There is a lot of confusion about life after death, and in this teaching, I address many of your questions about heaven, hell, eternal life, and the resurrection.
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by Lex Meyer
Popular Christianity teaches that when we die, we will either go straight to heaven or straight to hell, but is that really what the Bible says? There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about life after death, and in this teaching I plan to address many of questions concerning heaven, hell, eternal life, and the resurrection of the dead.
I want to make sure we understand what the Bible says about these things so that we are not deceived by false doctrines. We must be Bereans and study the Scriptures to find out which things are true and which are not. As with any topic we study, be ready to UNLEARN the lies we have inherited.
If we really want a good understanding of the Biblical concept of life, death, and the afterlife, then we need to start in the beginning, because that is where we find out how life began, and why we must die.
I am convinced that our understanding of the events in Genesis will shape our understanding of everything else.
The first few chapters of Genesis explain the origin of life, the cause of death, and the need for salvation. We can see from these chapters how everything was created, how sin entered the world, and what the consequences of sin are. Without a proper understanding of Genesis, we will have difficulty understanding anything else in the Bible.
It is important for us to know how life began, so we can better understand how life ends. Listen to the way the Bible describes the creation of man:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
The word translated “living being” can also be translated as “living soul”. (We don’t have a soul, we are a soul)
I am sure that you are very familiar with this story, so I will not spend too much time on the details. (If you are not familiar with the story, please take some time to read the first 3 chapters of Genesis, because it will help you to understand the things I am talking about here)
After God created Adam and Eve, he gave them some very clear instructions about what they were allowed to eat. These instructions came with a warning about what would happen if they disobeyed:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
God clearly said that if you eat of the tree you will die. The Hebrew word translated here is the word מוּת (moot), and means “die, perish, cease to live, corpse, dead, destroy”. This word speaks of our mortality, that we will not live forever, but our life will eventually come to an end.
Now, listen to the lie that the enemy spoke:
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
So, who should we believe? God said that we will die, but the serpent said we will not. You will soon find out in this study that your belief on this one thing will completely transform your understanding of the afterlife. The lie is that “you will not surely die… you will become like God”, but the Bible tells us that after they ate from the tree, God placed a curse upon Adam.
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
We see this same concept in various other scriptures such as:
You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. (Psalm 104:29)
For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity. All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20)
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:7)
The enemy says that we will not die, but God said that we will die because of sin. However, that is not the end of the story, because we have hope in Yeshua, our Messiah. The Bible tells us:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
This verse is very important because it explains both the problem and the solution. The problem is that we are all under the curse of sin, we will all die, but there is a way for us to have everlasting life.
We are all familiar with the promise of everlasting life that Messiah spoke of saying,
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:13-16)
John 3:16 is one of the most popular verses in the entire Bible, and the promise of everlasting life is the hope of every believer, but what is everlasting life, and when does it begin?
Paul does a great job of explaining it, listen to how he connects all of the pieces together from Adam to Messiah:
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the FirstFruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the FirstFruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Because of sin, we all die, but Messiah has provided a way for us to live again. He is going to resurrect us from the dead, and give us new life. Yeshua was the first one to resurrect, and the Bible says that he will resurrect those who belong to Him when he returns. He was the firstfruits, and we will be the harvest.
Yeshua taught that eternal life was granted at the judgment, when the sheep are separated from the goats. This is when the righteous are given everlasting life and the wicked are given everlasting punishment.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… 41 Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels… 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Compare this to John 5, when Messiah also said,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:24-29)
When Yeshua returns, he is going to resurrect the dead, and sort them, separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, and giving those who belong to him everlasting life, while sending the rest to everlasting punishment. So, we see that eternal life actually begins with the resurrection, when Messiah returns.
This same event was prophesied by Daniel, concerning the end of the tribulation when Messiah returns to resurrect the dead and judge the world.
“And the multitude of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
Yeshua actually had a lot to say about the resurrection, and he took many opportunities to point it out to those who would listen. One of the most obvious examples of this is when his friend Lazarus died, and he went to raise him back to life. Listen to the conversation that he had with Martha about the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (John 11:23-25)
To believe in Yeshua is to believe in the resurrection, likewise, to believe in the resurrection is to put our faith in Yeshua. He is the resurrection. He is the one who gives life.
The apostles understood this, which is why they spent so much times preaching about the resurrection. They knew that it was the most significant thing they could preach In fact, it was the reason they were persecuted, imprisoned, and eventually martyred.
Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (Acts 4:1-2)
Paul was very clear that he was on trial because of his testimony concerning the resurrection:
But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged! (Acts 23:6)
I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:15)
I do not think I can overstate the importance of the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of the Messiah was the most important event of his first coming, and the resurrection of the dead will be the most important event of his return. Listen to how Paul describes its significance:
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up–if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
I truly believe that the resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel. If Yeshua did not resurrect, then there is no salvation. If we do not resurrect, there is no eternal life. Without the resurrection, we die and that is the end. If there is no resurrection, according to Paul, our faith is worthless, and we should be most pitiable of all people. The entire Gospel message hinges on the resurrection.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Paul preached the resurrection to the Greeks, wrote about the resurrection to the Corinthians, was imprisoned and eventually kill because of his teachings about the resurrection. He is so passionate about the resurrection that he writes these inspiring words to the Philippians:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
His great hope and desire is to attain the resurrection of the dead. He didn’t say how he desired to live in heaven, he said that he wants to attain the resurrection.
