There is much confusion about the afterlife. Some deny it and say we cease to exist when we die. Among those who accept it, each religion offers it own version. Some say there are different levels of heaven through which we ascend; others say we are absorbed into a universal consciousness; still others say we are reincarnated until we escape the cycle of death and rebirth.
Only the Bible tells us the truth about the afterlife. What it says about the afterlife expands upon three basic facts:
Fact #1: Heaven and Hell are Real
The Bible says we go to one of two places when we die: heaven or hell. Heaven is a wonderful place of joy, rest, and satisfaction. It is God’s home and His reward for all who love Jesus. Hell is a terrible place of punishment, banishment, and destruction. It was made to punish Satan and all who follow his ways. Heaven and hell are actual places where people go. They do not exist in their final form yet, but they are still real.
Fact #2: Heaven and Hell are Personal
Heaven and hell are personal in two ways. First, we experience these places as individuals. There is no universal or collective consciousness; each person will delight or despair in the afterlife. Second, we are judged on an individual basis. God will acquit us into heaven or condemn us to hell based on our own faith and works. The standard is saving faith in Jesus that expresses itself in good deeds.
Fact #3: Heaven and Hell are Eternal
Heaven and hell are eternal. Each of us will be with God and enjoy His goodness forever, or apart from Him and suffer His wrath forever. Some say that people in hell will eventually be annihilated or allowed into heaven. But the Bible is clear that once you are in heaven or hell, you are there forever. Heaven and hell do not exist in their final form yet. When Jesus returns, the universe will be destroyed and God will create new heavens and a new earth; this will be their permanent state.
Hell is probably the most difficult teaching of the Bible to accept. Here are some questions people commonly ask about it:
- “How can a loving God send people to hell?” This question asks if hell is compatible with God’s character. The Bible says He is loving, merciful, and kind. But it also says He is fair, angry, vengeful, and holy. A better question would be, “How can a just God not send people to hell?”
- “How is eternal suffering a fair punishment?” This question asks if the punishment fits the crime. Eternity seems a bit excessive when compared to a human lifetime. Part of the answer is that God is eternal, so any violation of His character is eternal in some sense as well.
- “Does everyone receive the same punishment?” In some places, the Bible suggests there are degrees of punishment; in other places, it suggests there is one punishment for all. Remember that those who go to hell are united in their greatest sin: rejecting Jesus and His sacrifice on their behalf.
- “How can I avoid hell?” God has made heaven available to us through Jesus. On the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our sins upon Himself and died in our place. He satisfied the wrath and justice of God and stands ready to forgive us of our sins. If you trust Him and are baptized in His name, you will go to heaven. But if you refuse to trust Him, you will die in your sins and go to hell.
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