Life and Reward After Death

Life and Reward After Death

Physical death — the death of the body —  is not to be confused with spiritual death. Spiritual death is the state of separation from God which is true of all people prior to salvation, being dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-3). God warned Adam that on the day he sinned, thereby separating Himself from God, he would die (Gen. 2:17). On that day when Adam and his wife sinned, they did not die physically but they were separated from God, they died spiritually, died in their capacity to experience fellowship with God. Death also entered every aspect of their world. Eventually, even their bodies succumbed to death. Truly, the wages of sin, the result of sin, is death (Rom. 6:23).

Physical death was not part of God’s original plan for creation. Adam was not subject to death until after he sinned. The seeds of death were planted first in Adam who then passed on, transmitted this condition of death to the human race. We all inherited a sinful, Adamic nature which results in separation from God, spiritual death and eventually, physical death.

Spiritual death, separation from God, has to do with the soul. Physical death has to do with the body. Physical death results in the separation of the soul from the body. Physical death does not result in the annihilation of the soul. The body decays, the soul lives on.

Because of the atoning work of Jesus, the believer no longer needs to fear death, as we read in Hebrews 2:14, Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could He die, and only by dying could He break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. The power of death has been broken because Jesus bore our sin and the consequence of our sin which is death. He then rose from the dead demonstrating His victory over sin and death. 

Death’s sting has been removed (I Cor. 15:55-57). Jesus says, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16). Again Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (Jn. 5:24).

For the believer, because our sin has been removed through the sacrifice of the holy Lamb of God, death is an entrance into the presence of the Lord. Paul said that he preferred to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). He said that his desire was to depart and be with Christ (Phlp. 1:23). Paul was confident that entrance into the presence of the Lord would follow immediately upon the death of his body.

Stephen, as he was being martyred, cried out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit (Acts 7:59). He was confident that after the death of his body, his soul would live on in the presence of the Lord. Jesus, as He was dying, said, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit (Luke 23:46). Jesus said to the thief on the cross, Today you shall be with Me in paradise (Lk 23:43) The body died but the spirit, the soul, lived on.

Scripture teaches that the soul cannot die — it is immortal. Jesus said that God is not the God of the dead but of the living (Matt. 22:32). In Revelation 6:9 we read of living souls under heaven’s altar calling out to God. Their bodies had died but their souls are alive in the presence of God.

There are several unscriptural teachings regarding eternal life.

1. Purgatory:

This refers to a place of purging. According to this false doctrine, the souls that are perfectly pure enter into the presence of God. But those in need of purification, which is almost everyone according to this false teaching, go to a place of cleansing. There is no Scriptural evidence to support this idea. Further, it detracts from the work of Christ on our behalf. We read that Christ made purification for sins (Hebr 1:3) and that this sacrifice was once for all (Hebr. 7:28). Peter reminds us, Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (I Peter 1:18,19). The idea that our salvation is insufficient, that we need further purification, that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is incomplete, is a false doctrine, unScriptural.

2. Soul Sleep: 

This false doctrine proposes that the soul lapses into a state of sleep after death. It is true that Scripture often uses the image of sleep in referring to death (Matt. 9:24  Jn. 11:11  I Thes 4:13) but this is a figure of speech, a metaphor. From previous references, we see that believers are not asleep but are in the presence of the Lord. From the vantage point of the living, the body of a dead person appears to be asleep. But their soul is alive either in the presence of God or alive and conscious of separation from God.

3. Annihilationism: 

This false doctrine asserts that the unsaved have no conscious existence following death. Biblical terms such as death, destruction and perish are interpreted to mean that a person no longer exists. But we know that the soul is immortal and cannot die. Also, the unredeemed are under the judgment of God and we cannot say that lack of existence is punishment. Further, the Bible clearly states that the unsaved will continue to exist forever. Matthew 25:46 speaks of eternal punishment (also Rom. 2:5-10,  Rev. 14:11). 

4. Conditional Immortality: 

This false doctrine argues that the soul is not born with immortality but receives it at salvation as a gift from God while the unsaved are not raised into eternal life. It is true that Paul refers to God as the One who alone possesses immortality ((I Tim 6:16), but that refers to God as the source of all being, the One who is uncreated, Self-existent being, the First Cause of all life and from whom all life flows. But the Bible teaches that all human beings are created with immortal souls. 

The gift of eternal life received at salvation is not merely prolonged life but a quality of life enjoyed in the presence of God. The unredeemed soul is also still alive because it is immortal.

5. Reincarnation: 

This false doctrine teaches that after death we are reincarnated as a higher or lower being based on our works. In each incarnation we are born as another human being or a lower animal or an insect so we can work out our karma — our destiny and so we can work off debts incurred in past lives and hopefully rise to a higher level of consciousness. This goes on and on until hopefully, maybe, we finally attain to the highest spirituality. Reincarnation is Satan's attempt to keep people from facing two primary truths:

a. We are accountable before God for our stewardship of the gifts of time, resource and opportunity of this life. We are accountable for the choices we make in this life. Reincarnation is a way of avoiding accountability to God.

b. Eternity with God or apart from God is the reality that all must face and there is no way to spend that eternity with God but through Jesus Christ who said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (J. 14:6). Peter said, And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Everyone will have the opportunity in this life to realize their accountability to God and will have the opportunity to choose life with God or life apart from God. No matter how seared their conscience, there is still the awareness of God and God’s demands. We do not spend this life working off debts of this or former lives. Payment for sin is only through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and when we trust in what Jesus did for us, there is forgiveness and everlasting life.

The Bible teaches resurrection to blessing and reward for the redeemed but also resurrection to judgment for the unredeemed:

1. Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebr. 9:27)

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation  20:11-15). 

The truth is: one death, then accountability before God.

