August 6, 2018

After This Life

About a year and a half ago, we held the funeral for my wife’s father, a man our children and grandchildren knew as Grandpa Brown. Our grandson Moses, who was not yet three at the time, had captured the idea that his great-grandfather had gone to Heaven. When it came time to open the casket at the close of the service, he turned to his dad and said with some astonishment, “He’s here?” When children are told someone is in Heaven, it is difficult for them to comprehend that the body remains, although the soul of that individual is in eternity.

In Luke 23:39-43, we find an account that illustrates the difference between the final destiny of the body and soul. There we read of the deaths of the two criminals who were crucified on either side of Jesus. “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Both of these men had lived a life of crime. In some places in the Gospels they are called thieves; in this passage they are identified as malefactors. They were more than makers of mischief; they were criminals, perhaps even murderers. Both of these men lived and died and were buried. However, before their bodies were buried, their souls had gone into eternity. One had prayed, and the Lord’s response was, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” He went to paradise, though his body remained on earth.

Another illustration of the soul existing after death is found in Luke chapter 16, where we read of the deaths of the rich man, who is unnamed, and the beggar whose name was Lazarus. There had been a contrast between their earthly lives. The rich man “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day.” Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gate and desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. However, they had one thing in common: they both died. Scripture records that one was comforted in eternity and the other was tormented . . . but both of them were in eternity, though their bodies remained to be buried.

A common end for the physical body

Throughout the Bible we find accounts of individuals who lived, died, and were buried. Abraham lived 175 years. Then we read that Abraham “gave up the ghost” (Genesis 25:8). In today’s wording, it might read that he “took his last breath.” The next verse tells us, “And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.” They had a funeral service, but Abraham was already gone.

Abraham’s son Isaac lived for 180 years. Genesis 35:29 records, “And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”

In the Acts of the Apostles, we read of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to the Holy Ghost, and this was revealed to Peter and others in the Early Church. Acts 5:5 says, “And Ananias . . .  fell down, and gave up the ghost.” He breathed his last. Continuing in verse 6 we read, “And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.” However, his soul was already gone when the burial took place. The same thing happened to his wife.

The Bible often speaks of death as sleep because it is temporary—there is a waking time coming.

As the martyr Stephen was being stoned, he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). In verse 60, we read, “And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” The Bible often speaks of death as sleep because it is temporary—there is a waking time coming. In Acts 8:2 we read that devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and “made great lamentation over him.” Though his body was buried, Stephen was with the Lord!

We may not be wealthy like the rich man, or a beggar like Lazarus. We will not live 175 or 180 years like Abraham and Isaac—in fact, we may not live another day! However, we have something in common with all of these men: we are living, and we will die. Our bodies will soon be disposed of in some manner, but our souls immediately will be ushered into eternity.

Mortality and immortality

The separation of body and soul at death becomes more understandable if we look back to Genesis 2:7, where we see that the body and the spirit were distinctively and separately created. The Lord God formed man (the physical body) of the dust of the ground. Immediately thereafter, He breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Unlike the rest of creation, man was given a spirit; man’s soul was created spiritually alive.

In Ecclesiastes 12:7 we read what occurs when life ends: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” This speaks of the mortality of our bodies and the immortality of our souls. A separation takes place at death! Every physical body is mortal, and will eventually return to dust. Every soul is immortal—either saved and spiritually alive, or unsaved and spiritually dead—and will continue to exist forever.

We are accountable for our choices, and they will have consequences—they will determine our eternal destiny when we die.

Our spiritual nature is what defines us as moral creatures. God has given each of us a conscience. We see that even in little ones. When toddlers create mischief or challenge the authority of their parent, they look over their shoulders to see what the reaction is from the one they disobeyed. It is true that a conscience can be seared over time, but God has given us an ability to perceive right and wrong, and that is part of what makes us moral creatures. God also gave a free will; we exercise that freedom when we choose to serve Him or not to serve Him. We are accountable for our choices, and they will have consequences—they will determine our eternal destiny when we die.

