Life Beyond the Grave
by Clem Thurman in
via Gospel Minutes, Vol. 58, No. 23, June 5, 2009.
The salient doctrine of Christianity is the teaching of Jesus Christ about the life after death. Most religions have some kind of "hope" about life after death, but only Christianity offers real evidence of that hope and also carefully defines it. Christ not only taught of the resurrection, He also prophesied of it and then demonstrated it. the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis of Christian faith and hope.
Take away the resurrection of Jesus, and Christianity will crumble into nothing, because that would remove the very keystone from this great arch. The apostle Paul writes of Christ's resurrection and ties it to our hope: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain. Yea, we are found false witnesses of God; because we witnessed of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable" (I Corinthians 15:13-19). In other words, the inspired apostle declares that everything that is unique to Christianity is false and worthless -- unless there is a resurrection from the dead. This is the central theme of the gospel.
Present Life and Life After Death
The worldly-minded person lives primarily for this life. He reasons, as Esau must have, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." He cannot concern himself with what lies beyond the grave. He feels that it is foolish to be "other-worldly," as he might call it. He indulges to the limit in all fleshly desires. He attempts to fulfill all of his temporal appetites. He dwells in the here-and-now world -- the material, the physical.
Such a person measures success in terms of what he can "lay up for himself" on earth. And when he dies, he hopes that is the end, for he has made no preparations for what lies beyond He is not willing to look at the problem of death, the end of life on earth, and attempt to solve it. His is the very common philosophy of, "Get all you can and can all you get." After all, he reasons, you have only one life to live, so get all you can out of it.
The Christian has a different attitude. He realizes that life is short and eternity is sure. He says, with the psalmist, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore years; yet is their pride but labor and sorrow; for it is soon gone and we fly away" (Psalms 90:10). Centuries later the inspired apostle agrees with that: "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. What is your life? For ye are a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that" (James 4:14,15). The attitude of the Christian is found in these words of Jesus: "For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
Hope of Future Life Is a Powerful Incentive
When a person has an abiding hope in anything, he will arrange all of his activities so that his hope can be realized. Hope is a powerful and driving force in the life of any individual. After stating that we shall be like Christ, John writes, "We know that , if He shall be manifested, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him even as He is. And every one that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (I John 3:2,3). Nothing has more power to inspire people to righteous living than the hope of life after death The basis of Moses making the right choice was "recompense of reward" (Hebrews 11:24-27). It was this great hope that enabled Paul to "fight the good fight of faith" and "keep the faith" (II Timothy 4:6,7). He then added, "Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day" (II Timothy 4:8).
The hope of life after death:
- Purifies and keeps us pure (I John 3:3).
- Is an "Anchor of the soul" (Hebrews 6:19,20).
- Sustains the sorrowing heart (John 14:1-3).
- Directs our vision (Titus 2:11,12).
- Keeps us "steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).
The Reality of Life After Death
The apostles saw the reality of life after death when Jesus was raised from the dead. And they used it as the basis for their preaching that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by Him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know; Him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it...Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was He left unto Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses...Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified" (Acts 2:22-24,29-32,36). These twelve men were there, they were witnesses of the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. And they were willing to give up their lives fro that message. We must conclude that they were telling the truth.
These apostles wrote about the resurrection:
"Who through Him are believers in God, that raised Him from the dead, and gave HIm glory; so that your faith and hope might be in God" (I Peter 1:21).
"But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear" (I Peter 3:15).
"If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable. But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead" (I Corinthians 15:19-21).
Every Christian should continually test the reality of his hope to see whether he is building on the rock or the sand (Matthew 7:24-27). As we sing:
Will you anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
The Believer's Victory in Christ
Some day all Christians will follow the glory of Christ and share in His triumph in rising from the dead. Jesus Christ, by His resurrection from the dead, has made death to us but an incident in a never-ending life. As Paul wrote: "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, Who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:55-57). The Lord, by His resurrection, has transformed us into His image (II Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 1:9,10), so that we can share His glory.
Jesus gathered the twelve together, just before He was taken and crucified. He explained that He would soon be put to death, and seeing their state of mind, He said: "Let not your heart be troubled; 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; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:1-3). He had previously taught, "Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs 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 judgment" (John 5:28,29).
John writes in Revelation 14:13, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them." This is a great and comforting announcement for Christians. Blessed are those who die "in the Lord." Why? Let the apostle Paul answer that one: "Wherefore we faint not; but though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is for a moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens" (II Corinthians 4:16-5:1).
What Will It Be Like?
God made promises to Israel that they would dwell in the "land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:13, 33, etc.). But because they did not keep His covenant, they were not allowed to enter in: "And with whom was He displeased forty years? was it not with them that were disobedient? And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that were disobedient? And we see that they were not able to enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:17-19). In a similar way, He makes promises to us under the New Testament. So, He warns us, "Let us fear therefore, lest haply a promise being left of entering into His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it" (Hebrews 4:1). In other words, God's promises to us are conditional promises, and we must do what He says to enter in to His rest: "Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:11).
We are not told about heaven, and our life after death. We don't even know what kind of body we will have; "But some one will say, How are the dead raised? and with what manner of body do they come? Thou foolish one, that which thou thyself sowest is not quickened except it die: and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not the body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other kind; but God giveth it a body even as it pleased Him, and to each seed a body of its own" (I Corinthians 15:35-38). The Bible reveals some of the conditions there: "There shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they that are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27).
When we live as He directs, we have His assurance that we shall live with Him forever in that place called "Heaven." That is the hope -- the assurance -- of the Christian, "An anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and entering into that which is within the veil, whither as a forerunner, Jesus has entered for us" (Hebrews 6:19,20).