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Last Sunday evening, when the weather canceled the “fireside chat” that the elders had scheduled, those few of who braved the elements had a devotional, provided communion to several, and concluded with an extemporaneous Bible class on the subject of what exactly comes after this life. We had a lively discussion and it led me to conclude that it’s probably a study or reminder that the whole congregation could benefit from. So, for the next few weeks, let’s take a look at what the Bible — the only reliable source for what comes after this life — says about life after life. In the meantime, I’m making a diagram of the things that I’m talking about in this series in the church’s foyer; pick one up and follow along.

The first matter to talk about first are the three realms, places, or states of being described in the Bible in which mankind can dwell. The first realm/place/state of being is this material world — the “now”, the visible or empirical world. We begin our existence as spirit beings, bearing the image of God (Gen. 1:26), which are given material, fleshly bodies like Adam’s, made from dust (1 Cor. 15:48,49). Although it was created in perfection by God (Gen. 1:31), Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience to God brought sin and death and corruption (Gen. 2:17) — “futility” according to Rom. 8:20 — into this world. In this world there are the good (children and others who would not be held accountable in God’s eyes — e.g., Ezek. 18; Mt. 18:3; Mt. 19:14), the lost (all who have sinned even one time — e.g., Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:23), the saved (those who were once lost but now redeemed through faith and obedience in Jesus — e.g., Eph. 2:1-10), and the fallen (those who once were saved, but have returned to the world again — e.g., Heb. 6:4-8; 2 Tim. 4:10). In this material world a man may and does go from one state to another freely; this is not always so in the other realms.

The second realm is called Hades (in the New Testament) or Sheol (in the Old Testament). It is essentially the realm of the dead. It is not just another name for Hell, as many in our contemporary society use the word. The reason for the confusion is largely due to the King James and the New International Versions of the Bible which are a bit confused themselves over the differences between Hades and Hell. The New Testament refers to Hades ten times (Mt. 11:23; Mt. 16:18; Lk 10:15; Lk 16:23; Ac 2:27; Ac. 2:31; Rev. 1:18; Rev. 6:8; Rev. 20:13; and Rev. 20:14). In none of these passages is the place of eternal punishment (Hell) meant. Hades (or Sheol) is always connected with physical death — sometimes being a synonym for the grave or death; it is, simply put, the place where the spirits of all the dead go (see also Prov. 9:18 and Isa 14:9). Here there are apparently no bodies (e.g., Psa. 16;10; 1 Sam. 28:12,13), but there is consciousness (see Lk. 16;19ff) although the dead may not know what is going on in the realm of this material world (1 Sam. 28:15), except for what arriving spirits may tell them (Lk. 16:19ff). This realm has three components: paradise or “Abraham’s bosom”; a place of punishment; and a great fixed, impassable gap between them (see Lk 16:19ff). According to the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk. 16:19ff) no man may pass from paradise to punishment or from punishment to paradise. We enter Hades at death, when our spirit is separated from our bodies, and whatever state we are in (innocent, saved or lost) at death is unchangeable in Hades.

The third realm is eternity. For human beings it will be a place of imperishability and immortality. We enter into it after Christ’s second coming, after the Kingdom is handed over to the Father, and we are all resurrected or changed to a spiritual body (see 1 Cor. 15:51ff). It is composed of Heaven and Hell, both of which we’ll talk more of later. It likewise is a place in which one may not change sides; both are permanent assignments, based on the perfect judgment of God.

There is, of course, much more to know about this topic of great interest, but I’m hoping that you caught one important point here: this material world is the only one in which we have free choice about where we’ll be, and what we choose now will be our choice for a very long time. What choice are you making?

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