Afterlife in Christianity

Mainstream Christianity professes belief in the Nicene Creed, and English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use include the phrase: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come”. Christian eschatology is concerned with death, an intermediate state, Heaven, Hell, the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, a rapture, a tribulation, the Millennium, end of the world, the last judgment, a new heaven and a new earth, and the ultimate consummation of all of God’s purposes. Eschatological passages are found in many places, especially Isaiah, Daniel, Matthew 24, Matthew 25, and the Book of Revelation.

In Scripture

When questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead (in a context relating to who one’s spouse would be if one had been married several times in life), Jesus said that marriage will be irrelevant after the resurrection as the resurrected will be (at least in this respect) like the angels in heaven.

Jesus also maintained that the time would come when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who were in the tombs would come out, the faithful to the resurrection of life, and the unfaithful to the resurrection of judgment. According to the Gospel of Matthew, at the death of Jesus tombs were opened, and at his resurrection many saints who had died emerged from their tombs and went into “the holy city”, presumably New Jerusalem. No other New Testament account includes this event.

The Last Day

Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven, over which He rules, to a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age also known as the Last Day. The angels will separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of unquenchable fire. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Time

The Early Church: 1st century

The author of Luke recounts the story of Lazarus and the rich man, which shows people in Hades awaiting the resurrection either in comfort or torment. The author of the Book of Revelation writes about God and the angels versus Satan and demons in an epic battle at the end of times when all souls are judged. There is mention of ghostly bodies of past prophets, and the transfiguration.

The Early Church: 2nd and 3rd centuries

The non-canonical Acts of Paul and Thecla speak of the efficacy of prayer for the dead, so that they might be “translated to a state of happiness.”

Hippolytus of Rome pictures Hades as a place where the righteous dead, awaiting in the bosom of Abraham their resurrection, rejoice at their future prospect, while the unrighteous are tormented at the sight of the “lake of unquenchable fire” into which they are destined to be cast.

The Early Church: 4th and 5th centuries

Gregory of Nyssa discusses the long-before believed possibility of purification of souls after death.

 Saint Augustine counters Pelagius, arguing that original sin means that the unbaptised go to hell, including infants, albeit with less suffering than is experienced by those guilty of actual sins.

Medieval Christianity

Pope Gregory I repeats the concept, articulated over a century earlier by Gregory of Nyssa that the saved suffer purification after death, in connection with which he wrote of “purgatorial flames”.

The noun “purgatorium” (Latin: place of cleansing) is used for the first time to describe a state of painful purification of the saved after life. The same word in adjectival form (purgatorius -a -um, cleansing), which appears also in non-religious writing,  was already used by Christians such as Augustine of Hippo and Pope Gregory I to refer to an after-death cleansing.

Swedenborg and the Enlightenment

During the Age of Enlightenment, theologians and philosophers presented various philosophies and beliefs. A notable example is Emanuel Swedenborg who wrote some 18 theological works which describe in detail the nature of the afterlife according to his claimed spiritual experiences, the most famous of which is Heaven and Hell. His report of life there covers a wide range of topics, such as marriage in heaven (where all angels are married), children in heaven (where they are raised by angel parents), time and space in heaven (there are none), the after-death awakening process in the World of Spirits (a place halfway between Heaven and Hell and where people first wake up after death), the allowance of a free will choice between Heaven or Hell (as opposed to being sent to either one by God), the eternity of Hell (one could leave but would never want to), and that all angels or devils were once people on earth.

On the other hand, the enlightenment produced more rationalist philosophies such as deism. Many deist freethinkers held that belief in an afterlife with reward and punishment was a necessity of reason and good moral

Seventh-day Adventists

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, teaches that the first death, or death brought about by living on a planet with sinful conditions (sickness, old age, accident, etc.) is a sleep of the soul. Adventists believe that the body + the breath of God = a living soul. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists use key phrases from the Bible, such as “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (Eccl. 9:5 KJV). Adventists also point to the fact that the wage of sin is death and God alone is immortal. Adventists believe God will grant eternal life to the redeemed who are resurrected at Jesus’ second coming. Until then, all those who have died are “asleep.” When Jesus the Christ, who is the Word and the Bread of Life, comes a second time, the righteous will be raised incorruptible and will be taken in the clouds to meet their Lord. The righteous will live in heaven for a thousand years (the millennium) where they will sit with God in judgment over the unredeemed and the fallen angels. During the time the redeemed are in heaven, the Earth will be devoid of human and animal inhabitation. Only the fallen angels will be left alive. The second resurrection is of the unrighteous, when Jesus brings the New Jerusalem down from heaven to relocate to Earth. Jesus will call to life all those who are unrighteous. Satan and his angels will convince the unrighteous to surround the city, but hell fire and brimstone will fall from heaven and consume them, thus cleansing Earth of all sin. The universe will be then free from sin forever. This is called the second death. On the new earth God will provide an eternal home for all the redeemed and a perfect environment for everlasting life, where Eden will be restored. The great controversy will be ended and sin will be no more. God will reign in perfect harmony forever.(Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:15, 16; Eccl. 9:5, 6; Ps. 146:3, 4; John 11:11-14; Col. 3:4; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:1-10; Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Jer. 4:23-26; Rev. 21:1-5; Mal. 4:1; Eze. 28:18, 19; 2 Peter 3:13; Isa. 35; 65:17-25; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5; 11:15.)

