The Hereafter

INDEX:
* The Hope of the Patriarchs
* The Bible Hope
* A Contradiction?
* Other Questions
* The Promise of Jesus
* The God of the Living
* What Does Resurrection Mean?
* Different from Pagan Beliefs
* Who are Resurrected?
* The Hope of Going to Heaven?
* The Requirements for Heavenly Life
* The Promise of a Kingdom
* The Hope of the Rest of Mankind
* Age-Long Life Now?
* The Hope of the 'We' Who 'Will Be Changed'

The Hope of the Patriarchs

If you study the Ancient Scriptures of IsraEl (Old Testament) carefully, you'll find that the patriarchs (Noah, AbraHam, etc.) and the pre-Christian IsraElites were never really promised life after death. And the fact that there is so little mention of a hereafter in the earliest Bible writings shows a marked contrast between the beliefs of pre-Christian IsraElites and other peoples throughout the world.

The Egyptians, for example, believed that they had immortal souls and they seem to have been obsessed with the idea of maintaining their lifestyle after they died. Then down through the ages, the belief that people have immortal souls that go 'into the light' (to heaven) after their bodies die, has been the mainstay of almost all pagan religions, from the ancient Babylonians, to the Greeks, to the ancient Chinese, and to the earliest Native Americans. However, if you would like to see what the Bible says the early IsraElites believed before the time of Jesus, look at what Solomon said about this at Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 & 9:4-10. For as he points out there; when a person dies, he or she is just dead.

Read, for example, 1 Kings 2:10. There the Bible tells us: 'So, David went to sleep with his ancestors and he was buried in the city of David.' Notice that the account doesn't say he went to God, or to heaven, or to Sheol, or to Hades. He just went to sleep with his ancestors.

Also notice what Job said about death at Job 14:12:
'So, when man goes to sleep, he won't rise again,
Until [the stars] are all sewn together╔
They never awaken from sleep.'

Psalm 49:19, 20 says of a man who dies:
'From one generation to another,
They just go down to their fathers,
And through the ages, they'll never see light.
For, an honored man does not realize
That he resembles the unthinking cattle,
And [his end] is also like theirs
.'

Psalm 146:3, 4 says:
'Don't put any faith in your rulers,
For sons of men cannot save you.
Their breath goes out and they're gone from their land╔
In that day, their thoughts pass away'
(gr. en ekeine te emera apolountai pantes oi dialogismoi autou, or, in that the day pass/away all the thinking of/him).

The Bible Hope

Then, what hope did faithful men and women of old have for life after death? They believed that in some future time, God would resurrect them and bring them back to life. And though the faithful man Job was the first to mention his hope of a resurrection, the first person to prophecy about it was a woman; Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel. She said (as recorded at 1 Samuel 2:7, 8):

'Jehovah brings both life and death;
He takes them to the grave and leads them back out.
It's Jehovah who makes the poor and the rich;
He's the One who humbles and raises.
From the ground, He raises the needy
And He lifts the poor from the dirt,
To seat them among the mighty of men,
Where a throne of glory, they'll inherit.
'

And when did they all believe that 'the poor' would be raised 'from the dirt?' Well, Job prayed (at Job 14:13-15 LXX):

'O that in the grave, You'd hide me and guard me
Until all Your anger has passed.
Please order a time to be set for me,
When You'll mention my name once again.
Can a man live again after he dies,
Once the days of his life have all past?
As for me; I will wait 'til I live again,
When You'll call out to me and I'll listen.

O don't undo the work of Your hands!'

So, the clear hope of the earliest servants of God was that He (God) would remember them (the faithful) at some future time and resurrect them (make them stand again), giving them back life, and rewarding them for their faithfulness by appointing them to be kings. Then later accounts tell us that their names were written in God's Scroll of Life.

A Contradiction?

