Maplewood church of Christ
"Is This All There Is?"
Our society is geared toward life in the here-and-now, and nothing more. And maybe that's OK, as far as it goes--but many people, thinking a little deeper, find themselves asking: "Is this really all there is?" They recognize the tragedy of an existence that goes no further than the few years this life has to offer; they understand that "this is not enough", and hope--and seek--for something more.
Perhaps you are one of those people. If you've ever asked yourself that question, read on--there is some good news for you ahead.
Life after death--really!
Today, as perhaps never before, because of our materialistic society and humanistic philosophies, the concept of a continued existence after death is being doubted. Even among religious people, this trend is growing. More than one religious group teaches that, at least under certain circumstances, the grave is the end. More and more people are coming to consider the belief in an "afterlife" as just so much "pie-in-the-sky" nonsense.
But what does God say about the matter? Surely, if the grave is the end of man, God could express that clearly to us in His Word, the Bible. And just as surely, if there in fact is something more after death, that too could be unmistakably taught in the Scriptures.
The Old Testament character, Job, asked the very question we're considering: He asked, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14). That question the Bible answers very confidently indeed! Jesus said, while on this Earth, "He that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). This was spoken at the tomb of His close friend Lazarus, as words of comfort to Lazarus' sister Martha. Concerning that statement and others like it, the apostle John said, "This is the promise that He hath promised us, even eternal life" (I John 2:25). And Martha expressed her own confidence in life after death with these words concerning her brother: "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24).
But by far the most graphic picture of existence beyond the grave, for both the good and the bad, is presented in the account of the evil rich man and another Lazarus, a righteous beggar. This account is commonly called a "parable" and dismissed as such, but wrongly so: There is much evidence that this is an account of an actual happening to two very real people that lived and died upon this Earth. Even so, a story in the Scriptures that is very obviously a parable, still doesn’t teach anything untrue. Although only hypothetical situations, each parable depicts an event that could easily have happened and contains only the truth. So the account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, be it parable or actual happening, nevertheless must be reckoned with by all honest students of the Bible.
The account begins in Luke 16:19 and records the condition of these two men in this life: the one evil; the other a good, righteous man. Verses 22-23 then inform us that "the beggar (Lazarus) died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in Hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." Both of these men were obviously very much alive following their physical deaths, and reaping the results of their actions while living on Earth. Meanwhile, life on Earth was continuing on, as shown by the rich man’s request that his five brothers still on Earth be warned in order that they might avoid that place of torment after death (vv. 27-28).
It is a dangerous thing to miss the truth about life after death–for it takes preparation in this life, to ensure receiving that place of comfort in the next. The unpleasant truth is that lack of preparation here (not living by God’s will) results only in that place of torment there. Satan is thrilled by those insisting that the grave is the end, for he knows that such ones can only help him in his work of deceiving and capturing souls for an eternity of Hell.
Do you find the idea of an eternal existence after death an unlikely, fantastic thing? Then Jesus speaks to you when He says to doubters, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in 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 damnation" (John 5:28-29).
Think on these things!
...or it could be in Hell:
What about that place called "Hell"? Does it really exist, or is it just a story made up by preachers to scare people into church? In this age of "Positive Thinking" and warnings of the consequences of being too negative, the concept of "Hell" is unpopular indeed among virtually everyone.
Yet our Lord devoted much of His teaching time to discussing just such a place. Heaven and Hell are invariably mentioned together. The two ideas, that of reward on the one hand and punishment on the other, are so closely linked that they stand or fall together. If you accept the existence of Heaven, you must also accept that there is a Hell–for in the Bible the same expressions are used to describe both .
Jesus spoke of the last-day general resurrection as a resurrection into life for some, but a resurrection into damnation for others (John 5:28-29). In His picture of the Judgment scene in Matthew 25, He spoke in terms of "the sheep and the goats" (v. 32); those on His right hand and those on His left (v. 33); those who will "inherit the kingdom prepared for them (v. 34) and those who will "depart into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (v. 41). Plain language for what some consider to be an imaginary place! Again, Jesus spoke of the danger of going into a Hell described as "the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43-48). And in the midst of that beautiful description of Heaven in Revelation 21, the apostle John interrupts himself to remind us that "the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8).
Perhaps most graphic is the remarkable account in Luke 16 of two men, one evil and one righteous, who both died about the same time. The same dualism, or contrast, is seen here: The one went to a place of comfort called "Abraham’s bosom" (Luke 16:22); while the other found himself "in Hell" (v. 23) in a condition which was described as "being in torments". This shows us, among other things, that Hell is not "just the grave" as some try to say, for there is consciousness there: The man himself said "I am in torment in this flame" (v. 24) and begged for relief and mercy–a request that was denied him, showing that Hell is also both permanent and eternal.
