Despite the untruths promulgated by all the false religions down all the centuries, and not least the contradictory nonsense so widely held by the nominal Christian church, so far as Scripture is concerned (and that is our ONLY authority) nothing whatever is known of any form of human disembodied existence. This fact cannot be restated too often, because the almost universal view to the contrary held in the religious world is a root cause of a whole mess of unscriptural teaching. For the truth is that, apart from resurrection, death would mean annihilation; in the sense that human bodies, having been resolved to their original chemical constituents, would so remain; the "person" or soul which had resulted from the union of spirit and soul remaining forever "unseen" so far as any future is concerned.
Orthodox Christendom, for the most part rightly insistent upon belief in the resurrection of our Lord, has little or no use for any teaching which has in view the resurrection of believers, or of the human race as a whole. The idea is put to one side as being quite unnecessary for, after all, according to their teaching no one ever dies, but proceeds (in some curious way) immediately from the death-bed to either a place of blessing and reward called "heaven" or to a place of judgment and punishment which is known as "hell." Pagan ideas both, of which Scripture knows nothing.
Since the possibility, even less than the certainty, of our personal resurrection is seldom, if ever, mentioned in religious addresses, the only reminder of its truth comes to ordinary persons (strangely enough) when they attend a funeral service, where almost invariably the opening words are "I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord." That resurrection and life should be spoken of at the time when men's thoughts are fully occupied with death has an unconscious significance, for it was at the time when the sisters of Lazarus were mourning his death that our Lord uttered His stupendous declaration.
The development of our Lord's revelation is well worth examining, for His words contain far more than is generally realised, as indeed does the whole story centered around Lazarus, for there is much for us to learn from it. So far as his relatives and friends were concerned, the death of Lazarus was an unmitigated disaster; indeed, an aggravated disaster, since as the sisters told the Lord "if you had been here our brother had not died." Yet the Lord had previously told His disciples that Lazarus had already died, "And I am rejoicing because of you, that you should be believing, seeing that I was not there." It has been well said that we, also, may look around upon disaster and death and rejoice, not in the calamities themselves, but in the glory that will accrue to God when He deals with them. Death will always be our enemy, but as the last enemy, He will eventually destroy it entirely.
As we read the account in John 11, we may also feel some degree of surprise (should the orthodox view of death be true, which of course it is not) that the Lord, in seeking first to comfort Martha, did not give her an assurance that her brother was "in glory" and "safe in the Father's house." If such things were true, He missed a golden opportunity of making the position clear beyond any shadow of doubt, thereby saving His followers of later generations hours of fruitless speculation. But the record states that He did no such thing. He gave Martha the best possible assurance by saying "Your brother will rise again."
Curiously enough, NO orthodox Hebrew believer was ever in any doubt about this. Certainly the Sadducees taught there was no resurrection, a fact seized on by Paul to set his accusers one against the other, for belief in resurrection was a firm dogma of the orthodox. So our Lord's words to Martha came as no surprise to her; she merely replied "I am aware that he will be rising in the resurrection at the last day." God's many promises to the faithful of Israel demanded resurrection for their fulfilment; as the writer of Hebrews says, "They all died in faith not having received the promises, II and since these promises were earthly and literal im realisation (although of a heavenly nature) no believer of old was ever so foolish as to look for their implementation in some never-never land while in a state of death. They HAD to be resurrected in order that God might keep His Word.
And here it is that the Lord makes His striking claim, "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
We must remember that resurrection is one thing, but life is quite another. In previous numbers of this magazine we have dealt at some length with the two resurrections of which John relates (5:29) "the resurrection of life" and "the resurrection of judgment." The very word "resurrection" implies life, but not necessarily in a continuous sense. And there are other resurrections apart from these two, in particular one in which Lazarus would have a part, long before Martha's "last day;" indeed it will take place at the very commencement of the thousand years of righteousness, when the Lord will resurrect the saints of Israel to enjoy the fulfilment of the promises God has given to Israel to rule over the whole earth. This resurrection will take place, according to Scripture, seventy-five days after the Lord's personal appearing (Rev. 20:6). Our Lord is the Resurrection as He is "the firstborn from the dead," and He is also the Life because this blessing of immortality He grants to all who are accounted righteous. This is the sense in which He "has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:10).
