“BUT MAN DIETH, AND WASTETH AWAY: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” (Job 14:10). Thoughtful people who are aware of the constant stream of funerals and obituaries realize that their time on earth is limited. They also pause to consider whether they have any hope of living beyond the short time span of this life. Others may try to ignore death and live as if it will never come. Of course, ignoring something will never change reality, but will merely avoid the pain of thinking about it. At one time or another the majority of the living ponder the question, “What happens after death?” Their theories fall under several headings:
We cease to exist. This is sometimes called “annihilation.” “When you are dead, you are dead.”
One comes back to earth as a different form of life or in the body of another person. Presumably this would require supernatural power of some kind.
3. Spirit Communication.
The dead live in a mysterious spirit world and may seek to maintain contact with those still living on earth.
4. Impossible to Know.
Our state after death is beyond human knowledge. It is questionable whether there is life after death or not. We must wait and see, trusting in either fate or our good life if there is an afterlife.
None of these theories properly can be made to fit the teachings of the Bible. The Bible presents those who have died as being conscious and aware, in one of two places: in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:8) in a state of blessedness (Revelation 14:13), or separated from God in a place of great torment (Revelation 20:10, 15).
Resurrection from the Dead
The very word “resurrection” means a “standing” or “rising up.” The Lord Jesus answered those in His day who denied the resurrection by pointing out that God’s name was attached to great men who had long been deceased. “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:37-38). Proclaiming the resurrection was foundational to apostolic preaching (Acts 1:22; Acts 4:2; Acts 17:18; Acts 23:6). The Apostle Paul said there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:4-8) and that if it were not true their faith was a vain thing (15:12-17). The striking truth of Scripture, however, is that there are two classes in the resurrection, carefully divided from one another.
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to
everlasting life, and some to shame and
everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
“All … shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the
resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the
resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).
“There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15b).
Two eventualities face men when the judgment by God is considered.
Eternal judgment Is one dread possibility (Hebrews 6:2; 9:27). The other is
eternal life (John 3:16) and thereby freedom from that judgment of condemnation (John 5:24; Romans 8:1).
The Length of Eternity
It is strange that words in the Bible like “eternity,” “everlasting,” “forever and ever” should be taught to have a limitation. Yet some have gone back to the original languages of Scripture and sought to prove these expressions mean merely an extended or indefinite period. The uses of these words in Scripture make clear that there is no limit on the duration of eternity, even if translated “unto the ages of the ages.”
The following verses make clear that the meanings of “eternal” or “everlasting” are the same in their various usages.
1. As Applied to God.
“The everlasting God” (Romans 16:26), “the eternal Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14), “His eternal glory” (1 Peter 5:10), “power everlasting” (1 Timothy 6:16), “everlasting kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11).
2. As Applied to the Believer’s Future.
“Eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12), “eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9), “everlasting life” (John 3:16, 36), “life everlasting” (Luke 18:30), “eternal life” (John 3:15).
3. As Applied to the Unbeliever’s Future.
“Everlasting fire” (Matthew 18:8), “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), “eternal fire” (Jude7).
The same comparisons exist when the phrase “forever and ever” is used. It is used of God and His throne (Revelation 4:9-10; 10:6; 15:7), of the believer’s future reign with the Lord (Revelation 22:5), of endless torment (Revelation 14:11; Revelation 20:10).
Certain words have been presumed to mean annihilation, such as “destruction,” “perish” and “consume.” Yet it is plain the devil was destroyed (Hebrews 2:14) but not annihilated (Revelation 20:10). Believers may be consumed by the talk of others but not annihilated thereby (Galatians 5:15). The wastrel son felt he was perishing, yet he did not cease to exist as a person (Luke 15:17). The lot of the unsaved is everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9). That the destruction is everlasting indicates that it does not involve a cessation of existence. There is loss of well-being (feeling well) but not loss of being (existence).
The Condition of the Lost
1. As Described by Jesus
The Lord Jesus told a story called The Rich Man in Hell, which some describe as a parable (Luke 16:19-31). Yet it is not called a parable in the Bible. However, even if it were a parable, the use of figurative language would not nullify the truth that is taught in this passage. The Savior sought to teach something in this story and we would do well to ponder the lessons:
a. There was no cessation of existence after death.
b. There was no unconsciousness or sleep of their souls.
c. There was no salvation of all men.
d. There was no second chance offered.
e. There was no reincarnation or coming back to earth.
f. There was no end of torment or hope of change for the unsaved man.
g. There was no purpose of purification, only of eternal punishment.
2. As Further Taught by Jesus
The terrifying descriptions listed below were all given by the One who loved with the greatest of all loves and gave Himself to save men. He simply described the truth about those who leave this world neglecting or refusing Him.
a. Fire that is unquenchable (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 18:8; Mark 9:44, 48)
b. Torment forever (Revelation 14:11)
c. Outer darkness (Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30)
d. Wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42, 50; Matthew 24:51; Luke 13:28)
e. Lake of fire (Revelation 20:15)
Objections to Teaching of Eternal Punishment
There are several objections to this unpopular doctrine.