Why such a horrible description in God’s word? If you said "To scare you into Heaven", you’d not be far wrong! God said to the Israelites of old, long ago, "I have set before you life, and death; blessing, and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). God presents a very similar choice to us today: That picture of Hell in the Scriptures is meant as a warning, that we may avoid going there--God "is not willing that any should perish" (II Peter 3:9), but He would "have all men to be saved" (I Timothy 2:4). God never prepared Hell for man; instead, it was prepared "for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). But God won’t force Himself on anyone! He has given man the power of choice, and if a man chooses to follow Satan to that Hell of torment, God will allow him to do so. And so God has said, in effect, to us today: "I have set before thee Heaven, and Hell: therefore choose Heaven, that ye may live."
Don’t let your fear of Hell lead you to deny that it exists; rather, let it–as God intended–motivate you to seek out the road to Heaven. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:11).
Think about it!
Christianity's Real Promise: Immortality
Ponce De Leon, around A.D. 1500, explored Florida searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth. His search was in vain, for he was looking for a myth--or was he? As legend had it, the Fountain of Youth could stop the aging process--perhaps even reverse it--so that one could live forever. Although the famed French explorer didn't know it, such a goal had been within reach for 15 centuries by then! Read on to learn more...
Know it or not, you have a dual existence:
"Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day," II Corinthians 4:16. Thus the apostle Paul introduces the difficult subject of the two-fold nature of man.
In the account of the Creation, Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we read of the forming of the first man. It is said there that "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. Contrary to popular belief, this passage deals only with the physical side of man--or in Paul’s words, the "outward man". The "breathing into man’s nostrils the breath of life" simply refers to the giving of physical life to the man, for the result is that he "became a living soul"--a living being, or individual. The word "soul" is used many times to refer to physical life, or a living individual--even in the animal kingdom, Job 12:10.
God said of that outward, physical man--that "living soul"--that it would "return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," Genesis 3:19. Yet Solomon shows, that’s not all there is to a man; there is something more, something beyond the grave; when he says in Ecclesiastes 12:7 that "the dust shall return to the earth as it was (there’s the physical body of Genesis 2 and 3); and the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it (there is the "something more")".
Certainly there is a kinship between our physical bodies and that of the animals. Scientists have been misled into the errors of Organic Evolution partly because of their observations that we are made like the animals, although somewhat more refined (or "evolved"). Of course, the existence of a common Designer explains the similarities of design much better than the current theories of progressive evolution over eons of time. But, although we are made like the animals, Genesis 2:7 and 2:19 saying that both man and beast were created from the dust of the ground; still there is a way in which we are very unlike the animal kingdom: It is said only of man that he was created "in God’s image", Genesis 1:27. There is something, then, unique to man and lacking in animals, that reflects the very image of God.
God is Spirit, John 4:24 says, and so has no physical image at all. Luke 24:39 states "A spirit hath not flesh and bones." God is spiritual, and immortal; so man, made in His image, must somehow also have an immortal, spiritual nature. This nature the Bible calls the "inner man". This "inner man", this immortal, spiritual part of man, made in the image of God, is usually called in the Bible man’s "spirit". For instance, Paul asks the question in I Corinthians 2:11, "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" Occasionally it is referred to by the word "soul", although that word usually means only "physical life", as we have seen. One good example of this exceptional usage is Matthew 10:28, in which Jesus said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell." Another passage in which the "inner, eternal" man is referred to as the "soul" is Acts 2:27, which pictures Jesus speaking to God about His resurrection: "Thou wilt not leave My soul in Hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption." Peter explained this clearly in v. 31: "His soul was not left in Hell, neither did His flesh see corruption."
The relative worth of these two parts of man can be easily seen when we hear the apostle Peter speak of the physical body, the "outward man", as the "tabernacle" in which he dwelt for awhile, II Peter 1:13-15. Paul also used this figure of a "tabernacle" or tent, II Corinthians 5:1, and described death as a "dissolving" of that Earthly temporary dwelling-place. The faithful Christian looks forward to this happening, as he knows that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," I Corinthians 15:50. Heaven is a spiritual place; and is the eternal home of the spiritual side of man--the "inward man".
Don’t worry so much about the physical man--the inevitable end of your "outward" side is the grave. Be concerned with, and cultivate, that "inward" man--the spirit that will live forever. Nourish him with the milk and meat of God’s word, Hebrews 5:13-14; I Peter 2:2. That’s the important part of man; that’s the part that will live forever.
