What happens at death? How final is it? Is there life after death? It's time we understand.
NO MATTER who you are — whether the young girl down the street, the fellow on the block, the butcher or mailman, carpenter, maintenance man or secretary — sooner, or later, you are going to die! You may be beautiful, handsome, healthy, young or strong, but eventual death remains a fact of your life. It is inescapable. Whether you live out a natural life span, or whether your life is cut short by some tragic accident, incident or disease, this physical life ends in death.
Physical Life Is Limited
King Solomon made it plain: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die... "(Ecclesiastes 3:12). From the moment of birth physical life is limited. Do you know why? Basic human life-supporting cells divide just so many times. They always reach a divisioning limit. Cells deteriorate, tissues deteriorate, organs deteriorate, the body deteriorates. That deterioration ends inevitably in death. Proper health measures, including a healthful diet and the elimination of disease, may prolong life substantially. But the natural aging processes do not stop. Beauty techniques such as plastic surgery, skin stretching, the lavish use of cosmetics and hair dyes may give a more youthful appearance for a time. They are oh so temporary. The inner process of aging, leading to certain death, relentlessly continues. No amount of wishful thinking or physical measures help. All of man's technology and scientific research, coupled with all of the money in the world, can't alter the fact that humans die! The pressing question then is: What happens after death? Is there hope? Is there meaning to life?
The Age-old Question
Throughout the ages, as far back as recorded time, men have been concerned about death and what happens afterward. Is there life after death? The ancient Egyptians were concerned about death. Their attempts to solve the enigma of a life after death reached monumental proportions. Pharaohs' burial tombs were filled with treasures, and life's various paraphernalia; sometimes including, in the early period, an entourage of servants, killed and entombed to serve the pharaoh in a fancied state of existence after death. Every group of people and every civilization that's ever existed, down to and including our modern age, has pondered about a life after death. Almost everybody has an opinion on the subject. There are about as many ideas about it as people to give them. Why this confusion? Where is the source that can make the answer plain?
What People Believe
Said one young man, when asked if he believed in an afterlife, "I believe my inner being will be transmitted to different planes of existence as I approach perfection." A Latin mother's quick response when asked the same question was, "Of course there's an afterlife. It's in heaven — otherwise what's the sense of living?" Answered a young black man in his early twenties, "I don't think there is any life after death because you don't really die — your body dies, but your soul lives on." Said another man, "I believe in a spiritual afterlife, that you have a soul and that the soul goes to a hereafter. But as to where the hereafter is, I'm not sure." The fact is, most people in the non-communist world believe in some kind of life after death. But — how do they know? Isn't it time to understand the truth about death and what happens after death. There is only one reliable source available for discovering the truth about death. That source is the Creator's revelation to man of essential knowledge without which man cannot know why he is here, or where he is going. We call that revelation the Holy Bible. But what it says probably is not what you think it says. Most people would be surprised to discover what the Bible reveals about life after death!
An Immortal Soul?
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible nowhere mentions an "immortal soul"! Astounding, but true! From the very first word in Genesis 1:1, to the last word in Revelation 22:21, you will not find the words immortal soul applied to man, or that man has an immortal soul. The Bible says man is a living soul, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7) — not an immortal soul! Did you carefully notice it? Man is a living soul. Nowhere does the Bible say man has an immortal soul. The very Hebrew word for soul — nephesh — is the same word used of lower life forms, beasts and creeping things. It is even used to express the thought of a dead body — a dead nephesh. But, you ask, is there a verse in the Bible that says the soul can die? Absolutely! Read it: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20), not live on! Man is a soul. Man sins. So man, a living soul, dies. The immortal soul idea came right out of ancient Egypt, and Babylonia. It was enshrined in philosophy by Greek thought, especially by. Plato. Notice what the Jewish Encyclopedia says about it: "The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is... speculation nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture.... The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato, its principal exponent, who was led to it through Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries in which Babylonian and Egyptian views were strangely blended" ("Immortality of the Soul," Vol. VI, pp. 564, 566).
Does Death Mean Death?
You have heard the argument — death does not mean death but life in another state. The Bible reveals that when you die, you are dead — dead all over! You don't waft up to heaven if you've been good. You don't sink down to hell, or some intermediate place, if you've been bad. The supposed heaven and hell for immortal souls is another one of man's pictured fantasies. According to the Bible, the dead don't hear anything, see anything, think anything or know anything. The dead have absolutely no awareness, no anxieties of any kind. Read it for yourself: "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished... " (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). At the moment of death, life ceases, along with thinking processes, and thought. "His breath goeth forth," says God about man, "he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalms 146:4). The Bible's message is unclouded. Death is death beyond any shadow of a doubt. We're even warned to make the most of life while we have the opportunity: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). When we die we go the way of all flesh, and in that respect there is no difference between man and animals: "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again" (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). Of course, man, composed of the dust of the ground, returns to dust. The man that returns to dust is the soul that once lived. It is therefore the soul that disintegrates into dust! So says your Bible. For those who want to cling to the cherished belief in floating off to heaven after death, listen to the apostle Peter's response. If anyone deserved to go to heaven, it would certainly be someone after God's own heart. David was such a man (Acts 13:22). But Peter was inspired to say, David "is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day" (Acts 2:29), and that further, "David is not ascended into the heavens" (Acts 2:34). Too, Jesus himself said that "no man hath ascended up to heaven" (John 3:13). There can be no doubt. Death is the end of this physical life, this present chemical existence. But, does that mean we can do our own thing without fear of consequences — eat, drink, and be merry now because tomorrow we die? Positively not! Here's why.
