Jewish funerals have interesting traditions. Loved ones put soil on the casket after it is lowered into the ground, putting closure on the reality before us.
During the seven days after the funeral we sit shiva as friends visit with us to help us remember what our loved one meant to us. We light the yahrtzrit candle. We say the mourners kaddish, although it is not mournful; in reality it is a praise to the giver of life.
With all our ceremonies it is still often wondered, what happens to our loved ones after they have died? Is there life after death? Can our deceased loved ones see us? Can we communicate with them? Is there a real place called heaven? If heaven does exist, where is it located and what is it like? Does everyone get to go there? How do you get there? Will it be boring? Will my friends be there? People throughout the world are asking these same questions. You may have asked them, too. We can find the answers in God’s Holy Word.
In the beginning when God created Adam and Eve he placed them in the most beautiful place that ever existed. It was called Gan Eden in Hebrew or Garden of Eden in English. They had every joy they could possibly imagine. Every animal was their friend. There was a perfect environment with nothing to mar their happiness. There was no death; there was no pain. And according to the Scripture record, they had face-to-face conversation with God every day. What could be better than that?
God wanted them to enjoy it forever, but God’s original plan has been interrupted. Not destroyed, mind you, just interrupted. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were promised a land flowing with milk and honey, but they never actually possessed it in their lifetimes. Moses never stepped into the land of Israel. Even at the peak of Israel’s glory, during the reign of King Solomon, Israel’s beauty did not compare with the beauty of Eden. God desires much more for us than this present world could ever offer to us. God will restore to us the beauties of the Garden of Eden and the interruption that sin has caused will be forever in the past.
1. How did the Jewish prophet Isaiah describe God’s future home for us?
And none who lives there shall say, “I am sick”; it shall be inhabited by folk whose sin has been forgiven... For the nation or the kingdom...that does not serve you shall perish; such nations shall be destroyed...And you shall know that I the LORD am your Savior, I, The Mighty One of Jacob, am your Redeemer.
I will appoint Well-being as your government, Prosperity as your officials. The cry “Violence!” shall no more be heard...
For the LORD shall be a light to you forever, and your days of mourning shall be ended. And your people, all of them righteous, shall possess the land for all time. Isaiah 33:24; 60:12, 16-21
No sickness, no violence. The only neighbors we will have will be people who have been forgiven. They will be righteous people who know the Lord as their Savior and Redeemer. God promises us prosperity and well-being. It sounds like a great place to me, how about you?
2. When will we get to experience this magnificent place?
Strengthen the hands that are slack; Make firm the tottering knees! Say to the anxious of heart, “Be strong, fear not; behold your God! Requital is coming, the recompense of God—He Himself is coming to give you triumph.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shall shout aloud...And a highway shall appear there, which shall be called the Sacred Way. No one unclean shall pass along it...But the redeemed shall walk it; and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come with shouting to Zion, crowned with joy everlasting. They shall attain joy and gladness, while sorrow and sighing flee. Isaiah 35:3-10
Our requital or redemption is coming; it is coming when Messiah Himself comes again. He came the first time to be Immanuel – God with us, and to die for us as the sacrificial lamb of Passover and of the Sanctuary. The next time He comes He will take us to heaven with Him.
3. If heaven is not until the Messiah comes again, then what has happened to all those who have died already, such as Moses, King David and King Solomon, and our relatives?
…the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, you shall sleep with your fathers. David slept with his fathers, and he was buried in the City of David ... Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of his father. Deut. 31:16; 1 King 2:10; 11:43
The Jewish Bible, the Tanach, describes death as being asleep. Being in a state of rest or sleep when we die is mentioned over 50 times in the Jewish Bible, the Tanach.
4. How did King David himself describe the state he would be in at death?
Look at me, answer me, O LORD, my God! Restore the luster to my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.Psalm 13:4
In society we use this analogy in many different ways. We say: “may he rest in peace,” or “he is at rest,” or “we had to put our pet to sleep.”
