CAN THERE REALLY BE A LIFE AFTER DEATH?
by Rev. Donald K. Rogers
“Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19).
When the Lord came on earth nearly two thousand years ago, most of the Jewish people had no idea that they would live after death. To them this world was all there was. There were some who believed in a kind of life after death, but their ideas were similar to the concept of reincarnation, where a person would come back in a new body. And some thought that they would return to their same physical body when the Messiah came. For example, some thought John the Baptist was Elijah come back to life, either reincarnated or back in his old body. That’s why John flatly denied that he was Elijah when questioned.
But the Lord Jesus Christ brought them the good news that life continues soon after the death of the body because He raises everyone up after death. He told them, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). And to prove it to their physical eyes, because they would not believe it otherwise, He raised Lazarus from a seemingly irreversible death. Lazarus, you may recall, had been dead in the grave for four days.
Shortly after this amazing miracle took place, the Lord entered Jerusalem and began teaching daily in the temple. The people who were there would gather around Him and listen with excitement and joy as He spoke of a life immediately after this one. However, the Sadducees were not at all happy with His teachings. Instead of receiving the good news of immortality with joy, they looked on both the Lord and His teachings with murderous hatred and ridicule. This is because they were so engrossed in the pleasures of the material world that they were completely unwilling to even consider that there might be something beyond this world.
Therefore it is said that they “denied that there is a resurrection.” Because they were also so violently opposed to the idea of an eternal life, they tried to make the Lord look foolish in front of His followers. They sought to tangle Him in His own words by posing a seemingly unanswerable question concerning marriage. They were quite sure this would convince His followers that it is a ridiculous waste of time to believe in a life after death.
There are also times in our own life when we are tempted to think eternal life is a vain hope. This is because the Lord’s teachings concerning it are constantly being called into question. Indeed the ‘You only have one life to live” attitude of the world around us challenges that belief daily. Advertisements, movies, and TV all seem to tell us in one way or another to “grab all the gusto you can get before you die.” We often see other people who seem quite happy to live as if there were no life after death.
So we may begin to ask ourselves, “No one else worries about eternal life; why should I? What if there is no life after death and I have wasted my whole life struggling to be good. What is wrong with just living in this world, doing what we want, indulging in self-gratification, dying and letting that be the end of it? Why does there even have to be a life after death?”
Only the Lord’s Word can answer these questions for us. Thus only the Lord’s Word can silence the utter denial of eternal life that comes from the world in which we live. This is in fact exactly how the Lord silenced the Sadducees and at the very same time reassured His followers. Referring to a well known passage from the Old Testament the Lord said, “Now even Moses showed at the bush that the dead are raised when He called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto Him.” His reasoning was quite plain to see. This passage clearly showed that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive! Therefore there had to be resurrection soon after death. The truth of this became so clear that even some of the learned Scribes that heard His answer said, “Master you have well said.”
There are many other places in the gospels where He even more powerfully affirms the reality of life soon after the death of the body. For example, when the Lord was preparing to lay down His own life, He lovingly reassured His disciples saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house there are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Then later, when He was crucified, He promised the repentant thief who hung dying on the cross beside Him, “Today you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Now that thief had no way of knowing just what a paradise heaven really is. But we do. For the Lord allowed a man to visit the spiritual world, the world where we will all go some day, and to write down those experiences so everyone can know. In his books heaven and all its wonders are described in great detail. So we can now not only know that there is a life after death, but we can also know what it is like.
One of the first things we are told is that we will continue to live as men and women after death. The only difference is that we will no longer be in a gross material body, but will be in an indestructible spiritual body. Moreover this spiritual body enjoys the same senses it did in the physical world, except that ‘every sense is more exquisite and more perfect there because it is the sense of the internal man freed from the external’ (AC 5078). In other words, our senses are incredibly limited by our material bodies. But in the next world we will be able to see, hear, and feel things thousands of times better than we ever could in this world. Also our spiritual body will never grow old; in fact, it grows younger. ‘All who have lived well, when they enter heaven, come into the state of early manhood … and they continue in it to eternity, even those who had been old and decrepit in the world” (DP 324:4). “Women who have died old and were worn out with age … after a succession of years come more and more into the flower of youth and early womanhood, and into a beauty which exceeds all idea of beauty ever perceivable by our sight … In a word, to grow old in heaven is to grow young. . . ” (HH 414). It is for this reason that we often say that a person who is good, kind, and loving is beautiful on the inside, no matter how he or she may appear before the world.
In heaven we will be able to do things which would be physically impossible in this world. There we can visit anyone we want: friends, relatives, famous people or even people on other planets, just by desiring to be with them. This is because distances are only states of mind in heaven. Therefore we will be able to travel to any place we want at the immeasurable speed of our thoughts. And if that is too fast, we can even fly to where we want to go like we do in our dreams.
Another nice thing about heaven is that people do not have to worry about such things as food, drink, clothing and a place to live, the lack of which often frustrates our efforts to love one another in this world. These things are all given to the angels as free gifts from the Lord without their asking for them (see DP 334). That is why the Lord tells us in the gospels, “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, With what shall we be clothed? … for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things’ (Matt. 6:31,32).
