None of us seems to find enough time to accomplish all we would like to in this life. Do unrealized potentials die with US? Or are there future opportunities — somewhere beyond death? The answer may surprise you!
WHEN Albert Einstein died in April 1955 at the age of 76, a heated race came to an abrupt end; Einstein lost. In his later years, the famed physicist worked feverishly to synthesize a revolutionary new theory. "I cannot tear myself away from my work," Einstein wrote. "It has me inexorably in its clutches." It was a race against time — and time won. A photograph of Einstein's study in Princeton, New Jersey, taken shortly after his death, shows a blackboard full of equations, a desk overstrewn with reams of paper — and an empty chair. The unfinished business is all too apparent. "It seemed that the difference between life and death for Einstein consisted only in the difference between being able and not being able to do physics," a fellow physicist had once written. Will Einstein ever again have the opportunity to "do physics"? Time and tide wait for no man, observes an English proverb. For most, time moves too quickly. We simply cannot find enough time to accomplish all that we would like to accomplish in our lives. As we grow older, time seems to fly by at an even faster rate. Then, inevitably, comes the "end." Authors die leaving uncompleted books; composers die leaving unfinished symphonies; scientists die leaving uncompleted experiments; businessmen die leaving half-built corporations; parents die leaving growing children or grandchildren. It happens every day.
The Grim Reaper
We are all familiar with the proverbial story of the skull-faced, scythewielding "Grim Reaper" — the personification of death. His human victim invariably tries to argue the Reaper out of taking his life, but to no avail. "But I have a wife and children," the doomed man pleads. Or, "But things are finally beginning to go right for me; I can't die now!" Or, "I'm right in the middle of an important project; I need more time!" Such are often the thoughts that arise as one faces the prospect of death. Even those who claim to desire death as relief from painful physical afflictions or because they "have nothing to live for" are in many cases really saying that they would like to be healed or to find something to live for.
Turning Back the Clock
For the vast majority of people, the mind rebels against the thought of death. Death is seen as an "enemy." Indeed, the Bible labels it as such (I Cor. 15:26). Man's refusal to accept his own mortality is clearly in evidence today in so many ways. As the years pass by, many people begin to experience a "crisis of body image." Increasing numbers are turning to cosmetic surgery in an attempt to recapture at least the appearance of lost youth. In search of a more substantial remedy, researchers are hard at work discovering ways to actually extend the human life span. Innumerable diets, exercise plans, vitamin and drug therapies and other approaches have been devised, reputed to be effective in rejuvenating not-so-youthful bodies. It is certainly true that food does make a difference, that exercise is beneficial, that some drugs are effective in prolonging youth. But stay young forever? No. Eventually, the physical body will simply wear out, as do all things physical. This can be postponed, but not prevented. It is inevitable. And whether death finally comes at 80 or 100 or 120, it still comes "too soon" for most. Some few people have even gone to the length of having their bodies frozen and stored at the time of death, hoping to be reanimated at some future time when advances in scientific knowledge make such a feat possible. Though most scientists remain highly dubious about the prospects for success, the very fact that bodies are being frozen shows just how desperate some are to hang onto physical life.
In the absence of the discovery of a fountain-of-youth drug in our lifetime, there is no alternative but to view death as inevitable. "It is appointed unto men once to die," the Bible declares (Heb. 9:27). So what, many ask, of uncompleted plans? Unfulfilled ambitions? Unrealized dreams? Will they die with us, never to be accomplished? Or are there future opportunities — somewhere beyond death? Some would have us believe there is nothing after death, that this transitory physical life is all there is. Others claim that one's "immortal soul" will spend eternity either in "heaven" or in "hell," depending on one's conduct in life. (For an in-depth look at this question read our free reprint article "To Hell and Back.") Mankind has pondered these ideas for centuries. Few, if any, have failed to ask themselves, "What next?" The answer to this burning question is that there is a future beyond death — and what a profound and awe-inspiring future it is! What God has in store for mankind — as shall be amply demonstrated — is an eternity of absorbing and creative productive activity! He offers us unlimited opportunities — as his immortalized sons and daughters — to realize our many unrealized potentials, to embark on adventures in learning and accomplishing that we may never have dreamed of during our physical lifetimes!
Not Just for a Few!
