Question: "Is there life after death?"
Answer: Job, speaking out of his despair, asked, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14, ESV). All of us have been challenged by this question. Is there life after death? What happens to us after we die? Do we simply cease to exist? Is death a revolving door of departing and returning to earth? Does everyone go to the same place after death, or do we go to different places? Is there really a heaven and hell?
The Bible tells us that, yes, there is life after death. This world is not all there is, and mankind was made for something more. At death, the body ceases to function and begins the process of returning to the earth, but the spiritual part of man lives on: “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7; cf. Psalm 146:4).
To those who are redeemed and have their sin forgiven, God gives eternal life, an existence so glorious that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT). This eternal life is inextricably linked to the Person of Jesus Christ: “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). In Jesus’ prayer in this passage, He equates “eternal life” with a knowledge of God and of the Son. “Whoever has the Son has life” (1 John 5:12).
Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came to the earth to pay for our sins and give us the gift of eternal life: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Three days after His crucifixion, Jesus proved Himself victorious over death by rising from the grave—He is life personified (John 11:25) and the ultimate proof that there is life after death.
The resurrection of the Christ is a well-documented event. The apostle Paul invited people to question the over 500 eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6). All of them could bear testimony to the fact that Jesus is alive and that there is indeed life after death.
The resurrection of Christ, which gives us the sure hope of life after death, is the cornerstone of the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:12–19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we have faith that we, too, will be resurrected. As Jesus told His disciples, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). Christ was only the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again (1 Corinthians 15:23). Just as God raised up Jesus’ body, so will our bodies be resurrected upon Jesus’ return (1 Corinthians 6:14).
The fact of life after death does not mean everyone will go to heaven, however. People will continue to exist after they die, and there will be a resurrection someday, but God makes a distinction between the resurrection of the just (those who are in Christ) and the unjust (those who die in their sin): “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Paul put it this way: “There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).
Each person must make a choice in this life, a choice that will determine his or her eternal destination. It is appointed for us to die once, and after that will come judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Those who have been made righteous by faith in Christ will go into eternal life in heaven, but those who have rejected Christ as Savior will be sent to eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 25:46). Hell, like heaven, is a literal place. It is a place where the unrighteous will experience the never-ending, eternal wrath of God. Hell is described as a lake of fire where the inhabitants will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). In hell, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, indicating intense grief and anger (Matthew 13:42).
God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but desires them to turn from their wicked ways so that they can live (Ezekiel 33:11). But He will not force us into submission; if we choose to reject Christ, the one and only Savior, we reject the heaven that He has prepared, and we will live eternally apart from Him. Life on earth is a preparation for what is to come. Faith in Christ prepares us for life after death: “Whoever believes in [God’s Son] 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 3:18).
Everyone will experience life after death in some manner. For believers in Christ, life after death is eternal life in heaven with God. For unbelievers, life after death is eternity in the lake of fire. How can we receive eternal life and avoid hell? There is only one way—through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25–26).
The free gift of eternal life is available to all. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36). We will not be given the opportunity to accept God’s gift of salvation after death. Our eternal destination is determined in our earthly lifetimes by our reception or rejection of Jesus Christ. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). If we trust in the death of Jesus Christ as the full payment for our sin, and we believe in His resurrection from the dead, we are guaranteed eternal life after death, in glory (1 Peter 1:3–5).