The belief in life after death, though with variations and contradicting conceptions, including reincarnation, is common among most theistic religions.
Even some generally non-theistic religions like Buddhism also tend to believe in life after death but without reference to God. It was the Sadducees that were distinctively known to believe in God, but not in life after death.
But the Christian concept of life after death is quite unique. It is based on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by which death is destroyed and man is launched into a new realm of life. The death and the new life that follows it are not only physical but also spiritual. In fact, they begin from spiritual to physical. Right before the physical death and the life that follows it, spiritual death and resurrection are required.
As Christ died for our sins, so, in His death, we die to sins and in His Resurrection, we live to righteousness. Other religions conceive of life after death only as “life hereafter,” but Christians also conceive and experience it as “life here and now.”
When Martha, in John11, approached Jesus with a heavy heart over the loss of her brother, Lazarus, she, as a Jewess, believed in the certainty of the ultimate resurrection of the dead (11:24). But that did not assuage her immediate grief. Jesus then confronted her with the tremendous fact that He (Himself) is the resurrection and the life (11:25).
Jesus made it known that resurrection is not merely a distant prospect, but a present reality in Him (Jesus). He is not only life but also conveys life such that death will never triumph over those who believe.
Believing in Jesus Christ is the sure way to life after death. He who believes in Him will live, even though he dies.
To believe in Jesus Christ means to die with Him, by embracing His life. Therefore, the present life of a Christian is actually life after death. It is a life unto righteousness after death to sin. His old life is the life before death while his new life is life after death. But unfortunately, this seems not to be the case. Many Christians are obviously much alive to sin (the old life before death).
Christians experience two types of life after death. One is here and now, while the other is spiritual, hereafter. But both are based on and powered by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also, one determines the other. It is the life here and now that determines the life hereafter.
The concept of life after death shows that death is rather a way to life than an end to it. This gives hope and at the same time calls for caution.
• The Venerable (Dr.) Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba, FIMC, CMC, is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State. https://ibrucentre.org