Most people seem to go through life with no apparent idea of, or interest in, the purpose for their existence. Are we here simply for the pleasure of a “puppet-master” God who enjoys pulling our strings and watching us dance to His manipulations? Are we nothing more than the current stage of random evolution, with no lasting destiny and no ability to affect it? Or are we here as the result of a divine purpose, and with a divine goal in mind?
How one answers these questions plays a large part in the course of his life. Those who reject the idea of God tend toward the view that when one dies, he simply ceases to exist. Some among us gravitate toward the cynical and fatalistic attitude that things are bad in life and then, after suffering all those things, one dies. Neither of these views seems open to the idea of life after death. These may be more of a defense mechanism than a studied conclusion, but they are real attitudes nonetheless.
Among those who do believe in life after death, there are several attitudes. One is the “all dogs go to heaven” perspective. In this view, it doesn’t matter how one lives on earth because God is going to save everyone anyway. Another view is the annihilation idea. This philosophy suggests that the evil people just cease to exist when they die. Both of these perspectives may offer some measure of comfort to those who hold them, but are they compatible with what the Bible actually teaches?
When we look at the scriptures, there is one teaching and only one teaching about life after death. This teaching involves three parts. The first part is that everyone, whether good or bad, will live after death. The Lord taught this in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, recorded in Lk. 16:19-31. Both the rich man and Lazarus were alive and cognizant in Hades after passing from this life. One was in torment and the other was in Paradise, but both were alive.
The second part is that everyone will stand in judgment and give an account of his life on the earth. In Jn. 5:28, 29 the Lord said, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” In 2 Cor. 5:10 Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” In Rev. 20:11-15 John described his vision of the judgment, and he noted in v. 12 that all the dead, both great and small, stood before the throne of God. Everyone will be present at judgment, and everyone will stand before God.
This leads to the third part, which is that everyone will face the consequences of his or her conduct in life. In Rev. 20:11-15 John tells us that the dead will be judged from the things written in the books, and those whose names are not in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death. Those consigned there, do not cease to exist, though. In Rev. 20:10 John says they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. The righteous, however, will be welcomed into God’s presence, to the place prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Mt. 25:34).
Since everyone will be there and everyone will be judged, we must prepare ourselves for the afterlife by obeying God’s will while we live here on the earth.