What Happens During Death and the Afterlife in Christianity?

Updated

It’s no wonder that many people are confused about what happens after death. After all, none who have experienced it live to tell. 

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To add to the confusion, different faiths across the world offer differing opinions on what happens after death. Some scientists and spiritualists have their theories too. And, of course, Hollywood plays a role in what people believe about death. Think of all the movies about the afterlife you’ve seen. How have they affected your beliefs about what happens after you die?

But since Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God, they turn to this source to understand what waits for them after death and in the afterlife. Although some denominations may have differing viewpoints on some of the specifics regarding the process, overall, Christians have the same belief. Christians believe that those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will go to Heaven after they die.

What Do Christians Believe About Death? 

Your best source for determining what Christians believe about death is the Bible. God’s word gives Christians guidance on what happens after death.

Much has been written about the afterlife in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”

This judgment referred to in Hebrews depends on how people behave before death. Those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are saved. All the others are lost. 

This is explained in John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This promise can be found again in John 5:24: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Finally, in John 11:25: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

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What’s the Christian View of the Afterlife? 

So what happens when a Christian dies? In Luke 23:43, Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

For many Christians, this passage in Luke reads as a promise that after their moment of death, believers leave their life on Earth and enter paradise. This passage means that Christians die and immediately enter into the presence of Jesus. 

Philippians 1:23 was written by the apostle Paul. In this passage, he states that he desires “to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” He also said in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 

Some denominations have differing beliefs on the immediacy of going to Heaven after death. Even though many Christians believe that their souls go to Heaven immediately after death, the Bible also promises a day of resurrection. This will occur when Jesus returns to Earth. This resurrection is discussed in 1 Thessalonians 4, which says: 

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from Heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

According to 1 Corinthians 15:51–55, the bodies will be “raised imperishable.” This means that the bodies will be free of death and decay.

To review, Christians believe that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will immediately enter Heaven upon death. Later, when Jesus Christ returns, their bodies will be raised. 

But what happens to unbelievers? 

Christians believe that those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior enter into hell (or the "second death") immediately after death. Job 18:14 calls such a death “the king of terrors.” You may consider turning to Mark 9:43–48, which speaks of the fire that is not quenched and the worm that does not die.

What Exactly Happens in the Christian Afterlife? 

As mentioned, Christians believe that their souls go to Heaven after they die. The Bible tells Christians what to expect in regards to Heaven.

In John 14:1–3, Jesus describes Heaven to his disciples. He says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”

The Bible also says that God dwells in Heaven on his throne. God is surrounded by angels there. The book of Revelation also reveals a description of Heaven as a place where the streets are paved with gold, the gates are made of pearl, and the walls are made of precious jewels. 

According to the Bible, Heaven is not only the dwelling place of God and myriad angels, but it is also where believers dwell. Unbelievers are not there.

How Do Christian Funerals Reflect Their Belief in the Afterlife?

Christian funerals usually occur within a week of death. Sometimes the funeral service is divided into three parts. At times, there is only one service. Often this is determined by the denomination, the local customs, and whether the body is buried or cremated. 

The first part may include a visitation or wake. This is when the family and other mourners come together to remember the deceased. Sometimes the body is present and can be observed by those attending. If the deceased was cremated, an urn might be present along with photos.

Generally, you may not learn much about the Christian view of the afterlife at this gathering. This is usually a social event and a time to remember the deceased.

The second part of the Christian end-of-life service is the funeral. At this point, the Christian’s beliefs about death and the afterlife are revealed. 

There is often a discussion about the beliefs of the deceased. The minister or officiant may speak about how the person’s soul is already in Heaven. He or she may also discuss how the deceased is reunited with loved ones who previously died.

It is common for some of the previously mentioned Bible verses to be read during the ceremony. God’s promises that are revealed in the Bible are often discussed.

Sometimes, there is a third brief ceremony at the cemetery or scattering site. During this final goodbye, the minister will often recite another verse that speaks about the promise of the afterlife, similar to what’s found in Phillippians 3:20–21: “But our citizenship is in Heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Final Thoughts

Christians around the world may have different customs regarding funeral services. After all, death in different cultures may look different even though the essential beliefs are the same. 

Are you still confused about the Christian view of the afterlife? Most Christians would advise you to turn to the Bible to find the answers to your questions. The more you read the Bible, the more you will understand. 

You may also consider seeking the guidance of a minister or preacher to help in your understanding of Christian beliefs.


Sources

  1. The Bible. www.bible.com/

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