Two scriptural references, however, have been long understood as meaning that certain individuals had in fact been taken to a heavenly reward during pre-Christian times. The first is found at Genesis 5:22-24, where we read: 'God found Enoch righteous, and he lived on for some two-hundred years as he fathered other sons and daughters. Then (when Enoch was three hundred and sixty-five years old) because he pleased God, God transported him and he disappeared.'

In Greek this verse reads, 'kai euerestesen Enoch to Theo kai ouch eurisketo hoti metetheken auton ho Theos,' or literally, 'and pleased Enoch The God and not found, [for] transported (or translated) him The God.'

Many who read the above scripture have concluded that it's saying God took Enoch to heaven. But this can't be true if you believe the Bible; for we read at John 3:13: 'No one has gone to heaven other than the one who came from heaven, the Son of Man.'

In Greek this scripture reads, 'Kai oudeis anabebeken eis ton ouranon ei me ho ek tou ouranou katabas ho uios tou anthropou,' or literally, 'And nobody ascended into heaven (or sky) if not he/who from heaven descended, the son of/the mankind.'

Also, Colossians 1:17 says of Jesus: 'He's the earliest and the first one to be born from the dead, so that he would be first in everything.'

Therefore, according to the Bible, nobody could have gone to heaven until Jesus opened the way, since he had to be the first to be born from the dead. Thus to harmonize the scriptures, we must assume that Enoch wasn't really taken to heaven, but to somewhere (or some time) else. Could he have been transported into the future? Possibly, for that is possible with God. But the Bible simply doesn't tell us.

The second scriptural reference that some use to teach a heavenly calling prior to Jesus' death and resurrection is found at 2 Kings 2:11. It says there: 'And as they were walking along and talking, {Look!} a flaming war chariot with flaming horses rode between them and [took] EliJah into the sky in a tornado.'

Other Bible translations usually say that Elijah was taken 'into the heavens.' And because of this, most people believe that he went into the presence of God (heaven). Yet, as you'll notice in this translation's Note, 'The Heavens or Sky, the Earth or the Land?,' Elijah simply flew (on the chariot) into the SKY╔ because that's what the Greek word ourano (and the equivalent Hebrew word, hasßsaßmaßyim) really means. And (in harmony with John 3:13) notice that he didn't actually go to heaven, because King JehoRam later received a letter from Elijah (see 2 Chronicles 21:12). So God had apparently used the celestial chariot to take him to another place here on the earth. Also note that earlier, a man named AbDiu (a servant of the unrighteous IsraElite King Ahab) had spoken of such a thing happening to EliJah (see 1 Kings 18:12).

Other Questions

But, what about the Bible story that seems to indicate that the Witch of Endor spoke to the Prophet SamuEl from the grave (see First Samuel 28:7-19)? Doesn't this prove that the dead are still alive somewhere? Well, if we believe that the person whom the witch contacted was really God's faithful servant SamuEl, then we would also have to believe that witches have been given the power (by God) to bring the dead back to life (not likely). So if she really did speak to someone, we would have to assume that it wasn't really SamuEl, but a demon.

But then, didn't Jesus speak to Moses and EliJah in his transfiguration on the mountain (see Matthew the Seventeenth Chapter)? You must remember that this was just a vision that was given to his Apostles so that Jesus' earlier words to them about their seeing the Kingdom of God would come true. Therefore, since this story cannot contradict the words of Jesus himself or the rest of the Bible, we'll have to assume that it was just a vision, and that those men weren't really there.

The Promise of Jesus

Despite the fact that the Hebrews and pre-Christian IsraElites didn't have a reason to believe in the idea of life in a 'hereafter' or in an 'immortal soul' (which is an openly pagan belief that seems to have originated in Egypt or Babylon); it's easy to see why after the deaths of the Apostles, early Christians came to the conclusion that they don't really die, but go to heaven immediately upon their deaths. For notice how John 11:25, 26 is rendered in the King James Bible:

'Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?'

