What Happens to Us When We Die?

April 4, 2022

What does Heaven look like? Does it have pearly gates? Do Jesus and God sit on thrones? Are there angels everywhere playing harps, floating on clouds, and living a perfect and peaceful life?

Most of our images of heaven are from the book of Revelation as well as classical literature. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God he spoke of it symbolically like a treasure, a pearl, or a net (Mat. 13:44-47). In John 14:1-2 Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled… In my Father’s house are many rooms.” This is a favorite image of the Kingdom of God, especially for people who are facing death. Affirming that God has a room waiting for each of us, and that Christ will come again to take us to our room, brings comfort and hope to ourselves and loved ones.

The Bible is not the only source of information on what waits in the next life. Many books have been written since the 1970’s that share the accounts of people who have died and been brought back to life. They are known as near death experiences. The memories of their experience have many common traits.

Here is a summary of the experiences people have. A man is dying and reaches a point of great physical distress, and then hears himself pronounced dead by the doctor. He hears a loud ringing or buzzing as he goes through a dark tunnel, and then can see himself and watch the resuscitation attempts below him. After awhile, he becomes used to the qualities of his new existence with its different abilities. Then he is met by others, recognized by relatives. Also, a ‘Being of light’ is there, whom he hasn’t met before, but most presume to be Jesus. As his life flashes before him this ‘Being of light’ asks a non-verbal question to evaluate his life. He reaches something of a barrier between the two worlds, and is full of peace, intense joy, love, and is ready to go on. But something calls him back to this life, maybe the voice of a loved one, or the sense of an important task or obligation left undone. He then returns to his body, only now he knows things about the life to come that usually change his life forever.

What does all this mean? A college professor of mine said we can’t prove it means any more than death is neither to be feared, nor is death a painful experience. However, the apostle Paul wrote of revelations from God that show much in common with Moody’s work. In I Corinthians 15:35-38 Paul writes, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.”

And then in 15:42 & 44, “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable… It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

When Paul met Jesus he knew who Jesus was, but he also sensed his body was not limited as our earthly bodies are, as it shined with light brighter than the sun. The resurrection appearances in the gospels indicate the same. Then Paul asserts that as God raised Jesus, God will also raise us, giving us a spiritual body fitted for our new and eternal resurrection life. This body will be recognized by others in heaven just as Jesus was recognized after He was raised from the dead.

I believe Jesus will go and prepare a place for each of us, then come again and take us to himself, so that where he is, there we may be also. People’s beliefs about life after death can lead to fascinating discussions, and a chance to share the Good News of the Gospel. Have you ever talkd to someone who has had a near death experience?

Do you believe these people have had a real experience or just a chemical response to dying? Does belief in the bodily resurrection for eternity have any impact on the way you live your life? I invite you to read of the descriptions of heaven found in the book of Revelation, especially chapters 21 through 22.