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Lat Blaylock, Editor, RE Today
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Life After Death
Key Christian concepts explained
All Christians believe in the afterlife, that death is not the end. However, depending on the denomination they belong to, they have different views about what the afterlife is like. This resource explains different key terms, along with exploring the reasons for different Christian views.
All Christians believe that when death occurs, it is not the end. They believe that the soul - the spiritual part of a person - is immortal, living on for eternity.
The Bible makes reference to a place in the afterlife called 'Heaven,' but there isn't a description, so people across the centuries have imagined what it is like. Some Christians view it as a physical place, but many believe it is a spiritual place, one where they spend time with God forever. One thing that all Christians agree on is that Heaven will be a perfect place, with no illness or suffering. The Bible states:
'God himself will be with them, he will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying or pain.' Revelation 21: 3-4.
Christians believe that Hell is a place where people go if they've made bad life choices, and have not repented of their sins, or accepted the salvation and forgiveness God offers through Jesus' death on the cross. Hell is seen as a place of great suffering and pain.
'Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.' Matthew 10:28
Resurrection means to come back to life from the dead. Jesus, himself, was resurrected after he was crucified, Many Christians believe that their bodies will be resurrected at the 'Last Judgement,' when they will face God and be judged for the choices they have made in their lives.
This is why some Christians choose to be buried instead of being cremated; they believe they need to keep their physical body whole, ready for this occasion. They believe this because of teachings from their church, and also because of what the Bible states.
'And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.' Revelation 20:12
Belief in bodily resurrection is also reflected in the Apostles' Creed: 'I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.' You can read the full Creed by clicking here.
However, other Christians believe that it will be a spiritual resurrection, and draw on verses from the Bible and church teachings to support their ideas. For example, Paul wrote:
'Our earthly bodies, which die and decay, will be different when they are resurrected, for they will never die. They are weak now, but when they are raised they will be full of power. They are natural, human bodies now, but when they are raised they will be spiritual bodies.' 1 Corinthians 15 verses 42-44.
Christians believe that God is loving and merciful, but they also believe he is a just God. This means that he is fair, and gives to each person what they deserve based on their choices in this life.
They believe that at the end of time there will be a 'Last Judgement' where everyone who's ever lived will face God. At this time he will decide whether someone will enter Heaven or Hell. This is based on whether they have chosen to accept the opportunity of salvation and forgiveness offered by God, through the death of Jesus on the cross.
There are a number of verses that support this belief in the Last Judgement, including:
'...but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.' 1 Peter 4:5
'For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.' 2 Corinthians 5:10
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that people go to Heaven and Hell, however, it also teaches that when someone dies, they go to a place called Purgatory first. They are not allowed to enter Heaven until they've spent time in Purgatory, which is a place where people are sent to prepare them for Heaven.
Roman Catholics believe that, when a person dies, they may still have sins or be too attached to their earthly life. Just like you wouldn’t go for a Christmas dinner unwashed and in filthy clothes, Catholics believe that you shouldn’t go to meet God in Heaven with any sin or attachments to earth. This is where Purgatory comes in; it is a place where people are cleansed of all sins
There is no teaching in the Bible to support this, however, the Catholic Church has released statements in support of it:
'All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation: but after death, they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven.' Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church para 1030, 1992
All Souls Day is an annual day of prayer and remembrance for the souls of those who have died. Catholics have dedicated this day to pray for the souls in Purgatory.
You can hear some Christians talking about their belief in life after death here.
- In your own words, explain the meaning of the terms 'salvation' and 'redemption.'
- How might belief in an afterlife affect the way Christians live their lives?