While we all know something about living a physical life, it is important to gain an understanding of death and what is beyond. Paul’s perspective in I Corinthians 15:19-26 is very enlightening: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death [through Adam], by Man [Christ] also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” Christ came so that we could live life more abundantly now. However, the hope we have beyond this physical life so far supersedes the present.
Death, according to God, is the enemy. Death is not a pleasant situation to think about. But understanding death can free us from excessive sorrow, worry and anxiety. None of us, regardless of our age, know what tomorrow will bring in terms of our mortality. “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. . . . Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that”‘(James 4:12-14).
James has made it clear that we can make plans, but we really don’t know what will happen tomorrow because we’re mortal and have that capacity within us to die. This physical life is simply not permanent. Solomon wrote about the wisdom that he gained through the years on this topic. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; . . .” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Nevertheless, when we understand why God decided to create mankind as physical beings, and His ultimate plan for us, it all makes sense. There is a purpose for this very temporary life that we live.
God intends for this physical life to be a training ground for mankind who accept God’s calling and who desire to participate in the conversion process of writing His laws into our minds and hearts via the Holy Spirit. This process prepares each of us for the immortal life which comes at the time of the resurrection.
Notice Job 14:10-12: “. . . man dies and is laid away [lies prostrate]; Indeed he breathes his last And where is he? As water disappears from the sea, And a river becomes parched and dries up, So man lies down and does not rise. Till the heavens are no more, They will not awake Nor be roused from their sleep.” So, the dead are buried or cremated, and will be awakened at the resurrection. That is the point: those who have died will live again.
In Genesis 2:7 we learn that “. . . God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” King David, speaking of mankind adds more about what happens at death: “His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:4). At death, the mind ceases to work. There is no mental turmoil, there is no more anguish, there is no more pain, there is no more stress in death. It stops. However, the spirit in man departs.
At this point, we need to understand more about the “spirit returning” to God from Paul: “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ ‘But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:9–11). The spirit, which is not the soul, is not the nephesh, is an amazing aspect when we consider human intellect. The spirit that God put in man gives us human intellect. “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?”
Paul is saying that God put a spirit essence in man creating in him the ability to reason and function above the rest of the physical creation. God adds His Holy Spirit to the spirit in man when a person repents and embraces God’s way of life so he/she can understand more than just the physical aspects of creation. We can begin to understand the mind of God, His nature and character, and His view of the death of the natural man. He knows that we will all live again.
Two examples about a resurrection after death are of Job and Lazarus. Job knew that he would live again: “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands” (Job 14:14). Job understood there would be a period of time between his death and resurrection.
Christ resurrected His friend Lazarus back to a physical life: “Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’. . .Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go'” (John 11: 21-24, 41-44).
It’s helpful to see Peter’s attitude toward his own death. “Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent [ body], to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent [die], just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease” (2 Peter 1:13-15). Peter’s focus is about taking care of the brethren, planning for them after his death. He did not communicate with fear or anxiety.
Paul’s feelings about his death were written to Timothy when his death was imminent: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Paul had complete confidence in the promised resurrection to life and was reassuring Timothy of that reality. “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3 -5).
Christ does speak, however, of more than one resurrection: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. . . . Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25-29 ESV).
Those in both resurrections will hear God’s voice and will be wakened from the dead. The first resurrection to immortal life, the second is a physical life to judgment. Judgment is now on the house of God. Those in the second resurrection will be judged in the same way. They will have a lifetime of testing, being judged by what is written in the books of the Bible. We find that in Revelation 20. So, there is great hope for those who’ve never been called.
Then there is a third category of people at the end who have refused to repent and change. Revelation 20:15, says that those not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire. God will remove evil permanently when that time comes, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:53–54).
For Further Study: The Spirit in Man