2. The unbeliever faces eternal judgement apart from the Lord: 

Why? Because the soul is immortal, immortality is also the state of the unredeemed after the death of the body. But this is not an eternal life of blessing. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:18 that the unredeemed are excluded from the life of God. Why? Because if a person lives this life separated from God by sin and dies in that condition of separation, then they are separated from God following this life. This is eternal death, the everlasting judgement of God on those who, while alive on earth, rejected God’s offer of salvation and thus never passed out of death into life (Jn. 5:24). This is also called the second death (Rev. 20:10).

A few verses after Jesus said, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16), we then read, He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (Jn. 3:36).

When the Scripture says that the unbeliever will not see life, it does not mean that they will not be alive. It means they will not experience life in the presence of God. The unredeemed soul, following death, enters into a state of conscious separation from God. On the day of resurrection, that soul receives a resurrection body but having rejected God’s forgiving grace, they will be judged on the merits of their works which, because those works are inadequate to satisfy God’s standard of perfect holiness, will result in everlasting separation from God.  

Regarding the unrighteous, Paul said, But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds; to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation (Romans 2:5-8).

Jesus describes this state of being as outer darkness, a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth  (Matt. 8:12, 22:13). Darkness describes the complete absence of all that God is. Weeping and gnashing of teeth describes unremitting remorse at the rejection of grace and the torment of one’s sin and guilt forever present.

3. The redeemed will be resurrected into life shared with God.

John encountered the Christ of glory and heard Jesus say, Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades (Rev. 1:17,18).

The risen Lord Jesus holds the keys to death and to Hades (death being the condition of the dead and Hades being the place of confinement for the unredeemed prior to judgment). Jesus also holds the keys to resurrection, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die (Jn. 11:25,26). Keys represent authority. Jesus has authority over the eternal destiny of the unredeemed and the redeemed.

At the moment of death, a believer's soul enters into the presence of the Lord in a conscious state, though as yet unclothed, meaning without a body (2 Cor. 5:4). At the resurrection, we will receive an eternal body, a body of glory which will be fit for eternal life. The redeemed will then be rewarded.

There are two aspects of Christ’s reward to the righteous:

1. General: forgiveness of sin / eternal life

2. Personal: based on our faithfulness

General Reward: 

In the Parable of the Landowner (Matt. 20:1-16), the owner of a vineyard went out early in the morning to hire laborers and throughout the day, until an hour before work was ended, he hired laborers. At the end of the day, each received the same wage. This represents the reward given to all the redeemed — forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, resurrection and eternal life with God. So it will be for all who have trusted in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection.

Personal Reward:

There is also reward that is unique to each believer, based on our service to the Lord in this life.

Jesus said: Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done (Rev. 22:12)

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds (Matt. 16:27).

John heard a voice from heaven, saying, Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them! (Rev. 14:13)).

For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints (Hebr. 6:10).

And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward (Matt. 10:42). Even something as small as a cup of cold water is worthy of reward!

In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), a man went on a long journey but left his servants with varying amounts of resources to carry on his work. When he returned, they were held accountable for their use of those resources. To those who were faithful, he said, Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master (Matt. 25:21,23). The reward for the faithful servants was different because their works were different but each was rewarded. The reward was greater opportunity to serve their master.  

The redeemed will not stand before the judgment seat of Christ but the Lord will evaluate our lives. Our stewardship of time, opportunity, resource will be tested in the presence of God’s glory, tested for sincerity, purity of motive. We will be rewarded according to our faithfulness and our motive, as Paul reminds us:

Each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (I Cor. 3:13-15). 

Fire is interpreted as the glory and omniscience of God — our works will be evaluated by the glorious, all-knowing God. Our reward will include greater opportunities to worshipfully serve God on this restored earth and in the new heavens and the new earth, in tasks as infinite and creative as God’s infinite, creative mind.

Characteristics of this reward:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable, and undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you who are protected by the power of God through faith (I Peter  1:3-5). 

Our reward is:

1. Imperishable — aphthartos — not subject to decay or plunder or death.

Jesus said, But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal (Matt. 6:20. All our possessions here, our bank accounts, our gold and silver are subject to decay, theft and when we die we leave whatever remains. But our reward in heaven is imperishable.

2. Undefiled —  amiantos — unstained, unpolluted, without flaw.

3. Unfadingamaranton — used of a flower that does not wither or die — our inheritance will never lose its magnificent bloom.

Consider the security of our inheritance: Reserved in heaven for you. Reserved means guarded. Where is it being guarded? In heaven.

Can I lose my reward? Paul reveals in the passage we quoted from I Corinthians 3:13-15 that some works may be consumed in the fire of God’s glory. We would assume that these were works which did not glorify God or works done from an impure motive. Also, unfaithfulness can cost us some of our reward by robbing us of the opportunity to serve our Lord. But if our desire is to be faithful, we will discover that the Lord has not only blessed us with saving grace. He has also blessed us with persevering grace, grace to press on faithfully. Our reward is reserved in heaven for all who are protected by the power of God. 

Protected. By what? The power of God, the omnipotence of God, the sovereign almighty power of God. What connects us to the power of God? We are protected by the power of God through faith. Faith is God’s gift. Persevering faith is energized by the Holy Spirit. We are saved by faith, kept by faith.

Those who have trusted in the blood of Christ as the atoning sacrifice for their sins are thereby declared to be just and righteous. We are not saved by works but our works indicate whether we are saved, as fruit gives evidence of a living, healthy tree. Those works, the fruit of our living, will be evaluated and rewarded. Our reward is resurrection and eternal life in the presence of the Lord and greater opportunity to serve and glorify the Lord forever and ever.

Study Questions

1. Does the Bible teach that there is life after death?

2. Is there reward for the redeemed?