Before examining this great destiny in greater detail, it is important at this juncture to clear up a widely misunderstood point. We are not here describing a future destined for an exclusive few. Rather, it will be the destiny of the overwhelming majority of all people who now live or have ever lived! Understand this: The vast majority who have ever lived have never heard the name of Jesus Christ — the only name whereby "we must be saved" (Acts 4:12)! What kind of God would condemn countless millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists and others for no fault of their own? Moreover, the vast majority of people who have heard the name of Jesus Christ have been deceived into believing a false Christ and "another gospel" (II Cor. 11:4). Satan and his ministers, masquerading knowingly or unknowingly as "ministers of righteousness" (II Cor. 11:14-15), have blinded and deceived these people. Would a — just God hold them accountable for not acting on vital knowledge they never received? By no means! The simple fact is that the vast majority of people in the world today are neither "lost" nor "saved"! Likewise, the vast majority of those who have ever lived since the time of Adam are neither lost nor saved! Don't be misled. God is not locked in some sort of spiritual combat with Satan for "souls." If that were the case, Satan would clearly be winning! Is Satan more powerful than God? Satan can do only what God, for a time, allows. And Satan's time is about up! God is working out a great purpose on earth — and no power can prevent it from being accomplished!
Where Are the Dead?
If the vast majority of all people who live today or who have ever lived are neither "lost" nor "saved," where are they now? And, for that matter, where are those true Christians who have died throughout history? The answer is simple: They are all in their graves! Notice: "The dead know not any thing," the Bible clearly teaches (Ecc. 9:5). And again: "His [man's] breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Ps. 146:4). Those who have died over the centuries and millennia of history — including many of your relatives and loved ones, whether true Christians or not — are all "asleep" in the grave, "on hold" as it were, awaiting future disposition. The Bible use of the word soul (in Hebrew, nephesh; in Greek, psuche) designates one's physical life. The soul is mortal, not immortal. It can "die" (Ezek. 18:4, 20). The journalist who declared that "1500 souls perished in the sinking of the Titanic" was using' the word correctly. Understanding that the soul is mortal makes it easy to comprehend Jesus' statement in John 3:13: "No man hath ascended up to heaven.... "Jesus also told his own apostles that "whither [where] I go, ye cannot come" (John 13:33). If the apostles were not to go to heaven, how could we expect to? So what, then, will become of these thousands of millions of dead who today lie unconscious beneath the earth?
Since man does not have an immortal soul that continues living after death, the only hope for a personal future is a resurrection — a rising from the dead! The Bible teaches the resurrection, not the immortality, of the soul! The resurrection is our only hope of inheriting eternal life. Actually, the Bible speaks of three resurrections from the dead. Every person who has ever lived will be in at least one of them! The apostle Paul describes the first resurrection in I Thessalonians 4:16-17: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ [true Christians who have died throughout history] shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain [true Christians still living] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." At the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the righteous will be resurrected to immortal spirit life by the power of the Spirit of God. They will rule with Christ during his thousand-year reign on earth. They will be changed from mortal to immortal — "born again," to use the biblical terminology. (Read our free booklet Just What Do You Mean... Born Again? for an explanation of this much — misused phrase.) These resurrected saints shall be spirit as God is spirit, immortal as he is immortal, divine as he is divine! They will be born into his. family as his very sons and daughters! This first resurrection is also described in I Corinthians 15:51-54.
The Rest of the Dead
Now, what of those billions of dead who were cut off from contact with God during their lifetimes, who lived and died in ignorance of God's revealed truth? They will remain in their graves until after the thousand-year reign of Christ and the saints on earth. They will then be resurrected to physical life in the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5, 11-12). They will then be given their first real opportunity for salvation and a chance to qualify for responsibility in the kingdom of God. Few understand this vital truth! The vast majority of mankind have never even had a chance for salvation! Anciently, the prophet Ezekiel was permitted by God to see in vision this great second resurrection. God showed Ezekiel a valley full of dried bones: "And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, 0 Lord God, thou [alone] knowest" (Ezek. 37:3). God then declared: "Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: and I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live... " (verses 5 and 6). Ezekiel then witnessed — across three-and-a-half millennia into the future — a portion of this great worldwide resurrection to physical life. "... and the breath came into them," he records, "and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army" (verse 10).
