The End of Death

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Harold Kushner got the worst news a father could get when his son was three years old. He had been diagnosed with a degenerative disease that meant the boy would live in almost constant pain until the of his death. He wasn’t expected lived past his teen years. This terrible situation made Kushner ask a question a lot of people have asked: Why God? In fact, years later, Harold Kushner would write a best selling book that examines the question of suffering, and you’ve likely either heard of it or read it: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Out of his family’s suffering, many people have found a measure of comfort in Kushner’s observations on the subject.

Somebody else who suffered greatly was Eliza Edmunds Hewitt. She was born on June 21, 1851 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended the Girls Normal School and was the valedictorian of her class when she graduated, and she became a teacher.

She led a charmed life, until the day of her suffering came. In no time, she was confined to bed with an awful spinal problem. She was in constant pain for years. Her grand children think her condition resulted from a very minor accident on the playground when she was child in school. Her whole life changed. No longer able to teach or walk or enjoy a normal life, Eliza Edmunds Hewitt could easily have become bitter and miserable, spending her lonely days and nights blaming God for the sorry state of her life. Instead of that, though, she put pen to paper and wrote words that we sing in church today:

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.

Refrain:

When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when trav’ling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

She would later recover somewhat and return to an almost normal life, although she would have recurrences of the pain until the day she died. It’s amazing that in the midst of a far less than ideal life, a woman like Eliza Hewitt could write songs about life in Heaven!

A lot of people think about heaven, though. They may not write books or songs about it, but they long for a day when their suffering will come to an end and a life without pain or struggle. Christians know Heaven is that place. Christians also know they have to die to get there. That’s a good news-bad news kind of thing. In considering our eventual end, what we’re really considering is our own personal eschatology. While most of us know that “eschatology” is a study of end-time events, it is also a term that describes how WE will end. So, let’s try to get a grasp on an issue we all think about, but world rather not talk about.

Death

We all die. In spite of Bible verses like this one, there’s not a person reading this who won’t die:

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55c-57 | NIV84)

It sure seems like there’s no victory over death! But of course, we know that’s not exactly what Paul is getting at in those verses. The fact is, sooner or later, we will all die. There is no escaping death.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 | NIV84)

“Man is destined to die.” There it is, in black and white. Now we know that we human beings die only physically; our souls live on. Our Lord taught as much:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. (Matthew 10:28a | NIV84)

In a very real sense, man is an immortal being the minute he is born into this world. His body may die, but he will continue on for all of eternity, in one location or another. But make no mistake about it, what kills the body is not cancer or heart disease or old age. Ultimately, sin is what kills the human body. Death is the result of sin entering the world.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 | NIV84)

An interesting thought, though, is this line of reasoning from the apostle Paul to the Romans in Romans 5. In that chapter, he taught that death entered the world through the act of one man, Adam. We are Adam’s descendant and therefore we inherit his ability to not only sin but also to die. But the Christian has been set free from that curse thanks to Christ’s death. We are no longer slaves to sin. Why, we might ask Paul, do Christians still die? Obviously death was originally the punishment (or as Paul wrote, the “wage”) for sin, but there is no possibility of any kind of punishment for the Christian. God’s wrath has been removed from us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.(Romans 8:1-2 | NIV84)

The answer to that question takes us back to the cases of Harold Kushner and Eliza Hewitt and God’s remarkable ability to take an intolerable situation and turn it into something good and beneficial. For years, Kushner’s book has brought comfort and solace to countless people who have lost loved ones or who are going through some sort of tragedy. Generations of Christians have been uplifted and able to worship God as they sung the words to Eliza Hewitt’s hymns, written from her sick bed. God has done the same thing with death. For the Christian, what appears to be a disaster is really the means by which our salvation is consummated. Death becomes the doorway to eternal life with the Father. Death is merely a part of the sanctification process that will lead to our final resurrection.

The Intermediate State

But what happens after we die? Theologians refer this period immediately after death as our “intermediate state.” It’s called “intermediate” because it’s a temporary state. It’s that period of time after our physical death and before our resurrection. While our body remains in the grave when it dies, our soul and spirit will be made perfect when they are freed from the body and pass directly into glory.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 | NIV84)

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:23-24 | NIV84)

During this period, we will be conscious. Some religions teach “soul sleep,” but the Bible makes it clear that there is no such thing. After death and during this “intermediate state,” we are fully awake and fully aware of what’s happening and fully aware of where we are. For the believer, our destination is heaven, or “Abraham’s side” in the parable Jesus told. For the unrepentant sinner, the destination is a less than desirable location. What should be noted in this parable is that in either location, the soul/spirit is conscious.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. (Luke 16:22-23 | NIV84)

At the final resurrection, both parties receive their body and will spend eternity in a location based on God’s righteous judgment. The unrepentant sinner (the “rich man” in the parable) will spend an eternity of his own making, based on his rejection of God’s truth and the quality of the life he lived.

Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:21-22 | NIV84)

The believer (a fellow named “Lazarus” in the parable) enters his “final state” in his glorified body and will receive his inheritance or reward and will forever dwell in the New Heavens and the New Earth, Revelation 21, 22.

  • The Resurrection

Let’s take a closer look at our resurrection. Christians are very familiar with Christ’s Resurrection; we celebrate that event every Easter! But we are generally uninformed about our resurrection, even though it is spoken of many times in Scripture.

Basically, the Bible teaches that when Christ returns, the dead will be raised. The entirety of 1 Corinthians 15 deals with this very topic, and so do these verses:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2 | NIV84)

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:24-26 | NIV84)

It’s hard to get your mind wrapped around this, but the resurrection of our bodies will be similar to that of Christ’s and at that time we will receive our eternal, glorified bodies. This is called the “redemption of our bodies,” meaning that our old, worn out bodies will be exchanged for our perfect ones. All this happens in an instant.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 | NIV84)

Both the saved and the unsaved will be raised, but there are different ideas as to the exact order of timing events. For now, the important thing to remember is that death is not the end for either the saved or the unsaved. Both will live on in eternity, in one location or the other, and each will receive a new “house” for their spirit/soul.

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