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Article Info:
published: 3/31/13
updated: 2/27/14

Christian Beliefs about the Afterlife



Life After Death in Christianity

crown and cross

In Christianity, beliefs about the afterlife vary slightly between Christian denominations and individual believers, but the vast majority of Christians believe heaven is a place where believers go upon dying in order to enjoy the presence of God as well as other believers.

In heaven, people are also freed from sin and all its various manifestation, like suffering and pain. The Bible teaches that heaven is an actual place (e.g. John 14:1-6). Life there will have some continuity with life in the present world (e.g. people will have bodies like they do now); yet in other ways, heaven will be different than this present life (e.g. people will have "new" bodies, cf. 1 Cor. 15:35-49).

Many Christians also believe that the Bible teaches the existence of hell as a place of judgment and punishment (e.g. 2 Pet. 2:4). In several New Testament passages, the description of hell includes fire (e.g. Mark 9:43, James 3:6). Some Christians interpret the imagery of fire literally and believe people will experience the sensation of burning forever. Other Christians believe the fire imagery is a symbolic way of communicating severe punishment. And although a minority view, still other Christians believe the description of fire is literal, but that the punishment people experience is temporary, like an object that is eventually destroyed by flames.


Christian denominations on heaven and hell

Roman Catholics believe in purgatory, which is a temporary place of punishment for Christians who have died with unconfessed sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (#1030). (See Catholic Catechisms index page)

For more specific Christian views about the afterlife, the following are doctrinal statements from several different Christian denominations and organizations on the afterlife. Click on the linked title for the source of the quote.

Assemblies of God:

The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the church. The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints to reign on earth for one thousand years. This millennial reign will bring the salvation of national Israel, and the establishment of universal peace. There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.

Christianity Today Magazine:

At the end of the age, the bodies of the dead shall be raised. The righteous shall enter into full possession of eternal bliss in the presence of God, and the wicked shall be condemned to eternal death.

Evangelical Free Church of America:

We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead; of the believer to everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord; of the unbeliever to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment.

Friends United Meeting (Quaker):

We believe, according to the Scriptures, that there shall be a resurrection from the dead, both of the just and of the unjust, (Acts 24:15) and that God hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by Jesus Christ whom He hath ordained. (Acts 17:31) For, as saith the apostle, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10). We sincerely believe, not only a resurrection in Christ from the fallen and sinful state here, but a rising and ascending into glory with Him hereafter; that when He at last appears we may appear with Him in glory. But that all the wicked, who live in rebellion against the light of grace, and die finally impenitent, shall come forth to the resurrection of condemnation. And that the soul of every man and woman shall be reserved, in its own distinct and proper being, and shall have its proper body as God is pleased to give it. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body; (1 Cor 15:44) that being first which is natural and afterward that which is spiritual.

... We believe that the punishment of the wicked and the blessedness of the righteousness shall be everlasting, according to the declaration of our compassionate Redeemer, to whom the judgment is committed, "These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (RV, Matt 25:46)

Lutheran Church (Augsburg Confession, 1530):

Also they [Lutheran churches] teach that at the Consummation of the World Christ will appear for judgment, and will raise up all the dead; He will give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He will condemn to be tormented without end. They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils. They condemn also others who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed.

Mennonite Church in the USA:

We believe that, just as God raised Jesus from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead. At Christ's glorious coming again for judgment, the dead will come out of their graves"--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." The righteous will rise to eternal life with God, and the unrighteous to hell and separation from God. Thus, God will bring justice to the persecuted and will confirm the victory over sin, evil, and death itself.

We look forward to the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, and a new Jerusalem, where the people of God will no longer hunger, thirst, or cry, but will sing praises: "To the One seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen!

Presbyterian Church in the USA:

If there is a Presbyterian narrative about life after death, this is it: When you die, your soul goes to be with God, where it enjoys God's glory and waits for the final judgment. At the final judgment bodies are reunited with souls, and eternal rewards and punishments are handed out. As the Scots Confession notes, final judgment is also "the time of refreshing and restitution of all things."And it is clearly the case that both the Scots Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith want to orient the present-day life of believers around this future. But the Bible spends more time focusing on new life here than on life after death. So do all our more recent confessions. Although the Confession of 1967 mentions life after death, it does so only briefly. Its focus is on new life now and on the church's ministry of reconciliation.

Southern Baptist Convention:

God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

United Church of Christ:

God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace,the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.

United Methodist Church (on purgatory):

The Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshiping, and adoration, as well of images as of relics, and also invocation of saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warrant of Scripture, but repugnant to the Word of God.

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