The Russian author Ivan Turgenev describes a lonely village graveyard in a remote part of the north. Among the many neglected grave-sites in the cemetery, there was one that seemed to be untouched by human hands. Only the birds occasionally alighted on the ground. An old iron railing surrounded one particular grave. Two small fir trees were planted at each end of the burial plot. In this grave was buried the body of the brilliant son of a country doctor. Turgenev says that often, from a small nearby village, two feeble older people (the boy’s parents), came to visit the grave. They would kneel down at the railing and gaze intently at the stone under which their son’s body lay—and there, Turgenev says, they yearned and wept.
Scenes like this have occurred all over the world, on all six inhabited continents, and in every generation. These incidents tell of a longing in the hearts of human beings for life beyond the present scene here on earth. When a loved one crosses the border of death, and our hearts and homes are left vacant and lonely, many questions cry out for an answer:
Where has our loved one gone?
What is he or she doing now?
Can those who have died—see us?
Are consciousness and memory retained after physical death?
Many years ago Job asked one of the most profound questions ever to engage the human mind. Job asked, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). That is, when a person dies physically, does he still live? If life here on earth is cut off, is that person still alive? Is life after all something more than the present experience of it? Or is the present experience of it all that there is?
We all know that life is brief. It only seems like yesterday that I was a boy roaming the fields of our home community with the carefree abandon of childhood. It seems only a short time ago that I sat on my mother’s lap and listened to her sing the words of the hymn, “Oh how deep are the riches of grace.” Life is like a flower that fades, like grass that withers, and like a shadow that quickly passes. The question comes to all of us: “After life here on earth is over, is that the end of it?” Is my personality, my spirit, and my intelligence destroyed, or do these qualities continue on after physical death? We want to look at the answers to some of these questions as we consider several factors related to the whole concept of immortality.
1. The Certainty of Life To Come
We can say with a great deal of confidence that the present span of human life here on earth does not comprise our whole existence. Unlike the beasts of the field that perish, human beings do have an existence after death. The Bible teaches that there is life after death. The patriarchs, the psalmist, the prophets, and the apostles all pointed to the future life. Abraham looked for a city whose builder and maker is God. The Apostle Paul writes of a “building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Even those who reject Christ, and choose to live their lives apart from Him, will experience survival in another world. It is something I would like to explain away, but after studying the Bible for more than forty years, I must conclude that judgment and destruction and everlasting punishment await those who die unsaved. There is survival in the next world – existence for the just and for the unjust. Eternal life for believers will last forever; the torment of the lost will have the same duration.
If a man die, shall he live again? Is he still alive? What happens after death? The materialist says, “Nothing happens.” All there is to man is skin and bones and flesh and blood. Where do we go at death? The materialist says that we go nowhere. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust—that is the end of us. The scientist says, “We cannot tell.” One scientist says, “Whether we go into life (at the time of death), or into a land of darkness never to return—the scientist cannot tell. Science is organized knowledge, and our scientific knowledge is only accurate about things which we can see.” The scientist doesn’t know the answer to the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?”
When Jesus speaks about the life to come, He speaks with certainty. He does not say, “We can’t tell” or “We go nowhere.” When Jesus was about to be separated from His disciples by death, He said to them, “Let not your heart 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).
I believe in immortality simply because Jesus said that humans continue to live in the world to come. Jesus Christ is our authority. He was with the Father from all eternity. He knows all there is to know about life after death. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life . . . whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). At another place He says the wicked shall go into “everlasting punishment” and the righteous into “life eternal” (Matthew 25:46). And again, Jesus says, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:51).
None of us has ever experienced life beyond the grave, but many of us have a very dear Friend who has experienced life beyond death. His name is Jesus. We simply believe what He has told us.
2. Universal Belief in the Life To Come
Every tribe and nation on earth holds to a belief in immortality. There never has been a tribe discovered anywhere, (even among the most primitive people) that did not have a belief in immortality. Men and women everywhere believe in some kind of continuous conscious existence of the soul after death. God impressed this belief into the very natures of Adam and Eve, and all the centuries of sin and wickedness and darkness have not been able to erase it completely from mankind’s inner being.