1. It is Incompatible With the Love of God.
“As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye … from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” (Ezekiel 33:11). The Lord Jesus beheld a city which had rejected Him and wept over it (Luke 19:41). He is indeed a loving God, but He cannot righteously clear the guilty who reject His salvation (Numbers 14:18).
2. Appealing to Fear is Not a Good Motive.
It may be true that love of God or desire for the best are better motives, yet fear of serious consequences is a common preventative for misconduct or injury even in everyday living. The Lord Jesus plainly appealed to the fear of God and His coming judgment (Matthew 10:28). Fearing God is said to be the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Throughout the Scriptures men are exhorted, in the proper sense, to fear God (1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 14:7; Revelation 15:4).
3. It is Unfair of God to Be So Severe.
Men who have been offered a way of escape by a God who loves them and who have responded by refusal, evasion and procrastination, need not be surprised when they receive certain justice from an outraged holiness. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man so weth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians
. Insulting the infinite love and patience of an infinite God demands an infinite retribution.
The Condition of the Redeemed
The final state of the righteous is in vivid contrast to the above. “In thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). The believer looks “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). This place is better than anything of which the world has any knowledge. The eternal state and abode of the believer is further described below:
1. It is With Christ.
“I go and prepare a place for you … that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3; cf. John 17:24). To be absent from the body is to “be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
2. It is in a Changed Body.
It will be like His body (Philippians 3:21) and therefore incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:35-44). We will be recognizable as was the Lord (Matthew 28:9, 17; Luke 24:31, 39-40). The resurrection of the body for those in Christ will take place at the Second Coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
3. It is in a Place of “No Mores.”
There is no more death, sorrow, crying, pain and all that makes life difficult and unhappy (Revelation 21:4).
4. It is in a Place of Infinite Beauty.
“The city was pure gold, like unto clear glass” (Revelation 21:18-21). It is adorned with all manner of precious stones.
5. It is in a Place Where Nothing Unholy or Defiling Enters (Revelation 21:27).
The place of the redeemed is sometimes termed the “New Jerusalem.” We call it Heaven. The Jewish believer called it “Paradise” or “Abraham’s Bosom” before Jesus came and died. By whatever term, it should be the subject of yearning for every believer. As Paul said, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). How wonderful it was when the Lord Jesus said to the thief on the cross who repented of his sins and believed on Him, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Will you be there with Him?
Study Guide Considering Eternity
“If a man die, shall he live again?” This question, posed by one of the ancients, is still of great importance today. What happens after death?
1. The Bible presents those who have died as being conscious and aware in one of two places. What are they (2 Corinthians 5:8; Revelation 20:10, 15)?
2. The Bible further indicates that all who die will be resurrected (raised up) from the dead. Describe the two different destinies of mankind (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15b).
3. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) the following verses: John 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.
4. How long is eternity? Can you think of an illustration to describe it?
5. Jesus told about a man who went to hell (Luke 16:19-31). According to this passage, which of the following is true (select one)?
a. A person simply ceases to be when he dies.
b. A dead person experiences a state of unconsciousness or “soul sleep.”
c. Hell is a place of conscious, never-ending torment.
d. All men will be saved.
e. If a person goes to hell, he will get a second chance.
6. Which of the following did Jesus not use to describe hell (select one)?
a. Fire that is unquenchable
b. Torment forever
c. Outer darkness
d. Wailing and gnashing of teeth
e. A place of temporary purification
f. Lake of fire
7. How would you answer the following objections?
a. The doctrine of hell is incompatible with the love of God.
b. This teaching appeals to fear.
c. It is unfair of God to be so severe.
8. The Bible describes the future of the believer in heaven as (select one):
a. Being with Christ forever.
b. Existence in a changed body.
c. Being free from sorrow and pain.
d. Being in a place where nothing unholy enters.
e. All of the above.
f. A and C above.
What do you say? Have you ever come to the place in your own spiritual experience where you knew for certain that if you were to die tonight, you would go to heaven? Explain.
What do others say? Contact at least three people this week and ask them the following questions. You may wish to say something like the following:
“I’m involved in a Bible Survey here in (name city). Could you help me by sharing your opinion on three important questions? (1) In your opinion, what happens to a person when he dies? (2) What do the expressions “heaven” and “hell” mean to you? (3) If you could ask any question about the afterlife and get an absolutely reliable answer, what would you ask? Thank you so much for your help. Would you like for me to mail/e-mail a copy of the survey results? Thank you.”
Record their names and addresses on the 3x5 cards provided by the class leader. Record the answers on the back, indicating if the survey results are desired. Then return the cards next class meeting. Results of the survey will be tabulated by the class leader and mailed to each person indicating an interest.