By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
When a person dies, do they cease to exist upon death only to be raised to life on the day of resurrection? Or, does the soul have a continued existence after death, an existence apart from the physical body? These are questions that have occupied the minds of many throughout history and still fascinate us today. It is a good thing that as Christians we have a revelation of God that can provide us with answers to these questions. The Bible provides us with information revealed to us by a creator God who knows all things, and has deemed it appropriate to reveal such things to his creatures. Let us consider what the Bible has to say on these matter.
In 2 Corinthians 5:8 the apostle Paul says, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Here we have the apostle Paul tell us the nature of death itself. Death is “separation” of the body and soul. It is analogous also to spiritual death which is a separation of our souls from the life of God. When we die, our physical bodies go into the ground while our souls go to be “at home with the Lord” if we are believers. Furthermore, to be at home with the Lord is to have a continued existence after physical death. This truth is highlighted elsewhere in scripture. This is important because when considering what the Bible has to say about any given topic, we want to look at what the Bible teaches as a whole. That being said, with regards to this article and our limited purposes, we will only look at a few scriptures.
In Luke 16:19-20, 22-24, Jesus tells an interesting story of two men, Lazarus and the rich man. The passage goes as follows: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury everyday. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores… The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” While some claim that this story is nothing more than a “parable” and hence does not tell us anything actual within the nature of reality as it relates to the after life, I am not at all convinced of this, given the fact that parables typically do not mention person’s names.
What we learn from this story is that for both Lazarus and the rich man, there was a continued existence after death. This continued existence was conscious in which the persons were cognitively aware and able to communicate. Furthermore, if one wants to press that this is simply a parable, then what is it that the parable is wishing to convey? In the parable, there is continued existence after death. Would someone be willing to say that the Bible does not teach a conscious existence after death, while at the same time it presents a parable in which there is clearly a conscious existence after death. This would be quite misleading on the part of the Bible. Nevertheless, this passage I think gives strong biblical indication that upon death, we continue to exist as conscious personal agents.
In Philippians 1:23-24, the apostle Paul says, “But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Notice that Paul here, understanding that death may be right around the corner, he is pressed between his desire to “be with Christ” or to continue on in this life and “be with” the recipients of his letter, since for him to continue on would be a benefit for them. However, he mentions being “with Christ”. The context here is clearly “being with Christ” as a result of having physically died. Again, this is another indicator of the biblical teaching that upon death, there is a conscious existence of the soul that is separated from the body.
Finally, it should be important to mention that while it is true, that upon death, we continue on in the presence of the Lord, or apart from his presence, these states of existence are not eternal. The Bible also teaches that one day “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). The final resurrection is an event in which we will be bodily (physically) raised from the dead never to die again, and hence, we will be rejoined with our glorified bodies to have a very physical yet perfect and sinless existence in the New Heavens and the New Earth.