As you can see, the way that these words were translated make it appear as though Jesus was teaching that people wouldn't die╔ and yet they died (remember that Lazarus died and had to be resurrected by Jesus). So, what was Jesus talking about when he said that people who believed in him wouldn't die? Well, notice that at the time he was talking to Martha (the sister of Lazarus) about the resurrection, for he'd just said, 'I am the resurrection and the life.' So the point he was making was that those who believe in him would be resurrected. But then, in what sense could Jesus refer to those who believe in him as not having to die?

The God of the Living

At Matthew 22:31, 32, it's recorded that Jesus said: 'Haven't you read what God told you about the resurrection of the dead [when he said], I am the God of AbraHam, the God of IsaAc, and the God of Jacob? He isn't the God of the dead, but of the living.'

Notice that this is just one of several instances throughout the Bible where the faithful and righteous are referred to as 'the living.'

In the same vein, there are many instances where those who are unrighteous are referred to as 'the dead.' For as Jesus said (at Matthew 8:22): 'Let the dead bury their dead.' Also notice what Paul wrote of Jesus at Romans 14:9: 'And the reason why the Anointed One died and came to life again, was so that he could be the Lord of the living and the dead.'

Consider what Revelation 20:12 says will happen to these dead ones: 'And thereafter, I saw the dead – the great and the small – standing before the throne, and several scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, which was the Scroll of Life. And the dead were judged by the things that were written in the scrolls, according to the things that they had done.'

So they were 'standing' (they had already been resurrected), and yet they were described as 'the dead.' As you can see, although God will resurrect them, He still considers them the dead, and they must thereafter stand before God's throne to be judged. For, scrolls will be opened to reveal 'the things that they did.' But, when will they do these things that are written in the scrolls?

If we were to assume that the things written in the scrolls are records of things they did in their past lives (before their resurrection), we would have to ask, 'Then, why would God resurrect them just to condemn them once again?' That makes no sense at all! Rather, it appears as though they will be resurrected earlier in the Millennium, and at the end of the thousand years they will be judged for the things that they will do during that time, not for the sins of a past life. For Paul wrote at Romans 6:7: 'Because, those who have died have been acquitted of their sins.'

So, since they have been 'acquitted' of their past sins, they will obviously not be judged for them again.

If you go back to the Bible account in Revelation 20:12, you'll see that this judging of the dead comes immediately after the nations under Gog of Magog attack God's Holy City. Then the Slanderer (Devil) is destroyed, and that's when it speaks of the dead being judged. So, since the resurrection is spoken of as happening earlier in the Revelation, we must assume that such ones will also have been resurrected earlier, but that they will remain dead in God's eyes until they are judged as the living.

Then notice that (at Revelation 20:12) another scroll (the scroll of life) is opened, which contains the names of those who have already been found faithful by God. So, it appears as though these faithful ones don't really have to undergo another judgment along with those who are considered 'the dead' at the end of the Millennium, as some teach. For at Philippians 4:3, Paul wrote of 'fellow workers whose names [had already been written] in the Scroll of Life.'

And at Daniel 12:2 we read: '[God] will raise all those whose [names] were written in the Scroll; and many who died and were buried will be resurrected, some to age-long life, some to disgrace, and some will be scattered and shamed in that age.'

So it appears as though God has already counted many as righteous and He has written their names in the Scroll of Life. Therefore, faithful men (such as AbraHam, IsaAc, and Jacob) whose names have been written there are already considered the living,so they don't have to stand before God in judgment, as do those whom God considers the dead.

What Does Resurrection Mean?

Therefore, the only hope for dead humans that was ever taught in the Bible is that of a resurrection. What does this mean? Well, resurrection comes from the Greek word ana/stasia, which means 'stand again.' And by definition, it can't mean that people (souls) don't die; for it means that after they die (cease to exist) they will come to life again and stand erect on the ground.

