What happens to us when we die? None of us have eyewitness testimony about the afterlife. So who has the authority to provide a definitive answer?
Luckily, there is such a person. Jesus Christ tells us four key things about the afterlife—that heaven and hell are real, that there’s someone who decides your destination, that there’s a clear way to heaven, and how to be sure you’ll end up there. But why should we care what Jesus says?
The Son of Man’s Authority on the Afterlife
Jesus Christ claims to be the only person who has entered heaven. Here is what he says in the Bible:
“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.” (John 3:13 NIV)
That term “Son of Man” is Jesus’ favorite self-identifier, which he uses dozens of times in the New Testament. He knows it’s loaded with significance. The first time we see the term used is in the Old Testament, where five centuries earlier, Daniel the prophet records a vision. Jesus knows that this prophecy is about himself:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Daniel 7:13 NIV)
When Jesus stood trial before Jewish religious leaders, they asked him if he was the Messiah (the one anointed by God to rescue humanity), that prophets like Daniel spoke about.
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64 NIV)
Recognizing the cosmic significance of such a claim, the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of blasphemy and wanted to kill him (Matthew 26:65-66).
Jesus identifies himself as the Son of Man, who came from heaven. He’s been there. This is the kind of first-hand authority about the afterlife we’re interested in hearing. So what does the Son of Man tell us about the afterlife?
What Jesus Taught About the Afterlife
1. Heaven and Hell Are Real Places
Jesus taught that an eternal destination awaits every human being. Through a parable about sheep and goats, Jesus explains the reality that our eternal existence is embodied in one of two places; one of “eternal life” and the other of “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:31-46 NIV).
We call these two places heaven and hell.
Heaven and hell are real, literal places described by Jesus, not make-believe or figurative, as some people think. Jesus and some of the New Testament authors tell us plenty about the afterlife. Let’s see what they have to say.
Heaven in the Bible
In both heaven and hell, our bodies will become immortal (1 Corinthians 15:54).
The New Testament describes heaven as the place Jesus promised he has gone to prepare for his followers—a place where they can be with him forever (John 14:2-3). This is why Christians are called “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20 NLT).
Those in heaven will be “home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8 NIV) and “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23 NIV), with “thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” (Hebrews 12:22 NIV).
Heaven is pictured as a wondrous place filled with the light of God’s glory (Revelation 21:23).
Hell in the Bible
The descriptive contrast between heaven and hell could not be more stark. While in heaven there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4 NIV); in hell, the opposite is true.
The New Testament describes hell as a place “in flaming fire” prepared by God for “those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 NIV). They will be “punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV).
Jesus frequently warned people of the turmoil of hell. It is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), where “maggots never die” (Mark 9:48 NLT)—a place of “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41 NIV).
2. A Day of Judgement Is Coming
The Bible is written expressly to prepare people for this eternal reality. Jesus tells us that the “Son of Man” is coming to judge “all the nations” (Matthew 25:31-42)—the entire world. Because Jesus is the Son of Man, then Jesus not only claims to have come from heaven, but also to be the one who will determine the eternal destiny of every human being.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22 NIV). “And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27 NIV).
Because Jesus is God, he has the authority to judge us humans. So how do we know what his verdict will be? What is the way to heaven and to avoid hell?
3. Only One Way to Heaven
Jesus, the Son of Man, came to earth to reveal heaven to us. But the Bible has another name for Jesus—God’s “one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV), or the Son of God. As the Son of God, the judge of all the earth, Jesus is the only one who can bring the people of earth into heaven. And that’s exactly what he came to do.
Jesus came from heaven to show us how to have a relationship with God the Father. Jesus, who is both God and man, was sent by God in order to open for us the way to heaven.
For Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 14:6 NIV; John 5:24 NIV).
Where Will You Spend the Afterlife?
How can people know to which place they will go? The answer is simple: those who believe in God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, as Lord and who trust him for the forgiveness of their sins have eternal life (John 6:47), while those who reject the Son’s authority and sacrifice experience eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). The way to eternal life with God is through Jesus himself.
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:11-12 NIV).
Your eternal fate depends upon how you respond to Jesus and his claims.
How will you respond?