"There is a blessed home, Beyond this land of woe, Where trials never come, nor tears of sorrow flow, Where faith is lost in sight, and patient hope is crowned, And everlasting light Its glory throws around." Hymns Ancient and Modern, # 230
This verse expresses a hope and expectation of countless millions of people who live in the world today. Some say it is a Christian hope, others that it is an inborn hope. Which ever it may be, there is the expectation of very many people that death is not final.It is everyone's experience, that death ultimately comes to every person. To a few it might come within the first few days of life - or earlier. To a few it may be delayed until they are a hundred years of age. There has been no "cure" found for what has been called, "man's greatest enemy".
But what is "death"? Is it the end of existence, or a gateway to the skies? A gateway to Paradise?
"Safe from all earth's sorrow
Safe from all its pains,
Now this child of Adam
Hymns Ancient and Modern, N 750
Do We Know?
The question of what happens at death is one that many have pondered. If someone who has previously died, could come back and explain the situation to us, then we would have a solution to the problem. There are, of course, various claims made that such re-visits have been made, and the message has been that they "are alive and well in heaven'. However, it is to be noted that, despite these messages, the situation still remains in grave doubt and that no actual proof, or evidence of an afterlife has been sufficient to satisfy the question of what happens after death. If there is life after death, one must ask the inevitable question as to why there has not at least one of those in all the countless millions who have died, returned to earth to tell us plainly, and publicly, that life continues after death?
There are a number of alternatives that could be possible:
- The dead are not able to contact the living.
- The dead are prohibited from contacting the living.
- The dead choose not to contact the living.
If the dead haven't provided the answer, is there another source of information available to us?
If we look around us, we see a world of incredible design. We can, like many, consider such design as a quirk of chance, or we can, like many, consider it as the handwork of a Designer of superb talent. If the latter option is the one considered, then we are able to turn to a very valuable source of information. For the Holy Bible claims to be the message of God, that is, God's Word.
"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:20,21 NIV
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16,17
It stands to reason, then, that if the Bible has these credentials, then it has the potential for informing us on many things relevant to our lives. Such things should include:
- Why we are here.
- What we should be doing.
- What is in store for us.
- What happens when we die.
Although each aspect is of vital interest to us, we will look to the Bible at this time solely to see what it states concerning what happens after death.
Certainly, the popular opinion that the souls of the dead go to heaven, is said to be a teaching of the Bible. The alternative destination - hell – is not so readily accepted by many Bible readers, as it is an unpleasant thought that such a destination even exists. So if such is the Bible teaching, then it can be summarised as follows:
The souls of the righteous dead go to heaven at death. The souls of the wicked dead go to hell at death.
But who is "righteous', and who is "wicked"? A $64 000 question! Some people believe that, ultimately, such a categorisation doesn't matter: in the end all will be accounted to be righteous, and so eventually all will arrive in heaven.
It does not need a great search of the Bible to find that the above suppositions are ill-founded.
Good Heavens, No!
Consider what the writer of the book of Acts has to say about a great historical figure in Israel's early history:
"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the man David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. ... For David did not ascend to heaven ... " Acts 2:29,34
If there was anyone in Israel's history that should have been rewarded, it was David. He was a faithful servant to God. He was a faithful king to Israel.
"After removing Saul, he [God] made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart, he will do everything I want him to do.' " Acts 13:22
David son of Jesse was king over all Israel. He ruled over Israel for forty years - seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honour. His son, Solomon succeeded him as king. I Chronicles 29:26-28
This righteous king, who had pleased God so well, did not ascend to heaven. Amazing that such a situation could arise, one must ask the question of why such a worthy man did not ascend to heaven. Why didn't he? The answer to this question is important, and to understand more about it, we must consider what death is. To do this, we will firstly turn to the book of Ecclesiastes, a book of the Bible that is largely ignored by Bible readers.
"'This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and they join the dead. Anyone who is among the living has hope! - even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
"The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun."
