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What happens when we die?

We all die. Whatever else happens, we are all going to die. So, what happens when we die is a matter of great importance to everyone. This is both a personal issue, what about me, and a wider issue, what about my family and friends and so on.

Rationale

The ultimate destiny of everyone is both a matter of great importance and great neglect. Its importance lies in both its inescapability and its eternal duration. The issues of this life tend to take centre stage in the minds of most people and while they may from time to time reflect on death and after death, they are more concerned with immediate concerns of this life and its pleasures. The Bible, however, takes another view, for it regards these questions as being the most important questions. In Romans 8 Paul considers all the troubles of this life and says that in comparison to what is to come they are not even worth talking about. In discussing these questions, the most controversial is that of Hell. Its scriptural basis and its morality have been challenged. While students will not be aware of all these debates, the general questions will come easily to them and so will need to be addressed.

Key Concepts

  • Heaven & Hell/Hades
  • Punishment & Reconciliation
  • Note: The Church, throughout its history has seen Heaven as eternal life with God (not so much a place as a condition), and Hell as eternal separation from God usually involving conscious torment. Throughout the ages, as now, there have been some other options suggested. For example Purgatory is a Roman Catholic belief which envisions a third place of torment where people go until they are ready for Heaven. Other options are Annihilation or temporary time in Hell and then everyone is finally saved. There are variations on all of these. Within Evangelical/Conservative Bible believing churches these views were very marginal and in general considered to be unfaithful to the scriptures. In the age in which we live (early 21st century), however, the traditional doctrine of Hell is a particularly difficult teaching. People do not see themselves as bad and certainly not bad enough to deserve Hell. In preparation for these lessons, the teacher will need to do their homework and be aware of the kinds of questions they are likely to receive, e.g. what happened to my mother who died last week?
  • The Second Coming of Christ - what will it be like?
  • Do your beliefs get you into heaven or your actions?
  • Integrity between your faith and your actions

Scripture References  

Isaiah 2:1-5; 9:1-7; 11:1-9; 65:17-25 - visions of the age to come
Hebrews 9:27 - once to die and then judgment
Matthew 22:1-14 parable of the wedding feast, and 22:29-33 what it is like in heaven
Matthew 25 - the sheep and the goats will be judged
John 3:16 and 6:28,29 for example - the basis of our judgement will be if we have believed in the Son of God, as long as it is real faith we are talking about, James 2:14-26
John 5:19-29 - Jesus has authority to raise the dead and the day is coming when all the dead will rise, some to life and some to judgement
Romans 8:18-25 - the redemption of our bodies
1 Corinthians 15:12-58 - extended explanation of the resurrection to come (note v 51-54)
2 Corinthians 5:1-10 - we will go to be with the Lord, but we await our new bodies; all will appear before the judgment seat of Christ
Revelation - whole book really, but the chapters 5 and 19-21 are crucial

Verses on Heaven http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/heaven-bible-verses/

Verses on Hell/Hades http://www.biblestudytools.com/search/?q=hell&c=&t=niv&ps=10&s=Bibles

Resources

Contemporary Issues by John Stott - not so much about heaven or hell but covers a lot of contemporary issues that might come in the context of these discussions
Articles on Hell, Heaven and related themes:
http://carm.org/h - brief dictionary of important terms like Hades

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/hell.html - longer dictionary articles

http://christiananswers.net/q-grace/hell-and-god.html?zoom_highlight=hell - discussion on the morality of hell

http://creation.com/death-and-suffering-questions-and-answers - range of articles on this and related themes
Christian Post Articles
Christian History articles on Hell

Ideas/Strategies for Lessons

What do students think happen to people after they die? What are the various options? What about other religions? What do atheists think? Why do they think these things? Since death is a wall we cannot cross without dying, how can we speak about it at all? Is it important? why or why not?
Discuss near death experiences and what we can and can’t learn from them

What decides the issue? Introduce the concept by playing a card game with the students with short descriptions of characters from the Bible (and/or fictional characters) – students have to choose whether they think each will go to heaven or hell. E.g. “I am a thief who said one prayer in my life” (man on the cross) or “I am a man after

God’s heart. I also committed adultery and murder” (David).
Gather together what does the Bible tell us about heaven in one place and hell in another. Students can try and summarize it
Ask what are the possible options? Non-Christian: death is the end; Eastern Religion: Reincarnation; The three main Christian positions: eternal punishment, annihilation or temporary punishment. Ask them how they feel about these, and whether how you feel is a sufficient guide to the truth
Ask them what issues bother them about this topic? Try to make it an open discussion
Set up a scenario in class where some students get an invitation to a feast and others not, or perhaps don’t want to come. Analogy of heaven as a feast and God wants us there (not negative, damming message).
Hold a “Paul at the pearly gates” jokes competition in class.
Explore myths about heaven and hell, for example, the devil rules hell
Find songs that mention heaven and hell and compare whether they are accurate according to what the Bible tells us.
Look at great pieces of art through the centuries on the theme of heaven and hell; get students to pull the images apart and explain the concept of heaven or hell in these pictures. How do they compare to the Bible?- these can be found by a Google search but be careful, there is nudity in some of these artworks
Look at contemporary depictions, and how they compare to the Bible - watch out again for nudity and violent images
Students can create their own images/artwork and even videos