5. According to King Solomon, the author of the book of Ecclesiastes, how much do the deceased know or do, and until when do the deceased remain in this condition of sleep?
Whatever it is in your power to do, do with all your might. For there is no action, no reasoning, no learning, no wisdom in Sheol, where you are going.... since the living know they will die. But the dead know nothing...Their loves, their hates, their jealousies have long since perished; and they have no more share till the end of time in all that goes on under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:10, 5, 6
King Solomon is very clear; there is a time when they will wake up, but until then he says: “the dead know nothing.” Just like when we are sleeping, we don’t know if it is raining outside or if our cat came into the room. The Bible is very clear. The deceased are not doing any actions, they are not learning, they are not reasoning. They are sleeping. They are not watching us or suffering with us as we go through our trials and heartaches. They are resting in peace. Imagine how hard it would be for Adam and Eve if they had to see all the suffering their rebellion has caused. They, too, are resting in peace until the end of time for this earth.
6. At the end of that time, what is it that will awaken the dead from their sleep of death?
Mortals languish and die; man expires; where is he? ...he will awake only when the heavens are no more, Only then be aroused from his sleep...
“At that time, the great prince…will appear. It will be a time of trouble, the like of which has never been since the nation came into being. At that time, your people will be rescued, all who are found inscribed in the book. Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence. And the knowledgeable will be radiant like the bright expanse of sky, and those who lead the many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever. Job 14:10-12; Daniel 12:1-3
The Scriptures teach us that there is an awakening day, a day when our loved ones will be aroused from their peaceful nap and raised to eternal life! It is when Messiah, our Great Prince, the Prince of Peace, appears a second time. He will rescue us, all of us whose names have been inscribed in God’s book of life, and He will take us to heaven with Him. Just before the Messiah returns there will be a time of trouble such as has never been seen before, but God will rescue us.
7. Until that awakening day God strictly warns us not to try to communicate with the deceased.
Let no one be found among you... who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead. For anyone who does such things is abhorrent to the LORD... Now, should people say to you, “Inquire of the ghosts and familiar spirits that chirp and moan; ...of the dead on behalf of the living—for instruction and message,” surely, for one who speaks thus there shall be no dawn... Distress and darkness, with no daybreak; Straitness and gloom, with no dawn. Deuteronomy 18:10-13; Isaiah 8:19-22
The Bible is plain; our deceased loved ones are sleeping and do not know anything. The Bible strongly warns us not to try to communicate with the dead. Satan uses communication with the dead as a way to deceive people. He took the form of a serpent when deceiving Eve. He can take different forms now, even that of someone who has died.
8. Who will have the privilege of living forever, and who will not?
For evil men will be cut off, but those who look to the LORD—they shall inherit the land... The righteous shall inherit the land, and abide forever in it. Psalm 37:29; Isa. 33:24
Heaven is only for those who choose God and choose to follow God’s ways. Those whom the Holy Scriptures refer to as righteous are those who lived up to all the knowledge of God that they had the opportunity to know. God winks at the ignorance of those who died before having the opportunity of knowing the truth about the Messiah’s dying for their sins. Thus we might have deceased loved ones who did not know about the Messiah, yet there is a place reserved for them in heaven because they lived up to the truth that they had revealed to them. You and I are very privileged to have this wonderful opportunity of knowing more about our loving God, His empowering Spirit, and our forgiving Messiah.
The people whom God refers to as evil are those who resisted and continually rejected the truths that God had presented to them. They will be “cut off.”
9. How will God cut off those who continually refuse to accept the Messiah’s death for the forgiveness of their sins and refuse to allow God’s Spirit to give them the power to follow God’s ways?
…the LORD is coming with fire...For with fire will the LORD contend...many shall be the slain of the LORD. Those...eating the flesh of the swine, the reptile, and the mouse, shall one and all come to an end—declares the LORD. Isaiah 66:15-17
When the Messiah comes again to awaken those who have died trusting in God, He will take us with them to heaven. At that same time He will come with fire to destroy those who have chosen to follow Satan’s ways. This is how He rescues us from the time of trouble mentioned in question 6.
