Life After This Life
What happens to us after we die? Here’s a glimpse into the great beyond—the future that will last forever.
Few subjects pique our interest more than the afterlife. What happens to us when we die? Many people speculate they’ll have a more fulfilling existence beyond this vale of tears, but affirming the reality of eternity requires more than speculation. We need to pin our hopes on a source that transcends our fallible intellect. Only God in Scripture has the authoritative word on what life is like after this life.
Generally, Christians focus on going only to heaven. But the Bible also talks about the Millennial Kingdom and eternal state and the differences between them.
The Heavenly Home
The word heaven has three meanings in the Bible. It refers to:
1. The physical expanse described as the sky or atmosphere consisting of clouds and oxygen surrounding the earth (Gen. 1:20–21).
2. The stellar heavens occupied by physical planets (Ps. 19:1–6).
3. The dwelling place of God and all His godly, angelic servants (Rev. 4:2–11).
Scripture does not reveal the location of the third heaven. Somewhere within its confines will dwell those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Jesus told His disciples He was going to prepare a place for them in heaven (Jn. 14:1–4; cf. Lk. 23:43; Acts 1:11; Phil. 3:20).
The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church he was caught up to the third heaven, called Paradise, where he heard “inexpressible words” that were unlawful for him to speak (2 Cor. 12:4). He gave the impression finite humans are unable to grasp what heaven is like while they are here on Earth unless God reveals it to them.
The apostle John was summoned to heaven, and he reported who was there (Rev. 4). Central to everything was God on His throne (v. 2), surrounded by 24 elders (v. 4) and “four living creatures [beings]” (v. 6), or angelic beings (possibly cherubim and seraphim), that guard God’s throne. The creatures’ words suggest continual praise is offered to the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (v. 8).
Heaven is where the spirits and souls of believers go when they die (2 Cor. 5:7–8; Phil. 1:21–23). We will stand before God’s throne, worshiping and serving Jesus Christ, who will shepherd us (Rev. 7:15–17).
However, our bodies will remain in the grave until the Rapture, when Jesus comes in the clouds for His church (1 Th. 4:13–18). Then our spirits and souls will be united into glorified bodies. Believers alive on Earth at that time will instantly receive glorified bodies.
The glorified body will be imperishable, honorable, powerful, perfect, and undefiled by sin. It will not suffer disease or death and is prepared for life in eternity. Job stated that even after he died, when his body had turned to dust, in his flesh and with his own eyes he would see his Redeemer standing on the earth (Job 19:25–27).
As the bride of Christ, the church will be presented to Jesus (the Bridegroom) at the Rapture and will be with Him forever (1 Th. 4:17; cf. Jn. 14:3). All Church Age believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ in heaven and have their works judged (2 Cor. 5:9–11). Our bad works will burn up in the fire of Christ’s judgment, while our good works will endure (1 Cor. 3:12–15) and be rewarded before we return to Earth with Jesus at His Second Coming.
On Earth we have an imperfect, distorted understanding of life. Scripture likens it to looking in a polished brass mirror. But when we get to heaven and see our Savior face to face, we’ll understand all things (1 Cor. 13:12). Why? Because we’ll comprehend both the spiritual and physical elements needed to live in the eternal state. Does this mean believers will know everything in heaven? No! Only God is omniscient and knows everything. We will continue to learn throughout eternity.
The spirits and souls of Old Testament believers who have died also are in heaven. At the proper time, they, too, will receive resurrected bodies before returning to Earth with the church at Christ’s Second Coming.
The Millennial Kingdom
The Second Coming initiates the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom. At that time, Christ will destroy the evil Antichrist’s rule, set up His rule, and reign on the earth (Lk. 1:31–33; Rev. 19:11–21; 20:2, 4–6).
Jesus, King David’s direct descendant, promised He will return to Earth and establish world peace. His rule will restore the theocratic Kingdom that vanished when Adam sinned. His reign is called the Millennium because Jesus will preside over 1,000 years of peace, prosperity, and plenty as never before experienced in history since God created the Garden of Eden.
