Question: “Is there an afterlife?”
Answer: The book of Job asks a question about the afterlife very simply: “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14). Asking the question is easy; more difficult is finding someone to answer the question with authority and experience. Jesus Christ is the one person who can speak with real authority (and experience) concerning the afterlife. What gives Him sole authority to speak of heaven is that He came from there: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” (John 3:13). The Lord Jesus, with His firsthand experience in heaven, presents us with three basic truths about the subject of life after death:
1) There is an afterlife.
2) When a person dies, there are two possible destinations to which he may go.
3) There is one way to ensure a positive experience after death.
First, Christ affirms there is an afterlife a number of times. For example, in an encounter with the Sadducees, who denied the doctrine of the resurrection, Jesus said, “have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ ? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:26–27). According to Jesus, those who had died centuries before were very much alive with God at that moment.
In another passage, Jesus comforts His disciples (and us) by telling them of the afterlife. They can look forward to being with Him in heaven: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1–3).
Jesus also speaks authoritatively about the two different destinies that await in the afterlife. In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus says, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:22–23). Note, there is no intermediate state for those who die; they go directly to their eternal destiny. Jesus taught more on the different destinies of the righteous and the wicked in Matthew 25:46 and John 5:25–29.
Jesus also emphasized that what determines a person’s eternal destination is whether or not he has faith in God’s only begotten Son. The need for faith is clear: “Everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:15–18).
For those who repent of their sin and receive Jesus Christ as their Savior, the afterlife will consist of an eternity spent enjoying God. For those who reject Christ, however, the afterlife will be quite different. Jesus describes their destiny as “darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). As the heaven-sent authority on the afterlife, Jesus warns us to choose wisely: “Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
Speaking about life after death, G. B. Hardy, a Canadian scientist, once said, “I have only two questions to ask. One, has anyone ever defeated death? Two, did he make a way for me to do it also?” The answer to both of Hardy’s questions is “yes.” One Person has both defeated death and provided a way for everyone who puts their trust in Him to overcome it as well. No one who trusts in Jesus Christ needs to fear death, and we can rejoice in the Lord’s salvation: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54–55).