If a man die, shall he live again? Job’s words–eloquent, succinct–right on target. The problem now is, once concerned with composition, it’s content that interests us most now. So we look to the only source of information of which I’m aware, that provides an answer to the ultimate question, in no uncertain terms. Of what value is good government, space travel, and all the hopes and dreams of mankind , if this is the end ? What good is freedom if death itself binds you? We all know what we believe, but it’s useful to review these beliefs–to compare, re-evaluate, and contrast them with the beliefs of others, and perhaps be amenable to revision.
Three alternatives that reasonable men might consider:
1. Man dies. That is the end of him.
2. Man never dies. Transmigration, pure unsubstantial immortality.
3. Man dies. This is not the end of him because of the possibility he may be raised again to new life because it pleases His Creator to do so.
The most appealing of these three considerations is that man never dies–he is immortal, or at least –and I’m sure you’ve heard this reasoning before–he embodies a ‘touch of the immortal’, surely a questionable assumption. But it does impart the feeling that no one is going to actually die. The will to live is a powerful emotion, and it’s difficult to invalidate the ego of man. The idea of immortality tends to be associated with Plato and classical Greece, and by this association gains a kind of stature. Hellenistic immortality has survived the centuries because it is based on venerated philosophical concepts.
It is notable, however, that the idea of immortality after death in a world beyond had no place in Jewish history or early Christian thought. The only hope of man was in the resurrection and perhaps immortality on earth when raised mortals will ‘put on’ immortality (1cor 15. 52 - 54). This hope is expressed many times and in many ways in the Old Testament, e.g. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan 12. 2) What happened in church thinking to obscure this common belief after the first century? The answer lies in the political and philosophical climate during the first few centuries after Christ. The church had two enemies to deal with, forces from within and forces from without. The great enemy within were the Gnostic Christians. They mixed Platonism with vulgar pagan religions and by their teachings almost destroyed the church. The Middle East was a melting pot, not only of peoples, but philosophies,. Over time its culture, Hellenistic or Grecian, was debased by Egyptian and Oriental philosophies. Many early Jewish Christians were Hellenistic, and early Gentile Christians were steeped in Grecian philosophy.
The Bible teaches a diverse truth from Plato’s inventions. Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shall return was emphasized by the Psalmist who wrote, What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? (Ps 89. 48). Here is one of many scriptural references where we see death described as the end of life–all over, finished, except for the grace of the Creator who has promised to establish a literal, earthly kingdom where men will be endowed with immortality. Key to this truth lies in how men in the 1st century understood themselves. They knew man was mortal, and when he died, he was dead–gone to dust. Christianity is a monotheistic religion, an idea hammered home to the nation of Israel many times and in no uncertain terms. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one (Deut 6. 8+). The concept of the unity of God continues into the New Testament where the same truth is emphasized. And we would do well to listen to His answer to the question, ‘if a man die, shall he live again?’ The reality of death being the end, except for the grace of God, is the most logical explanation in accordance with the facts. This idea could never have evolved from other religions, by those who saw god in nature, fire, wind, rain and sun, a practice amounting to no more than demonology or black magic. God, who acts in history, only incidentally acts in nature. This is a strong argument for the efficacy of biblical teaching.
Belief in natural immortality is no part of the subject of the Bible. The fact that the word itself itself appears not at all in the Old Testament has some significance . In the New Testament the word occurs only five times and refers only to the immortality of God. It is man mortal who must ‘put on’ immortality. God’s covenant with man is a gift, one requiring obedience . Those who scoff at Adam and Eve had better think twice. The pair refused to believe the serpent lied when he told them they would not surely die. Think again and embrace a more noble purpose.