"O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou will have a desire to the work of thine hands."--Job 14:13,14
This question appears in one of the oldest books of the Bible (Job 14:14). Today, it is as important a question as when it first was asked. The answer determines our destiny, colors our theology, and steers the course of our lives. Correctly answered, a major step is taken towards mental soundness (2 Tim. 1:7).
Of course, so profound a question has had ample study since the beginning of the reign of sin and death. One might think that by this time the subject would be thread-bare and that the world would be so thoroughly informed that nothing new could be said and no one would be curious to hear. The number of intelligent people who attend our meetings and write requesting literature indicates that all that study has satisfied very few people.
Not many years ago a poll was conducted among public personalities: ministers, scientists, authors, doctors, lawyers, statesmen, executives, and social workers. Numbers of them professed to believe in life beyond the grave, but many openly admitted that this belief was only a hope on their part. They had no scientific evidence to prove that life continues after death.
The more one considers the question, the more it appears that the answer must lie in the power and purpose of God. If the Creator has the power, it may be so. If it is God's purpose, it will be so.
We do not doubt the power of God. We see his handiwork throughout the physical universe. Our own bodies attest his mighty power at work in us.
But is it his purpose to restore life to the dead? It would be great news if this were God's purpose. The word "gospel" means good news. The Gospel (or "good news") of God is the glad tidings of great joy announced by the angels at Jesus' birth. That Gospel proclaims that God provides humanity the opportunity to have and to enjoy everlasting life.
Jehovah says this through the Prophet Hosea: "I will ransom them from the power of sheol [the grave]" (13:14).
Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live"(John 5:25).
Again he said, "...an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28, 29).
It will be convenient to discuss "immortality" under nine headings. Let us first state them and then discuss them:
The Terms "Mortality" and
Immortality is a state in which death is an impossibility. Most people limit the word to mean everlasting life. Immortality, however, means inherent life, a condition in which death could not occur. This point will be developed more fully later in our discussion.
The word mortality, however, is commonly misconstrued. Most people think that it is a state in which death is unavoidable. This understanding is incorrect. The word refers to a state in which death is a possibility, but by no means a certainty.
With these points in mind, we are prepared to consider the creation of Adam. Adam was created mortal; created in a condition in which either death or everlasting life were possibilities. The condition that would prevail depended on whether he pleased or displeased his wise, just, and loving Creator. Had Adam remained obedient, he would have continued living until now--and forever into the future. However long he lived, he would have remained mortal (liable to die if disobedient). Such a condition would not be one of uncertainty. God, with whom he was dealing, is unchangeable. Adam could trust that life would continue unabated so long as he remained loyal and obedient to the Creator. More than this could not reasonably be asked.
Adam enjoyed unrestricted life before his disobedience. It was not inherent life, however, because Adam was not immortal. His life was sustained by "every tree of the garden," except of course for the one forbidden tree. Continual obedience meant continued harmony with God. Harmony with God meant life. God assured that those elements which sustained him would never be denied. Thus seen, Adam possessed life. Death was entirely avoidable, even though it was always a possibility. Adam was mortal.
Everlasting life and immortality are not synonymous. They are erroneously thought to be synonymous. Immortal means more than power to live everlastingly. Scripturally, although millions will enjoy everlasting life, only a few will be made possessors of immortality. Only a few will share God's own nature.
Immortality originally belonged to Jehovah alone. "...the Father has life in himself" (John 5:26). God's existence was derived from no other and he did not depend upon anyone else for continued existence. Any being whose existence depends upon another, or for whom conditions such as food, air, light are essential is not immortal.
Anyone who thinks that the Bible abounds with such expressions as "immortal soul," "undying soul," "never-dying soul" is urged to pick up a Bible concordance [an alphabetical Bible index of principal words, with a reference to the passage in which each occurs and usually some part of the context]. Look for these words and any others of similar tone. You will not find them in the Holy Bible. They are expressions that theologians coined to express their own ideas, not scriptural ideas.
The Bible teaches that angels enjoy everlasting life but are nevertheless mortal. The "everlastingness" of angelic life does not continue because they cannot die (not, that is, because they are unable to be destroyed by their Creator). They live because God continues their life as long as they obey his equitable rules. They are mortal and will continue mortal as long as they live. The Bible intimates nothing to the contrary.
