I’m thankful my grandma is in heaven now and her suffering is over,” remarked a young Advent-ist on social media recently. Unfortunately, her understanding of what happens when a loved one dies is not unique! Today’s world offers various explanations about humanity’s state after death, including “sending Grandma directly to heaven.” Such human explanations are only theoretical and speculative, however.
For centuries humans have gazed up at the stars and wondered where we came from. What are we? Why are we here? What happens after we die? These are the great mysteries of life, and they continue to fascinate us. Yet scientists, poets, theologians, and world religion pedagogues present conflicting answers to the great questions of human origins and destiny.
God’s Word Provides Authoritative Answers
So how can we know what happens when we die?
Jesus was no ordinary man. He came from heaven to live on earth as the God-man, entered the mysterious sphere of death, and then rose from the dead. He has the keys to all knowledge of life and death, and He shared that knowledge with humans through the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the result of this divine collaboration, and it contains authoritative answers to the big questions about the universe. In a world that is increasingly secular, it’s more important than ever to submit our human thought, reason, and scientific demonstration to God’s Word.
Cosmic Significance of Lucifer and Christ in Conflict
Seventh-day Adventists believe that the world is a battlefield between good and evil, between Christ and Satan. You and I are right in the middle of this battle and are picking sides with every choice of our lives. Lucifer, the evil antagonist, is the root of all suffering, pain, disaster, and death. This cosmic conflict is also the key to understanding human history, purpose, and future.
Here’s the backstory: Lucifer, chief of God’s angelic host, harbored rebellion against God, aspired to become as God and even to usurp His position. Abusing the freedom God gave His created beings, Lucifer persisted in his envy, rebellion, and desire for predominance. Actual war broke out in heaven, and Lucifer was cast down to earth, with the inference of one third of the celestial beings joining the insurgency.
Lucifer now became known as Satan, the avowed adversary of God and the slanderer of His character of love. In this way Lucifer became “the father of lies” and prepared to beguile God’s newest creation. Had Lucifer been immediately annihilated, created beings would have served God from fear, rather than from willing hearts.
God’s Purpose for Humanity’s Creation
The triune God didn’t just create the world with all its life forms and leave it to its own devices. He had a plan for it from eternity! And the centerpiece of His plan was humanity, you and I. We are created in His own image, capable of love, creativity, and compassion. God’s intention was that the earth would be filled with happy and holy friends after His own heart (cf. Gen. 1:28).
The Entrance of Sin
Satan determined to ruin the peace and joy of God’s newest children in Eden. Of all that was in their garden home, only the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden to them. They could obey and enjoy their Eden home forever, or they could disobey, bringing misery, ruin, and, ultimately, death. Adam and Eve were warned that Satan was a deceiver, but Satan, disguised as a serpent, tricked Eve into believing that she wouldn’t die if she ate what God had prohibited. Both Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Because of their sin, death came to this planet, and Satan became the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4, KJV).
Pain, suffering, evil, and death are all consequences of sin. God didn’t want any of this to happen, but He gave Adam and Eve—and gives us—free will. We can choose to obey Him or disobey Him.
Though Adam and Eve separated themselves from God, the Source of life, He had an eternal plan for them to be forgiven and brought back into full harmony with Himself. Though the right to eat from the tree of life and live in Eden was taken away from Adam and Eve, God did not abandon His children to perpetual suffering and eternal death.
On the same day Adam and Eve did the very thing God said that they should not do, God called the guilty pair from their hiding place in the garden and offered them hope. Jesus promised, “I will take your punishment. I will stand in your place. You will have another chance.” God’s irrevocable sentence pronounced upon the serpent because of his deception pointed to Satan’s ultimate defeat and destruction.
Satan’s Big Lie
Occult and communication-with-the-dead themes saturate today’s entertainment media. Through movies, music, popular literature, social media, sitcoms, TV drama, Broadway, and video games, in a thousand forms, Satan attempts to make otherworld communication enticing and credible. How did he convince so many that the dead can communicate with the living?
From the beginning Satan has claimed, “You shall not die!” Classical dualism, based on the writings of ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato, supports that lie by defining death as the separation of the soul from the body. This unbiblical view impacts beliefs on humanity’s state in death, the resurrection, the final punishment, and the eternal world to come. Such dualism undermines the Bible’s teachings on spirituality, salvation, and the second coming of Jesus to redeem His faithful people.
As a result of classical dualism’s influence, most people believe that humans have immortal souls. But, especially since the Age of Enlightenment, some have said that humans are just cogs in a machine. This view doesn’t promote immortal souls, but neither does it offer hope, since in this interpretation humans can never possess immortality. Humans are just part of a mechanistic universe, their behavior controlled by involuntary forces.
Biblical wholism, by contrast, sees both body and soul as a unit in life and in death. Because the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, both the spiritual needs of the soul and physical needs of the body must be equally maintained. In contrast with classical dualism, immortality was not innate at creation, but rather a gift to be ultimately received at Christ’s second coming by those who would be saved through faith in Christ.
Humanity’s State in Death
Adam and Eve were immortal only as they continued to partake of the tree of life. When they were barred from its fruit, the warning “you shall surely die” became a grim reality. At his creation in Eden, Adam was perfectly formed, but lifeless until God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).
This “breath of life” combined with the body (the dust of the ground) comprises a living person. When a person ceases altogether to breathe, life stops. There is no indication in Genesis 2:7—or elsewhere in Scripture—that God gave Adam a spiritual essence that lives independently, outside of the body, after the individual ceases breathing and dies. Thus, consciousness is a combination of the “dust of the ground,” or body, and the God-originating “breath of life”; it is dependent on the union of the breath with the body.
When the breath of life departs, there is utter extinction of life. Jesus compares death to a sleep, a state in which the dead know nothing and cannot communicate with God or humanity. Even though the dominant worldview is that the souls of the righteous go immediately to heaven and the souls of the unsaved go somewhere else, this belief is not founded on the Word of God.
Immortality at Last
Christ alone possesses immortality. He will give it to the righteous who are redeemed at His second coming (a view sometimes described as conditional immortality). That wonderful day will be a party like no other! Imagine it! The dead in Christ will be raised from their dusty graves. Together with the living righteous, they will meet Jesus in the air and travel through the universe with Him to heaven.
This will be a time of great joy and celebration. We will finally be with Jesus, and we will never be separated from Him again. We will live with Him forever in a perfect world, free from sin and suffering. Hallelujah!
Why It Matters
One of Satan’s last great deceptions just before Jesus comes again is to impersonate beloved friends and family who have died. Satan’s disguised angels of darkness will convince most of the world that in heaven Sunday, not the seventh-day Sabbath, is honored by God, and will purport other unscriptural ideas. Only those who have fortified their minds with Scripture and understand the nature of death will avoid falling for this deception. Amid this last great battle between good and evil, truth and falsehood, God will break into earth’s history in a literal, visible second coming and rescue His people who have remained anchored to Jesus and His Word.