Let’s start out with some assumptions. First of all, let’s assume that the Scriptures as written and preserved are, for the most part*, true and applicable in our times. Secondly, Greek fables and mythology are man-made and patently not true, even though much of modern Western thinking is after the Greek model. In the third place, Babylonian paganism was invented in ancient times by those rebelling against the Creator and still persists in many forms in our society today. And, lastly, The Scriptures were inspired by the Creator and given to His People for instruction in right living and how to have a relationship with Himself.
Hebrews 9:27 “…it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
What does it mean to die? What can a person expect to happen after they die? The Scriptures teach that death is an unconscious state and is euphemistically called “sleep”. Sleeping in death is total unconsciousness, not even dreaming. The body is no longer breathing and begins its decomposition back to “dust”.
Sleep implies waking up and waking up from death is called resurrection. Meanwhile, the dead rest in peace in a grave, called sheol (Hebrew for “the grave”). They rest there in unconsciousness, waiting in hope of being resurrected. Every dead person will be resurrected. More on that later.
Greek mythology teaches that after a person dies, if they were good they go to heaven (Mt. Olympus or somewhere to be with the gods), if they were bad they go to hell (Hades, a place of fiery torment), or purgatory if they are not sure. These ideas were adopted from Greek thinking by the ancient and modern church but are not true.
Ideas stemming from ancient Babylonian rebellion range anywhere from reincarnation (living lives over and over again in different bodies, as different people, animals, etc., until the person lives such a good life that they reach Nirvana, a state of heavenly bliss) to believing there is nothing after death. You die, you’re dead, that’s it.
So, what is a person to believe? Let’s assume the truth is true. Meanwhile, check out and test everything. Know it for yourself.
Take a look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “But we would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have not hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again**, even so them also, which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say to you by word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not precede them which are fallen asleep. Because the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. So then comfort one another with these words.”
Another pertinent Scripture to consider is found in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 51-52. (Actually the whole chapter is relative to our topic.) “Behold I tell you a secret; we shall not all be sleeping, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
So, people wake up from being dead, having received their new bodies, or they are caught up in the sky after being changed. Then what? What happens after the resurrection?
Revelation 11:15-18: “And the seventh angel sounded [a trumpet]; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our LORD, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.’ And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshiped God, Saying, ‘We give thanks, O LORD God Almighty, which are, and were, because Thou hast taken Thy great power, and hast reigned.’ And the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead that they should be judged, and to give reward to Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and they that fear Thy name, small and great; and destroy them which destroy the earth.”
Wow. Have you noticed a pattern? Many events will happen, as they have all these centuries, but when this event happens, a trumpet will sound? Wow.
Again look in Revelation; turn to chapter 20, verses 4-6. “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them and the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
The Resurrection From Another Angle
1 Corinthians 3 speaks about how God’s people are judged in the first resurrection. Verses 6-15: “I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase. Now he that plants and he that waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God: you are God’s husbandry [tilled field], you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given to me, as a wise master builder, I laid the foundation, and another builds thereon.”
“But let every man see how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no one lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any one build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try [test, or prove] every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
So it is a person’s works that will be tested in the fire, not the person themselves “burning in hell forever.” God’s people are judged by their works. Works are actions and words. This is why the Creator, our loving Heavenly Father, gave us the Scriptures: so we would know how to act and speak rightly!!! We are commanded to be holy as He is holy! But, I digress.
So, what about all the other people? Well, if they’re dead, they’re sleeping. Some others will survive the wrath of the Lord’s Day preceding the appearance of Jesus Christ when He comes to establish His Kingdom. They will live on into the millennium. They will reap and sow fields and vineyards, have children, live their lives, choose to follow God’s instructions, the Scriptures, or not. What about them at the end of their lives? Well, they will die and rest in the grave until the events in Revelation happen.
Revelation 20:7-9a. “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city:”
Oh, this sounds bad! Another war? By the way, where did all these people come from? Will the saints fight back? What now?
Finish verse 9: “and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”
Revelation 20:10-12: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.*** And I [John] saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from Whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Notice they are judged by their works again.)
Revelation 20:13-15: “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it; and death and hell [the grave, remember?] delivered up the dead who were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
The dead are sleeping but will awake at the resurrection. There will be two resurrections: one for the just, God’s people who trusted and obeyed Him. They will be judged by their works and given rewards. They will join Messiah and rule with Him for the thousand years.
Those rising at the second resurrection will be judged also by their works and whether their name was in the book of life. If condemned, their lot is in the lake of fire, they chose the second death by their actions and words. Some of this group may find their names in the book of life. They will be invited to join the rest of God’s people who are already moving into the new heaven and the new earth and the New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven and is described in Revelation 21.
Knowing these truths gives us great respect, fear, for God and His wisdom and judgments. He is always fair and loving, forgiving yet just. Knowing these truths sets us free to live our lives in abundant joy, laughing, shouting praises to His Name! What a great life!
* I say “for the most part” because there are no originals left. There are copies and translations from language to language. The Father has preserved His Word and is willing to teach us whatever is missing or misunderstood.
** Without this truth the whole argument falls apart. Paul offers a great discussion in I Corinthians 15, looking at both sides.
*** The phrase “forever and ever” is one Greek word, aeon, which means ages, or ages and ages. Literally, it is referring to a long time but not forever as in never ending. (Even The Neverending Song stops eventually when people get tired of singing it!)