Proof of this is scripturally obtainable. Satan, once chief among them, is to be destroyed. "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death he might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). The fact that he can be destroyed proves that angels, as a kind of living creature, are mortal.
Orthodox theology has a standard answer for this question. It says that man is composed of three parts: body, spirit, and soul. The body is born in the usual manner of animal birth, except that at the time of birth God interposes and in some mysterious manner implants in the body a spirit and a soul. These two attributes are parts of himself. Being parts of God, they are indestructible and can never die. Spirit and soul are indistinguishable by orthodox theology and hence the terms are used interchangeably. Both terms are understood to mean the real man. The flesh is considered to be merely the outward clothing of the real man, in which he dwells for the years of his earthly life. This is akin to a person living in a house. Orthodoxy says that the man, the real man, is released from his prison house of flesh and finds himself in a condition more congenial.
Orthodoxy, then, claims that the real man is not an earthly being at all. He is a spirit and as such is wholly maladapted to the earth, except through the experiences of its fleshly body. What happens at death? Death is a great blessing, they say. After death it is no longer necessary to use various means to sustain the fleshly house. Medicine, surgery, hygienic appliances, and prostheses are no longer needed to prolong the soul's life in flesh.
This rather remarkable view is not restricted to civilized people. In a general way all heathen people have a similar thought.
Science says that man is the highest type of animal yet developed. Man's body differs from other animals in its higher abilities and nobler purposes. Man's brain bears some similarities to the animal brain but is more completely developed with additional and expansive capacities. Man's breath, or spirit, is like that of other animals. Man's organism and its spark of life are passed to it from its ancestors in the same way that beasts receive their life and their bodies from their progenitors.
Science sees every man as a sentient, or feeling, being. Concerning the future, beyond the grave, science can be of no help. It has no suggestions to offer nor even a reasonable hypothesis.
We've looked at theologians and at scientists. What does the Bible say? Interestingly enough the Bible agrees in certain points with both views--and contradicts both views also.
King Solomon was well known for his insight. It was suggested to him that animals and people experience death differently. Animals simply cease to exist. Not so humans, he was told. They continue beyond to some other side of the grave. What was his response? "Who can prove it?" He knew that man possessed remarkable moral attributes not duplicated in animals, but he was a keen observer who saw no difference in the kind of life they possessed compared to the kind of life man possesses. This is what he said:
"For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth?"--Ecclesiastes 3:19-21
Solomon was not unusual among scriptural writers. His thought, that there is no work, device, knowledge, or wisdom in the grave (Ecclesiastes 9:10), is the united testimony of the Bible. David, in the psalms, declares that in the day one dies his thoughts perish (Psalm 146:4). Job, discussing the same question, says the dead man's "sons come to honor, and he knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them" (Job 14:21).
The Bible story of creation reads like this: "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). The record seems to say that the body was created first, but that this body was not a soul. After it was animated by the spirit of God it became a soul. Note that the account does not say that man possessed a soul. No, he became a soul. The body had eyes, but saw nothing. It had a mouth but tasted nothing. Its nostrils had not yet sensed smell, nor did its heart pulsate. Blood had been formed in the veins but the body was cold and the lungs had not yet moved. It was not man. It was an inanimate body.
The next step in creating man was to animate the properly formed body. The Bible describes it this way: God "blew into his nostrils the breath of lives." As the vitalizing breath entered, the lungs expanded, the blood corpuscles were oxygenated and entered the heart. The heart propelled those corpuscles into every organ of the body, awakening the prepared but inanimate body to sensation and energy. In an instant the energy reached the brain and thinking, perception, reason, sight, touch, smell, and taste commenced. What had been a lifeless human body became a man, an aware being. The "living soul" condition mentioned in Genesis 2:7 had been reached.
This is otherwise illustrated by a candle. Unlit, the candle nicely illustrates the human body. Lighting the candle represents the spark of life which God implanted in man. The flame, or light, corresponds to man's aware condition, to his being a sentient being. The oxygen laden atmosphere unites with the carbon found in the candle and the spark ignites a flame which is different from the candle (carbon) or the air (oxygen).
