What happens to you when you die? Where do you go? What is heaven like? What is hell like? Are ghosts real? Do we become angels? This week, we look at these questions and more as we continue to talk about the afterlife. Today’s sermon has a TON of notes, you can download a handy notes file here: http://harmonychurch.cc/uploads/10-31-21%20-%20sermon%20notes.pdf
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OPENING ILLUSTRATION: Did any of you grow up going to haunted houses? I went almost every year growing up. There was something about standing in line to get the tar scared out of you. To come face to face with some of your nightmares is incredibly scary.
Today, we are going to talk about the afterlife. Specifically, What happens to us when we die? Where do we go? What do we know about the afterlife?
The biggest thing I want you to know is that if you are in Christ, nothing we talk about today, should scare you:1 John 4:4You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
At the end of the day, even if what we walk through today, some of it may feel like a horror house, for those of you who are in Christ – you are safe – because he who is in you is greater than the one in the world.
So, I want to give you some ground rules 1. I will point out where the bible is clear and specific 2. I will point out when the bible is not clear and leaves room for interpretation 3. I will tell you when something is my opinion
So, let’s jump into it: What happens to a Christian when they die?
-do you become a naked baby that’s interested in archery?
-are you singing on a cloud with a harp?
-do you become an angel?
Most Christians believe their eternal resting place will be in heaven (a spiritual reality) – but this is not what the scriptures say: Revelation 21:1 & 3 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Our final resting place will be a physical reality – similar to our current reality.
It will not be this dry boring place – when you read the descriptions of eternity – the things that we consider precious on earth are used as paving stones…
So, when is this new heaven and earth established? there will be a great war – armageddon-all the peoples of the earth will gather to war against God-and the battle is just over…After it, Rev says this…
Revelation 20:11-1512 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
ILLUSTRATION: Normally when you see someone being convicted of a crime – they pay for what they did, but in Rev 20-the offended is God Himself and when He opens the book of life, all He sees is your name with Jesus’ blood covering it-you are forgiven…
Those with no relationship with Christ will be cast into the lake of fire
Isaiah 66:2424 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
But what happens between now and the judgment?
Where do we go?
What is that existence like?
B for Christians, we go to the spiritual reality that most of us think about when we think about heaven.
Philippians 1:21-24 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
Paul understood that if he were to die, he would “be with Christ” While Jesus was on the cross, the thieve asked him to remember him, and Jesus said,
Luke 23:43 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2 & 6-8 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling,
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
So, in death, the follower of Jesus is not simply unconscious awaiting the judgment. They are translated into a spiritual reality with Christ.
So, just a couple of quick questions:
1. Do the dead know or care about what is going on here and now?
Do dead people watch what goes on here?
Revelation 6:9-10 9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
The dead martyrs under the altar clearly care about ending the suffering on earth, but it is not clear if they are actively observing it
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us
Lots of people have connected this passage to saying dead Christians are watching us as a cloud of witnesses-but the cloud of witnesses is clearly describing the faithful in Chapter 11 – those who have run the race before us and cheer us on
It is not clear that the cloud of witnesses is meant to be taken that they literally are watching you every moment
B We do know that Jesus was watching Stephen as he was killed for his belief in Jesus
Acts 7:55-56 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Did you notice Jesus stood as he watched Stephen’s death?
In Luke 15 Jesus tells two parables that say all heaven rejoices when a sinner repents, so do dead Christians pay attention to us? Maybe, we don’t really know. My opinion – as long as it doesn’t become an obsession, it’s not a “wrong” thing to think someone might be looking down at you.
2. Will we become angels when we die? This is a misapplication of Mt. 22:29-32 where Jesus says we become LIKE angels in regards to marriage
Note: this passage also shows how God is the God of the living, not the dead – He speaks of ancient Jewish superstars as though they are alive
So, what happens to those who do not know Christ before the judgment?
I’m going to give you a few possibilities:
1. They go to HadesThe parable in Luke 16 with a rich man and a leprous beggar – Lazarus who both die – the rich man dies and he goes to hades… the leper goes to Abraham’s bosom.
-it is possible that those who die who are wicked – those who die apart from the forgiveness of Jesus go to hades, essentially hell.
2. Their souls roam around in a spiritual wasteland that is dry and arid, searching for bodies to inhabit – this = “Hades” It just got freaky, right? Let me give you a quick argument for this one
And let me be clear what I am saying is that the demons the New Testament speaks of are the disembodied souls of wicked people – what we would call a ghost
B “But I thought demons were fallen angels?”
B There is no biblical evidence for this – the bible speaks of demons and fallen angels separately, but never equate the two. The bible refers to demons as wicked impure or unclean spirits that possessed people and caused either mental or physical ailments and were under the authority of Satan (Beelzebub)
Alexander Campbell – the founder of our movement of Christian churches wrote a great article on why we should think of demons as the disembodied souls of the wicked, I’m going to give you the quick version.
During the time of Jesus, the popular belief of the Greek/Roman world, the Jewish world, and the first couple centuries of Christian writers was that Demons were the disembodied souls of people – what we would call ghosts-actually, the Romans and Greeks thought of demons as good things – spirits that gave them special wisdom-it is only in the New Testament that we learn they are unclean spirits – meaning not of God
When Jesus interacts with and confronts demons – He never corrects the thinking to say, “you’ve heard demons were dead people, but they are actually angels”. Instead, He operates within the assumption.
With this concept in mind, listen to this passage where Jesus talks about unclean spirits:
Matthew 12:43 43 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. If impure spirits are those of people who are not with Christ, it would mean that those who die without Christ are roaming around in a spiritual desert, their only respite is to possess a human body and gain control over it – they seek out to be in the form that they have known their entire life…
this is a terrifying proposition in my mind.
Jesus understood how terrifying this whole prospect was Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
CLOSING ILLUSTRATION: I had some friends years back who opened a haunted house. It was super good and creepy. I went through it and the whole time I walked through it, I was making jokes to keep the fear at bay. I would talk to the people who had jumped out at you. Told the clown he looked nice, all those kinds of things.
It had worked, all the way to getting close to the exit. We were in a pitch-black hall, and all you could see was this little bit of light showing the way out. I’m making my jokes and walking, knowing I’m almost out. When out of nowhere, this ghoulish-looking woman chained to a wall in a pitch-black corner jumps into my face and screams, “Kent!!!!”
I’m telling you, I almost lost it! I screamed like a 4-year-old girl and ran off, leaving everyone behind…
I think a lot of you in this room are walking towards a barren wasteland of death and destruction – a hell, that won’t be the back room of the bar where everyone is partying, it will be the most terrifying thing you have ever experienced. And you are just making jokes, “I’ll be the one driving the bus to hell…”
I’m hoping that today you felt God scream your name and it scared the pee out of you…
It is ok to be driven to Jesus out of fear but it’s even better when you turn to Him and realize His deep love for you, He wants to be in eternity with YOU!..
It is time for you to turn on your old life and run away from it, leave it all behind…