What Happens When You Die, Why Should You Care? Michael Horton Explains
October 5, 2011: the day Steve Jobs died. When I got the news on my iPhone I was sad. Not only because the world lost an ingenious innovator–mostly because, by all accounts, the man didn’t know Jesus.
This seemed to be confirmed by Jobs himself a few years later, in this reflection from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs:
“I’d like to think that something survives after you die…that maybe your consciousness endures.”
He fell silent for a very long time. “But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch,” he said. “Click! And you’re gone.” (571)
Is that what happens when Death comes knocking? And why should we care what happens when it does?
Enter Michael Horton’s new book Core Christianity, a readable, engaging exploration of the essence of the Christian faith and life’s deepest questions–like like the ones we have about death.
Below, Horton answers these questions and Jobs’s own confusion by sharing four Core Christianity teachings about death that bring hope as much as clarity.
1) Death Is Our Last Enemy
“Death is not a friend,” Horton writes. “Death is a real enemy. It is not simply a part of the normal cycle of life.” (147)
This teaching on death is central to Core Christianity. While our world believes that “passing on” is natural, Christians know God never intended for us to die. Instead, it’s the legal penalty for sin and our enemy, which is why Christians hate it so much.
Nevertheless, it’s our last enemy. It’s been defeated! “When at last our bodies are raised to share in the newness of Christ’s glorified body, we will be forever beyond the reach of God’s enemies and ours.” (147)
Knowing that death is God’s enemy as much as ours makes all the difference. Not only for how we live, but how we die too.
2) “Our People Die Well.”
That’s the way Horton’s great-grandmother summed up his great-grandfather’s life and death. Because we know that death is our last enemy,
believers like my great-grandfather are able to meet tragedy and death not with a cheesy grin but with a wink in the middle of the pain, knowing that for them death has lost its sting. Death is no longer a legal penalty for sin. Death is the burying of the seed in winter that bursts forth from the cold hardness of the earth at Christ’s return to flower as part of God’s new creation. (146–147)
Knowing that death is not the final chapter gives us our Christian hope, which is generated by the gospel, the promises of God fulfilled in Christ.
3) What Happens When You Die?
And yet, if death is our enemy and isn’t our final destination, what is? What happens when you die?
First of all, “toss aside the best-selling books that claim to tell you what someone saw in a near-death or after-death experience,” because they contradict what little Scripture says about heaven. (148)
What does happen when we die? Horton says believers:
- “Are alive in God’s presence but not yet raised in glory” (149)
- Ask God to “finally vindicate his people and bring justice to the earth” (149)
- Wait for ultimate redemption when “our bodies are raised in immortal glory” (150)
It’s much different for unbelievers, however. Which is why we care what happens after death. Because while Jesus’ first coming brought good news, “the holy wars of the Old Testament pale in comparison with the judgment that Jesus will bring at his second coming,” which is universal and final. (153)
4) We’re Not Just “Going to Heaven”
Finally, though “many Christians talk about ‘going to heaven when you die’ as if that was the ultimate goal of salvation,” Horton reminds us “this savors of pagan philosophy rather than biblical teaching.” (149) Instead,
the whole earth will rejoice as it shares with the children of God in their collective release from bondage to decay, exploitation, bloodshed, and injustice. The whole creation—the earth and its Milky Way galaxy, all the way to the millions of galaxies that have yet to be discovered—will share in this resurrection life that never ends. (153)
Death is not the end; neither is heaven. “It is not an airy existence that we are promised but an earthy society of love in the presence of the triune God.” (153) Which means heaven really is a place on earth!
“This is what we are waiting for: the return of Christ to raise the dead, judge the nations, and lead us—with creation in his train—into the everlasting glory of the age to come.” (156)
Share Core Christianity with those you know to answer their questions about death, give them hope, and encourage them to pray with John’s concluding words in Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus…” (Rev 22:20).