If an accident destroyed the candle, the flame would cease. Similarly, when the human body is destroyed, the soul or life ends. If air is cut off, the light is extinguished, just as life ends if air is withheld from the body as in drowning or asphyxiation.
A lighted candle can light other candles just as the human passes its own life to successive generations through procreation. But, once dead, no human can restore its own life any more than a candle can re-ignite itself.
An extinguished candle can be relit, however, by anyone possessing a new spark. The human body can be rekindled to life, but only by the miracle-working power possessed by God alone. Only he can restore the body which so quickly wastes away. Only he can restore from the dust of the earth a body which he created and for which he alone knows all the plans and intricacies.
Christians often confuse themselves by their very search for an understanding of man's nature. Why? Because the scriptures talk about two separate groups of people to receive God's salvation. Unless one uses the biblical principle of "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15) they cannot avoid being confused. Let us explain.
God promised that all men shall have the opportunity to gain life. "As in Adam, all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). This is not the only promise God has made, however. New Testament writers also talk about a "little flock" (as compared to the "all" being discussed in Corinthians) to whom God shall "give the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). This group is also called a "royal priesthood," the "body" of Christ, the "bride" of Christ and several other names. God has been selecting this group from all tribes and nations of earth and they are being prepared for a life in spiritual realms after this life on earth has ended for them. The selection has been proceeding for nearly 2,000 years--the duration of the Gospel Age.
The New Testament, especially, distinguishes between these two groups of men and women. Some sections are devoted uniquely to the church, other sections are devoted to discussing God's plans for the world. God has many great and precious promises, but they do not all apply equally to all people.
Scores of verses apply only to the church which has been begotten again by the holy Spirit to a new and spiritual life. To illustrate this open your Bible to the epistles. Note how each is addressed. They are not letters to the world at large. No. Each is addressed to "the saints," "the household of faith," or some other phrase which defines those called out from among the world for special nurture and direction. These are the candidates for the "first resurrection" spoken of which precedes the general resurrection which shall follow.
"Immortality" is the correct translation of only one Greek word. That word is athanasia. It appears only three times in the New Testament:
mortal must put on immortality"--1 Corinthians 15:53.
Evidently, the first two of these scriptures relate to individual members of the glorified church. The third relates to our glorified Lord Jesus (the Father here, as elsewhere in the scriptures, is excepted from comparison--see 1 Corinthians 15:27).
The hope of the church is to be like her Lord, to "see him as he is," and to be made a "partaker of the divine nature" (immortality), and share his glory as his joint-heir (1 John 3:2; John 17:24; Romans 8:17; 2 Peter 1:4).
The present mission of the church is the perfecting of its members for their future work of service. In pursuit of this mission these are developed in the various graces of God and also witness to the world of his plan and glory. Through these two experiences they are prepared to be "kings and priests" in the next age (Ephesians 4:12; Matthew 24:14; Revelation 1:6; 20:6).
The world has its own hope. That hope lies in the blessings of knowledge and opportunity which Christ's Millennial Kingdom shall give to all. All that was lost in Adam shall be restored to all who are willingly obedient to God. The glorified church will be the instrument that brings these blessings to men. When all the willingly obedient have been blessed, then the willingly disobedient will be destroyed forever (Acts 3:19-23; Isaiah 35).
The true definitions of the terms "mortal" and "immortal" destroy the foundation of the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment. That doctrine is based upon the unscriptural theory that God created man immortal and that he cannot cease to exist. This false teaching suggests that God created something which even he cannot destroy. They falsely teach that the soul must live on forever. They falsely conclude, also, that because they are out of harmony with God they must therefore be in a condition of misery.
God's word assures us that such ideas are completely unfounded. He has provided against such a continuation of sin and sinners. Man is mortal and the full penalty for willful sin against full light and knowledge will not be a life in torment but a "second" death. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die."
When incorrigible sinners have been destroyed (not continued alive in any sense of the word, anywhere, but destroyed--Psalm 145:20), both immortal and mortal beings will live forever in joy and happiness and love. The first class will possess a nature incapable of death. They will possess inherent life--life in themselves (John 5:26). The latter will have a nature susceptible to death but will not die. Why not? Their then perfect bodies, their knowledge of evil and the penalty for sin will make them willingly obedient to God. Being approved by God they will be supplied with the elements necessary to live forever.
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