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After Death


The Disembodied Condition


The atheist will almost certainly say that death for a human being as well as for animals and plants is the terminus: the person then ceases to exist as such and will not be raised from the dead. The agnostic will probably say that he does not know whether death is the end or whether a human being has some kind of existence afterwards.

However, our concern here is not primarily with the thinking of the persons mentioned above but with those who profess the faith of Christ. There are various theories as to what happens when we die and these are as follows:-


1.
We cease to exist as a person when we die, but God can resurrect us because he has memorised us.

This is in effect saying that God has a hard copy of us including our memories and can recreate us. This

is not really resurrection but recreation. Scripture speaks of resurrection (raising up, not remaking). If the proponent of this way of thinking goes by Scripture at all, he will probably go to Ecclesiastes because there we have it said that "the dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5). However, the passage does not say that the dead do not exist. It says of the children of men that after they die they go "to the dead" (Eccl. 9:3) If they do not exist they cannot go anywhere. Again it says: "There is no... knowledge... in Sheol, whither thou goest" (Eccl.9:10). Again, if we did not exist, we would not be going anywhere. However, other references in the Old Testament to Sheol are clear that persons who are there do exist, for we have it said prophetically of Christ: "For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol" (Psalm 16:10). Christ was not left in Sheol and to have been there at all he must have existed whilst there (Acts 2:27). Then in Proverbs 9:18 we have it said: "Her guests are in the depths of Sheol". If they are there they must exist. It may also be noted that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes were almost certainly both written by Solomon, so it cannot be contended that it is a matter of two writers contradicting one another. Certainly, in the Old Testament generally and Ecclesiastes in particular there is not much light as to what happens to us when we die and the references to resurrection are few. Because of this latter fact, the Sadducees in the time of Christ taught that there is no resurrection (Matthew 22:23). However, Christ showed that there must necessarily be a resurrection by quoting what God said to Moses (Matthew 22:31/32).

2.
We continue to exist as a person when we die, but are asleep and therefore unconscious until the resurrection.

This theory is closer to Scripture than the one we have considered above, but has serious defects. Scripture does refer to the sleep of death (Psalm 13:3; Daniel 12:2) and this is in contrast to the rest of sleep (John 11:12-14). In the Old Testament many passages refer to a person who has died as sleeping with his fathers (e.g. 1 Kings 2:10) and also in the New, death is spoken of as sleep (e.g. Matthew 27:52). There are analogies between sleep and death. Persons whether asleep or dead are not conscious of what is going on around them in this world and this is probably what is meant in Ecclesiastes 9:5 where it says: "The dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love also, and their hatred, and their envy is already perished; neither have they any more for ever a portion in all that is done under the sun". It may be noted that a person who is asleep may be conscious in himself because he may be dreaming, but this consciousness does not relate to what is happening in the real world while he is asleep. So the fact that death is called sleep and a person who is dead is not conscious of what is going on in the world around him does not prove that he has no consciousness at all. The rich man of whom the Lord speaks in Luke 16:19-31 was clearly conscious.

There is another point here. Sleep is terminated when we awake; death is terminated when we are resurrected and Scripture teaches that both the just and unjust will be resurrected (Acts 24:15). Calling death sleep points to the fact that it is not final inasmuch as all will ultimately be resurrected.

Further when we are asleep we are inactive as we are when we are dead. This, incidentally, is said in Ecclesiastes 9:10 of death. The idea of rest is in that way connected with both sleep and death. In Revelation 14:13 death is said to involve rest from labour as we know sleep also does.


3.
Only those who have eternal life exist after they die

This doctrine is no different from 1 above so far as non-Christians are concerned and is refuted by what is said there. So far as Christians (believers) are concerned (assuming that they are the only ones that have eternal life) it makes eternal life mean simply eternal existence. However, in Scripture eternal life means that persons have a kind of life that does not terminate in death: they have a life other than their natural life as Christ said:"And this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). Life is not mere existence, but involves the enjoyment of relationships. Today we sometimes read of the quality of life as distinct from mere continuing existence and this is involved when we speak of eternal


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