Messiah taught about the resurrection, his disciples preached about the resurrection, Paul wrote about the resurrection, the apostles were imprisoned because of their testimony of the resurrection, everlasting life comes at the resurrection, it seems that the entire Gospel message is about the resurrection. The most significant thing in the Bible is the resurrection of the dead, yet popular Christianity teaches we go to heaven instead of preaching the resurrection of the dead. How can this be?
The idea of going to heaven is very popular, we see it in movies, hear about it in songs, read about it in books, and learn about it from the pulpit, but what does the Bible say about it? As popular as this doctrine is, one might think there would be a multitude of Scriptures to support this belief, but you might be shocked to find out that there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that promises we will go to heaven. Let me say that again, God never promised we will go to heaven.
Many people are familiar with John 3:16, but few it seems, are aware of what John 3:13 says.
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. (John 3:13)
Our Messiah clearly tells us that he is the only person who has ever ascended into heaven. Is it possible that the majority is wrong about heaven? Is it possible that we have been taught a lie about heaven?
I truly believe that this might be the biggest lie we have been told, because it undermines the most important thing that Messiah will do – namely, the great resurrection to everlasting life. This is actually the lie that the Serpent told Eve in the garden when he said, “you will not surely die.” It is the idea that we continue living in heaven even after our body dies. The lie says that our body dies, but our soul continues living in heaven eternally, but that is not Biblical. The Bible says because of sin, we will die, and without the resurrection, we remain dead in our sins.
Lets examine what the Bible tells us about some of the people who have gone before us, to see if any of them have gone to heaven. Listen to what Peter says about King David.
Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day… For David did not ascend into the heavens… (Acts 2:29,34)
If anyone was going to ascend to heaven, surely King David would be on the list. After all, he was a “man after God’s own heart”. Yet, Peter clearly tells us that he did not go to heaven, but is in fact still dead and buried in his tomb. This should already raise some serious questions about the popular doctrine of heaven.
Now, some people claim that Yeshua was the first to ascend into heaven, and when he ascended he took others with him. However, notice that Peter gave this message after Yeshua ascended into heaven, and he boldly claims that David is not in heaven.
The book of Hebrews also provides us with a long list of names of people who are credited as great men and women of faith, who have not yet received the promise. The list of names includes people such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, and tells us:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth… And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:13,39,40)
That last phrase, “that they should not be made perfect apart from us” is such an amazing hope for us, to know that those who lived before us are waiting for us, and we will all be made perfect together. They did not get a head-start in the afterlife. We will all be raised up together when Messiah returns.
The Bible is very clear about death and resurrection, so why do so many people believe that we will go to heaven?
People fear death, and the idea of continuing to live in heaven is very attractive and popular. In fact, it is taught by most pagan religions. The Egyptians believed that when they died they would go to be with their gods. They worshipped the god of the dead, in fact, their sacred text was called “The Book of the Dead”. The Greeks and Romans believed the same way. That is why they were so surprised when they heard Paul preaching about the resurrection.
Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean… And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.”” (Acts 17:18-20,32)
The Greeks believed that when you die, your soul goes to heaven or hell, and the idea of a resurrection was totally foreign to them. So, when Paul spoke about the resurrection, they were curious to find out more about it. The resurrection is what makes Christianity unique. Nearly all other religions teach heaven or reincarnation, but the Bible teaches Everlasting Life through the resurrection of the dead.
Sadly, western Christianity actually developed the doctrine of heaven based on Greek philosophy and theology. The writings of Plato have been very influential in Christian thought, and Seminary students are often required to read from his writings, along with various other Greek philosophers.
As I stated earlier, it was common among pagans to believe that your soul goes to heaven to be with your god. This is because they worship the god of the dead, but Yeshua explains that we worship the God of the living.
But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:31-32)
Yeshua is talking about the resurrection of the dead. He is the God of the living, because he will raise us up and give us everlasting life. Once you understand this, you will start to notice that everything points to the resurrection, and nothing points to our going to heaven. The Bible never promises that we will go to heaven, but we are promised the resurrection and everlasting life.
It is important to note that in the 2nd century, it was considered a heresy to claim that we go to heaven when we die. One person who had a major influence concerning the belief that we go to heaven at death was the heretic, Marcion. He was considered a heretic by all of the early Christians, and this is what Tertullian had to say about him concerning heaven and the resurrection:
For Marcion does not in any wise admit the resurrection of the flesh, and it is only the salvation of the soul which he promises. (Tertullian. Against Marcion, Book V, Chapter 10.)
