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What Happens After We Die?

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A. Introduction

Most people probably get their view of the after-life from Hollywood and movies like Heaven Can Wait, The Ghost, Six Sense, Gladiator, etc. In the movie Flatliners, the people were causing heart attacks or something and letting the person die for a minute and then bringing them back to life to find out what the person saw on the other side. The question of what happens after death is a big question. People are afraid to die if they don’t know what happens after death.

B. Pantheism says: Reincarnation

By now, you ought to know what the Pantheist says. The Pantheist believes that we are reincarnated and our status in the next life is based on our karma. This is a popular view, even among non-pantheists. Remember we live in a Postmodern world and people mix and match various answers from various world views even though they aren’t consistent.

But when you realize what the whole world view is behind reincarnation, you have to recognize that nothing has made any logical or practical sense yet, so why would one believe just this one thing from that world view.

C. Naturalism says: Annihilation

Naturalism teaches that we just cease to exist after we die. The appeal of this view is that one can live like he wants and not have to worry about facing a God who will judge him.

What are the problems with this view?

- it destroys any hope for the future

- it makes death something dreadful.

- It also goes very much against the nature of man which deep down can’t stand the thought that this life is all there is.

I was listening to a Michael Savage show the other night on the way to Home Depot and the whole topic of conversation was about what happens after we die. People’s views were all over the map, but even those who believed in annihilation said it was awful to think that all they had worked for meant nothing.

We must recognize that none of these “problems” prove annihilation is untrue. They just leave us with a depressing view of death. And certainly the unpleasantness of annihilation is not a reason to believe in another view.

We also must recognize that this view rests on the religious assumption that there is no supernatural world, and miracles are impossible. If you can’t touch it and measure it, it doesn’t exist.

D. Theism says: Resurrection

The Bible teaches that man will be resurrected and face the judgment of God. Those who believed in Jesus for salvation will spend eternity with God. Those who rejected Jesus will spend eternity in hell with Satan.

There are a number of Bible scholars who say that hell is not forever. They call their view annihilation. They say that the fire may burn forever, but what is thrown in the fire is burned up and ceases to exist. I don’t want to get into the discussion about whether hell is eternal or not, but I do want you to recognize that the naturalist’s view of annihilation is not the same as the theist’s view of annihilation. These theists believe in resurrection, judgment, temporary punishment and then annihilation

E. How do we know who’s right?

How do we know which one of these three views is the correct one? They are all talking about something that we certainly can’t prove. I think we have to remember our second class where we talked about our sources of knowledge. What is the basis for our belief?

1. Hollywood

Don’t laugh! I think a lot of people base their beliefs on TV and movies. A few years ago I was at an Alpha meeting and after watching the video, the leader asked, “Do you think it’s prideful for someone to say they know for sure that they are going to heaven.?

One lady said, “No, I know I’m going to heaven. I’ve never committed adultery or murdered anyone.”

Another lady said, “But that’s not what the Bible says is how you get to heaven.”

The first lady said, “Well, last Tuesday, I was watching Crossing Over. And they had a séance and contacted their Grandma. They asked her where she was. She said she was in heaven. They asked her how to get there. Grandma said to just be good and they would get to heaven.”

That lady held up a Tuesday night TV show against the Bible as her authority.

Is Hollywood a reliable source?

2. Past Lives Therapy

Past-lives therapy, or hypnosis is often used as proof of reincarnation. People under hypnosis supposedly reveal past lives that they lived. But hypnosis is not reliable. There is something hypnotists call cueing which affects what a person experiences during hypnosis: - explicit or implicit suggestion by the hypnotist; - something said long before the session; - something that the witness just happened to be thinking about; - a fantasy of the witness. During hypnosis these can become fixed as facts in the mind of the subject. There is no reliable means of guarding against this happening.45

Is hypnosis a reliable source?

3. Near Death Experiences

What do you do with the testimonies of those who died, and tell how they went to some place with a bright light or saw the streets of gold in heaven?

It occurred to me that in near death experiences people often claim to see a bright light… is it because we think the devil has a red suit, horns and pitchfork that we think the bright light means heaven is at the end of the tunnel? What does 2 Corinthians 11:14 say? Satan is an angel of light. He is also the Deceiver. What better way to deceive people into thinking they are destined for heaven than by greeting them with a bright light until he knows they are going to stick around and not be rejuvenated.

