What happens to loved ones at death? Is there hope of life after death?
"I'M IN deep trouble," said Chuck as he entered my office. I had often helped him solve various difficulties relating to his family operated business. But this morning was different. Chuck entered my office and told me about a serious problem he had, one beyond my ability to help him solve. Though the type never to be sick a day in his life, now he had lung cancer. The cancer was spreading throughout his body. He explained all about a recent hospital stay and series of medical tests. He would have to go back to the hospital for more tests in a few days, he told me. Chuck died two weeks later. Last month in our town Michael and Ricki, both only 24, were instantly killed. A sports car, running a red light, said the report, traveling at an estimated 100 mph, smashed into their van. The tragedy left their two young sons, Andrew, 5, and Scott, 3, orphans. "Why, why? It was so senseless," lamented the grandparents of the now orphaned boys. For Chuck, and for the two unfortunate young parents, death is real. Death, of course, is a fact of all our lives, something each of us must come to face sooner or later.
Everybody Is Terminal
"We are all terminal and we are all going to die sometime," said Jacob J. Javits, former U.S. senator from New York, active lawyer, army officer and onetime state attorney general. He is now suffering a terminal illness, popularly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. "Everybody is terminal," he emphasizes in his article "When Should Doctors Let a Patient Die?" in Discover, August 1984. Proper health measures, including a healthful diet and the avoidance of contagious diseases, 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, but they are merely temporary. The inner process of aging, leading to certain death., relentlessly continues. All of man's technology and scientific research, coupled with all the money in the world, can't stop humans from dying. "It is appointed unto men once to die," we read in the Bible (Heb. 9:27).
The Desire to Know
Almost everybody has an opinion about death. There are about as many ideas about death and what happens afterward as people to give them. 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?" Commented a young black man in his early 20s, "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." Why are there so many different and varied opinions about such an important question? Where is the source that can make plain the answer to what really happens after death? Isn't it time to understand the truth about this vital subject?• There is only one revealed source of knowledge available for discovering the truth about what happens after death. That source is the Creator's revelation to man of essential knowledge without which we cannot know why we are here, or where we are going. We call that revelation of spiritual knowledge the Holy Bible.
Truth versus Error
Without revealed truth we could not know what man is or why we humans are here on earth. Did you know that man is a soul? The Bible clearly reveals that 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" (Gen. 2:7). Read that again: man became "a living soul." Nowhere does the Bible say man has a soul inside him. The Bible reveals that man is a soul. The Hebrew word used for "soul" is nephesh. It is the same word used for lower life forms, beasts and creeping things. It's even used in connection with a dead body-a dead nephesh or soul. The Bible says a soul can die! Notice Ezekiel 18:4, 20: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." It doesn't say "live after death." It says "die." Man is a soul. Man sins. So man, a living soul, dies. The idea of an immortal soul did not come from the Bible. It came out of ancient Egypt and Babylonia and was enshrined in philosophy by Greek thought, particularly by Plato. Notice what the Jewish Encyclopedia says: "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" (art. "Immortality of the Soul," vol. VI, pages 564-566).
Death Means Death!
Scripture plainly reveals that when you die you are dead. According to the Bible, the dead don't hear anything, see anything, think anything or know anything. The dead have absolutely no awareness of any kind: "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, 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..." (Eccl. 9:5-6). The Bible's message is clear on this point. Death is death beyond any shadow of doubt. The apostle Paul wrote that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). Death, by definition, is the absence of life-not just separation from God. Scripture even warns us to make the most of life now while we have the opportunity: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (Eccl. 9:10, Revised Authorized Version). It couldn't be more plain. But what about those who want to cling to the cherished belief in floating off to heaven after death if good, or sinking to hell if bad?. Listen to the apostle Peter's response. If anyone deserved to go to heaven, it would certainly be someone after God's own heart, wouldn't it? David was such a person (Acts 13:22). But Peter was inspired by God to say, David is "both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (Acts 2:29, RAV), and further, "David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:34). Jesus himself also said that "no man hath ascended up to heaven," where God's throne is (John 3:13).
Will We Each Live Again?