Notice that the thing that makes the teachings of the Bible so different from all pagan religions, is that it (alone) speaks of a resurrection and the hope of being brought back to life here the earth as humans once again (see Matthew 5:5). Also note that Jesus never said that the resurrection happens immediately after we die, as most people believe. Rather, he actually said (at John 6:40), 'This is what my Father's will is: That everyone who pays close attention to the Son and believes in him should have age-long life, and I will resurrect him on the Last Day.'

That this Last Day isn't their last day, but is some future time, is indicated by the fact that the resurrection is spoken of as a future event at Revelation 20:4, 5. For there we read of it as happening at the beginning of the thousand-year period that starts with the evil one being thrown into the pit, and then those who will be raised in 'the first resurrection' will rule as kings during the thousand years that follow╔ and none of these things have happened yet.

Also consider what God's messenger said to the first person who was promised a resurrection in the Bible, the Prophet Daniel (Daniel 12:13 LXX):

'Now, [you must] go to your rest,
Until that day and hour arrives
When you will be resurrected.
For, you will receive your inheritance,
After those days reach their end.'

Different from Pagan Beliefs

The fact is; the teaching of the resurrection was totally different from anything that the Greeks believed in Paul's time. For, notice how those who gathered to listen to Paul at the AeroPagus reacted when he spoke of it (Acts 17:32): 'Well, when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some started joking about it.'

As you can see, the Bible's teaching of a resurrection differed so greatly from the traditional Greek (and other pagan) religious teachings about life after death, that the idea sounded foolish to the Greek philosophers at the time╔ which is still true of most people in our day!

Who are Resurrected?

Also notice that the Bible's teaching of a resurrection wasn't something that was just promised to the faithful. For Paul wrote at Acts 24:15: 'And I have this hope in God, which they (the Pharisees) also share, that there's going to be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.'

So we must conclude from these words of Paul that in God's great justice, even those who are unrighteous will be given the opportunity to know God and live, regardless of their education, mental condition, age, nationality, circumstances, or religious backgrounds.

But if so, then why is there is so little mention of the resurrection or of a hereafter in the Ancient Scriptures of IsraEl; and why did Solomon speak so gloomily of mankind's hope in the Ecclesiastes? Because there was no hope until after Jesus came and gave his life as a ransom for sinful mankind. For it was the sacrifice of his perfect life that opened the way for men to stand again. As Jesus himself said: 'I am the resurrection and the life.'

However, just where will resurrected men stand again, in heaven, on this earth, or somewhere else in the universe?

The Hope of Going to Heaven?

In the Bible book of Matthew, Jesus is repeatedly quoted as speaking of the hope of entering 'the Kingdom of Heaven.' And because of these words, many have come to believe (like the ancient Egyptians) that when we die, we either go to heaven or Hell. However, it appears as though the only reason why this term (Kingdom of Heaven – gr. te basileia ton ouranon) is found in (just) Matthew's Gospel, is because of an early Second-Century mistranslation from the original Aramaic text into the Greek text that we have today. For Jesus' exact same words as quoted by Mark and Luke (who likely really wrote their Gospels in Greek) tell us that Jesus actually said, 'the Kingdom of God' (gr. he basileia tou Theou). What's the difference? Well, being in the Kingdom of God doesn't necessarily imply that one is going to heaven. And going to heaven doesn't appear to be what Jesus was talking about. Because (as we have shown above) the word resurrection implies standing again as a human on the earth.

It can be successfully argued, however, that the Bible does teach the hope of life in heaven for at least some. We gain this understanding from what Paul wrote at Philippians 3:11-14, where he spoke of his hope of receiving an 'out resurrection' (gr. ech/anastasin). Does this mean that Paul was saying he believed in a heavenly resurrection? We just don't know, for even Jesus was resurrected on this earth and had to remain here for forty days before he was allowed access into the heavenly presence of God. However, notice that in verse 14, Paul said he was reaching out for a higher or upward calling (gr. ano kleseos), and this appears to be something greater than the type of resurrection that others are to receive.