The Egyptians who lived along the Nile River placed a boat in the burial chambers of their dead, to help them navigate safely on the great eternal voyage. In the Egyptian Museum today, one can see the boats and the grain and the chariots that were buried in the tombs of Egyptian kings.
The Greeks placed a silver coin in the mouth of the corpse, to pay the fare across the mystic river. The Native Americans placed a bow and arrow and a small pony in the graves of their departed, so that they might have these resources when they reached what was sometimes called “The Happy Hunting Ground.” In parts of Alaska and Greenland, when an Eskimo chief dies, he is provided with a dog to act as a guide in the afterworld.
The missionary Mary Slessor came to West Africa many years ago and found that when a tribal chief died, his wives and slaves were put to death too, and buried with him, because they believed that the chief was still alive and that he needed his wives and slaves in the place to which he had gone.
The Native Americans, the tribes in Africa, and the occupants of Alaska had no Bible. They never heard of Jesus Christ. No Gospel preacher had ever come their way, and yet every group of people believed in life after death. Even people who lived in dense jungles and were cut off from all outside contact, have had a universal belief that after death there is life again. And thus the very idea of immortality lies deep-rooted in every human breast, and therefore is an unanswerable argument in favor of the reality of immortality. Just like the mysterious inner voice that calls many of the birds away from the winter and the cold and frost and snow, to a summer climate south of us, so men and women have been endowed with instincts that call them to a fuller life—into a climate which is much more fair than the atmosphere of this world with all its troubles and trials.
The idea of immortality is not merely some pleasant human invention; it is a God-given inner compulsion that nothing has ever been able to erase from the inner senses of human beings.
3. Erroneous Views About the Life To Come
In our day, human curiosity about life after death has brought on a new era of “research” in the area of death and dying. Doctors who specialize in the area of death and dying have conducted experiments with persons whose breathing stopped, but who were later resuscitated. One famous death-and-dying researcher says, “After years of counseling with the dying, I have come to the conclusion that life indeed continues after death.” But her view is a distorted view.
Her interviews with people who had near-death experiences indicate that often people who were near death had a great sense of peace, or heard pleasant kinds of music, or told about sensations of moving out of their bodies and floating toward the ceiling—looking down on themselves as doctors worked over their bodies on the operating table. They conclude that there is no accountability and no punishment for wrongdoing, but that all people (regardless of belief and behavior) will “make it” after death.
Another recent fad related to dying, is the freezing of bodies at the time of death, hoping that at some future time scientists will discover a cure for the disease that brought on the death. The hope is that then the body can be thawed out and restored to life. One of the national news magazines recently gave an update of information on this procedure. It tells about the American Cryonics Society which already has bodies frozen at three storage centers in the United States. The cost for freezing, and possible thawing at some future date, runs as high as $125,000.00 per body.
The latest rage to grip the minds of multitudes concerning life after death, is the belief in reincarnation. Many believe that before this present life, they existed in another form, and that after this life they will again appear in yet another form. One movie star thinks she was a prostitute who was later beheaded. Another actor thinks he was once a monkey in Guatemala during his previous life.
Satan has always tried to counterfeit God’s truth, and all three of the erroneous concepts which have just been mentioned briefly, are satanic substitutes for the real truth about death.
The Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Those who die out of Christ will suffer torment forever. By way of contrast, those who have lived for Jesus will be ushered into the presence of God to live with Him throughout the eternal ages.
4. The Nature of the Life To Come
For God’s children, the best is yet to be! One of the news magazines (more than thirty years ago) carried an article entitled “Look What’s Ahead.” The writer described life here on earth twenty years hence. He predicted a 30-hour work-week, a 3-hour trip from New York to Paris by jet plane, a radio designed to fit into the palm of one’s hand, and a ribbon of highway stretched across the United States from New York to Los Angeles without a single stoplight. These are marvelous achievements of science and engineering—and many of the predictions have already materialized—but all these pale into the background when compared with the wonders which God has prepared for His people in the world to come.