The telestial room of the Salt Lake Temple

Afterlife in Mormonism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Joseph F. Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints presents an elaborate vision of the Afterlife. It is revealed as the scene of an extensive missionary effort by righteous spirits to redeem those still in darkness – a spirit prison or “hell” where the spirits of the dead remain until judgment. It is divided into two parts: Spirit Prison and Paradise. Together these are also known as the Spirit World (also Abraham’s Bosom; see Luke 16:19-25). They believe that Christ visited spirit prison (1 Peter 3:18-20) and opened the gate for those who repent to cross over to Paradise. “— what Jesus’ immortal spirit did after His death and before His Resurrection is a mystery to all but the Latter-day Saints —” (Elder Spencer J. Condie, Liahona, -Church magazine – July, 2003) “- – – unto the wicked he did not go, and among the ungodly and the unrepentant – – his voice was not raised. – – But behold, from among the righteous, He organized His forces and appointed messengers …” (D&C 138:20, 30–32). “Christ opened the doors of hell to missionary work among the dead …” (H. Donl Peterson, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Apr. 1986, 36–38). This is similar to the Harrowing of Hell doctrine of some mainstream Christian faiths. Both Spirit Prison and Paradise are temporary according to Latter-day Saint beliefs. After the resurrection, spirits are assigned “permanently” to three degrees of heavenly glory––Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial––(1 Cor 15:44-42; Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76) or are cast with Satan into Outer Darkness. (See Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76.)

Salvation, faith and merit from ancient to modern Christianity

Most Christians deny that entry into Heaven can be properly earned, rather it is a gift that is solely God’s to give through his unmerited grace. This belief follows the theology of St. Paul: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. The Augustinian, Thomist, Lutheran, and Calvinist theological traditions all emphasize the necessity of God’s undeserved grace for salvation, and reject so-called Pelagianism, which would make man earn salvation through good works. Not all Christian sects accept this doctrine, leading many controversies on grace and free will, and the idea of predestination. In particular, the belief that heaven is a reward for good behavior is a common folk belief in Christian societies, even among members of churches which reject that belief.

Christian theologians Thomas Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards wrote that the saved in heaven will delight in the suffering of the damned. Hell, however, does not fit modern, humanitarian concepts of punishment because it cannot deter the unbeliever nor rehabilitate the damned, this however, does not affect the Christian belief which places Biblical teaching above the ideas of society. Some Christian believers have come to downplay the punishment of hell. Universalists teach that salvation is for all. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, though they have among the strictest rules on how to conduct their lives, teach that sinners are destroyed rather than tortured forever. John 3:16 says that only those that accept Jesus will be given eternal life, so the people that do not accept him cannot burn in hell for eternity because Jesus has not given them eternal life, instead it says they will perish.

The dead as angels in heaven

In American pop culture depictions of Heaven, particularly in vintage cartoons such as those by Looney Tunes in the mid-20th century, the souls of virtuous people ascend to Heaven and are converted into angels. However, this is not in accordance with the orthodox Christian theology. Christianity depicts a sharp distinction between angels, divine beings created by God before the creation of humanity and are used as messengers, and saints, the souls of humans who have received immortality from the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who dwell in Heaven with God.

Latter Day Saints believe that the soul existed before earth life and will exist in the hereafter. Angels are either spirits that have not yet come to earth to experience their mortality, or spirits or resurrected beings that have already passed through mortality and do the will of God. See Job 38:4-7, D&C 93:29. According to LDS Doctrine, Michael the Archangel became the first man on earth, Adam, to experience his mortality. The Angel of Moroni visited the boy, Joseph Smith, after living out his mortal life in ancient America. Later, he received Angelic administrations from the Apostles Peter, James, and John, John the Baptist, and others.

Universalists

Some sects, such as the Universalists, believe in universalism that all souls will ultimately be saved and that there are no torments of hell.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses occasionally use the terms “afterlife” and “hereafter” to refer to any hope for the dead, but they understand Ecclesiastes 9:5 to preclude common views of afterlife:

For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they any more have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that death is the price for sinning. Individuals judged by God to be wicked, such as in the Great Flood or at Armageddon, are given no hope of an afterlife. After Armageddon there will be a resurrection in the flesh of “both righteous and unrighteous” dead (but not the “wicked”), based on Acts 24:15. Survivors of Armageddon and those who are resurrected are then to gradually restore earth to a paradise. After Armageddon, unrepentant sinners are punished with eternal death (non-existence).

Eastern Orthodox crucifix, displays the lettering in Greek: ΙΝΒΙ (Trapeza of Holy Trinity Monastery, Meteora, Greece).

Orthodox Christianity

Orthodoxy teaches that, “after the soul leaves the body, it journeys to the abode of the dead (Hades). There are exceptions, such as the Theotokos (the virgin Mary), who was borne by the angels directly into heaven. As for the rest, we must remain in this condition of waiting. Because some have a prevision of the glory to come and others foretaste their suffering, the state of waiting is called “Particular Judgment”. When Christ returns, the soul rejoins its risen body to be judged by Him in the Last judgment. The ‘good and faithful servant’ will inherit eternal life, the unfaithful with the unbeliever will spend eternity in hell. Their sins and their unbelief will torture them as fire.”

The Catholic Church

The Catholic conception of the afterlife teaches after the body dies, the soul is judged, the righteous and free of sin enter Heaven. However, those who die in unrepented mortal sin go to hell. In the 1990s, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defined hell not as punishment imposed on the sinner but rather as the sinner’s self-exclusion from God. Unlike other Christian groups, the Catholic Church teaches that those who die in a state of grace, but still carry venial sin go to a place called Purgatory where they undergo purification to enter Heaven.

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