Many people are afraid to die. Many people don’t know what happens after they die. Other people subdue these questions by simply imagining a “life after death” where they will enjoy health, wealth, sunshine, and peace. But what does the Bible say about life after death? To put it more specifically, what is eternal life?
The Bible is not silent
First of all, the Bible explicitly says that there is life after death (cf. Matthew 25:46; Mark 10:29-30; John 5:25-29). At the same time, we need to be very clear about the fact that life after death is not a synonym for eternal life. There is a clear, yet all-important difference between a human being that experiences life after death and a human being that enjoys eternal life.
Life is more than the physical
What is the difference between these two? The difference has all to do with the spiritual reality in your life. There are only two sorts of people in this world: those who are physically alive but spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3) and those who are physically alive and spiritually alive in Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:4-6). All who believe in Jesus are made alive in Him. They will never die. How can this be?
Eternal life is more than life after death
We need to know what eternal life is. People in our age are prone to think of a life after death which is a sort of beautiful, peaceful world that you will enter and discover after the moment you die. Hell isn’t a popular topic in our society. Many people deny its existence. Nobody likes the dramatic imagery of people facing the wrath of God in torment (cf. Revelation 14:10-11). So if the Bible talks about eternal life, in what way is it described?
Life means to know and walk with God
The most important truth we know about eternal life, is that God is the center of it. The Lord Jesus has eternal life defined in this way: “And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). To live means to know God. Therefore, if you don’t know God relationally – we are not called to know God merely rationally, but relationally – you aren’t really alive. You live in the physical sense of the term, but spiritually you are dead in your sins (cf. John 8:24). Do you know God through Jesus Christ? Do you know you have received the Lord Jesus Himself (cf. John 1:12)? Do you know God has forgiven your sins? Do you know the power of the Holy Spirit, whereby God changes you into the image of Himself? Does your character reflect His moral attributes?
The Christian is a very privileged person. In some sense, he already has eternal life, because he knows God in Christ. But on the other hand, even Christians can’t enjoy the full blessings of eternal life right now. Christians suffer. Christians die. It is a great comfort for all Christians that when the putting off of our body will be soon (cf. 2 Peter 1:14) they do not have to fear death. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). The souls of God’s children will be with Christ the moment they put off their body.
In the last book of the Bible, the Revelation to John, we read this comforting promise: “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)