By Spencer D Gear
There are times when one is caused to think of life after death issues. The death of a loved one or friend precipitates this for me. I did this recently when my Canadian friend, Monte, died on 9 June 2011, aged 79, after a long battle with cancer.
Photo: Monte Manzer
What happens to all people who die? In contrast to Monte’s vibrant Christian faith, there are always exceptions. And some of them are dogmatically anti-God: “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive”, said British philosopher Bertrand Russell. He ought to know now of the truth of his statement as he died in 1970. Was Russell telling the truth in his atheistic belief, or is there evidence that he did not accept? Russell left no doubt about his view of God, so could he have rejected some vital evidence? It was Russell who stated:
The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings.
Could Russell’s conclusions about God have clouded his view of life after death? What do the Christian Scriptures teach that Russell was discarding?
New Testament believers and death
The souls/spirits of New Testament believers go immediately into God’s presence at death. The cessation of bodily life means that there is a separation of the soul from the body. We know this because the Scriptures teach it. This is what Paul says about death in 2 Cor. 5:8, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord“. Phil. 1:23 affirms that Paul’s desire (and it is my desire) “to depart and be with Christ for that is far better”. To the thief on the cross beside Jesus, Jesus said: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Old Testament believers and death
What happened to Old Testament believers at death? Did they go immediately into the presence of the Lord as is stated of NT believers? There are not many OT passages that discuss the state of believers at death, but there is an indication of waiting away from God’s presence: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24; see also Heb. 11:5). What happened to Elijah? He “went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11; cf Matt 17:3 where Moses and Elijah appear and they were talking with Jesus). David says that he will “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps. 23:6; cf. 16:10-11; 17:15).
When Jesus spoke with the Sadducees he reminded them that God says, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” but he continues: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 23:32). The implication is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were living at that very moment when Jesus spoke and God was their God. From this information, it seems that the OT believers entered immediately into heaven to fellowship with God when they died.
Unbelievers and death
What happens to unbelievers at death? There is no second chance. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches us there is no hope of going from hell to heaven after death. The rich man was in anguish in the flame (obviously speaking metaphorically) but nonetheless indicating that the souls of unbelievers go to punishment at death.
Heb. 9:27 links death with judgment, “just as it is appointed to men to die once, and after that comes judgment”. That final judgment is based on nothing that we do after death, but on what happens in this life (e.g. Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:5-10; cf. 2 Cor 5:10).
Thus, there is conscious punishment for unbelievers at death and this punishment goes on forever: “They will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).
My friend, Monte, lived to an older age. Monte’s church, Bethel Temple, paid him this tribute on Facebook:
Bethel says goodbye to one of our faithful longstanding members. Monte Manzer passed away June 9th at 79 years old. Monte has been a member of Bethel Church since his teens and had continued to be active in all areas of the life of the church. Always energetic and always positive, Monte has left us a legacy of living life with a sense of purpose and joy.
We look forward to seeing you again one day… Your Bethel Family
But you and I know of people who die at a much younger age. My Queensland cane farmer father died of a heart attack at age 57. There are deaths of the young and old around us, but the key issue is, “Where will you spend eternity?” If you are interested in examining eternal issues further from a Christian perspective, see HERE.
 There will be an exception for one group of people in the future and we don’t know how soon or distant that future will be. These are those who are still alive when Jesus Christ returns. See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 in the New Testament for what will happen to those who are alive at the time of Christ’s second coming.
 Cited in Richard Dawkins 2006. The God Delusion. London: Black Swan (Transworld Publishers), p. 397). This is from Bertrand Russell’s 1925 essay, “What I believe”. It is available for free download HERE.
 Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian, available at: http://www.skeptically.org/thinkersonreligion/id7.html (Accessed 17 August 2011). It was originally published in 1927 in London by Watts, originating as a talk on 6th March 1927 at Battersea Town Hall, the talk sponsored by the South London Branch of the National Secular Society. Then it emerged as a pamphlet to be published later with other Russell writings as, Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects.
Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 October 2015.