The nation of Israel, God’s vehicle for this restoration through Christ, will be regenerated, its sins forgiven, and the redeemed filled with the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:25–26; Zech. 12:10; 13:9; Rom. 11:26). Israel’s 12 tribes will be reunited into one nation (Ezek. 37:15–22) and restored to all the land God promised the Jewish people as an everlasting possession (Gen. 15:18; 17:7, 13, 19; Dt. 30:3–10). During the Millennial Kingdom, the land will be productive as never before (Amos 9:13–14).
The world’s social order will be restructured and the weapons of war melted down into farm implements (Isa. 2:4). Peace, personal and political justice, along with prolonged life, will prevail throughout the world. Even the curse that God pronounced on creation after the fall of humanity is lifted, and animal life will live in peace (Isa. 11:3–9; 66:12; Rom. 8:20–22).
Jerusalem will become the world’s capital. There Christ will rule over all nations that must come annually to worship (Jer. 3:17; Zech. 14:16–20). A Millennial Temple and its worship system will be established in the city (Ezek. 37:26–28; 40:1—47:12).
Government during the Millennium will be a theocracy (God rules) with Jesus Christ visibly ruling from David’s throne (Lk. 1:32–33). King David will be a prince, possessing ruling authority under Christ (Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 37:24–25). Old Testament believers who were resurrected at Christ’s Second Coming (Dan. 12:2, 13) will reside throughout Israel. In that day, the 12 apostles will function as judges over the 12 tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28). The church and martyred Tribulation saints (they now have glorified bodies) will help govern the nations (Rev. 5:10; 20:4, 6).
The earth will be repopulated by redeemed Jews and Gentiles who survive the seven-year Tribulation and enter the Millennium in mortal bodies capable of procreating. People born in the Kingdom will need to accept Jesus as Savior to be redeemed. The unsaved who survive the Tribulation are barred from the Kingdom. Instead, they will be judged, condemned, placed on the Lord’s left hand, and cast into “everlasting punishment” (Mt. 25:46; cf. vv. 31–34, 41). At the end of the Millennium, Satan, demonic spirits, and all unsaved humanity will be judged at the Great White Throne and cast alive into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:7–15).
The Eternal State
With the completion of the Great White Throne Judgment and the passing away of the old heaven and earth, there will be a new heaven, new earth, and a new Jerusalem that descends from heaven (21:1–2); and the eternal state will begin.
God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, together with the redeemed (both Jews and Gentiles) from all the ages, will occupy the new Jerusalem. The city will be sanctified, spiritual, sinless, and spacious. Life there will be glorious, unending, peaceful and joyful, full of knowledge and service to Christ, and full of fellowship with all the redeemed from ages past (Rev. 21:1—22:5).
The Father and Son will be seated on thrones, and the redeemed of God will reign forever. All God’s enemies will be vanquished, along with any taint of sin and the curse that came upon the world because of sin (21:27). The eternal, triune God will restore His Kingdom to its original purity where only holiness and righteousness will exist.
The city will have no Temple because God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son will illuminate both it and the universe with the effulgence of the Shekinah Glory that filled the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and Temple. The nations, composed exclusively of the redeemed, will walk in the glory of the New Jerusalem; and the kings of the earth will bring their glory and honor into the city (v. 24).
Charles H. Gabriel’s hymn “O That Will Be Glory” sums up what believers have to look forward to in heaven, the Millennial Kingdom, and the eternal state. The second stanza reads, “When by the gift of His infinite grace, I am accorded in heaven a place, just to be there and to look on His face will through the ages be glory for me.”
We will have perfect rest, peace, and joy and a life filled with the glory of God. We also will partake from the water of life and Tree of Life. All believers will enjoy eternal fellowship with one another and unending fellowship with God forever, as we worship and serve Him. This is what God has promised for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin.
Today would be a good day to examine your life and ask yourself, Will I be there? If you can’t answer yes for certain, why not place your faith in Christ today? You’ll never regret it.