A subdivision of theology is called eschatology. The word is derived from the Greek, eschaton, which refers to the future, or the last things. There should be an interest in eschatology because we are mortal, and must deal with death.
We do not like to think about death. We avoid the subject seriously if at all possible, and yet our mortality is a certainty. Only God is immortal. When attention is given to the topic, the first question that is asked is this. “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14) “Is there life after death?” “What happens when this mortal body dies?”
These are important questions that have been answered in the Bible. The person who would honestly want to know about dying and death must turn to the God of the Bible, and the God of creation. When the Bible is opened, there is much to comfort the heart. Lost joy, when thinking of death, can be regained. The fear of death can be minimized by faith. The Bible says that Death, the Great Enemy, has been defeated by the triumphal resurrection of Jesus Christ, who now has “the keys of hell and death” (Rev. 1:18).
In his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul explains how the resurrection of Jesus came to pass. The story begins in the Garden of Eden with the disobedience and death of one man. “Wherefore, as by one-man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: 13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come” (Rom. 5:12-14).
Paul is making an important theological point. Was there sin before Moses? Yes, there was sin before the Law of Moses was established. Was there death before Moses because individuals sinned? Again, the answer is in the affirmative. There was death before the Law of Moses was established, “even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.”
Why is this point important? Because sin is the transgression of the Law, not just the Law of Moses, but the Moral Law of God Himself which gave Moses the Law that was to guide Israel until a New Covenant could be made. Adam violated the Law of God, which preceded the Law of Moses, and so death reigned.
Death did not reign because people ate of forbidden fruit as Adam did. Death reigned because the Law of God written on the conscience was violated. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Gen. 6:5-6).
Biblically, the reign of death is not part of the natural cycle of life, as Secular Humanist teach. Death is a foreign invasion of God’s perfect order. God did not create Adam and Eve so that they would die. Rather, God gave Adam and Eve life so they might live and enjoy Him and all of creation. Death entered into the world as God’s just judgment upon sin. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). The Lord had warned Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17).
There would be spiritual death, but there be physical death as well. The dying process would be in the same hour in which sin was succumb to. The day came “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6). Adam did not die immediately, because the Lord always reserves the prerogative of showing mercy in the hour of judgment, but Adam did die, being 930 years old (Gen. 5:5).
Like Adam, every human being has sinned. Every human being is on death row. Every person is a “Dead Man Walking”, because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). Wages is what we have earned. Wages is what we deserve. We have earned the right to die. We have worked for it by sinning against the Lord so that no one is without excuse.
However, because of grace, because God is able to work all things together for good, death, from a Christian perspective, ceases to be a punishment and becomes the gateway to eternal life for “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23b). This new perspective of death can be embraced by faith because the penalty for sin has been paid by Christ through His substitutionary death, and burial.
For the Christian, death becomes the transition from this world to the next. For the Christian, death is the vehicle to “go home.” Paul said, “to be absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). “To emigrate, i.e., vacate or quit” the body is “to be in one’s own country, i.e., home.” That is a lovely thought.
The idea is repeated in Philippians 1:23, and changes the attitude of the believer concerning death to the point that the heart can say, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.”
In all honesty, as beautiful as the Christian perspective is, many born again believers are still afraid of death. Others will confess to being afraid of the dying process. Billy Graham and R. C. Sproul both openly admitted to being afraid of the dying process. They did not want to go through some terrible disease or illness, and said so.
Even with the promise of Jesus to be with the believer through whatever ordeal they face, it is hard not to be afraid of dying, or the dying process.
Nevertheless, in the hour of death, when grace is needed, perhaps the Christian will find comfort with the words of Paul, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
The words of Paul are to remember when consideration is given as to what he accomplished, what he suffered, and what he endured in life. What mattered most was his faith. That is what sustained him, and it is what shall sustain you and I in the hour of death. If we believe the Bible we will believe to die is gain.
What is gained in death?
First, freedom from sin is gained in death. In life, the body is the instrument of sin. Our eyes, our tongues, our feet, our hands, our minds, our emotions, and our wills are often the servants of sin. But in death, the vehicle for sin, the conduit for wrongdoing ceases to function.
Second, a new body is gained in death. “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:48). Whatever this heavenly body may be, it will be glorious, and recognizable (Matt. 17:1-3).
Third, a new home is gained. After death, the believer will go to a heavenly home. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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. 3 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).
Fourth, fellowship with all the saints who have gone before will be enjoyed. That is a great gain. “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
Fifth, the soul of the believer goes immediately into the presence of the Father, and that is a great gain. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
In death, there is great gain, though there is great sorrow in time.
“D. L. Moody told of an acquaintance whose only child had died. The accompanying sorrow was so great that his heart was almost broken by it. Before he suffered this loss, he had never given serious thought to life after death. Shortly after the child had been buried the friends and relatives of the man were surprised to see the deep interest he was showing in the Bible. He read it continually. When someone asked him about his sudden interest in the sacred Book, he answered that he was trying to find out something about the place where his boy had gone. He had come to the only source of satisfaction and reliable information. An instant after death the departed saint will know more about Heaven than all of the saints here on earth. But until we are called Home to be with the Lord, our knowledge is confined to what the Holy Spirit has revealed to us in the Bible” (Lehman Strauss).
Christian, trust the Bible, and be encourage in life, and in death.
Do not look upon the subject of death as something between good and evil, but as something between good, and better. To be with Christ is far better. The practical problem is that we are not convinced of that truth, in part, because we have no frame of reference for it. We rarely appreciate what we have not experienced. Not have been with Christ in heaven, we are not convinced that it is “far better”.
Most Christians are not like John on the isle of Patmos who was caught up in the Spirit to step through a door which was opened in heaven (Rev. 4:1). We are not like Paul, who was taken to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). Our faith is weak. Our spiritual eyes are dimmed. Our spiritual understanding is dull. We plead with the Lord saying, “I believe, help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
If the Lord is gracious, the heart will begin to turn from time to eternity. It will make a transition from the good of this life, to the far better of heaven (Phil. 1:23).
The far better of heaven will give way to the best that is yet to come which is the glorified bodily resurrection. The Apostle’s Creeds says, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
The Intermediate State, the time between the believer’s death and final glorification, is not something to be shunned, but to be embrace, by faith.
Care must be taken not to embrace the error of Soul Sleep, whereby the body “sleeps” in an unconscious state prior to the resurrection. That teaching finds no support in Scripture.
The stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54–59), the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8; Mark 9:1–8; Luke 9:28–36), and Rachel’s soul departing when she died (Genesis 35:18), assures the believer of a conscious Intermediate State after death.
There is an unbroken continuity of personal consciousness of every person in a life beyond the grave, according to Scripture. Some will be conscious in hell (Luke 16:19-31). Others will be conscious in heaven.
“I serve a risen Savior
He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy;
I hear His voice of cheer;
And just the time I need Him
He’s always near.
He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.
In all the world around me
I see His loving care
And though my heart grows weary,
I never will despair;
I know that He is leading,
Through all the stormy blast;
The day of His appearing
Will come at last.
Rejoice, rejoice, O Christian,
Lift up your voice and sing
To Jesus Christ the King!
The Hope of all who seek Him,
The Help of all who find,
None other is so loving,
So good and kind.”
Alfred Henry Ackley