For every man or woman who has lost a loved one to death, here is hope.
RECENTLY, my wife and I visited one of London's oldest and most historic buildings — Westminster Abbey. More than 4,000 of Britain's most famous people are buried inside. Kings, queens and many other notables are buried beneath the walkways. A stone above each grave gives the details of the dignitary. One walks over the stones as one tours the building. Paradoxically, the best known and one of the most highly regarded of all the graves is that of someone whose name is unknown.
The Unknown Warrior
There is one stone covering one grave on which, out of respect for the remains, nobody is allowed to walk. This grave is at the entrance of the building and is the first seen by anyone entering. It is the grave of the unknown warrior. This tomb has the highest honor of any grave in Britain. In a touching tribute, on her wedding day, Princess Diana made a special journey after the royal wedding to bring her wedding bouquet and place it on the tomb of the unknown soldier. A beautiful gesture of appreciation for the man's sacrifice during the Great War. At the end of the First World War, five unrecognizable bodies from Britain's armed forces were brought home from Europe. A blind man picked out one of the bodies. This is the body that is in the grave of the unknown warrior. Whom the body belongs to, nobody knows. King George V ordered the body to be buried with full military honors. And to give an international perspective, French soil was brought across the channel to place around the tomb. Belgian poppies grow round about. And above the grave is a posthumous award granted by the United States — the Congressional Medal of Honor. Thus, this tomb has become a symbol of all men from all nations who have died in all wars. Most high-level dignitaries lay a wreath here when they visit London. And many other countries have copied the idea. According to the inscription on the tomb, "thus are commemorated the many multitudes who... gave the most that man can give, life itself." At the tomb of the unknown warrior, both my wife and I were sobered in the presence of death. Will the unknown soldier and the other many multitudes who have died in war ever live again? I know that many readers of The Plain Truth have lost a son or daughter or perhaps a husband or wife in war and civil disturbances. Surely, life and death are the most important of all questions — and the ones to which we paradoxically devote the least study and thought!
What About Death?
There are many ideas, many teachings about death. Most people accept and assume to be true whatever they have been taught. When it comes to the question of life and death, most people belong to one or the other of two schools of thought. Some are agnostics who believe death ends all — that there is no life, no hope after death. They believe that when one dies it is the end to existence of that personality for all time. Then there are those who hold to a life after death. They accept the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. They have various ideas as to how and where the soul continues on after death. They think that the deceased have "passed away" to some other place. Where can we turn to find the truth on this very personal subject? Obviously, we cannot turn to science to find out what happens to a person after death. The question of death can never be answered by science, for if there is an afterlife it is beyond the scope of physical knowledge. Knowledge of physical death can be learned through test tubes and microscopes. But what lies after death is beyond the natural sciences to determine. The truth on this most important of all subjects would have to be revealed by a Creator God. Fortunately, the Almighty Creator who brought it all into being, who guides and controls all natural and spiritual laws, has revealed this knowledge. And he alone is in a position to answer this question correctly! If we face facts, we will realize that neither the ancient pagan philosophers or the agnostics have any factual basis on which to draw firm conclusions. Their beliefs are based purely upon their own speculations. Thus, we are left with only two alternatives. Either we can accept God's divine revelation or we can admit total ignorance. For those who do want to know the truth, God reveals the answer to this most important of all questions. Isn't it time we clear away the cobwebs of confusion on this subject? Will the unknown warrior, the other multitudes who died with him in war — and all who have died for whatever cause — ever live again? Just what does divine revelation teach about this vital subject?
What Is Man?