For those who are fortunate enough to be called during the present day of grace there is a promise of life still earlier than this, as Paul details in First Thessalonians 4:13-18, so that his readers (and we) should not be ignorant concerning those who sleep, because those who are reposing will God,through Jesus, bring forth with Him. Paul quite evidently expected his hearers to know what the death state was like, and this revelation, together with its amplification, is clearly intended to make it quite clear that even if, like Martha. they believed in a resurrection at "the last day" here was something much earlier in time, and much more exolusive. This promised event, which will include living believers who survive until His presence, brings not only resurrection but age-long life to all who are affected. The Apostle explains this in detail in First Corinthians 15 (that marvellous Chapter) especially in verses 51 to 55, and in Ephesians 1:12 he refers to us as being "in a state of prior expectancy in Christ." Again, in his Philippian letter he speaks of our awaiting the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, Who will transfigure the body of our humiliation to conform it to His glorious body. Our resurrection or our changing will lead to life, and it is one of the only three resurrections which do so. The first, of course, is that of Christ Himself, He Who is the Son of God, having Life in Himself, powerfully designated the Son of God by resurrection "out from among dead ones." The second we have referred to, and it is the portion of all those who are His and it takes place at His future presence. The third and last is the all-embracing resurrection of the remainder of the race, after death has been destroyed, at the consummation (I Cor. 15:22-28).
When in days to come we are able to look back with understanding at the story of the ages, we shall see that they were the stage for three great conflicts: 1) between the Truth and the Lie, 2) the Good and the Evil; and (3) between Life and Death. And while it may seem to us that God is constantly being worsted by Evil, especially in this present day, and that Truth is almost an unknown quantity because of the proliferation of the Lie, never, at any time, does our Lord come into the presence of Death without immediately defeating it. He is the Life!
We must not forget that those raised in the past, such as Lazarus and others, died again; and those who will be raised to judgment at the great white throne are not then made immortal. It is only at the long-distant consummation that Christ, who is the Life, having overcome all opposition, grants life to all who then are not previously vivified.
It seems very strange to those who believe the Scriptures that the great hope of our resurrection should have been put aside by the majority of nominal believers in favour of a quite untenable (as well as unscriptural) theory, to the effect that "there is no death: what seems so is transition." Wherever that theory sprang from it was certainly not Scripture, although part of the blame may well be laid at the door of those translations, so many in number, which persist in ignoring the Greek and perpetuating the Latin in "translations" which use the long-discredited terms "for ever," "eternal" and so on, which are taken from the Authorised Version. In point of fact, in that version the great declaration "I am the Resurrection and the Life" is followed in the very next verse (26) by the further words, "And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." If such should be the truth one may well ask what was the point of resurrection? And what shall we say! to the indisputable fact that all who have lived and believed ever since, even until our time, have either died or will die unless the Lord comes first? In the previous verse (25) the Authorized Version reads "He that believeth in me, tbough he were dead, yet shall he live," but the word "yet" is not in the Greek and is unwarrantably introduced both by the A.V. and R.V. Of all such multiplied and compounded errors the false doctrine of "endless life has been concocted, which of course springs from Satan's first lie: "Hath God said, Ye shall surely die? •••• Ye shall NOT surely die." Men have ever been more than ready to believe the lie and reject the truth.
As with nearly all errors, this pagan idea of deathlessness contains a germ of truth, for mankind is composed of two elements, soil and spirit; and spirit, obviously, is indestructible. So at death, as Scripture informs us, "the spirit returns to God 'Who gave it It" and in acknowledgement of this fact our Lord, in His own dying moments, said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" just before He exhaled and died. Thereupon we observe that He was entombed, a fact seldom mentioned or recognised in most religious teaching, and still it is a fundamental Scriptural doctrine which Paul declared as one of the "first things" in his evangel. It appears significantly in that part of his letter to the Corinthians which explains the doctrine of the resurrection (I Cor. 15:4). Paul well merits the title of the Great Explainer.
How great are the tragedies of unbelief! The Genesis account of the creation of man shows us exactly how we were made; as God creates a body from the soil, breathes into its nostrils His spirit of life in WHICH man became "a living soul". Death reverses the process, the body returns to the soil and the spirit returns to God, while the soul is then unseen. And He Who unites body and soul in creation will do so again in resurrection.
The chapter in which we read the account of Lazarus is also remarkable for the insistence with which the Lord Jesus declared the truth of the resurrection and His own essential part therein. As we refer to John 11 we find in addition to His great declaration that He, in Himself, is the resurrection and the life, our Lord also referred to the resurrection of a man as being "the glory of God." In John 5:21 He said also "For even as the Father is rousing the dead and vivifying them, thus the Son also is vivifying whom He will." Here it should be noted that there is considerable difference between the three terms which Scripture uses in describing the return to life: Raise, Rouse and Vivify. Some are raised without at once being vivified—Lazarus was not vivified, for he died again. The great mass of mankind is not vivified until the conclusion of the eons, At the Crucifixion we are told that "many bodies of the reposing saints were "roused" and entered into the city and were disclosed to many. We are not told that these persons were either raised or vivified.