I read 90 Minutes in Heaven a few weeks ago. Don Piper was killed in a car wreck, left for dead by the paramedics for 90 minutes. A pastor happened on the scene, went to pray for him and he came back to life. He says that while he was dead, he went to heaven and saw lots of family and friends who were Christians who had died already. It was like a welcoming committee. He also says he saw the pearly gates and the streets of gold.

I don’t know what to think about it. It’s a very believable book. I know Don Piper truly believes he went to heaven. I think it’s possible that he did. I think it’s also possible that he imagined it all. Believe it or not, I think it’s his report that he saw the pearly gates and streets of gold that makes me doubt his story the most. So much of the language of Revelation is symbolic it’s hard to tell which is a literal description and which is symbolic. It’s possible that just like the cueing in hypnosis he had Rev 21:18ff in his mind and that’s what he imagined. We can’t know for sure. Don Piper says, “I don’t have to defend my experience… I know what I experienced.”46

I think my point is that we can’t base our belief on resurrection and heaven on the stories of people like Don Piper. In his book he gave examples of people who heard his story and said that while they had believed in heaven, it helped them believe more. We’ve already discussed how experience is a subjective source of truth.

And don’t forget the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers. Abraham’s response? Luke 16:29 They have Moses and the prophets.

That leads us to the next point… What is an objective source for believing in heaven?

4. The Bible Says So

We’ve already talked about the reliability of the Bible and how it is our only objective source of truth. With all of the prophecies that came true, why would one not believe the ones about the resurrection and heaven and hell?

There are plenty of verses in the Bible that tell us what happens after death.

Acts 24:15; John 5:28-29; all men are resurrected – some to heaven, some to judgment.

John 6:39 (bread of life); 11:25-26 (raising Lazarus)

Phil 3:20-21 – “that power” is the resurrection

1 Cor 15:12-23, 50-58 – good summary of the hope of the resurrection.

5. The Incarnation and the Resurrection.

Incarnation:

The classic argument for the incarnation was the one put forth by C.S. Lewis. When discussing who Jesus was as the most important person in history. You must say that Jesus was either a Liar, Lunatic or Lord. But you cannot say that he was a good man.47 And what do all those who deny that Jesus is God say about him? They say he was a good man.

You may be wondering why I would include the incarnation. Ronald Nash points out that once we settle the question that Jesus is God and that His words are God’s words. Then we have the answers to the most important questions in life. One of those being, “What happens after we die?”48

Resurrection:

Our 1 Cor 15 passage points out that if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then all of Christianity is a sham. The belief in a future resurrection is not some pie-in-the-sky theological construct. It is based on the historically verifiable event of Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus was really raised from the dead, that proves He was who He said He was. And it means that we can be resurrected too.

How do we know that it really happened?

  • Some try to say that it was easy for people to believe 2000 years ago because they were expecting it. The Jews did believe that there would be a resurrection at the end of the world, but they didn’t believe it was something that could happen until then. John 11:23-24.
  • The disciples didn’t believe Jesus was going to be raised. They fled in fear and denied knowing Jesus when he was about to be crucified. But something changed them into courageous men, un-afraid of death, and willing to die for what they believed. What was it? They knew they didn’t need to fear death because Jesus had conquered death. 1 Pet 1:3. And all of them but John died as martyrs for what they believed. People don’t die for some hoax they are perpetuating.
  • The tomb was empty. There is no tomb veneration going on. When a prophet or martyr dies, the religious followers honor the tomb of the prophet. In contrast, we see that Jesus was worshipped as God, not as a dead prophet. His resurrection proved that he was God.
  • The Jewish religious leaders never produced or attempted to produce the body of Jesus. They did bribe the Roman soldiers to say they were asleep on the job and that the disciples stole the body. Matt 28:11-15.
  • Archaeologists and secular historians have proven the historical accuracy of the New Testament documents. So, are they accurate about everything except the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead?
  • Jesus appeared to hundreds of people after he was resurrected. And not all of them were his followers. Paul was actually going about killing Christians until Jesus appeared to him – and it changed his life.

Bottom line – if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then we’re wasting our time. 1 Cor 15:12-19.

45 Crown Prosecution Service http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/section13/chapter_p.html

46 Don Piper. 90 Minutes in Heaven, p. 205.

47 Lewis, Mere Christianity. p. 55-56.

48 Nash, Worldviews in Conflict, p. 154.