In the Bible, God reveals what man is. Man is "flesh" (John 3:6), made from the dust of the earth — "God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). Man does not have a soul; he is a soul. And souls that sin die (Ezek. 18:4). This life is a fleshly existence, which is temporary, physical and mortal. And so "it is appointed unto men once to die" (Heb. 9:27). Agnostics could hardly dispute this! Whether' we die in war or some other way, we do die. Against man's greatest enemy — death — no scientific progress has been made whatsoever. The greatest minds, the most careful dieters, the most diligent joggers, all will eventually die! All eventually join the unknown warrior in his present state. We have to look to revelation to determine the nature of that state of death. The Bible reveals that when we die, our very thoughts "perish" with us (Ps. 146:4). There is no activity, physical or mental, taking place (Eccl. 9:10; Ps. 6:5; 115:17) — except, that is, for the deterioration of the flesh. This means that the dead are totally unconscious. The agnostic could hardly argue with that either!. "Dust thou art," says God (Gen. 3:19). There is no eternal life inherent in humans! This is a great surprise to many who assumed they have an "immortal soul." Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not, shocking as that may seem, teach the immortality of the soul! (See I John 3:15.) The doctrine of the immortal soul does not come from the Bible — the words immortal soul nowhere appear in the Bible! The word immortal occurs only once and then refers to God (I Tim. 1:17). This is some of the most important revealed knowledge that a person can gain. The word immortality occurs five times in the Bible. Jesus Christ only, of all men, has it (I Tim. 6:16). Jesus brought it "to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:10). We are told to "seek" it (Rom. 2:7). Twice we are told that we "put on immortality" at a resurrection (I Cor. 15:53-54). These scriptures clearly reveal that man is helpless, mortal, unable to give himself eternal life. When a person dies, all his or her thoughts perish. Right now, the unknown warrior feels nothing, hears nothing and thinks nothing. Like all the rest of the dead, he has no consciousness. He is not suffering. He is not aware in any way of the passage of time. He has no awareness whatsoever. He is dead. The beautiful thing is that he — and all the others who have died — will not remain dead. They will be resurrected (Acts 4:2; 24:15; I Cor. 15:13-42). That is, they will "live" and "breathe" again (Ezek. 37:8-10). The agnostic cannot know this because he has never proven to himself that there is divine revelation. He remains ignorant of this revealed truth. This knowledge is a vital part of God's master plan. We don't have to be eaten up with undue grief over someone who has died. All who have lived and died will eventually be brought back to life!
Why the Resurrection?
But what exactly will happen to the unknown warrior and all the other dead when they are resurrected and are able to breathe and think again in new physical bodies? Are they "lost" or "saved"? Most of you have heard that if anyone is not saved in this life he is eternally "lost." But what about the millions who lived before the time of Jesus Christ and did not even hear his name! What kind of God would condemn to eternal torment millions of people of other religions who did not have a chance to hear the name of Jesus Christ or have not heard the name today? And what about the great majority who have lived since Jesus' birth and who have had little or no interest in religion of any kind? What will happen to them in the resurrection? Even the vast majority who have heard the name of Jesus Christ have been deceived by Satan into believing a false gospel that the, apostles never preached (II Cor. 11:4). Would a fair and just God hold these millions accountable for not acting on the knowledge of the truth — a knowledge they have not received? By no means! The vast majority of mankind are not yet either finally lost or saved! They have simply not yet had an opportunity' to understand the purpose of life. But they will have that opportunity when they, are resurrected to physical life. The divine revelation of Holy Scripture makes this plain. The Bible teaches that all who have died will be brought back to life to discover the purpose of life. That is the good news Jesus preached. Those who are now "in the graves shall hear" the voice of Jesus Christ (John 5:28-29). This will happen at different times with different people. The just — those few now called to understand the truth of God — are resurrected before the unjust — the rest of the dead who did not understand what life is all about. All this is already planned out. In the crisis at the close of this age God will intervene and send Jesus Christ to set up the kingdom of God over all nations. He will teach them the ways of happiness. To help him, God will place assistants in lesser but, nevertheless, glorious positions of rulership. These assistants are the just, the few who have been called and trained in this life to believe God and to come under his authority. They will be resurrected and changed into immortality at Jesus Christ's return (I Cor. 15:23). Also, those true Christians who are alive at the Messiah's Second Coming will be changed instantly to immortality — in their case, bypassing the sleep of death altogether (I Cor. 15:51-52). These two groups will combine to be the assistant world leaders under Jesus Christ in his government. This is stunning news to many. But it is the plain teaching of the Bible. There will be a resurrection of the just at the return of Jesus Christ. Few in number, then made immortal, they will rule "on the earth" (Rev. 5:10). Why should this sound so fantastic to people? Why should the plain teachings of the Bible seem strange? Would it make more sense if God permitted his creation to self-destruct in a last final suicidal war? Of course not. When the world is on the very brink of cosmocide (Matt. 24:21-22), Jesus Christ will return to save humanity and establish his kingdom on earth. The result will be a thousand years of world peace in happiness and prosperity. This is the age of which all the ancient Hebrew prophets of God spoke. But what about the rest of the dead? What about those — the overwhelming majority — who had no opportunity for conversion in this life? What will happen to them? Will God forget them?