The Second Death
Finally, what of those who steadfastly refuse to follow God's way, those who are given a chance now, in this life, to reach for immortality but turn it down? These will have a part in the third resurrection, a resurrection to physical life, at which time they will be mercifully destroyed — put out of their misery forever. They will be consumed in their entirety in "the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:13-15), becoming ashes under the feet of the righteous (Mal. 4:3). How much more merciful than the concept of eternal torture in "hell"! "The wages of sin is death," says your Bible in Romans 6:23 — not everlasting suffering in hell fire! This is the "second death" (Rev. 20: 14) from which there is no resurrection. The second death is final. God is not willing that any perish, but he will not force salvation on anyone! "... there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust," the apostle Paul declared (Acts 24:15). A resurrection is the only hope for mankind! For an in-depth biblical examination of this vital subject, read our reprint series "Is This the Only Day of Salvation?"
How Can You Be SURE?
The Bible reveals a great future for the immortal, born-again sons and daughters of God. But how can you know that what the Bible says is really true, that we will live again? Hanging in the Tate Gallery in London is a touching painting by a mid-19th-century artist. It shows a young woman standing deep in thought by the grave of a dead loved one. The painting bears the title The Doubt: Can These Dry Bones Live? This question has occupied the thoughts of mankind for millennia. On a stone gravemarker near the woman's feet lies a sprouting chestnut, symbolic of life — possibly the artist's veiled answer to the question posed by the painting's title. On the gravemarker is carved a simple but confident inscription: Resurgam — "I shall rise again!" A powerful statement, that! But how can you be sure? Anciently, God's servant Job asked, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14). Job knew the answer: "... all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change [to immortality] come. Thou [God] shalt call, and I will answer thee..." (verses 14-15). Job knew there would come a time when God would call him from the grave and give him eternal life. "For I know that my redeemer liveth," Job declared, "and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet [apart from] my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:25-26). Why was Job so confident? Read it again: "For I know that my redeemer liveth..."!
Christ's Resurrection — a Type
We can know that there will be a resurrection to ' immortality by the very fact that, in one case, it has already happened. And the very one resurrected — Jesus Christ will be the means to our resurrection. Christ's resurrection after three days and three nights in the grave was a type or forerunner of the resurrection God promises to all who obey him. The apostle Paul was inspired to write: "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken [enliven] your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you" (Rom. 8:11). Jesus Christ guarantees it! Notice what he says in John 11:25: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." Jesus was the "firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29), the "firstborn from the dead" (Col. 1: 18), the "firstfruits of them that slept" (I Cor. 15:20). These verses obviously imply that others are destined to follow him.
Christ's Resurrection — Fact, Not Fiction!
One final but supremely important point remains. Some disbelieving critics have alleged that Jesus' resurrection is mere fable and fabrication, with no basis in fact. This is a serious allegation. Notice in I Corinthians 15:17-18 that everything hinges on the reality of Jesus' resurrection: "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain [meaningless or empty]; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished." If Jesus did not rise from the dead, we are without hope! But Jesus did rise from the grave! The crucifixion of Jesus was not behind closed doors. His death was witnessed by hundreds. It is mentioned not only in the scriptural accounts, but in secular records as well. Likewise, Jesus' resurrection is attested to by many hundreds of eyewitnesses who saw him after he was raised. Some even ate and drank with him and conversed with him at length! The apostle Paul states: "... God raised him from the dead: and he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people" (Acts 13:30-31). In I Corinthians 15:4-8, Paul elaborates: "And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas [Peter], then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present.... After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also...." As Luke summarizes in Acts 1:3: "To [the apostles] also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." Men do not become martyrs to what they know to be false! The belief of the early Christian Church was absolute, based on personal testimony or eyewitness testimony. Jesus did rise from the dead! The fact of his resurrection is as firmly established as the assassination of Julius Caesar! And he, Christ, likewise, "shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body..." (Phil. 3:21). This is our destiny, if we choose to accept it!
As resurrected, glorified, immortalized saints — born into God's family as his divine children — we will "inherit all things" (Rev. 21:7) and "shall reign [rule or govern] for ever and ever" (Rev. 22:5). We shall inherit the vastness of the entire universe! It will be ours to work with through eternity. The words of Hebrews 2:8 will at last come to pass: "Thou hast put all things in subjection under his [man's] feet...." There will be new worlds to build, new horizons to conquer, an entire universe to mold and shape! And to accomplish it we will be granted undreamed — of powers and abilities, unhampered by the physical limitations of time and space. Nothing will be beyond our potential! This is the fantastic future that is offered us. What will you do about it?