After Death

But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
~ Acts 20:24

My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.
~ Psalm 119:120

For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.
~ Ecclesiastes 5:7

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.
~ Hebrews 12:28-29

The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
~ Psalm 9:17

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. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
~ John 5:29, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, Revelation 20:14

Death and Immortality, by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Six of his work, “Great Doctrines of the Bible”.

What does the Bible tell us about death? The first thing is this: Death is not merely the cessation of existence. The common view held by the world is that death is just the end of life. Death means, it is said, cessation of existence. A man exists; he dies; he is no longer existing, and that is the end of that. But that is not the biblical teaching at all! In fact, biblical teaching is the exact opposite, as I shall try to show you. Bible writers are very anxious to assert and to emphasise that death does not mean the cessation of existence. Death, according to the Bible, is simply the separation of the soul and the physical body. Here we are in this life, and the soul and the body are intimately connected; they are one. My soul functions in and through my body. When I die, my soul will leave the body. My body will still be left here in this world; my soul will go on. So, death is the separation of soul and body, but by no means the cessation of existence.

Now, I could give you many texts. Two very important ones clinch the whole matter. The first is Luke 12:4-5. Here our Lord says to His disciples, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But…Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell.” Or, as we read in the parallel passage, Matthew 10:28: “him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” There are some people who can destroy the body. “Do not be afraid of them,” our Lord says. The One to fear is the One Who can destroy the soul as well as the body.

And our Lord’s teaching in Luke 16 about Lazarus and Dives obviously teaches the same thing. The rich man, Dives, dies; the poor man, Lazarus, the beggar at his gate, also dies. They both leave their bodies behind; but their souls are there, existing in that other realm: it is the separation of the soul from the body. That is the fundamental biblical definition of death.

So, the next question to ask is this: Why do we die? Why is there such a thing as death at all? The popular view here, the popular philosophical view, is that death is inherent in life, that death is a part of the life process. Life comes into being: there is a beginning, a sprouting. And that is followed by a movement: life develops, it blossoms, it matures, it attains its full maturity, and then it begins to decay. Why? It is because life is meant to go so far but no further; and when it reaches its peak, it begins to go down the other side of the hill. So, the teaching is that as life was constituted, it had within it this germ, this seed, of death.

But that is, again, far from being biblical teaching. According to the Bible, death is not a part of life. It is not something inherent in it but is the punishment for sin. It was introduced because of sin. You will find this in Genesis 2:17: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”—or, “dying thou shalt die”…You find the same teaching exactly in Genesis 3:19. And it comes in the New Testament in Romans 5, where the apostle Paul shows how death entered in because of the sin of Adam: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (v. 12). Death, you see, came by sin.

There is another very interesting statement of the same teaching in the epistle of James: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (Jam 1:14-15). So, the biblical teaching is that death was introduced as God’s punishment for sin. There was no death until man sinned and there would have been no death if he had not sinned. This is a vital biblical principle, and it cuts right across the popular modern philosophy that controls the teaching of the vast majority of people.

So then, we have seen that we die because of sin, and we have seen what death is. But at this point many people are in trouble. They say, “All right, I’ll accept that; but then the problem you leave with me now is this: Why does a Christian, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, have to die?” “I’ll admit,” says this person, “that death was the punishment of sin; but after all, if I have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, my sins are forgiven. I am justified. I am reconciled to God. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). Why, then, does a Christian have to die?”

Now, that is a most interesting and important question, and there is a kind of subdivision to it. There are many people who argue in the same way that a Christian should never be ill because Christ’s death on the cross dealt with all the consequences of sin. This very argument forms much of the basis of the popular “faith-healing” movements today—as well as of the cults. Those who believe this say that a Christian should never be ill because healing is a part of the atonement, and they quote Matthew 8:17, which is itself a quotation from Isaiah 53:4 about Christ bearing our sicknesses. They say that when Christ died on the cross, He nullified all the consequences of sin. So, it is important that we should take those two ideas together because it is clear, is it not, that death was most certainly not dealt with in that way in the atonement.