The origin of death

Death originated in the Garden of Eden when the devil put doubts into the mind of Eve, asking her, “Hath God said?” God had commanded, “Ye shall not eat of it [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (Genesis 3:3). However, Adam and Eve took of that forbidden fruit. They made a choice, and although they did not die physically at that moment, they did experience spiritual death.

There are three kinds of life, and correspondingly, three kinds of death. First, there is physical life and death. When we are alive physically, we are breathing, there is brain function, and our hearts are beating. Physical death occurs when we stop breathing, brain activity ceases, and our hearts stop beating. At that moment, our soul separates from our body.

There is spiritual life and spiritual death. Spiritual life is a state of being alive physically and living in fellowship with God. Spiritual death is to be alive physically, but separated from fellowship with God. Spiritual life was the state of Adam and Eve before they sinned in the Garden, and spiritual death was their state after they sinned.

Finally, there is eternal life and eternal death. Eternal life is to be forever in fellowship with God; eternal death is to be separated forever and irrevocably from God.

Moses was referring to spiritual life when he admonished the Children of Israel, “Choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). That is also what Jesus says today. When He was on this earth as a man, He declared that His purpose in coming to this world was “that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). We do not have to go through life as dead men walking. We can go through life spiritually alive!

The dead will live again

Although our physical bodies are corruptible—they will deteriorate and return to dust—we will live again. Job asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). In Job 19:25-26 he gave the answer, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” Job had a hope of living again!

Isaiah had the same assurance. In Isaiah 26:19 we read, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust.” It will happen! The bodies of those loved ones who have ceased to live on this earth will one day awake and sing.

Jesus also spoke of the dead rising again, saying, “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 damnation” (John 5:28-29).

Some will rise at the Rapture

There is one group of people who will not die physically—the followers of Christ who are alive when Jesus returns at the Rapture of the Church. The term rapture comes from a Latin word meaning “a carrying off, a transport, or a snatching away.” Although that word does not appear in the Bible, the concept of the “carrying off” or the transporting away of the Church is clearly taught in Scripture.

Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” These mortal bodies of ours are not built to be carried away. Our physical bodies must be changed in order to be taken to Heaven.

We have hope that the Rapture will occur while we are alive. We think of it and pray for it. When the trials of life come, we are more likely to say, “Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus,” but we want it to be on our minds continually.

Although the Rapture will be sudden, it is not unexpected. We know it will take place!

Although the Rapture will be sudden, it is not unexpected. We know it will take place! In Luke 17:24 we read, “For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.” It will take place in a moment—in a twinkling of an eye.

Paul used the expression “caught up” when he referred to this event in his letter to the saints in Thessalonica. We read, “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The graves will be opened. Some have wondered if that means there will be holes in the ground in the cemeteries after the Rapture takes place. However, when Jesus arose from the dead, it was not necessary for the stone to be moved so He could get out. It may be that the cemetery will look the same as it did, but the dead in Christ will not be there anymore. They will have risen! While we do not understand every detail, we know there will be a physical resurrection. Continuing in verse 17, we read, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” This is our hope if we have been saved and have made it a priority to serve God throughout our lives.

Preparing for eternity

Maintaining our relationship with God is going to take determination. In Acts 14:22 we are told that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” We are going to be tested and tried. Even so, this is not a hard way! There are countless people in our congregation today who were saved at a young age and have stayed saved from then until now, though there have been many learning experiences along the way.

Where do you intend to spend eternity? We have in common that we are alive; we have in common that, unless Jesus comes first, we will die. However, a day of separation is coming when some will be carried away. We want to make our preparations—to be ready when that moment comes.

Do you have the assurance that you are saved—that you have passed from death unto life? If not, what an opportunity you have today! Pray a simple prayer and ask forgiveness for your sins. Tell the Lord that by His help, never again will you sin. The Lord will empower you to walk with Him for the rest of your life, and be ready to spend eternity with Him when it is your time to die or the Lord returns for those who are ready.

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