Indeed, in heaven there are fountains of delicious wine, and foods of every kind. There people wear garments which “blaze as with fire or glisten as if with light’ (HH 177). Everyone has his own dwelling place. Some even have palaces made of gold, precious jewels and decorated with the most magnificent art work. “In My Father’s house there are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you.’ There are also gardens, fields, orchards, parks, woods, and paradises of indescribable beauty. And in them there are animals, birds, and fishes of every kind imaginable (see DLW 321, 322). There are even some animals there which have never existed in this world, such as unicorns. This is why the books of Ezekiel and Revelation are full of such fantastic scenes. For the things recorded in these books are in fact scenes from the spiritual world. It is a real and amazing place that awaits us all after death.
Of course all these wonderful things would lose their appeal if we were not also happy in heaven. So “the delights of heaven are both ineffable and innumerable’ (HH398). “One can see how great the delight of heaven must be from the fact that it is the delight of everyone in heaven to share his delights and blessings with others” (HH 399).
From the Word we also know that the Lord desires nothing more than to give us all the things which make heaven. He can do no otherwise. For the Lord loves us. In fact, He is love itself And ‘It is the essence of love to love others outside of oneself, to desire to be one with them, and to render them blessed” (TCR 43). Furthermore, the Lord is eternal and infinite. Therefore His love for us is also eternal and neverending. Since we are the objects of His eternal and never-ending love, He had to create us in such a way that we would live forever and thus could be loved by Him forever. Otherwise, if we simply ceased to exist at the end of our incredibly short lives, the Lord would have to cease loving us. And this He can never do, even if we choose to reject His love and go to hell. For as David said in the Psalms, “If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there” (Psalm 139). In short, the Lord can never stop loving us and we can never stop living, even after the physical body dies. As He says in the gospels, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19). “He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live unto Him.”
The Lord’s Word leaves us with little doubt that there is a life after death. And because it is so full of reassuring passages and common-sense reasons for there being a life after death, it can silence even the most persistent Sadducean spirit. There are many other passages in the Word which are not mentioned in this sermon because of the lack of space. So if we find ourselves doubting that there is a life after death, all we have to do is to search the Lord’s Word for reassurance. And in this way He can uplift us out of the spirit of denial, which attacks us from within and from the world around us. Then we too will be able to say to the Lord as the Scribes did, “Teacher, you have spoken well” (Luke 20:39). Amen.
Lessons: Luke 20:27-40; Heaven and Hell 1
Preached in Baltimore, Maryland September, 1984
Heaven and Hell 1
The Lord, speaking in the presence of His disciples of the consummation of the age, which is the final period of the church, says, near the end of what He foretells about its successive states in respect to love and faith: ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send forth His angels with a trumpet and a great sound; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:29-31).
Those who understood these words according to the sense of the letter have no other belief than that during that latest period, which is called the final judgment, all these things are to come to pass just as they are described in the literal sense, that is, that the sun and moon will be darkened and the stars will fall from the sky, that the sign of the Lord will appear in the sky, and He Himself will be seen in the clouds, attended by angels with trumpets; and furthermore, as is foretold elsewhere, that the whole visible universe will be destroyed, and afterwards a new heaven with a new earth will come into being. Such is the opinion of most men in the church at the present day. But those who so believe are ignorant of the arcana that lie hidden in every particular of the Word.
For in every particular of the Word there is an internal sense which treats of things spiritual and heavenly, not of things natural and worldly, such as are treated of in the sense of the letter. And this is true not only of the meaning of groups of words; it is true of each particular word. For the Word is written solely by correspondences, to the end that there may be an internal sense in every least particular of it. What that sense is can be seen from all that has been said and shown about it in the Arcana Coelestia; also from quotations gathered from that work in the explanation of the white horse spoken of in the Apocalypse.
It is according to that sense that what the Lord says in the passage quoted above respecting His coming in the clouds of heaven is to be understood. The “sun” there that is to be darkened signifies the Lord in respect to love; the “moon’ the Lord in respect to faith; ‘stars’ knowledges of good and truth, or of love and faith; “the sign of the Son of man in heaven” the manifestation of Divine truth; ‘the tribes of the earth” that shall mourm, all things relating to truth and good or to faith and love; “the coming of the Lord in the clouds of heaven with power and glory” His presence in the Word, and revelation, “clouds” signifying the sense of the letter of the Word, and “glory” the internal sense of the Word; “the angels with a trumpet and great voice” signify heaven as a source of Divine truth. All this makes clear that these words of the Lord mean that at the end of the church, when there is no longer any love, and consequently no faith, the Lord will open the internal meaning of the Word and reveal arcana of heaven.
The arcana revealed in the following pages relate to heaven and hell, and also to the life of man after death. The man of the church at this date knows scarcely anything about heaven and hell or about his life after death, although an these matters are set forth and described in the Word; and yet many of those born within the church refuse to believe in them, saying in their hearts, “Who has come from that world and told us?” Lest, therefore, such a spirit of denial, which especially prevails with those who have much worldly wisdom, should also infect and corrupt the simple in heart and the simple in faith, it has been granted me to associate with angels and to talk with them as man with man, also to see what is in the heavens and what is in the hells, and this for thirteen years; so now from what I have seen and heard it has been granted me to describe these, in the hope that ignorance may thus be enlightened and unbelief dissipated. Such immediate revelation is granted at this day because this is what is meant by the Coming of the Lord.