10. If we are taken to Heaven and the wicked are cut off with fire, what happens to the earth?
“I looked at the earth, it is unformed and void, at the skies, and their light is gone... I look: no man is left... all the towns are in ruin – because of the Lord, because of His blazing anger.” “In that day, the earth shall be strewn with the slain of the Lord from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be mourned, or gathered and buried; they shall be dung upon the face of the earth.” Jeremiah 4:23-26; 25:33
When the Lord comes to rescue us out of the time of trouble He will come in His blazing anger and destroy the wicked. They will not be buried or gathered because there will be no one left to bury them. The wicked will all be dead and the righteous will have been taken to heaven at that same time. Their will be no one left, as the prophet wrote “I look: no man is left.” The earth will then experience a Sabbatical rest.
11. What will be the end result to those who refuse God’s love and mercy?
And you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him who has served the LORD and him who has not served Him. For lo! That day is at hand, burning like an oven. All the arrogant and all the doers of evil shall be straw, and the day that is coming—said the LORD of Hosts—shall burn them to ashes...
“But for you who revere My name a sun of victory shall rise to bring healing.
...the wicked...shall be dust beneath your feet on the day that I am preparing—said the LORD of Hosts... they shall sleep an endless sleep, never to awaken—declares the King whose name is Lord of Host...”
“You may seek, but shall not find those who struggle with you; less than nothing shall be the men who battle against you.”
Malachi 3:18; Malachi 4:1-3; Jeremiah 51:57; Isaiah 41:12
Very descriptive words. A day is coming when the wicked shall be burned to ashes on the ground. They shall sleep an endless sleep. They shall be less than nothing.
God is very merciful even to those who reject His love. He does not torment them forever and ever because of the sins that they committed in their relatively short lives here on earth. God has no desire to keep alive and in pain those who have chosen not to follow Him. God told Adam that disobedience would cause death, not life in a fire. It was Satan who lied and said they would not die. Satan is still using that lie today, insinuating that there is no end to the wicked. That lie paints a very distorted picture of God. That lie makes God out to be a monster, tormenting His created beings for millions of years because of 70 or so years of refusing His love. The Bible does not support that lie. The Scriptures say those who refuse God’s love will sleep an endless sleep. They will die an endless death. They would not be happy in heaven where there is love, forgiveness, and righteousness since they have chosen to hold on to sin and have refused love, forgiveness, and righteousness. Thus, in mercy to them God destroys them, just as we would do to our beloved pet if it came down with rabies. The fire God uses is hotter than many people think. Some think it is hot enough to torment but not hot enough to destroy. But the Scriptures say that the fire of God is so hot it burns them to ashes; it is so hot it cannot be quenched until there is nothing left to burn. That fire cleanses this earth of sin and sinners. Y’shua repeated this thought when He said “fear not him who can destroy the body, but rather fear Him who will destroy both soul and body in hell.” ---- Satan may be able to destroy our bodies but he cannot touch our soul. Only God can and will, quickly and completely, destroy both the souls and bodies of those who refuse His love.
12. What about Satan? What happens to him?
By the greatness of your guilt, through the dishonesty of your trading, you desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire issue from you, and it has devoured you; I have reduced you to ashes on the ground, in the sight of all who behold you. All who knew you among the peoples are appalled at your doom. You have become a horror and have ceased to be forever....
Like the rest of the wicked, the scriptures here say he will be burned to ashes and then cease to be. Satan is not in charge of hell. He will be destroyed, reduced to ashes. He will never more cause problems to God or His people. Praise the Lord, Hallelujah!
13. What are God’s feelings toward those who are rejecting Him?
For it is not My desire that anyone shall die—declares the Lord God. Repent, therefore, and live!Ezekiel 18:32
God’s love for His creatures is an everlasting love. He does not desire that any of us should die. That is why He sent His Messiah to die for us so that we could repent and live forever.
