If you are of a pessimistic nature, you might think that “We came from oblivion and as sure as night follows day, after our relatively short period of conscious existence, we shall return to oblivion”. But is that really the case or is there a better alternative?
Life and Death
There was a time when we didn’t exist, when we had no consciousness, with neither feelings nor thoughts. That was the time before we were born. We came from there − from oblivion – and came into existence because God confers the gift of life upon everyone, whether we recognise it or not.
And we know, all through our lives, that there will come a time when we will cease to be, because we have seen what happens to colleagues,
relatives and friends. Their life has ceased to exist, but have they returned to oblivion or have they any other prospect of continuing to exist, perhaps in a better place? To find out we need to consult the Bible, for that is our guide in all things that have to do with God and His gracious purpose.
Here are some Bible verses which explain that death is the cessation of existence:
For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:5–6).They are dead, they will not live; they are deceased, they will not rise. Therefore You have punished and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish (Isaiah 26:14).
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to the grave. I am counted with those who go down to the pit; I am like a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and who are cut off from Your hand (Psalm 88:3–5).
Return, O Lord, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks? (Psalm 6:4–5).
The Message Distorted
If your reaction to those passages is to dismiss them because they are from the Old Testament, not the New, it is well to remember that modern thinking about life after death has been adversely affected by the influence of Greek philosophy. In the four hundred years between the two Testaments, when Israel was ruled over by Persian and then Greek Empires, their belief systems were distorted by much fanciful thinking about automatic immortality.
That same thinking has affected much of church teaching and understanding, so that today many people assume that we have an inherent ability to continue living in heaven after we die, or might end up in Hell if we are unfortunate, though at funerals everybody is given the benefit of the doubt! Again, the question we should be asking is: “What does the New Testament teach about life after death?”
New Testament Death
The first thing to note is that the Lord Jesus Christ, no less, said this about heaven:
No one has ascended to heaven but he who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven (John 3:13).
Jesus had originated in heaven in the very thought and plan of God. So as part of His Father’s rescue plan for mankind he came from His Father’s plan in heaven, but there is never any indication that other humans have migrated there after death. Jesus expressly denies that! His emphasis is clearly upon this life and the way we use our God-given opportunity, for God offers us the prospect of eternal life and Jesus died to make that possibility a reality for us, if we choose to obey God and respond to that offer now:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He who believes in him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:14–18).
A New Testament Example
When Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died, he told his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” The disciples thought Jesus meant that Lazarus was having natural sleep but; “Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’” (John 11:11–14).
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, near Jerusalem, his dear friend had been dead for four days (11:17) and his two sisters – Martha and Mary – both said “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died…”
Jesus did not say that Lazarus was now in a better place, or seek to comfort them by suggesting that he was now being looked after by the angels in heaven. Instead he said quite simply:
“Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that 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, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:23–25).
That was a remarkable statement but Jesus then proceeded to show that it was no false claim. Proceeding to the tomb where Lazarus had been interred, he told the mourners to “Take away the stone” and they did so despite the protestations that Lazarus had been dead four days and his body would have started to corrupt. Notice how Jesus was a complete master of the situation:
Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 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 grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:40–44).
This miracle showed forth the glory of God to all those who witnessed it and invited everyone to believe that God had sent him. Jesus is the key to both resurrection and eternal life.
Not the Whole Story
Death awaits us at the end of our life and we will all then be laid to rest in an unconscious state. If we are never awakened, and that will be the fate for some people, it means a return to the oblivion from which we came.
But it doesn’t have to be like that, as we are told in the Word of God. If we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, if we believe in the saving work of his death on the cross and obey his Commandments in our lives, then, although we die and return to the dust of the earth, resurrection is promised to those who have heard, understood and responded to the gospel message.
It was the prophet Daniel who said this:
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2).
This verse tells us clearly that there is going to be a day of judgement as well as a day of resurrection. Some will sleep on forever – in oblivion – but “many” shall awake to see the Lord Jesus in his glory.
Covered by Christ
Jesus once told a parable about the judgement to come known as the parable of the Wedding Feast. Read it in Matthew 22:1-14 and you will see that we can only be admitted into the joy of the Lord (as resurrection bliss is called) provided we are covered by Christ’s righteousness.
In the parable this covering is depicted as a “wedding garment”. In reality, it means that only through Christ can our sins be forgiven and we can be counted as righteous before God, when we believe in him and are baptized into his saving name.
Those who are rejected – who experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are those who return to oblivion having glanced what they might have experienced had they lived differently.
It is, therefore, a very wise thing to use the time we have upon this earth by seeking to obey God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we will not end up in oblivion forever, but might be raised from the dead and be granted the enormous privilege of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus returns to earth, he will usher in a time of great blessing and then the life that God means us to enjoy will really begin. God’s Kingdom on Earth.
By Grahame A Cooper