Marcion was proclaiming eternal life in heaven, and did not teach the resurrection of the dead. How is it that the heresy of Marcion has become the mainstream doctrine of the Church today? Nearly everyone preaches about heaven, and almost no one is preaching about the resurrection.
Listen to what the early Christian theologian, Justin Martyr, had to say on this subject.
For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians…But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead. (Justin. Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 80)
“Do not imagine that they are Christians.” Wow, those are some very bold words. It is obvious that the early believers did NOT believe that our soul goes to heaven at death, and was actually considered by them to be a blasphemy, and I am convinced that it is one of the greatest lies that Satan has told us. He has distracted us from the truth and power of the resurrection, with fables about going to heaven.
I know you are probably already thinking of common objections like, “What about Elijah, or the thief on the cross, or Lazarus in Abraham’s Bosom?” Those questions are actually quite simple to explain, and I will address them at the end of this teaching, but at this point I want to transition into the topic of Hell.
We have all heard sermons about how sinners will burn in Hell for eternity, but the righteous will go to Heaven. And we have already discussed how un-Biblical the doctrine of Heaven is. So, perhaps we should also examine what the Bible says about Hell.
What did our Messiah teach about Hell?
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]. (Matthew 10:28)
It is obvious from this verse that Messiah taught there is a place of destruction, and notice that the soul is destroyed in Gehenna. Many people teach that the wicked are tortured eternally in hell, but that implies that the soul is eternal, and must continue to exist forever. However, the words of Messiah indicate that the soul is destroyed in Gehenna. Let’s compare this with other verses that speak about Gehenna.
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell [Gehenna]. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell [Gehenna]. (Matthew 5:29-30)
It is obvious that Gehenna is very real, and that it is not someplace that we want to go. Messiah makes it very clear that we should do whatever it takes to stop sinning, even going to extreme measures, because it is better to lose a hand or an eye in this life than to perish in Gehenna. This such an important message that he repeats it again in Matthew 18, but this time he mentions fire.
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell [Gehenna] fire. (Matthew 18:8-9)
There are some teachers who say there is no hell, or fire, or punishment, or judgment. They teach that a loving God would not send anyone to hell, however that is not what the Bible says. We just read the Messiah’s own words describing hell as a place of fire and punishment, a place that we should do our best to avoid at all costs.
The book of Revelation also talks about this fiery death, and also gives us a very clear timeframe for when these things will happen.
Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20)
The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)
Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (Revelation 20:14)
And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
It is very clear that no one is cast into the lake of fire until after Messiah returns, and the first to be cast into the fire are the beast and the false prophet, next is Satan himself, then death, and lastly those whose names were not written in the Book of Life.
The Bible is clear that there is a place of fire, punishment, and destruction, and it is equally clear that we do not want to be among those who go there.
Here are a few of the most common objections concerning this teaching. I hope this will help you better understand what the Bible says concerning these things.
Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11)
It is a common teaching that Elijah went to heaven in a chariot of fire, but which heaven did he enter? The Bible actually talks about three different heavens. It mentions the “birds of heaven” referring to the sky, it talks about the “sun, moon, and stars in heaven”, and it also speaks of the “highest heaven”, the dwelling place of the Almighty. Did Elijah actually enter into the highest heaven, or was he simply carried up into the sky? Remember that Yeshua said, ”
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. (John 3:13)
Many people are not aware of the fact that Elijah wrote a letter to King Jehoram approximately 10 years after his chariot ride, which means he was still on earth at that time. This letter is recorded in 2 Chronicles 21.
And a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus says the Lord God of your father David: Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah… (2 Chronicles 21:12)
This letter proves that Elijah was not taken into the highest heaven, but was simply taken up into the sky and transported to another location on earth, where he lived out the remainder of his life and eventually died like everyone else.
There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:19-23)
The Bible never describes heaven as “Abraham’s bosom”, yet for some reason people think that this story is speaking about heaven. According to Jewish legend, there are compartments in Sheol (Hades in Greek), and that the righteous go to be with Abraham, while the wicked are tormented.
Also notice that this story is speaking about Hades, but some translations call it “Hell”, but we saw earlier that the place of fiery torment is called Gehenna not Hades. This mistranslation of Hades has been one of the reasons why so many people think this story is about heaven and hell, when it is actually saying that both the rich man and Lazarus went to Hades, the place of the dead.
If you continue reading to the end of the passage, you will see that it actually brings us back to the topic of the resurrection.
Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead. (Luke 16:29-31)
We know that this was actually prophetic about the Messiah, who rose from the dead, yet there were many who still refused to believe.
Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
Many people believe that this verse proves that the thief went to heaven with Yeshua that day. We need to realize three very important things when looking at this event.
In summary, the Bible tells us that we will all die because of sin, but God has provided a way for us to live again eternally through the death and resurrection of Yeshua. If we believe in him, we will have everlasting life, but if we do not believe, we stand condemned already.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
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