09. Life after death
Yes. Man is both a physical being and a spiritual being. He is an entity consisting of body, soul, and spirit.
The human body is mortal and is thus transitory. It is taken from the earth and will return to the earth (cf. Genesis 3: 19). Soul and spirit, by contrast, live on after physical death, and are thus immortal. The personhood of a human being—that is, his essence, that which comprises him, and that which he has experienced, felt, believed, and thought—thus continues to exist after physical death.
“For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.”
Wisdom of Solomon 2: 23
There is a distinction between the physical death and the spiritual death of a human being. Physical death signifies the end of life on earth. When it occurs, soul and spirit leave the body. Spiritual death is the separation of a human being from God. It is the consequence of sin.
When the Bible speaks of the “second death” (cf. Revelation 20: 6; 21: 8), this refers to the separation from God that takes effect after the Last Judgement.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6: 23
The Bible also uses the term “death” to describe a power opposed to God, which threatens and seeks to destroy both physical and spiritual life. Thus the Revelation of Jesus Christ figuratively describes death as a person: “So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him” (Revelation 6: 8).
The triune God is Lord over life and death. Through His resurrection, Jesus Christ has conquered death. Thereby He has given mankind access to eternal life: “[...] our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1: 10).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation for the resurrection of the dead. Since He has resurrected, the dead will also resurrect, “some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12: 2).
“Behold, I tell you a mystery:We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
1 Corinthians 15: 51-52
A life after physical death is already suggested in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it is attested on several occasions. For example, we read as follows in 1 Peter 3: 19-20: “By whom [the Holy Spirit] also He [Jesus Christ] went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.”
The souls and spirits of human beings who have died enter the realm of the dead. We also describe this as “the beyond”.
The term “the beyond” refers in general to all realms, events, and conditions that lie outside of the material world. In a narrower sense, this term denotes the realm of the dead (Hebrew: Sheol, Greek: Hades).
No. Any notion of repeated lives on earth (reincarnation), whether as a human being, animal, or plant, contradicts the statements of the Bible and thus the content of the gospel: “[...] it is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9: 27).
The term ‘reincarnation’ refers to different conceptions—none of which are consistent with Christian doctrine—of repeated human existence on earth in various forms.
By remembering the departed and praying for them, we have a connection with them.
Attempting to contact the departed through necromancy or channelling is forbidden by God and is thus a sin: “There shall not be found among you anyone [...] who [is] a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18: 10-12).
The condition of the souls in the beyond is an expression of their proximity to, or remoteness from, God. A person’s soul has not undergone any change as a result of physical death. A person is not only defined by belief or unbelief, reconciliation or irreconcilability, love or hatred on this earth, but also in the beyond.
This condition is also addressed in the parable of Jesus of the rich man and poor Lazarus (cf. Luke 16: 19-31), when He speaks of a place of security and a place of torment. The departed can become aware of their condition. Those who suffer torment can hope for help.
In 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 we read of the “dead in Christ”. These are departed individuals who have been reborn out of water and the Holy Spirit, and who have allowed themselves to be prepared for the return of Christ. They belong to the congregation of the Lord and find themselves in a condition of righteousness before God, which is attained through grace and faith.
“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery. And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace.”
Wisdom of Solomon 3: 1-3
Yes. Since the sacrifice of Christ, it has been possible to change the condition of the souls in the beyond for the better.
After His death, Jesus Christ went into the realm of the dead and preached there. The preaching of the gospel implies an opportunity to change for those who accept it in faith.
Therefore a human being can also attain salvation after physical death.
Souls in the beyond who have never heard of the gospel, never had their sins forgiven, and never received any of the sacraments find themselves in a condition of remoteness from God. This condition can only be overcome through belief in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and by receiving the sacraments.
In 2 Maccabees 12 there is an account of men who had served idols and fallen in battle. Their comrades prayed that they would receive help for the sinful condition of their souls. They also collected money with which to buy sacrificial animals in order to bring an offering of atonement.
The biblical basis for dispensing sacraments to the departed is found in 1 Corinthians 15: 29: in Corinth, living persons were baptised for the dead. This practice was once again adopted by the Apostles of the modern era. From this developed the divine services for the departed that are celebrated today.
Yes, we can intercede in prayer for unredeemed souls and ask the Lord to help them. Likewise, we can pray that these souls come to believe in Jesus Christ and that they are open and prepared to accept the salvation God wishes to grant them.
Since both the living and the dead in Christ comprise a single fellowship, they will work both here and in the beyond in the mind of Christ, in other words, they will intercede in prayer for the unredeemed.
Redemption itself can only occur through Jesus Christ, however.
Jesus Christ is Lord over both the dead and the living. It is the will of God that all men be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2: 4-6). This occurs through the sermon, the sacrament, and the forgiveness of sins. Belief in Jesus Christ is indispensable for this. This applies to both the dead and the living alike.
That the gospel must also be preached to the departed is clear from 1 Peter 4: 6: “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”
“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: 16
The dispensation of Holy Baptism with water, Holy Sealing, and Holy Communion for the departed occurs when Apostles perform each of these visible acts on living persons. The effect for salvation here is not for the benefit of the living, however, but for the departed.
Just as Jesus Christ brought His sacrifice on earth, so too salvation is imparted through the Apostles on earth.