"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Ecclesiastes 9:3-6, 10
This passage puts into words the observations of millions in the world today, that a dead person no longer has the ability to work, to plan, to think, or to act. They are placed in a coffin and lowered into the ground. Given a few years, the memory of them is reduced, and, given further time, forgotten.
But does this valid observation mean that there is no hope of anything beyond the grave? By no means! For the writer of the book Ecclesiastes is speaking of those who do not have any recognition of God In his concluding verses he writes:
"Now all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."
"For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." Ecclesiastes 12:13,14
We are certainly not conscious of a judgment taking place at any stage during our life. At no time has God discussed with us how our life has measured up against His required standard. Since it is only fair and reasonable that we should have some awareness of the findings of this judgment, it is reasonable to assume that the judgment must take place at a time subsequent to our death, and at a time of which we shall be aware of it. This conscious judgment is noted throughout the Bible, but is particularly emphasised in the New Testament. This is because the judgment being spoken about is intimately associated with the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word... I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all that have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:1,2,7,8
The phrase, "on that day', refers to the day of Jesus Christ's second coming, or appearing. This, also, is a common theme in the New Testament. Consider, for example, the occasion when Jesus ascended to heaven, as recorded in the first chapter of the book of Acts. It is recorded that two "men" spoke to those watching the ascension:
"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." Acts 1: 11
Some religious sects claim that Jesus has already made his return, and is currently operating "invisibly" on this planet. But this is contrary to the above passage, which clearly asserts that a very real, visible, Jesus is to return - the same Jesus as they saw going into heaven. And, furthermore, his return is to be visible, as was his departure. So it is evident that he has not yet returned, and therefore that the judgment that has to take place at that time, has not yet taken place.
Why is there to be a judgment? The quotation from Paul's second letter to Timothy mentioned above, infers two categories of people - those who have looked forward to the return of Jesus, and those who haven't. Only those that have will receive the promised reward. This distinction, of acceptable and unacceptable, is found throughout the Bible. Jesus referred to it in terms of sheep" and "goats":
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared since the creation of the world' ". Matthew 25:31-34
To be found acceptable at the day of judgment, we must be found to have lived in a manner that was acceptable to Jesus and to God, not merely in a manner that is acceptable to ourselves or our neighbour.
'Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name. Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' Matthew 7:22,23
The New Testament records an incident involving a group of people that were extremely zealous towards religion in Jesus' day.
"Someone asked him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' He [Jesus] said to them, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out." Luke 13:23, 24, 28
The Kingdom of God.
Exactly what is the Kingdom of God? Although predominantly a New Testament topic, it is also referred to in the Old Testament. The prophet Daniel (of the lion's den fame) was one who wrote about it. One of his prophecies depicted a great warrior, composed of different metals, which is explained by the prophet Daniel as predicting a succession of kings and kingdoms of differing temperaments. The vision had been given by God to Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, while he had been in a dream. The year of the vision was about 604 BC, and Daniel explained the vision in detail. The whole incident is recorded in Daniel Chapter 2. Following a series of four world empires (traced in subsequent history as the Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greek, and Roman kingdoms), there would come a time when nations and people would not mix.
"As the toes were partly of iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." Daniel 2:42-44
This passage is an important one, because it provides detail of the timing of the kingdom of God, and its location. We have already established that Jesus Christ is to set up a kingdom when he returns. So the above passage links in the world situation contemporary with the time of the setting up of God's kingdom.
