Afterlife Revision


The resurrection of Jesus is central to Christian teachings on the afterlife – “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die”  (John 11:25-26)

William Lane Craig describes resurrection as a ‘real historical event’.

There is no explanation of the meaning and consequences of resurrection in the NT. It is left open to interpretation.

Early writers agree that (1) Jesus’ death marked the foundation of the religion; (2) the resurrection was a moment of hope’s triumph over despair; (3) it was a demonstration of God’s spectacular power.

Christian concepts of souls:

  • People have souls which survive death.
  • Reject reincarnation
  • Resurrection is possible: the person will be given a renewed “spiritual body” (St Paul) to continue into the afterlife

For most of its 2000-year history, the Catholic Church only permitted burial, arguing that this best expressed its belief in resurrection. However, in 1963 the Vatican explicitly allowed cremation, on the grounds you simply believe in resurrection.

Resurrection is defined as the promise of post-mortem existence in a re-created human body. 

  • Ezekiel 37: God shows Ezekiel a valley of dry bones and states that He is able to ‘make these live again’
  • Corinthians 15: St Paul argues in favour of the body being ‘raised imperishable’
  • The Pharisees taught of resurrection in 1st century Palestine
  • Jesus’ tomb was empty – he had been resurrected from death to eternal life – therefore his body and soul was fully resurrected
  • Jesus was seen in physical form after death and ascended into heaven, although whether this was in physical or spiritual form is disputed. Many Christians believe Jesus continued living in a transformed spiritual body.
  • The Incredulity of St Thomas, painted by Carvaggio in the early 17th century

Rowan Williams: resurrection lies ‘on the frontier of any possible language’ – it is an ineffable, mystical idea, but an integral part of Christian faith.

Christians today have mixed feelings over resurrection

  • Is the idea of a disembodied soul more comforting?
  • Does it stand up to scientific evidence?

John Hick’s replica theory

Image result for joh hick

Hick develops the replica theory to demonstrate how resurrection could be logically possible. His view of personal identity is that a person cannot simply be reduced to physical processes. A person includes both the physical and mental; the human is, therefore, a psycho-physical unity.

The replica theory rejects dualism while defending resurrection. Hick sees resurrection as a divine action in which an exact replica of ourselves is created in a different realm. This could take place immediately after death or after a time lapse determined by God. The replica exists in a ‘different space’ from us that is observable by God only.

  1. Imagine that John Smith who lives in America suddenly disappears and an exact replica is found in India; his sceptical friends would be forced to conclude that he is the same person, because he has the same memories and emotions of John
  2. Instead imagine that instead of disappearing, John dies. His friends would still be forced to conclude that the John in India is the same person, even if his corpse resides in America
  3. Now imagine that when John dies, his replica appears on another world altogether, a world inhabited by other resurrected people. 

Hick argued that if we can accept these strange scenarios are in some way logically possible, then life after death is a meaningful concept. God is omnipotent, so this is possible.

Matthew 25: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

In Matthew’s gospel, the teachings of JC are collected and arranged in groups, often thematically. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is in a section all about the judgement of God; it is part of the ‘Olivet Discourse’, the teachings JC is said to have given on the Mount of Olives. JC had been asked by his followers about the end of time and the signs they should look for. 

Jesus speaks about the time when the ‘Son of Man’ will come and separate people according to the deeds they committed in their lives. ‘All the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goat. Then ‘the King’ promises the sheep: ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ JC goes on to describe all the good deeds the sheep supposedly acted out for Him, although upon protesting that they never did that, he exclaims: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ To the goats ‘who are cursed’, JC orders that they will go to ‘the eternal fire prepared for the devil… Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’

  • Jesus refers to the ‘Son of Man’ impersonally: was he speaking about himself, or did he not understand himself to be the messiah?
  • It is a sharp division; there is no middle ground. The ‘sheep’ are moral people, they have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick and visited those in prison. In spite of this there is no mention of belief, which sparks the debate over whether you need to believe in God to be ‘granted your inheritance’, or do you just have to be a good person?
    • A Christian would argue that the sheep behave the way they do because they are Christians; they are displaying the characteristics of Christian love associated with having been given the Holy Spirit. Faith is therefore seen as inextricably linked with ‘good works’
  • The ‘goats’ face harsh eternal punishment. However, they have not actively done bad, only failed to take the opportunity to do good. The parable outlines the importance of taking every opportunity to help those in need; in ignoring this responsibility, we are ignoring Christ.

Christian views on the afterlife differ by denomination.

  1. To what extent can belief in the existence of purgatory be justified?
  2. “Heaven is not a place but a state of mind.” Discuss.
  3. “Without the reward of Heaven Christians would not behave well.” Discuss
  4. To what extent is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 only about Heaven and Hell?
  5. Assess the view that there is no last judgement; each person is judged by God at the moment of their death.
  6. “Purgatory is the most important Christian teaching about the afterlife.” Discuss.

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