It could be in Heaven…
The concept of Heaven as a reward for faithful living here on Earth is one of the strongest motivations in the Bible for being a Christian. Perhaps it is no small wonder, then, that the forces of Satan leave no stone unturned in their attempts to deny the very existence of such a place. And so some say, "We just create our own Heaven or Hell in this life"; or, as one religious cult teaches, "Only 144,000 will enter Heaven itself", and that number is all filled up already! Everyone else, they say, will have to be satisfied with a "reconstituted Earth". Many others, while not going to this extreme, make similar efforts to convince some that "This life is all there is--you may as well enjoy it, for it’s all the reward you’ll have."
But is the Bible really clear on the subject? Does it truly teach the literal existence of a place called Heaven as an eternal home for the faithful? Let’s look into God’s word and see:
First, the existence of a reward of some kind for God’s faithful after this life is described in the Scriptures too often to deny or ignore: Let’s start with Revelation 14:13 "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord". Jesus explained why that is true when He promised not long before His death on the cross, "In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself: that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:2-3). He also assured His followers "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in the present time, and in the World to come life everlasting" (Luke 18:29-30). "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). Then we see the apostle Paul affirming his confidence in that promise when he said, speaking of his own imminent death, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing" (II Timothy 4:6-8).
But, where are we to live out that reward? The Bible does not give a geographical location–you can’t find it on a map, because Heaven is a spiritual place, not physical. But we know it is not here on Earth, past, present, or future, "reconstituted" or otherwise: Peter said in that last day "The Heavens shall pass a way with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the Earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (II Peter 3:10).
We, if we are faithful Christians, will be where God is after we die–for in describing that place of reward, the Bible says among other things that we shall "see God’s face" (Revelation 22:4). Read chapters 21 and 22 of the book of Revelation for a complete description of that dwelling-place of God, and the dwelling-place of all faithful followers of His after this life.
Blessed indeed are all those that "die in the Lord" (Revelation 14:13). These promises are ours, and all the forces of Hell Satan can muster cannot take them away from us. Let the Bible’s promise of Heaven motivate you to live this life in harmony with the will of Christ revealed by the New Testament, so that you can, at your death, go home to be with God for an eternity of happiness. You have God’s word on it!
How will you face--Death?
"This day I am going the way of all the Earth," Joshua said, in Joshua 23:14, as he lay dying. Joshua realized, as everyone does who has seen much of life at all, that in a very real way death is an inseparable part of life. God told Adam, after the fall of man, in Genesis 3:19, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." From the other end of the Bible, Hebrews 9:27 tells us in no uncertain terms: "It is appointed unto man once to die...".
No-one has ever avoided death, with the remarkable exceptions of two Bible characters: Enoch, Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11:5; and Elijah, II Kings 2:11. Except for these two, everyone who has ever lived on the face of the Earth, including our Lord, has died. It seems to be safe, then, to assume that everyone will continue to die in the future. David asked, in Psalm 89:48, "What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?"
But by and large, we are afraid to talk about death; we even fear the sound of the word, and so we speak of someone "passing on" or "passing away"; or "going to sleep" or just being "gone". Perhaps we don’t like to be reminded of our own mortality and certain eventual death; and as a result we almost resent the person who dies, for bringing us face-to-face with it.
Death is feared largely because it is unknown. We have no word from "the other side" to tell us what to expect, and it’s just human nature to fear the unfamiliar. Many times the tears shed at funerals are really tears of fear--fear of the time when we’ll be making that journey--as well as tears of sorrow for the one who has died.
But it doesn’t have to be that way: God, as the Father of us all, Ephesians 4:6, still cares for us even at death: In Genesis 3:19 God said, "For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return"; but Solomon gives us this inspired commentary on that passage, in Ecclesiastes 12:7: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God Who gave it." Death may be a journey into the unknown, but God is still in control of it--and He has made preparation for those who are counted as His children: Jesus spoke these words of comfort to His disciples: "Let not your hearts be troubled: Ye believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also," John 14:1-3.
But notice carefully: that is a promise only to Jesus’ followers. For this reason John wrote in Revelation 14:13 "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord...", and Paul pointed out in I Thessalonians 4:13 that Christians don’t have to sorrow about their dead loved ones, as "others do, which have no hope."
The Bible’s message is clear: Death is not a terrifying thing to followers of God and Christ; for the Father will see them through it. But there is no comfort at all in the Bible for those in rebellion to God; those who have rejected His Son. When death is near--that’s when Christianity takes on its full meaning; having a hope after death is what it’s all about.
If you’re facing death--and every one of us is--then don’t be in doubt about your condition before God. Death is too sure; Eternity is too long; Hell is too hot, and your soul is too precious--not to be sure. Search the Scriptures; "examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves," II Corinthians 13:5.
Don’t stop reading now--the story is just beginning!