Regarding physical death, the Christian believer must die just as the unbeliever has to die. We are waiting for “the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23), which means that we are waiting for the body to be delivered from death, from sin, and from sickness. They all go into the same category. It has pleased God to allow sickness to persist, death to persist, and sin to persist, even in the Christian. He could have made us immediately perfect had He chosen to do so. He could have abolished death immediately and all sickness, but He has not so chosen. The teaching of the Scriptures is surely perfectly clear in these respects; and it is a misunderstanding of the atonement with regard both to sickness and to death to say, without any qualification, that the atonement has dealt with all the consequences of sin. It has done so for some immediately. Ultimately, it will do so for all.

So, it seems clear that Christians are still left subject to suffering, sickness, and death as a part of the process of their sanctification. These are a part of God’s chastisement (see Heb 12:3-13), so that the Christian can say today, as the psalmist says in Psalm 119, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” and, “Before I was afflicted I went astray” (vv. 71, 67). There is also that teaching in 1 Corinthians 11 in connection with the Communion Service…that because some people do not examine themselves, they are “weak and sickly” (v. 30). Illness is a part of God’s process of discipline.

This does not mean that every time we are taken ill, we are of necessity being punished for sin. But we may be.

There is also no doubt that death, like illness, is one of the means that God uses to sanctify us. The fear of death has often been a blessing to Christian people. There have been Christians who, carried away by success in this world, have started to backslide, forgetting God and their relationship to Him. But suddenly they have been taken ill or have seen someone die, and this reminder of death has brought them back again; and God has healed their backsliding. God has chosen, it seems to me, to use sickness and death very much as He used the nations that He left behind in the land of Canaan to perfect the children of Israel when He brought them out of captivity in Egypt.

But let me hasten to add that though Christians are still subject to death, their view of death should be entirely different from that of the unbeliever. Why? Because of what they know. You can see this, for instance, in that great statement in 1 Corinthians 15:55. Every one of us should be able to look in the face of death and say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” In Christ we know that “the sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 56-57). This does not mean that we speak lightly and loosely and flippantly about death, but it does mean that we know that its sting has been taken away by the atoning death of Christ and by the satisfaction He gave to the Law. We know, too, the teaching of the apostle Paul about death being a “gain”: “Having a desire to…be with Christ,” he says, “which is far better” (Phi 1:21-23), while Revelation 14:13 tells us, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.”

So far, then, we have been considering the question of death itself and have thought about why Christians must die.

The next question that follows is: What happens after death? And here we come face to face with the idea of immortality. This has often been hotly debated. Is the human soul immortal? Has it an inherent, essential immortality or has it not? Great volumes have been written on this subject, but generally most of their pages are devoted to a philosophical discussion of the subject, and I do not think it is a part of my task to weary you with that.

We start by saying quite frankly that the Bible does not use the term “immortality”: it does not make an explicit statement that the human soul is immortal. But while there is not an explicit statement, I suggest to you that no one can read the Bible in an unprejudiced way without gathering the impression that it assumes everywhere that the human soul is immortal. If, for instance, nobody ever told you that the immortality of the soul is in doubt, reading the Bible would never have raised the question in your mind.

But first let me put the arguments against the belief in the immortality of the soul. There is a statement in 1 Timothy 6:16 that says of God, “Who only hath immortality.” “Now,” it is said, “if anything can be plain, there it is. There is a specific statement to the effect that God alone is immortal.” Now, the answer is that that statement is perfectly true. God alone has immortality in and of Himself. But the fact that this is true only of God does not mean that God may not have decided to give that gift to men and women. No one would claim that they, in and of themselves, are inherently immortal or can, indeed, achieve immortality. But the reply of those of us who do accept the immortality of the soul is that God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen to give the gift of immortality to the human soul. He need not have, but He has chosen to do so. We can say, therefore, that God alone has immortality in and of Himself as His right and as His possession, but He has given it as a gift to the souls of men and women.

