Does the Bible teach that there is life after death? While the answer may seem obvious to some that it is YES, others believe that one ceases to exist until their bodies are physically raised from the grave. In the New Church, it is unequivocally stated that we all do indeed live after death in a higher (or lower) spiritual reality that is beyond this physical material plane. However there are some churches and sects who do not believe this to be the case. Specifically, it is part of the doctrines of the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses that we do not have consciousness after death, we just simply cease to exist until some literal future resurrection date. So which view is correct?
For doctrinal issues, one should always use scripture first. In New Church doctrine, it is stated that all doctrine should be drawn from scripture as a foundational basis. So I will here mention passages from the New Testament in which a clear answer is given concerning life after death. In fact, these are the passages I used in a discussion on a Seventh Day Adventist forum, and I thought I would share them here for anyone seeking answers. For anyone who grew up in a particular religion, I always give the same advice: examine the truth for yourself, and do not depend on what other people tell you. For if you know the truth, the truth shall set you free.
SCRIPTURE EVIDENCE #1 - JESUS' ANSWER TO THE SADDUCEES
As the Old Testament had been written in such a symbolic manner, by the time of Jesus a Jewish sect arose, the Sadducees, who believed in no future resurrection. After the Sadducees tested Jesus with a question on the resurrection, Jesus gave them this answer:
And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living. (Matt. 22:31-32)The parallel passage of Luke has slightly different wording:
But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him. (Luke 20:37-38)What this shows is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob already rose from the dead, and were alive in heaven. This answer alone shows that there is life after death.
SCRIPTURE EVIDENCE #2: THE STORY OF LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN
Here is another passage, in which not only does it clearly state there is life after death, but that heaven and hell are real. This is the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which some say "is just a parable," but the point here is parables are meant to teach the truth, not to mislead. Moreover, this may be an actual account, as Lazarus is the name of the person that Jesus rose from the dead (see John 11). Here is the passage from Luke:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)It should be noted, just as in Jesus' answer to the Sadducees, this story from Luke also shows that Abraham is alive in heaven. From the passage above, we can conclude several things:
1. There is life after death. The death of the physical body is but a transition.
2. There is heaven and there is hell.
3. There is a chasm between heaven and hell.
SCRIPTURE EVIDENCE #3 - JESUS' ANSWER TO THE THIEF ON THE CROSS
In support of the story of Luke, Jesus' answer to the thief on the cross shows that one lives immediately after death:
And [the thief] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)Nothing can be more clear than that. Some, who wish to distort what was said, put the comma after "today" where Jesus is merely saying "Today I am saying this to you." But that is not the case: Jesus is assuring the thief that that very day they will meet each other in Paradise. Paradise is also mentioned in the book of Revelation:
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Rev, 2:7)This shows that the Garden of Eden in Gen. 2 is actually a representation of heaven, not a physical garden. It symbolically represents that in ancient times, an ancient race of men had direct contact with heaven.
SCRIPTURE EVIDENCE #4 - THE DESCENT OF JESUS INTO HELL
One thing that most of Christianity has forgotten is that between the time of the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus not only ascended into heaven but descended into hell. This is known in the Orthodox Church as the "harrowing of hell," where Jesus put all of hell under dominion and released captive souls and brought them up into heaven. This is described in more detail in Jesus the Shaman - Descent into the Underworld. It is mentioned briefly in the epistle of Peter:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (1 Pet. 3:18-20)This is an obvious reference to souls living in the afterlife, caught in some sort of prison, who had lived before the flood of Noah. This shows one lives a full life after death. Also, in addition to heaven or hell, there is a state similar to limbo or purgatory, where one can remain in prison or a limited state for a time between heaven and hell.
WHAT OF THE LAST JUDGMENT?
The New Testament clearly states that there is life after death, that there are many who are judged and go to heaven or hell. However there are other passages which speak of a "final judgment" or "last judgment" at the "end of the age" (e.g., Matt. 13:37-43, 25:31-46). Does not those passages confirm that the resurrection is yet future? Yes and no. The last judgment at the end of the age refers to the souls caught in prison or "limbo" between heaven and hell, who had not been judged yet as they were not ready. For these there are periodic last judgments in which souls are judged in mass, and go to either heaven or hell. One of these judgments took place during the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. But these last judgments occur in the spiritual world, not the physical world. For in judgment, all the memories of our thoughts, and all our actions, are examined in the clearest detail as to our true intentions. This can only occur in the spiritual world.
In the 18th century, many revelations were given to Emanuel Swedenborg concerning Christianity, and one of the main revelations was to show that there is life after death, that there is a heaven or hell, and that how we live our life determines our eternal destiny. The reason for the revelation was that many intellectuals of the modern age had ceased to believe in life after death, and thus Christianity had entered into a period of decline, and one can still see this continue today in western society. The revelations of the afterlife are summarized in his work Heaven and Hell, and further details are given concerning the last judgments in the spiritual world in his works The Final Judgment and The Final Judgment Continued. The main last judgment, which mainly concerns the fall of Christianity and the establishment of the New Church, is described in detail in the work Apocalypse Revealed and Apocalypse Explained.
These are large subjects, but when introducing someone new to these spiritual matters it is always preferable to use scripture first, and I would always recommend the passages that I mentioned above in this blog as a starting point. It is impossible for me to summarize here, but the main point is that the love of our will, not our belief system, determines our eternal destiny. Truth is only useful inasmuch as it leads one away from evil towards good. Those who love others, who live a useful life, are on the path to heaven. Those who are in service of their own self, or love of the world, are on a path in a separate direction. So choose wisely, and your happiness will only grow not only in this life but to all eternity.