What happens to a human being after his death? Does he simply disintegrate and his existence is extinguished? Or is there life after death? That is, does man continue to exist? If there is life after death, how does it occur? What did Jesus and the apostles say about this subject? A good way to begin to understand this question is to study Jesus' parable, The Rich Man and Lazarus. It is worth saying here that parables were a didactic resource that Jesus used to teach the truths of the Kingdom of God. In this text, we will deal only with the situation of the Christian. Considerations about the afterlife of non-Christians will be introduced in part two of this study.

In this narrative, The Rich Man and Lazarus, recorded by the evangelist Luke, Jesus states that two men died and went to different places: a good place and a tormenting place. Lazarus went to Abraham, a place of peace and happiness. And the rich man went to Hades, the realm of the dead, a place below where Abraham and Lazarus were, which was hot and suffering. These two places are separated by an impassable abyss. The rich man then talks to Abraham expressing his wish that his brothers would not have the same fate of suffering that he had (Luke 16: 19-31).

What can be observed in this teaching of Jesus is that, yes, there is life after death in two conditions: a good one and a bad one. This implies that man, after his death, is submitted to a judgment and immediately receives the definition of his eternal destiny: life with God or life separated from the Creator. On this subject, the author of Hebrews affirms this same truth. Look at the text: "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:27). Note, then, that man is subjected, after his death, to an immediate judgment.

One aspect of the life that man will have after death, which is observed in this teaching of Jesus, is that it is a conscious life. The human being will be conscious of his being and his existence. Not only the reading of this parable shows this detail, but also what the Apostle John records in his vision of the Apocalypse. Notice what he wrote: "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (6:9,10). The text evidences that those dead people, in the presence of God, demonstrate understanding of the new reality in which they find themselves.

Another aspect of the afterlife, which is observed in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, concerning Christians, that is, those who have given credence to the preaching of Christ and his Church, is that it takes place in the presence of God. Paul affirms this teaching when writing to the Philippians. He speaks of the strain he was under, because of his imprisonment and his possible condemnation to death: "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body" (1:23,24). Note Paul's confidence in the truth that immediately after death he would meet Jesus: "I desire to depart and be with Christ".

Also speaking to the Corinthians, this apostle, in his second letter says: "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (5:8). Notice that Paul, again, says that he would rather die and be with Christ. It is his confidence that the Christian, after death, goes straight into the presence of Jesus. Also worth noting in this context is Jesus' dialogue with one of the criminals with whom he had been crucified. One of them said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom". And Jesus answered him: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42,43). The Lord Jesus himself, in his last moment before dying, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). The Lord died and went to the Father.

Thus, the Christian should take comfort in the truth that after his death, he will immediately be with the Lord. That was the hope of Paul and the whole early Church. This was the teaching of Jesus. Another Bible passage that confirms this truth is, for example, narrated by Matthew. Jesus, Peter, James and John go up a high mountain and there Jesus is transfigured and they see him in his glorified body. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appear and start talking to Jesus. These two biblical characters had been dead for a long time, but they were there, alive, in the presence of the Lord (Matthew 17:1-9).

Antônio Maia - M.Div.

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