Is there life after death? The Bible certainly indicates that this is so. From the New Testament, we know that those who believe in Jesus will immediately go to be with Him at death, i.e. in Paradise (Luke 23:43). At the Rapture, those dead in Christ will be reunited with their bodies that have been changed and glorified to be with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Of course, at the Rapture those alive and in Christ will also rise to be with Him, cheating death and being transformed to be like Him (1 John 3:2).
But what of those who don’t know the Lord? For this, the Old Testament has much to teach us. In Ezekiel’s prophecies against Egypt and Pharaoh, we see that the Lord pronounced severe consequences upon this nation and its leader. God told the prophet in Ezekiel 32:18-19,21:
“Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit:
‘Whom do you surpass in beauty?
Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised.’ …
“The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: ‘They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’”
In this declaration, we learn several things:
- Those who die go to a world in which there is life of some kind
- In fact, among the ones who inhabit this place are those who are (or have been) mighty (while alive)
- The direction that the dead go into that world is down
- It is the uncircumcised who go there
- The name of this place is Sheol
In this prophetic Word, Yahweh declared that the Egyptians would join with other nations that had gone to this region of death. In Ezekiel 32:24 we see additional characteristics of those in this place:
“Elam is there, and all her multitude around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised into the world below, who spread their terror in the land of the living; and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.”
The two items of importance noted in this verse are:
- The ones that have gone here have been slain by the sword
- They go down in shame
When powerful individuals die in their sins, there is something interesting that occurs, which Isaiah 14:9 describes:
Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.
The Hebrew word rapha (Strong’s # 7496) is that which is translated as shades noted here. These are the departed spirits, the dead, in the Hebrew: ghosts. It seems as though Sheol gets word that others of like fate are coming to join them in their banishment from the land of the living. There is almost an excitement among them, perhaps in the way that misery loves company.
The direction of Sheol (a.k.a. Hades in the Greek) is always down in the Bible. There is a certain sense that this is more than just a spiritual place for the deceased, but a real location deep within the bowels of the earth.
Scripture describes that those who descend to Sheol go to the pit. In the story that Jesus relates about the rich fool in Luke 12:13-21, we see that this place of death – at least in OT times prior to the resurrection of Jesus – effectively had two compartments. Everybody who died before Jesus went to Sheol. The issue was, which area did they go to? Luke shows us that the wicked went to a place of torment; whereas the righteous went to one of comfort, i.e. Abraham’s bosom, otherwise called Paradise.
What were the criteria for those who went to the less desirable section of Sheol? Our earlier verse tells us:
- They were uncircumcised
- They perished by the sword
- They went down in shame
Let’s unpack this.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 2-3 speaks of circumcision and its value. He concludes that it has none when done in an outward manner. The heart of a person must be circumcised for him to be considered righteous. For the OT, this means believing in God alone and having no idols in one’s life. For the NT, this means believing in Jesus Christ alone for one’s salvation. Same difference since Jesus is God. Thus the uncircumcised who went to Sheol did not believe and trust in God – they were unbelievers.
To perish by the sword was to die a violent death. God wields a sword of judgment, so dying in this manner ultimately means doing so not having the peace of God. We can’t just say that those who live a violent life go to this place. For instance today, military personnel or those in law enforcement may very well engage in violence in the course of doing their jobs. It comes down to the condition of their heart and what they believe. Is Jesus their Savior and Lord? If so, the sin of their violence is wiped away through the blood of Jesus.
The shame in which people die and go to Sheol must again relate to their relationship – or not – with God. Isn’t it a shameful thing to die not knowing the Lord Jesus? In the eternal scheme of things, it is the worst of any heart condition that one can have. Someone having been saved in faith by the grace and mercy of Christ is worthy of praise. A person having chosen to reject the free gift that Jesus gives us through His death, burial, and resurrection is the most shameful act of rebellion in God’s Kingdom.
The book of Revelation shows us that Death and Hades (Sheol) will have one last hurrah in this world. They are released in their fullness at the opening of the 4th Seal (Revelation 6:7-8). Their presence ushers in terrible conditions upon the earth. Death will claim the lives of men, while Hades will assert its ownership of their souls. The Good News is that at the 2nd coming of Jesus at the end of the Tribulation, Death and Hades will be banished forever in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:14), ushering in a New Heaven and New Earth that no longer is plagued by the terrors these entities have brought since the Garden.
We as believers have much that we can look forward to in our future. It will be glorious! Those who reject the Lord have nothing but eternity as the living dead.
Give me Jesus!