THE LAST THINGS
Death and its aftermath are subjects to which the human mind repeatedly turns. The very mystery enshrouding them becomes their somber attraction. Concerning them no living person has any firsthand personal information. The most we know about them comes from observation and revelation. We have seen people die; and while we have watched their facial expressions and listened to their parting words, no one has ever been able to penetrate the consciousness of a dying person when actually leaving this world, nor to follow the spirit into the world beyond.
The future is known only by revelation. Since no one among us has ever been beyond the veil of death, we have no contemporary testimony concerning the nature of that experience.
Numerous theories have been propounded, each proponent claiming to base his ideas on revelation divinely given. Others there are who will frankly say they accept no revelation but what they advance is the product of their own thought. When listening to those claiming Bible authority we must learn to distinguish between what has actually been revealed and the manner in which men interpret that revelation. Much has been declared with a tone of authority which would evidently seek to stamp it as final, and with accompanying anathemas and denunciations upon any who would dare question it, which, although frequently based upon collected verses from the Word of God, does not have the backing of a sane and sound exegesis.
The subject before us is of vital importance. We must take care, therefore, not to bolster up a theory, however attractive, merely for its own sake. Clear thinking, sane interpretation, and sound judgment are essential. It will therefore be necessary carefully to examine whatever theories are presented to us, and candidly to evaluate them, receiving only what may be definitely proved as being broad-based on the clear statements of the inspired Word, interpreted by the best Christian scholarship in the light of the clear setting of each passage.
THE FACT OF DEATH
The fact of universal death needs no proof. Not only is it plainly declared that "it is appointed unto men once to die," but human experience has endorsed it. Here and there fanatical souls have been found who have made extravagant claims concerning their hold on life, but only to their own confusion; for in every case they have necessarily gone the way of all flesh.
Two notable exceptions are recorded for us in the Scriptures, namely, Enoch and Elijah, who were taken up to heaven without dying, and concerning each of these a special purpose is indicated. But in no case, either in Bible history or otherwise, is there any record of any man however good who remained on earth without dying.
The reason for death involves more controversy, and concerning it very different views are held.
The older theologians have insisted that death is upon the human race as the penalty of sin, whereas some more modern writers contend that physical death is not and never was meant to be a curse or punishment for sin. Death was known in the world, say they, long before man made his appearance, and man simply inherited a similar life cycle to that of his animal ancestors.
It is useless to argue with these modern philosophers. Since neither they nor we were present in those early days of the world's history, neither they nor we have firsthand knowledge. We have, however, a firsthand report, a divine revelation with a clear but simple statement of fact, telling us how death came, and why. Genesis 3; Rom. 5:12; I Cor. 15:21.
There are minds to which such scriptural statements mean nothing but a basis for argument; but to those of us who seriously affirm the divine inspiration and consequent inerrancy of the sacred Word, they are final authority. Death came through sin.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE STUDENT
Since very different views are held on the reason for physical death, the student will do well to read further, and if possible, become clearly informed on both sides of the teaching.
- What is our final authority for the insistence on the fact of life after death?
- What two exceptions has God already made, where men have left the earth without dying?
- What two theories are propounded concerning the reason for physical death? State each theory. Name the one which appeals to you. Then answer the other theory.
THE SURVIVAL AFTER DEATH
In our study on the subject of man, we closed with a section captioned: "The Question of Man's Destiny." There we saw that man's superiority above every other creature was in the fact that within him was something which linked him with the eternities. That something we have chosen to call immortality.
There, however, we did not concern ourselves with any distinctions about the afterlife, but simply insisted on the fact that, by the very constitution of his nature, man is destined to survive the dissolution which we call death, and somewhere to exist forever. We now take up the thought of that survival, inquiring as to how and where.
1. The Intermediate State
On the subject of the soul's immediate condition after death, there has been much difference of opinion and no little confusion of thought. Some have taught that this state is a further probation; others regard it as a period of purgation; others again have contended for a period of unconscious soul sleep; while some seem to have the hazy idea that immediately on leaving the body the soul passes to its reward either in heaven or hell.
The general orthodox position seems to us still to be satisfactory, and we can see no reason to change or modify our thought. It may be stated as follows: According to the plain teaching of the Word of God, the fact of death is simply a dissolving of the present ties between the body and the spirit, whether of the righteous or the wicked. Passing into a temporary accommodative condition, called by many the intermediate state, the spiritual part of man is without a body until the time of the resurrection. That state is of necessity for the redeemed a time of felicity and joy, and for the unrepentant a time of suffering, although this is but the antechamber to a fuller participation in either case.
a. Of the wicked dead it is indicated that they are "in prison," whatever that may mean (I Pet. 3:19). They are "in hell," being "in torments" (Luke 16:23). Here attention should be called to the fact that the word translated hell is the Greek word hades, which seems to convey the idea of a place of waiting, the torment endured being primarily that of a haunting memory which has become an inward flame, whereas in other passages which later we shall contact we find the word gehenna, also translated hell, but definitely indicating a place of suffering.
b. Of the godly dead it is declared that their spirits go "to God." Eccles. 12:7; Heb. 12:23. That they are with Christ" and "in paradise." Luke 23:42-43; II Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:23. That their condition is one of conscious blessedness. Matt. 22: 32; Luke 16: 22; 23: 43; John 11: 26; I Thess. 5:10; Phil. 1:23; Rev. 14:13. That they are not yet wholly satisfied. Rev. 6:9-11.
They are "reserve [d] ... unto the day of judgment to be punished" (II Pet. 2:9).
