NPR’s Afterlife Series: The Bible

Oct 17, 2013

It’s been a little while since my last post in the series, so let’s go ahead and wrap this up with one more perspective on the afterlife. What does the Bible say?

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m a fan of the London Baptist Confession of Faith as a good summary of the Bible’s teachings on several key doctrines. The Confession has two chapters which deal with the afterlife; here are the links (hosted on this blog):

Chapter 31: Of the State of Man after Death and of the Resurrection of the Dead

Chapter 32: Of the Last Judgement

Go ahead and take a minute to read through those; the language is a little archaic, but not too bad - don’t worry if you don’t get it all at first.

Back? Great! Let’s dive in.

There are some things that the Bible tells us for sure about the afterlife. In contrast to the testimony of NPR’s interviewees, we can say without any speculation that there is life after death, and even give specific details about that afterlife that we know to be true. We have the word of the God who created both this life and the life to come, so we’re not reduced to mere speculation and unfounded hopes about the afterlife.

So what does His word say about the afterlife?

For starters, His word says that the souls of the righteous and the unrighteous continue to exist after death, waiting to be reunited with their bodies. The righteous enter into heaven, or Paradise, while the unrighteous find themselves in hell (see, for example, Luke 16:19-31).

This is only a temporary state of affairs, as humans are eminently physical beings. Though our souls can exist without bodies, they aren’t meant to. We will await the Second Coming of Christ, when our souls and bodies will be reunited. For the righteous, that will mean union with a brand-new “spiritual” or “glorified” body (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-49). Those of us who are still alive when He returns will be transformed “in the twinkling of an eye” into our new bodies.

Then comes the Judgment Day, when Christ will judge both the righteous and the wicked, men and angels alike. He will send them on to meet their fate, either to enjoy God’s presence and love forever, or to suffer under His wrath and anger eternally. See, for example, Matthew 25:31-46.

The Bible also tells us that the old heavens and earth will be destroyed, and the cosmos will be recreated in a new heavens and earth, cleansed from the taint of the Curse. (See 2 Peter 3:1-13.) In addition to having physical glorified bodies, then, we’ll also be able to enjoy God’s creation as it was meant to be enjoyed, without the effects of the Curse that we suffer through now. Personally, that’s one of the things I’m really looking forward to.

But there’s more to the afterlife than just knowing what will come to pass; if you recall from his interview, Rabbi Telushkin believed that the Hebrew scriptures were quiet about the afterlife because speculation would distract from leading a holy life. When the Bible talks about the afterlife, it encourages us to look forward to it, because it gives us hope when we face difficult times and encouragement to lead holy lives in anticipation of Christ’s coming.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for [the new heavens and a new earth], be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
(2 Peter 3:14 ESV)

What about you? How does looking forward to the afterlife affect your everyday life?