Chapter OneWHAT IS DEATH?
Before we can understand life after death, we must first get
a handle on what death means. What does the Bible tell us
about death? What are some of the key truths about death that
we need to understand?
Here's a big one right off the top: The Bible teaches us that
death comes quickly. I heard a story recently about a man who
went to the doctor. The conversation went like this.
"I'm afraid I have bad news, Mr. Smith," said the doctor.
"You don't have long to live."
"Really?" said the patient. "How long?"
"Ten," said the doctor.
"Ten?" asked the patient. "TEN! Ten what? Ten months? Ten
The doctor responded, "Nine, eight, seven, six ."
One of the truths the Bible emphasizes again and again is the
brevity of human life. Every picture of human life in the pages of
Scripture stresses its ephemeral nature.
The duration of human life is pictured as a flower that
blooms in the morning and withers in the afternoon sun, a
shadow that appears and fades away, a morning mist or fog that
dissipates with the rising sun (Job 14:2; Psalm 90:5-6).
A Sharper Image catalog a few years ago advertised a "Personal
Life Clock." In a crisp, full-color image, the catalog displayed a
marble obelisk with digital numbers that flashed the number of
hours, minutes, and seconds remaining in one's "statistical lifetime."
The sales copy noted, "All lives are finite. In fact, the
average life lasts only 683,280 hours, or 2.4 billion seconds.
This new Timisis Personal Life Clock reminds you to live life
to the fullest by displaying the . most profound number you
will ever see."
A few years ago, when Billy Graham was in his early eighties,
an interviewer asked him what had surprised him most about
life. Without hesitation, Dr. Graham replied, "Its brevity." The
older we get, the faster the sands of time seem to leak through
the glass. One important thing the Bible and experience teach us
about death is that it comes quickly.
Here's another central biblical truth about death: It's not the
end. I once heard a story about an ancient king who called a
group of scholars to his palace to write a history of mankind. As
they labored through the years, the scholars compiled numerous
volumes. The king, however, was always too busy to read them.
When the king was very old, he again called the scholars to the
palace and asked them to give him a summary of their findings.
The leader of the group said, "Man was born, he suffered, he
died. That is the history of mankind."
There's a lot of truth in that summary.
But it's not complete.
What about after "he died"? Death is not the end of man's
history. Death in the Bible always means separation, never annihilation
or cessation of existence.
In the Garden of Eden, remember, God told Adam that the
day he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil he would surely die (Genesis 2:17). When our first parents
disobeyed that command, they did not immediately fall over
dead. But in that moment, they began to die physically. Adam
died 930 years later. But the very instant they ate the fruit, they
died spiritually, just as God had said. They found themselves separated
and alienated from God. Adam and Eve sensed their guilt
and shame before God and made garments out of leaves to cover
their naked bodies and hide their sin.
A person who is spiritually dead is a person who is spiritually
separated from God (Ephesians 2:1). Likewise, when a person
dies physically, he or she does not cease to exist. There is a separation
between the material part (body) and immaterial part
(soul/spirit) of the person. When this separation occurs, the
body "falls asleep" and is buried. But the soul, the immaterial
part of the person, goes to one of two places.
In the Bible there are three different aspects to death. But in
each case the key idea is separation, not cessation.
First, there is spiritual death-the separation of sinful man
from a holy Creator. Fallen man is "dead in [his] trespasses and
sins" (Ephesians 2:1). "But your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His
face from you, so that He does not hear" (Isaiah 59:2). This separation
was bridged for us by Jesus when He died on the cross and
bore the penalty for our sins in His body. By the grace of God,
Jesus tasted death for every person (Hebrews 2:9).
Second, there is physical death-the separation of the temporary,
material body from the eternal, immaterial part of man
when life on earth ends. The Bible says that "the body without
the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). The opposite, however, is never
true. The immaterial part of man was created to live forever.
When he was created, Adam was just an empty "clay pot" made
from the dust of the earth. Then the Lord God "breathed into
his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being"
(Genesis 2:7). Adam was not a person-he had no life-until he
had a soul. Your soul is the real you. It's what gives eternal value
to your being. So when you die, life does not-cannot-end
because your soul is eternal.
Physical death, then, is not a period; it's a conjunction. The
world often puts a period after death, but God puts a conjunction.
Notice in Luke 16:22 that when Lazarus died, it says, "the
poor man died and." Then when the rich man died, again it says,
"the rich man also died and." The story Jesus told in Luke 16
could have been very brief if Jesus had simply said, "The poor
man died, and the rich man died. Period." That would have been
the abrupt end to the story. But physical death is not cessation.
At the split second we die, our spirit passes into conscious existence
Third, there is eternal death-the eternal separation of lost
sinners in hell from the presence of God. "These will pay the
penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the
Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
This final aspect of death is called the "second death" because it
follows physical death (Revelation 20:6, 14). We will discover a
lot more about the second death in part 3 of this book, beginning
with question 14.
For now, let's turn to the next step. What happens after a
person dies physically? Where does the soul go?