There are some who say that the Kingdom of God exists at the present time, and that it is a state of spirituality within a person. They say that this has existed since the time when Jesus Christ first preached the Gospel to those who heard him. But the words of Daniel negate this argument, since at the time of Jesus' first coming, the world was dominated by the Roman Empire, a factor made quite clear in the New Testament. In contrast to this, Daniel's prophecy makes it quite clear that the fourth world dominion (Roman Empire) would have been replaced by an iron-and-clay conglomerate of nations before the time eventuated when God would set up His kingdom, and this form of fragile nations began to take place more than a thousand years later than the time of Jesus. In fact, the description of the world nations – some strong, some weak, and not getting along very well together - is a description of today's world. Further evidence that the Kingdom was not established at the time of Jesus' ministry is contained in the prayer he gave to his disciples:
"Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come ... " Matthew 6: 9
Jesus certainly regarded it as an event future from his own day.
A Kingdom on Earth.
The Daniel prophecy has a further important aspect that we should examine. He predicted that the Kingdom that God would establish, would do away — or replace — the nations that had existed on the earth at that time. In other words, the Kingdom would be earth-based.
"It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever." Daniel 2:44
The last book of the New Testament also stresses the earth-based kingdom. In words addressed to the "Lamb", that is clearly symbolising Jesus Christ, the record states,
"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Revelation 5:9,10
Jesus said, in what is known as the sermon on the mount,
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5
The Kingdom of Heaven.
If the Kingdom of God is to be an earth-based Kingdom as these passages state, what then is the situation with respect to the commonly referred to Kingdom of Heaven? Is it to be an alternative Kingdom operating in some way in parallel to the Kingdom of God on earth? So strong is the belief of a heaven-based Kingdom in the minds of some people that they disregard, or overlook, the clear testimony of both Old and New Testament writers that speak of an earthly kingdom.
What then is the situation?
In reality, it is not the confused issue that may be apparent at first. For the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of heaven are the same thing - they are simply alternative expressions.
One important aspect to note is that when the Bible speaks of the kingdom of heaven, it always uses the phrase "of heaven', and never "in heaven"; just as it speaks of a kingdom of God, and not a kingdom in God.. To show that these factors are valid one needs only to compare parallel passages within the Gospel records.
"From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. ' " Matthew 4:17
"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' " Matthew 19:14
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3
"The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Mark 1:1 5
"He said to them, 'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these"' Mark 10: 14
"I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Luke 18:17
It should be noted that the phrase "kingdom of heaven" is found only in the gospel of Matthew, where the phrase occurs 32 times. It occurs nowhere else in the Bible. The three remaining gospels each use only the phrase "kingdom of God'. Mark uses the phrase 15 times, Luke uses it 32 times, and John twice. A candid study of these passages will leave one with no doubt whatever that the two terms are indeed used as expressions of the same thing.
It is logical that they are parallel expressions. Recall the beginning of the Lord's prayer:
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name" Matthew 6:9
Heaven is the dwelling place of God, our Father. Therefore, it is fit and proper that the kingdom He is preparing is called, in the majority of instances, the "kingdom of God', and by another, sole, writer, the "kingdom of heaven". This latter phrase merely acknowledges that the kingdom is of Divine origin, in that it is planned by the Father and the Son in heaven.
It is the same acknowledgment as provided in the phrase "the kingdom of God", for it too acknowledges that it is of Divine origin. Jesus said,
"... for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself-, that where I am, there you may be also." John 14:2,3
This preparation work is in heaven - for that is where Jesus currently is. But the time is coming, and indications are that that time is near at hand, when Jesus will fulfil the remainder of the verse, and return to set up the kingdom. And at that time, those found acceptable at his Coming will be united with him and will be forever with him where he will be from then on - on this earth. Jesus said nothing about returning a second time to heaven, with his faithful followers. Recall those words of Revelation:
"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." Revelation 5:9,10
A Promise Is a Promise.
The kingdom of God was promised early on in the scheme of God's redemption, in a promise made to a man named Abraham.
"The Lord had said to Abraham, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land that I will show you. 'I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. " Genesis 12:1-3
This promise of God to Abraham was subsequently reinforced with him.