Do we find any mention of such a thing in the Bible? Well, we read at Revelation 14:1-4: 'Then {Look!} I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion; and with him there were a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's Name written on their foreheads. I also heard a noise coming from the sky that sounded like a lot of water and loud thunder. Well, the sound that I heard was that of people who were all playing harps and singing. They were singing a new song before the throne and before the four animals and the elders, and no one was able to master that song but the hundred and forty-four thousand who were purchased out of the earth. These didn't pollute themselves with women. In fact, they are virgins who keep following the Lamb no matter where he goes. They were bought from among mankind as first fruitage to God and to the Lamb. No lies are found in their mouths and they don't have any defects.'

So, here is a special group that is chosen out of the earth for a special purpose. And while we might assume that their being 'purchased out of the earth' means that they were resurrected to heaven; it could also mean that they were first resurrected on the earth like Jesus was, and then (like Jesus) they are thereafter taken to heaven.

But if these scriptures are in fact speaking of a group that will be taken to heaven, the next logical question would be: Is this number '144,000 slaves of our God' literal, or is it figurative? There are several reasons to believe that it could be literal. They include:
ß We would expect such a heavenly calling to be made up of a symbolic and complete number (such as twelve times twelve thousand).
ß The number 144,000 is then contrasted to an unknown number at Revelation 7:9, which says, 'After all this, I saw {look!} a crowd so large that no one could count them.' So, 144,000 is specific in contrast to the unnumbered larger group.
ß If these selected individuals are to hold the position of 'kings,' their number would logically be limited, and 144,000 is surely an adequate size for such a government over our earth.

The Requirements for Heavenly Life

The fact is; if all those who claim to qualify to serve as kings and priests in the heavens will really go there, the number would have to be greatly expanded beyond what is said in these scriptures. For tens of millions claim that they have already been chosen to that destiny╔ though many haven't proven faithful until death yet. But notice what we were told at Revelation 2:10, 'Be faithful until death and I will give you the garland of life.'

In fact, it does appear as though a martyr's death (like that of Jesus) may be required by God so as to qualify to be part of this small group. For at Revelation 6:11, we read: 'Then they were each given a white robe and they were told to rest just a little while longer, until the full number of their fellow slaves and brothers was filled (who were going to be killed as they were).'

Then notice what Jesus said to his Apostles James and John about this at Matthew 20:22, 23: 'You don't know what you're asking╔ can you drink from the cup that I'm about to drink? And they answered: We can. So he said to them: You will indeed drink from my cup; but, sitting at my right hand and left hand isn't mine to give╔ it belongs to those for whom my Father has prepared it.'

And this is the same question that all who say they've been chosen for life in heaven must ask themselves╔ Can I drink from that same cup? For if being publicly executed as a criminal (which is what likely happened to all of Jesus' Apostles) was what was to be required of these friends whom Jesus so dearly loved; why would anyone who expects the same reward think that a lower price would be required of them?

The fact is; no one can rightly claim to have a heavenly calling until they've proven their integrity by offering their lives in sacrifice, or at least by having to endure great persecution for their faith. For more information, see the linked commentary, 'False Anointed and False Prophets.'

But, where and when does the Bible make the transition from offering the hope of being resurrected as a human on earth to being raised as a spirit into the heavens?

The Promise of a Kingdom

While most people think that Jesus first mentioned a heavenly calling at Matthew 5:3, that probably wasn't what he was talking about. However, the promise that may have opened the way for a small number to go to heaven was the one that Jesus gave to his faithful Apostles during his Last Supper. Notice what he said then, as recorded at Luke 22:28-30: 'However, you are the ones who stuck with me during my trials; so, I'm making a promise to you, just as my Father made a promise to me, for a Kingdom╔ that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of IsraEl.'