We who believe are vivified NOW as to our spirits but our soulish bodies still suffer death and corruption, awaiting the glory that shall be revealed in us when we are awakened or changed, and become the recipients of spiritual bodies like that of our Lord. His resurrection is the pattern for all who have died in faith while expecting NOT some pagan heaven or hell for their disembodied spirits (Paul in II Cor. 5:4 calls the death state "nakedness") for we are awaiting rather a resurrection in glory, even the "sure and certain hope" to which the liturgy of the Church of England does at least pay lip service.
It is hardly necessary in a paper of this kind to produce the evidence Which Scripture abundantly offers to explain the death state; no true student of God's Word will fail to recognise the facts concerning it or be misled by the jargon which the religious use regarding tho Be who are dead. But one feels that it is still necessary to underline the importance of our resurrection.
Rightly enough, the expectation of the saints is centered upon the promise cf I Thess. 4:13-18, but in the nature of things it must be no more than a small minority of the Lord's people who will live to become as Paul said live, "the living who are surviving unto the presence of the Lord." The majority will comprise all such to whom he referred as "those who are reposing." We should conduct ourselves as though expecting to live until the presence of the Lord yet meanwhile content to accept death if He wills it so. Our alternative expectation remains based on the promise that, at the shout of command and the sound of the trumpet, "the dead in Christ shall be rising first." We are completely secure in either of the two events; whether we may die beforehand or survive until the presence of the Lord. No wonder Paul adds, "Be consoling one another with these words." Here we may well pause to wonder if the orthodox ever read such Scriptures as the passage quoted in the foregoing and how they may explain the evident fact that Paul was never told about present popular religious teaching that we now "go to heaven" the moment they die, whereas Scripture clearly requires a previous resurrection.
Whatever may be the beliefs of the religious, and however many phantasies they may hold concerning what they call "the next world," it remains undisputably true that the Lord and His apostles were extremely definite regarding the resurrection which eventually would be the portion of all, whether a resurrection of life or a resurrection of judgment. "The dead," said the Lord Jesus, "shall be hearing the voice of the Son of God." He spoke also of a future and more distant hour "in which all who are IN THE TOMBS shall hear His voice" (John 5:25,28,29).
In the sixth chapter of his account where John has recorded the works of Him Who is the Resurrection and the Life, while speaking there about the bread of life as the source of eonian life, we find this oft repeated and significant utterance from the lips of our Lord: If And I will raise him up at the last day. If This makes it more than abundantly clear that eonian life (common1y but mistakenly rendered "everlasting" life) is a life which can result only from a previous resurrection. Even the believer can receive eonian life, not when he dies, but when he is raised up by the Lord. He became the living bread which came down frail heaven; and if any man eat of this bread he shall live for the eons. Our Lord purchased the power to raise the dead, even as He said: "And the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." As Dr. Bullinger points out, the Authorised Version hides that line of discussion which really goes on to say: "But the bread, moreover, which I will give; this bread is My flesh. My flesh is My body, which I will give up in death."
It is particularly instructive to examine the above mentioned chapter, and to observe with what insistence our Lord taught believers to look forward to their own resurrection as their shining hope. At that time He had not revealed the Mystery or Secret which He subsequently made known through His servant Paul regarding the special and earlier gift of life promised then to those who comprise the church which is His body. Consequently there in John He spoke only of "the last day." That term is found only in John's Account where it refers to the coming of Messiah in glory.
Despite the popular religious phantasies which we have mentioned here; especially such commonly heard phrases aa being "called home" and many similar terms, there is one delightful way in which these erroneous phrases do contain a germ of truth insofar as the believer is concerned. We know from Scripture that "the dead know not anything," and "there is no knowledge or device in the grave;" in other words, the sleep of death is total unconsciousness. Anyone who perhaps in his youth has experienced a completely dreamless sleep will know how it seems that the moment of falling asleep becomes simultaneous with the moment of awakening. Even so it will be for those of us who do not survivs until the coming of the Lord. As far as our consciousness is concerned, the moment of our death will be followed immediately by the moment of our resurrection!
If we seek still further information about the fascinating subject of resurrection, we can receive it best from the Apostle of the Gentiles in First Corinthians chapter 15. "How are the dead raised up?" is a question he first assumes that a listener may ask, and then his discourse goes on to supply the answer, even the order of successive resurrections, and all this culminates with an unforgettable note of triumph: "This mortal must put on immortality" and "this corruptible must put on incorruption!"
No naked ephemeral spirits for Paul; rather the expectation that we shall all be "clothed upon" with new bodies at the command of Him Who is the Resurrection and the Life! Likewise as Paul said also for himself, "I believed, and therefore have I spoken" (II Cor. 4.13), even so we too believe and therefore we speak: "Knowing that He Who raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you."
Cecil J. Blay (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Fifteen, November-December 1974)