14. What does God do with this earth after all the wicked have been reduced to ashes upon it?
For behold! I am creating a new heaven and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered, they shall never come to mind. Isaiah. 65: 17
Out of the ashes God will create a new heaven and a new earth. After the earth has received its Sabbatical rest and has been cleansed by the fire God will bring us to this earth made new for us to inhabit. It will be the Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden all over again. This time we will not make the same mistake as last time.
15. What are some of the things we will delight in doing in this beautiful new earth?
For as the new heaven and the new earth which I will make shall endure by My will—declares the LORD—so shall your seed and your name endure...and sabbath after sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship Me said the LORD...
Never again shall be heard there the sounds of weeping and wailing...
They shall build houses and dwell in them they shall plant vineyards and enjoy their fruit. They shall not build for others to dwell in, or plant for others to enjoy...
The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox...
In all of My sacred mount nothing evil or vile shall be done; for the land shall be filled with devotion to the LORD as water covers the sea. Isaiah 66:22-23; 65:19-25; 11:6-9
We will be active in the new earth. We will be going up to worship God Sabbath by Sabbath. We will be building houses and planting gardens. It will be beautiful. We will get to travel all around the earth and we will not need a passport or a plane ticket. The animals will not be afraid of us and we will not have to fear them. We will get to enjoy all of God’s creation. We will be continually learning more about God’s creation and His love for us. It will be absolutely wonderful.
There is no sin worth holding on to, to cause you to miss out on the glorious place God has in store.
16. Will you and I be happy living there?
Better one day in Your courts than a thousand [anywhere else]...In Your presence is perfect joy; delights are ever in Your right hand. Psalm 84:11; 16:11
Perfect joy in God’s presence, that is what it is all about. The beautiful homes, the wonderful foods, the enjoyment of animals, the freedom from all fear, and the absence of tears, death, distrust, jealousy, and sickness are all wonderful things that we should look forward to, but the best part of Heaven will be living in God’s presence. God will call your name with His beautiful voice. He will take hold of your hand and walk you through His gardens. You will smell the fragrant flowers all in bloom. He will walk you to the tree of life and pull off one of its delicious fruits and hand it to you. It will taste better than anything you have ever eaten. He will look you in the eye and tell you how much He loves you. It will be perfect joy. Do you want to experience this gift God has in store for you?
There is nothing more important than living for God now. No matter what problems we go through in our daily lives on this old earth, there will be no difficulty or temptation that, in His strength and power, we cannot overcome. If we make God’s honor supreme in our lives, when we get to heaven we will say, “It was worth it all.”
You can start enjoying the peace and joy of heaven right now by inviting God to remove from your heart all desires and attitudes that are contrary to His character. Just ask Him to fill you with His love each day. Is there anything on this earth worth trading for the happiness of heaven? Why not tell God right now how much you love and appreciate Him. Surrender to Him any thoughts, attitudes, desires that are not heavenly. Accept the Messiah as your Savior right now. Invite Him into your heart and life. The joys of Heaven are awaiting you and I know you are eager to receive them.
This lesson is adapted from "Jewish Discoveries," by Jeff Zaremsky. The book "Jewish Discoveries" covers these and many more interesting lessons such as "The Ultimate Passover," "The Ultimate Yom Kippur," "The Most Famous Jewish Person," "Queen Esther," plus topics on last day events that reveal the anti-Messiah and the mark of the beast. In addition to those exciting topics there are 25 Jewish tradition sections covering topics such as "Chanukah," "mezuzahs," "kosher," "talits, "the star of David," and many more. Plus 29 personal modern true heart warming stories. Plus over 40 full color professionally rendered works of art. To get your copy of all 22 Jewish Heritage lessons, 25 Jewish tradition sections, 29 personal testimonies all in 368 jam packed pages complete the review sheet and click on "Jewish Discoveries" book.