As you can see; this sacred promise of Jesus to his faithful friends implies that he was offering them a position of rulership with him in the heavens (where Jesus would soon be). However, notice that this wasn't a promise to all mankind, but just to his eleven faithful Apostles (his friends who had stuck with him). Yet, despite the fact that Jesus' words were so specific, many have been led to believe that this is where he opened the hope of going to heaven to all of faithful mankind, since the promise was made sometime after he had inaugurated God's 'New Covenant' with all the faithful. Yet if you carefully examine the sequence of events, you'll see that this isn't so; for it is clear from the context that this promise was something special that Jesus just made with his friends. For more information, see the linked document, 'The New Covenant.'

The Hope of the Rest of Mankind

It would seem as though the promises of the Scriptures – that a only small group of chosen ones will rule from heavenly thrones – would make the place where the rest of mankind is to be resurrected, obvious. However, religious dogma and lifetime hopes don't always lead people to the easy answers. Notice that the Bible clearly tells us at Psalm 37:11:
'But the meek will inherit the land
And find great delight in the abundance of peace
.'
For more information, see the linked document, 'The Resurrection.'

Age-Long Life Now?

Notice that Jesus said at John 5:24: 'I tell you the truth; Whoever hears what I say and believes in the One that sent me, will have age-long life╔ he won't have to be judged, for he has come out of the death and into the life!' (gr. metabebakin ek tou thanatou eis ten zoen or, has/passed out\of the death into the life).

As you can see; Jesus told his listeners that they could receive the gift of age-long life, or be counted among the living, while they were still alive!

Notice again what Jesus said at John 6:54, 55: 'Those who chew my flesh and drink my blood will have age-long life╔ because I will resurrect them on the Last Day. Since my flesh is truly food and my blood is truly drink; those who chew on my flesh and drink my blood will remain in me, and I in them..'

So if we are found to be faithful; apparently our names are written in the Book of Life and/or we are alive in Jesus.

The Hope of the 'We' Who 'Will Be Changed'

At 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, Paul wrote: 'Look╔ I'm explaining a mystery to you: Not all of us will be laid to rest, but we will be changed in a moment – in the twinkling of an eye – during the last trumpet! For the trumpet will blow and the dead will be raised incorruptible╔ and we will be changed. Then that which is corruptible will put on incorruptibility, and that which is dying will put on immortality. But when that which is dying puts on immortality, the words that were written are fulfilled: Death, which prevails, will be swallowed.'

So, what did Paul mean when he said, 'the dead will be raised incorruptible?'

First, recognize who it was that Paul was writing about here. He was talking about 'the dead' who will be resurrected, not about those who are 'living' in Jesus. Then he goes on to say, 'And we (the living) will be changed.' So it appears as though he is speaking of two different groups here, the dead (the unrighteous) and the living (those whose names have been written in the book of Life). Yet according to the text, all who are resurrected, both the righteous and the unrighteous, will be raised incorruptible and in an undying condition. For notice that Paul was making the point that, 'the death (due to the sin of Adam), which prevails, will be swallowed.'

Understand that the Greek words Paul used here for corruptible and incorruptible are phtharton and aphthrsian, and the words we translated as mortal and immortal are thneton and athanasian╔ which don't necessarily mean what many people think that they do (that being incorruptible is the same as being immortal). Phtharton indicates a degenerating condition, such as the normal aging process of mankind. So apparently, the resurrected will no longer have to suffer from the effects of aging. And since thneton refers to a dying condition, people won't be raised in a dying condition. Rather, 'we' will be granted athanasia, which doesn't really mean incapable of death as some have said, but that we will simply no longer be dying due to the sin of Adam! For more information, see the linked document, 'Corruption.'

But, wasn't Paul speaking of those who are taken to heaven here (at 1 Corinthians 15)? We think not. For a full explanation of our reasoning on this, see the subheading, 'The Possible Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:35-54' in the linked document, 'God's Promise of an Inheritance.'

To return to your Bible reading, click on the browser Back button

Home Page