Thus it would seem that, while distinctly separate, neither the godly nor the wicked have yet entered into their final abodes, one awaiting the judgment seat of Christ and the other the judgment of the great white throne.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE STUDENT
The question of the afterlife is, at its best, shrouded in mystery. All we know is what an all- wise God has seen fit to reveal. It is useless to speculate; yet it is becoming for the obedient soul to inquire. The basis of our inquiry is to be the Word of God.
- What would you consider to be the chief argument for an intermediate state?
- If there is an intermediate state, what is the condition of the wicked there?
- Also what is to be said of the godly dead?
THE RESURRECTIONS; THE JUDGMENTS; THE MILLENNIAL DAY
When we speak of the resurrections we mean that manifestation of divine power in bringing back from the grave the physical body. When we use the plural it is to indicate our belief that, according to the plain teaching of the Scriptures, the great resurrection fact will be worked out in distinctive phases.
It has been customary among some of our post-millennialist brethren to talk about the general resurrection and the general judgment; this we deem to be fallacious, believing it to be the teaching of the Scriptures that the dead will be raised in their respective groups, and that with each resurrection group will be associated its own special judgment. These may be stated as follows:
1. The Resurrection Of The Crucified Christ -- sealing God's judgment on sin and Satan
The fact of Calvary's uplifted cross was both a tragedy and a triumph. In His weakest moment, in the very act of dying, the Son of God did something which none of the mighty deeds of His lifetime could ever approach. He bore our sins. I Pet. 2:24; 3:18. He took our sinful nature to the Cross. Rom. 6:6; II Cor. 5:21. He dealt the deathblow at Satan and all the hellish powers. John 12:31; Col. 2:14-15. All this was verified and sealed by the Resurrection. Rom. 1:4.
The Gospels and Epistles describe our Lord as bringing back from the tomb the actual body which had been crucified and buried. Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20-21; Acts 1:1-3; 2: 22-36. Notice especially here verse 31. "Neither his flesh did see corruption." The resurrection of Jesus concerned the actual body that went into the grave.
2. The Resurrection Of The Godly Dead, The Rapture Of The Living Saints, And The Judgment Seat Of Christ
This is the next great event to which the Church now looks. It is to take place at the appearing of our returning Lord as He comes into the air to catch away His own who are still alive and to call from the graves those who have died in Christ. John 14:1-3; I Corinthians 15; Phil. 3:11, 20; I Thess. 1:10; 4:13-18; Heb. 11:35; Rev. 20:4-6; Rom. 14:10; I Cor. 3:11-15.
As the New Testament is carefully studied, it becomes evident that these men with whom Christ founded and began to build His Church understood the resurrection as being distinctly physical and having to do of all with His own people; immediately to be followed by the event designated by Paul the judgment seat of Christ.
At this judgment seat the believer's works are to be tried, awards are to be made, and a place in the millennial Kingdom is to be assigned. All this will have to do exclusively with His own people, the Church, and will be separated from the resurrection of the ungodly dead by a period of a thousand years.
It is during that thousand years, known to Bible students as the millennium, that Christ, having come to earth with His saints now clothed in shining glory, will destroy antagonistic forces, judge the nations, then set up His throne and reign. Matt. 13:36-43; 25:31-46; II Thess. 1:7-10; 2:1-12.
During all this period of millennial glory the ungodly dead are to remain in their graves, to be awakened to judgment when the Kingdom reign shall cease.
3. The Resurrection Of The Ungodly Dead And The Judgment Of The Great White Throne
"But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (Rev. 20:5). Here again we have a literal, bodily resurrection, followed by an amazing judgment scene before the great white throne. Rev. 20:11-15. What an assembly! Every unrepentant sinner who has ever lived, whether notoriously wicked or proudly self-righteous, standing before God in the body in which he so arrogantly sinned, and one by one faced with life's record, by it condemned and consigned to a never-ending hell. This is the second death.
Here then are the resurrections: (a) the resurrection of Jesus Christ -- who became the First Fruits of a glorious harvest yet to follow; (b) the resurrection of the sleeping saints, whom death will not be able to hold when Jesus descends from heaven with a shout to claim His own; (c) the resurrection of the ungodly dead, who for a thousand years after the first resurrection will remain forgotten in their graves.
Here too are the judgments: (a) the judgment on sin and Satan, (b) the judgment seat of Christ, (c) the judgment of the living nations, (d) the judgment of the great white throne.
All this will help us to evaluate correctly the numerous errors around us, such as: (a) Soul sleep -- the teaching that the spirits of both righteous and wicked sleep between the moment of death and the day of the resurrection. The figure of sleep, used concerning death, has to do with the body, not with the soul. (b) Purgatorial purification -- the teaching that sins committed in this life after baptism are expiated by suffering in the life beyond the grave. From the teaching of the Scriptures it is evident that the sufferings of the ungodly are the workings of remorse, and provide no remedy for past transgression, whereas the godly, being with Christ, are beyond suffering of any kind. Therefore the teaching of purgatorial purification is entirely unscriptural. (c) Annihilation -the teaching that the wicked will be eternally destroyed. According to the plain teaching of the Scriptures, the torment of the wicked is to be eternal. There can be no annihilation of a human soul. (d) Universalism -- the teaching that because of the love of God and the Calvary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, every soul and some say, even the devil himself -- must ultimately be saved.
Such teaching is plainly contrary to the Word of God.
SUGGESTIONS FOR THE STUDENT
In these studies, at most we have done no more than touch the high spots. Make these a basis for further investigation. Wide reading and careful thought will be profitable here.
- Some have talked about the general resurrection and the general judgment. Discuss these expressions.
- Show what the Bible teaches about resurrection.
- Show what the Bible teaches about judgment.
- Relate the various phases of resurrection to the various judgments.