The Afterlife: What's Heaven Like?
By Col. Scott McChrystal, Battle Ready Ministries Board Advisor
All humans share two experiences—birth and death. Birth is eagerly anticipated and usually celebrated. Conversely, death is dreaded and talked about very little. But that’s as far as the similarities usually go.
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But for Christians, it’s fair to ask if death is always the villain. Should our outlook on death be limited to grief and despair?
Let’s get this one concept out of the way up front: Yes, the Apostle Paul does describe death as the believer’s final enemy in 1 Corinthians 15:26. But he’s addressing a much larger concept than the physical cessation of a heartbeat. Paul was referencing everything that is bound up with this fallen world’s decay and destruction. The whole point of Paul’s message to the Corinthian Christians was that the follower of Christ transitions through death into a truly glorious eternal future in God’s presence. Everything I share below is referencing death as that anticipated point of passage.
As I write, Judy and I are in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. We’re headed to support dear friends who have just lost their son, Steven. We’ve known the family for many years and want to be there for them during this time of loss. The funeral will be a celebration of Steven’s life, and family and friends will be recalling many positive memories about him.
Somehow, though, this doesn’t seem like this should be the best we can do to help bring comfort to family, friends, and ourselves. There must be more. Is death our enemy, or can the Bible show us reasons to see death as our friend?
Prior to his martyrdom, the Apostle Paul stated emphatically that he did not fear death — in fact, he welcomed it. Here are two verses that support Paul’s view about death.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, NIV).
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
As a follower of Jesus, Paul wasn’t afraid of death’s sting because he was more than a conqueror. In addition, he knew that his life with Christ in heaven would far surpass life on this earth.
If you know God’s Word is both true and authoritative, doesn’t Paul’s outlook on death brighten your perspective?
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But there’s much more in Scripture to support that death is not our enemy, but rather a friend. Please don’t misunderstand and think I’m saying the death of a loved one is not painful or that we shouldn’t do everything we can to minister comfort to those affected. At such an emotional time for loved ones, trying to bring comfort by appealing to logic simply doesn’t work.
But as time passes, biblical truth can bring healing and perspective. The Bible lays out many truths about the afterlife that paint a much different picture from the way death is normally viewed. The following four truths from Scripture represent only a fraction of the material that supports a view that sees death as a friend.
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First, death involves moving into the unknown, much like suddenly driving a car into fog. But as Christians we can know some things. When death occurs, Jesus will stand in the gap between this life and the unknown. He’ll not only be present with us, but will be our Light. We’ll walk in His light, not in darkness, once we die. Jesus tells us in His own words:
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, NIV).
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Second, while those who don’t know Jesus can feel very alone as death approaches, Christians can look forward to a wonderful reunion with their Lord and with fellow believers from throughout the ages. Not only will you see present loved ones again, but you’ll have opportunity to meet the saints of old. Loneliness will not be an issue.
“I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9,10).
Third, while final days and even final years in this life may bring pain and suffering, death ends this suffering. The Bible clearly tells us there will be no more tears, pain, or suffering in Heaven.
“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
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Fourth, many believers dread the loss of enjoyable activities in this life, especially meaningful work. I don’t think this is an accurate perception of what Heaven will be like. Do you remember the Parable of the Talents? The faithful workers who had put the master’s money to work had made a nice profit for him. His response to them was ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this added responsibility will occur in Heaven, and not just in this life. Remember that God’s plan all along is to restore mankind back into the relationship He had with Adam and Eve before the Fall. He put Adam and Eve to work in the Garden doing many important tasks. In eternity, I believe the Lord will assign numerous wonderful and meaningful tasks for us to do. I don’t think our time throughout eternity will be spent sitting on a cloud strumming on a harp.
In closing, the Lord doesn’t want us to be anxious or afraid about what happens after we die. For Christians, there’s nothing but good news. Jesus calmed the hearts of His disciples when asked about where He was going following his death.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).
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Friend, we don’t know many of the details about what Heaven will be like. But that’s no reason to assume that our time on earth will be superior to spending eternity with Jesus in Heaven. Not a chance! We serve an awesome God, and what He has planned for us undoubtedly exceeds what we think or imagine.
Unless Jesus comes back while you’re still living, you will experience death. Scripture encourages us to realize that Jesus has conquered death. It’s no longer our enemy, but a pathway to eternal life. If you know Jesus as your personal Savior, death is now your friend. I like the way Leonard Ravenhill stated it: “This life is a dressing room for all eternity — that’s all it is!”
Chaplain (Col.) Scott McChrystal, Ret.
Chaplain (Col.) Scott McChrystal was commissioned in 1970 and served 31 years on active duty, 10 as an infantry officer and the remainder as a United States Army chaplain. His line officer experience included a tour in Vietnam as an Infantry Platoon Leader and three assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
His final assignment was as the senior chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
He retired from active duty in 2005 and served as the Military/VA Representative and Endorser within the Chaplaincy Department for the General Council of the Assemblies of God from 2005-2019.
His decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Award, the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, and the Army Ranger Tab. His education includes a Master of Business Administration Degree, a Master of Divinity Degree, a Doctor of Ministry Degree, and graduation from The United States Army War College.
In recent years, he and his wife have written several Christian devotionals. In addition, Scott co-authored a Christian action-novel and served as the managing editor for the The Warrior’s Bible, an application Bible for the military community.
He presently serves as the Executive Liaison for The Warrior’s Journey, a non-profit organization that supports the military community.
He’s also a member of the Distinguished Advisory Board for Battle Ready Ministries. He and his wife, Judy, live in Springfield, Missouri, and have 4 children and 12 grandchildren.
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