"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram-, your name will be Abraham, for I have made you the father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you-, and I will be their God. " Genesis 17:l - 8
The same promise was repeated yet again to Abraham (Genesis 22:15-18) and was also made to Abraham's son, Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5), and to Isaac's son, Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15; 35:9-12). This repetition was to ensure that the importance of the promise was not overlooked by Abraham or his offspring, or by readers of the Divine record.
Yet, the writer of a New Testament book remarks in a chapter which lists and explains many of the great achievements accomplished by Abraham and his descendants,
"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11:39,40
So although much emphasis had been placed by God on the promises made to Abraham and his descendants, they each had died without receiving the promise. How could this be, if it be true that God cannot lie? Why promise something that He had no intention of keeping? Is that the tact of an honest God?
Now it has been noted that the promise had been made to three specific people: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Collectively, they were referred to by later Jews as "the Fathers". The last of the three, Jacob, had his name changed to Israel. So as a consequence of these factors, the promises became known under several different names:
The promises to Abraham
The promises made to our fathers
The hope of Israel
A Future Reward.
In the New Testament, many references are made to these promises, because although the writers knew that they had not been fulfilled even by their own day, each realised that God must have a time yet in the future in which he intended to carry out these promises and to bring them to fulfillment Even the people in Jesus' day had a strong desire for their fulfillment as noted in an incident just prior to Jesus' ascension to heaven.
"So when they met together, they asked him [Jesus], 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'
"He said to them, 'It is not for you to know the times or dates the father has set by own authority.' "Acts 1:6,7
Neither do we know that time exactly, but we do know that the time is close.
It is at that time that these promises will be fulfilled, when God, through his Son Jesus, will set up an everlasting kingdom on this earth, in order to fulfil those promises made to Abraham, to his servant Daniel, and further revealed through His own Son, Jesus Christ.
The future of the prophet Daniel was assured by an angel, and recorded in closing verses of the book.
"As for you [Daniel], go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance."
Yes, Daniel lies like countless others resting in a grave. But at the resurrection which follows immediately after the return of Jesus Christ, he shall stand again, and be given a portion of the promised inheritance.
And so let us return to consider the plight of king David, who ranked one of the chief people in the bygone days of Israel. Let us note his last words:
"Is not my house right with God? Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part?
Will he not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire?" 2 Samuel 23:5
David had confidence that God would keep his promises, so that he had no fear when at the point of death. Sometime in the span of time ahead, God would fulfil his promises.
The apostle Paul, in New Testament times, had this same hope, and he expressed it in his last recorded writing.
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day - and not only me, but to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:7,8
Paul was not expecting to receive his crown on the day of his death, but on a certain day he referred to as "on that day" , when all who have similarly longed for his appearing would receive their reward. It is exactly as the writer to the Hebrews had said in respect to the "old timers",
"God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11:40
So the dead at the present time remain dead - they have no consciousness. If this is so, then there must be a time yet to come when their condition is changed.
"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those that have done evil will rise to be condemned." John 5:28,29
Paul wrote on the subject of a future resurrection to a group of believers in the Greek city of Corinth.
"If there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile, you are still in your sins, Then those also ,who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men."
"But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those that have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him." 1 Corinthians 15:13,17-22
Again, the facts are clear: the dead are dead until Jesus Christ returns, but at that time there will be a resurrection of the dead.
“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." 1 Corinthians 15:51,52
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to event life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." Daniel 12:2
The Prayer and Promise of Jesus.
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" Matthew 6:9,10
This was the prayer of Jesus, and the hope of the apostles. It can be our hope as well, if we care to listen to the Word of God as contained in our Bible. The message of the Bible is simple and it is clear - it only becomes confused when it distorted in an effort to prop up a non-Biblical doctrine, such as going to heaven on death.
We do have a hope for a future life after death. God has promised it, and it will come to those who are found acceptable at the judgment seat of Christ. It will be a kingdom set up on this earth that will replace all present kingdoms and nations, and will last forever. You, too, can be part of that kingdom. So you see why it is that heaven is not for you!