There's More to Life than Death
The Great God has put us here on this earth for a great eternal purpose. Not just to have the best fling possible, then die. There is a tremendous purpose, not even understood by this world's religions, in our existence. We are on this earth for a reason. It involves the answer to why we humans suffer through the gamut of emotions, troubles or good times of human life. Ancient Job knew the reason. Job once reached a point near death, psychologically and physically. Everything dear to him had been taken away. He lost all of his children in a tornado, as well as all of his wealth because of thieves and a fire. Now, he was physically stricken and racked with pain. Runny, puss-filled boils covered his entire body from head to foot. The idea of death seemed sweet to Job. Job knew that if he died now, his present pain and distress would be over. Then he would wait in death, asleep in the grave, as the Bible puts it in I Thessalonians 4:13-14, until God jerked him up out of that grave later. "If a man die, shall he live again?" Job asked himself in a sort of reassurance knowing full well he would. And he answered himself with the next words: "All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands" (Job 14:14-15).
If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?
But how will man, dead in the grave, live again? Jesus himself answers: "Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of [judgment]" (John 5:28-29). There will be an accounting for our behavior in this life! You are going to be in one or another resurrection. There are going to be, in fact, three kinds of resurrection. But what does the Bible mean by a resurrection?
The First Resurrection
Paul describes the first resurrection as taking place at Christ's Second Coming to restore the government of God over the whole earth. This soon coming event is described in I Thessalonians 4:16: "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 shall rise first." "This is the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5, last sentence). "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection," says God, "on such the second death hath no power" (Revelation 20:6). Those who will be in the, first resurrection are described in Revelation 14:12: "... they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." They are few in number because most people do not keep the Ten Commandments! Included, in Hebrews 11, are Bible notables: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Rahab and a host of others not mentioned, but known and chosen by God. They will never have to face death again. They will rise out of their graves as immortal spirit sons of God. They will be changed from flesh and blood mortality to eternal immortal spirit life. They are those who were converted in this life, who received the promise of eternal life through the Holy Spirit which imparts the divine nature (II Peter 1:4) and impregnates them with the beginning of eternal life (I Peter 1:23). But what about the multitudes of people who never knew God, or the Bible? What about the hundreds of millions of people now living in areas of the world who have no access to the Bible? Those deliberately kept from the knowledge of God in this atheistic secular, deceived world?
The Second Resurrection!
The billions of people who once lived, but never knew God, and never had the opportunity to understand and choose His way of life, will have their opportunity. They will have their turn in the second resurrection, a thousand years after the first resurrection. These are those mentioned in Revelation 20:5, called "the rest of the dead": "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Think of it! Every person now living without the true revealed knowledge of God, or who has lived and died, will have a time of judgment in which either to accept or reject the way of life of God. John describes the second resurrection in Revelation 20:12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." There would be no reason for a book of life to be opened if none were to receive eternal life. It will be a time when humanity as a whole will come to know God and receive his Holy Spirit, which imparts a new spiritual life in mortal humans once again living in the flesh. See Ezekiel 37:11-14.
The Third Resurrection
There are, sadly, those who knowingly reject God, and God's way of life. These will be in the third resurrection. The third resurrection is absolutely final. All who spurn God and God's way of life, and died a natural death, will be resurrected — in the third resurrection — to a final, eternal death. It is called the second death, from whence there will never be a resurrection: "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [Hades, the grave] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life [at the time of the second resurrection] was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:13-15). They shall be turned to ashes (Malachi 4:3).
It's Time to Consider
The message should be clear — it's time to take thought, to consider and to ask yourself where you stand before God. God does exist! What he says in the Bible will happen! Any claiming to be an atheist, nonbeliever, agnostic or whatever, will not change the truth of God, nor reality about life, death and what happens after death. God even warns that disbelief is no excuse: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). Don't be deceived! Each of us will ultimately reap what we sow! "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Galatians 6:7-8). Be warned! Each of us will have to personally answer. to God for what we've done in this life. We will each have to give an account for our own actions: "For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Romans 14:10-12). Don't treat this information lightly, and let it in one ear and out the other. There will be a judgment: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10). Only the few are now called to judgment. Judgment now is on the Church of God (I Peter 4:17), not the world as a whole.
It Is Time to Change
Each of us has made mistakes. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's expectations, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The point is — it's time to stop sinning! And start doing what is right! That's called repentance, change. Says God: "Say unto them, 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, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" (Ezekiel 33:11). Note, it does not say "live forever as immortal souls in hell." God makes it clear: "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live" (Ezekiel 18:21-22). God's mercy toward those who change — who repent — who stop going the get way, and turn to the give way, is spelled out in the Bible. It is beyond human understanding: "Come now," implores the Great God, "and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). Says God to those who properly fear him, that is, respect his authority and his commands, "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalms 103:11-12). God's very name, as he himself spelled it out, proclaims his loving mercy toward those who ask him for forgiveness and seek to do his commandments: "The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin..." (Exodus 34:6-7). God mercifully made man mortal, so that if he did choose irrevocably to go the wrong way he would die, not suffer eternal punishing in a hell fire. That final death of the wicked, those who choose the way of get, will be death by fire, when this earth burns up. They will be turned to ashes, but the earth will be renewed — an eternal inheritance for those who choose the way of give, of love — the way of the Ten Commandments. Solomon's simple conclusion sums it all up: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). God grant you the wisdom — and desire — to take the proper steps that lead to repentance and the receiving of the Holy Spirit that imparts the impregnating seed of eternal life in mortal man. It is made plain in a full-length book The Incredible Human Potential by Herbert W. Armstrong — available in bookstores in the United States and Canada. It is published by Everest House.