But let us consider further arguments. It is said that as we read the Old Testament, we do not get the suggestion and the teaching that the human soul is immortal. Everything seems uncertain; everything seems shadowy. As the author of the book of Ecclesiastes puts it, “A living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecc 9:4), as if to say that, of course, when we are dead that is the end; we are finished. The Old Testament, it is said, seems to indicate that death is just the end.

Now, the answer that is generally given to that argument is that there is a kind of progressive revelation in the Scripture and that ideas are much plainer and clearer, for instance, in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. As we work through the Bible, we find a kind of development of doctrine. Things are hinted at, then they become a little plainer, and then yet more plain, and finally absolutely plain. Indeed, Scripture tells us that it is the Lord Jesus Christ alone, by His resurrection, Who has “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Ti 1:10). But they were there before. There were these suggestions; there were all these adumbrations.6 Christ has brought life and immortality into the full light of day. But when we say that, we must not say that there was nothing there before. There was, but it was inchoate, incomplete. It was a mere suggestion; and, therefore, there is a development in the Old Testament teaching. For instance, the Old Testament does state very clearly that there is a place called Sheol, a state where the dead go. The Old Testament teaches that death is not the end but that the dead go on living; and all people, the good and the bad, descend together to Sheol, or (to use the Greek word) to Hades.

Not only that, but certain specific statements in the Old Testament teach the immortality of the soul. Verses 10-11 of Psalm 16 say, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” And if we go on to the next psalm, we again find immortality stated very clearly in verse 15: “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psa 17:15). You could not have anything stronger or more explicit than that. Psalms 16 and 17 are of very great importance in this connection, and that is why they are quoted several times in the New Testament itself.

In the book of Job, Job states, “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” (Job 19:25-26). And there is a very strong affirmation of belief in immortality in Psalm 73, where the psalmist says that his hope is in God, that he has no one on earth but God, and also says, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (v. 24). There it is. And there are many other verses. If you go through the Old Testament and make a note of them, you will find that the evidence is very powerful…

In addition to all this evidence, there is a further piece of evidence that always seems to me to be very important. It is the prohibition in the Old Testament against consulting familiar spirits. This prohibition is referred to, of course, by the so-called Witch of Endor who, when consulted by that tragic man, Saul, the first king of Israel, was able to produce the presence of the prophet Samuel. Now, there is a great deal of teaching in the Old Testament against the consulting of familiar spirits and against resorting to spiritism or spiritualism, and this prohibition is a powerful argument in favour of the immortality of the soul. If the spirits of men and women did not persist after the death of the body, there would be no need for such a prohibition.

Then, finally, let me come to the New Testament teaching, which is very striking. There is the statement in Luke 12:4-5, which I have already quoted to you, that we should fear Him Who not only can destroy the body but can cast the soul into hell, suggesting that though the body may be destroyed in this world, the spirit goes on. And then there is the evidence produced by the event that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration when Moses and Elias appeared and spoke to our Lord. This shows that Moses and Elias are still in existence (Mat 17:1-8).

And notice, too, the use that our Lord made of the statement, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Mat 22:32). He was being questioned by a clever man who was trying to trap Him regarding this question of the immortality of the soul, the persistence of life after death. When the trick question was brought to Him, that was His reply, and He continued, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” In other words, our Lord’s argument was that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive and God is their God now.

Then look again at the story of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16. Lazarus is there in Abraham’s bosom. The rich man is also there: he is dead—yes—but he is still active. He is conscious; he is seeing; he is concerned. Death is not the end. That is very definite and specific evidence that the soul goes on after death.

When Christ died, He suffered the penalty of death on the behalf of all His people, and therefore no believer now dies by way of punishment for sin, since we cannot dream that a righteous God would twice exact the penalty for one offence. Death since Jesus died is not a penal infliction upon the children of God: as such He has abolished it, and it can never be enforced. Why die the saints then? Why, because their bodies must be changed ere they can enter heaven. “Flesh and blood” as they are “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” A divine change must take place upon the body before it will be fit for incorruption and glory; and death and the grave are, as it were, the refining pot and the furnace by means of which the body is made ready for its future bliss.—Charles H. Spurgeon