But there is more to this life than living for the agnostic's now. The great God put humans here on this earth for a marvelous, eternal purpose, not even understood by this world's humanly devised religions. We are on this earth for a wonderful reason. It involves the answer to why we humans were made mortal and suffer through the gamut of emotions and troubles, or experience the good times of human life. Even though when we die we are dead, we will not remain dead forever. The dead in their graves will live again! Read what Jesus says: "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth-those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" [better translated "judgment"] (John 5:28-29, RAV). There is an accounting for our behavior in this life! Every human r being who has ever lived will ultimately give an accounting and be in a resurrection! There are three different kinds of resurrections revealed in the Bible.
The First Resurrection
The first resurrection will occur when God sends Jesus Christ to restore the government of God over the whole earth. This 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" (Rev. 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" (Rev. 20:6). That is, those in the first resurrection will not ever die again. They are raised from the dead as immortal beings, composed of spirit. Those who will be in this 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. Why? Because most people do what they think is right; they do not do what God says is right. They do not keep God's Ten Commandments! Those resurrected when God restores his government to this earth will never again have to face death. They will rise out of their graves as immortal sons of God. And those who have the Spirit of God and who are still alive will be changed from flesh and blood mortality to eternal immortal spirit life. They are those who, in this life, believed God and received the promise of eternal life through the Holy Spirit, which imparts the divine nature (II Pet. 1:4) and impregnates repentant humans with the beginning of eternal life (I Pet. 1:23). What about the multitudes of people who never really knew God, or the Bible, or realized the need to obey God's revealed teaching in the Bible? What about the hundreds of millions who live in areas of the world where no access to the Bible and to the knowledge of the true God is possible? What about those deliberately kept from the knowledge of God in this atheistic, secular, deceived world? God is fair. They will be given their opportunity to live life to the full in a second resurrection.
Why the Second Resurrection?
God is all merciful. He is full of outgoing love and concern. His great plan encompasses giving every human being who has ever lived, and ever will live, opportunity to obtain eternal life. The hundreds of millions of people who once lived, but never knew God, will have their eyes opened! Their time will come to live again in the second resurrection, a thousand years after God's government is restored to this earth. Once humans, beginning sooner than you may think, learn to live God's way for 1,000 years, those who lived and died in the past will have their first opportunity to understand God's way in the second resurrection. They will compare, after 1,000 years of God's government, what it was like to live man's way, in their first life, with God's way. 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." Comprehend that! Every person now living without the true revealed knowledge of God or who has lived arid died, will have a time of judgment in which either to accept or reject the way of life God reveals in the Bible. Notice John's description of the second resurrection in. Revelation 20:12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books" (RAV). 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, come to mortal life again, as a whole will know God and be offered his Holy Spirit. God's Spirit imparts a new, spiritual life in mortal humans once again living in the flesh. Read Ezekiel 37:11-14 for the full details.
The Third Resurrection
Sadly, and tragically, there will be those few who knowingly reject God and God's way of life. These will be in a third resurrection to final judgment and condemnation. Again, God is all merciful. God will mercifully and quickly eliminate those who have made themselves unhappy with their own way of living. All who spurn God's way of life, which is for our own good and which brings joy and happiness and abundance, will suffer eternal death. This is called the second death, from whence there will never be another resurrection: "The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades [the grave] delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. "Then Death and Hades ["hell" in the Authorized Version] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life [at the time of the second resurrection] was cast into the• lake of fire" (Rev. 20:13-15, RAV). They "shall be ashes" (Mal. 4:3), not immortal souls tormented by fire and worms and the devil. (If you want a fuller explanation, read our booklet Lazarus And The Rich Man. It is free.) The message should be clear for everybody. It is time. to take thought. Ask yourself, Where do I stand before God? Each of us will have to answer personally to God for what we do in this life. We will each have to give an account for our actions: " For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:10-12, RAV). Each of us has made mistakes. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's expectations: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23, RAV). But we can stop the pattern of sin, breaking God's commandments. We can begin keeping God's law, the way to peace and inner happiness now, and ultimately eternal life. "If thou wilt enter into life," said Jesus, "keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17). If you are willing, if you sincerely seek God and change from living a life contrary to God and his revealed truth as found in the Bible, God will work with you and in you. He will give you opportunity to be counted among those in the first resurrection, an event to take place sooner than most people imagine. "'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord, 'though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient...."' (Isa. 1:18-19, RAV). Take this revealed knowledge seriously. Seek God's way of life while God gives you time.