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John pictures Heaven as having trees and fountains and fruits; robes and palms and music; crowns and precious stones; light and friendship and love—and the presence of God the Father and God the Son. Some of these terms may be symbolic, but one thing sure, Heaven will be a perfect place made supremely attractive by the presence of Jesus our Savior.
It is interesting to note too that most of the descriptions of Heaven (in the Bible) tell us not so much what is there, as what is not there. Heaven is described, for example, as a place where there is no more curse (Revelation 22:3). We live in the midst of a world of sinful people. Something happened in the Garden of Eden that blighted the entire human race. There was disobedience and a curse came upon the human family. As a result, there has been wickedness and sin; there have been broken homes, hungry children, and neglected old people. But in Heaven the curse will be removed. Sin will be gone. In Heaven there won’t be any drunkards, or locks, or wars, or bloodshed, or prisons. Wickedness will be banished.
Heaven is described also as a place where there is no more pain (Revelation 21:4). There will be no need for aspirin tablets, or cold pills, and Band Aids, and crutches, and heating pads, and Vitamin-C tablets. Aches and pains and sore throats and other forms of distress will be gone forever. The words “heart disease” and “bone cancer” and “brain tumors” will not be in the vocabulary of Heaven. There won’t be any crippled people. Every person will be healthy and well and strong.
Heaven is described as a place where there is no more night (Revelation 22:5). Night is often a symbol of danger and sorrow and weariness. Most crimes are committed during the night-time hours. Those who are sick often have the highest fevers at night. In ancient times, the enemy usually made an attack during the night. But over in Heaven there won’t be any night because God himself will be there, and His radiant glory will light the City at all times. There won’t be any need for sleep because the element of toil will be eliminated. It is not that there won’t be anything to do in Heaven. There will be lots of activity. Some will be engaged in worship; some will have authority over “ten cities;” others will sit on thrones; some will judge angels. Heaven will involve labor and excitement and adventure—but the elements of frustration and boredom and toil will be gone.
Heaven is described further as a place where there is no more death (Revelation 21:4). As soon as a child is born he begins the pilgrimage toward the grave. In the circle of every family—a mother, or a wife, or a husband, or a son, or a friend—has been taken by death. Every home has its vacant chair. But in Heaven, death will be swallowed up in victory. Death will be a thing of the past.
Human vocabulary is simply not capable of adequately describing what God has prepared for those who love Him. The Queen of Sheba had heard of the fame and riches of Solomon, and she was skeptical, but after she had actually seen it all—she had to confess, “Behold, the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7). Such will be our confession when we see the King in His beauty, and when we behold the splendor of the heavenly City.
5. Preparation For the Life To Come
How would you want to spend your time if you knew that tomorrow would be your last day on earth? Death does not end it all. There is more to come, and thus we need to prepare in this life so that when we come to the moment of death, we will have nothing to do but to die.
Someone said to John Wesley one time, “Mr. Wesley, if you knew that you would die at 12 o’clock tomorrow night, how would you spend the intervening time?” Mr. Wesley said, “I would spend it just as I intend to spend it; I would preach tonight at Glouchester, and again tomorrow evening. Then I would go to my friend’s house after the service, as he expects me. I would converse and pray with the family, retire to my room about 10 o’clock, commend my life into the hands of my heavenly Father, lie down to sleep, and wake up in glory.” Surely many of us could repeat the words of the Bible, where we read, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his” (Numbers 23:10). But one who expects to die the death of the righteous is going to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is going to renounce Satan with all his pernicious ways, and is going to covenant with God (in Christian baptism) to be a faithful servant of His until death.
There are just two ways to die: We can die like a Christian or we can die like a sinner; we can die in Christ or we can die out of Christ; we can die in peace or we can die in torment. It would be a tragedy for any reader of this pamphlet to come to the end of life without Christ, and discover that there will never be another chance. It is that very fact that makes dying so bitter for many folks. My prayer is that not one reader will be among those who are unprepared for death.