After 1,000 Years
No, absolutely not. God loves them too. During this period (Rev. 20:4), when the kingdom or family of God will have ruled over this earth for a thousand years, 44the rest of the dead" will be resurrected (Rev. 20:5, 7-13). It is the second resurrection. At this time, the book of life is opened (Rev. 20:12), symbolizing that all who have not been called to conversion in this life will have their opportunity then. They will then be given their first opportunity to receive the gift of immortality. How? God will pour out his Holy Spirit on those then resurrected and they will be converted. They will learn the way of give instead of the way of get. That fantastic resurrection will alter the life of nearly every person who has ever lived, because the vast majority of people who have walked the earth have died totally oblivious to God's plan and purpose for mankind. At that time, all the living will be reunited with their loved ones. (The Creator will have specially altered the quality of the land mass so it will accommodate all people.) This will be the greatest "hello" in history. Imagine the joy of such an occasion. Imagine all the people with talents that were undeveloped in this wasteland we call civilization. Who knows what they will achieve? Who knows how many potential poets, writers, musicians and scientists died in infancy or grew up without ever being aware of their abilities? All these dead will be brought back to life. The child and old man will both have a hundred years to learn of God's ways (Isa. 65:20). During this 100-year period, the end stage of God's plan for mortals, no new children will be born to mortals. After that 100-year period, the heavens and earth will be changed to something totally new, ready for the next stage of God's eternal plan (Rev. 21:1-6). This globe will then no longer be a place designed for physical, flesh and blood humans. This planet, in its new form, will become the headquarters of the universe. From here, God will launch his activities of accomplishment, through us, into the farthest reaches of space. This is what God plans for those who choose to embrace his way — the way of righteousness — the way of obedience to his laws. But what about the incorrigibly wicked? What about those few who comprehend God's truths but refuse to obey? What will happen to these enemies of God? After every human being has had one full chance at happiness, what will happen to those few who deliberately choose instead the way of evil? They, too, will be resurrected to a very temporary physical life — the third resurrection — to be judged (Rev. 20:13-15). Their punishment is a second death by fire. They will be momentarily "tormented" in mind like the rich man in the parable when they realize what is about to happen to them (Luke 16). They will become ashes under the feet of the righteous (Mal. 4:3). They will perish forever in a lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). How sad that some few deliberately reject God's truth at some point in their existence. God is really merciful to put them out of their suffering for the whole of eternity. The worst thing that could happen to people who are selfish, who want to live the get way, would be to live forever in selfishness. God, in his mercy, will not permit that. So do not worry about those who are now dead. They are not in some fiery hell or intermediate place. The vast overwhelming majority of all the dead have simply not yet had any opportunity to learn of salvation. That will come later — when they are brought back to life again. The unknown warrior is now dead, feeling nothing, knowing nothing. But he will not remain dead. Like all the other dead, he is due to be brought back to life again. God's plan of salvation will make it possible for the unknown warrior — with all the other dead — to have a chance to enter God's immortal cosmos — ruling family. Think of it! One day, the unknown warrior will be resurrected from his grave along with the kings and queens and other dignitaries in Westminster Abbey. He may be very surprised to find himself in such notable company! Along with them all, he will be given his opportunity for rulership over the galaxies in God's everlasting kingdom!