After Death - What?
- O. Palmer Robertson
Since the beginning of the coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of people have died. The news media bring us daily reports of the increased number of deaths. The numbers are beginning to compare with the plagues of ancient days
But not one word has been said in the news media about what happens after death. Because of the general denigration of the human being, virtually everyone assumes death is the end of it all. As with the brute beasts, so it is assumed to be with humanity.
But just what if there is something after death? What has happened, and what will happen, to all these people whose lives are suddenly snatched away? At first, the concern was with older people whose lives have already run their course. More recent reports indicate that healthy teenagers also have fallen victim to death as a consequence of the coronavirus.
So, After death - what?
Two ancient words speak very clearly to this issue. Note well:
“It is appointed for all men once to die, and after this the judgment.“ Hebrews 9:27.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23.
What do these words say about death? They say two things. First, they say that death is the consequence of sin. If there were no sin, there would be no death. These words also say that God appoints the time of each person’s death. He determines the day of your death.
What do these words say about the human situation after death? They say that after death, every person will stand before God to be judged. Once and only once to die, but after this the judgment. They also say God offers a gift, an undeserved gift, a gift of eternal life to everyone who puts their trust in Jesus Christ his Son.
These startling statements are true. If most people do not believe them, that does not make them any less true. Their truth is confirmed by two considerations.
The first consideration is your own self-consciousness of guilt and accountability. Every human being lives with some sense of guilt. This self-consciousness regarding guilt very often increases as a person comes closer to the time of death. You may be at that point in your life in which you seriously dread your death and the prospect beyond death. Something within tells you it may be true that you will give account to a holy and righteous God. Some people have a stronger sense of guilt and accountability than others. But in any case, it is a matter that deserves your most careful thought.
The second consideration is an historical event that can hardly be denied. It is the historical event of the nation of Israel’s exile and restoration. You may be unfamiliar with these historical events. But they are facts of history that would be difficult to deny.
God warned Israel through Moses that if they failed to keep his law, he would drive them out of the land of promise as a judgment for their wrongdoing. This warning to Israel came almost 1000 years before Assyria and Babylon conquered them and deported the great majority of their population from their homeland. By that time, Israel was offering child sacrifice in fire to their foreign gods. It was an awful and awesome moment in Israel’s history. Many people died by the sword. Wives were permanently separated from their husbands, and children from their parents. They became slaves in bondage to their conquerors for the rest of their lives. These are hard facts of history.
Just prior to their expulsion, the prophet Jeremiah the prophet anticipated their return to their homeland 70 years prior to its happening. These prophecies are recorded in the biblical books of Deuteronomy and Jeremiah.
But what is the ultimate significance of Israel’s exile and restoration? Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones explains the nation’s experience. God showed Ezekiel a valley filled with dry bones. These dry bones represented Israel’s death through exile. But God asked his prophet, Can these dry bones live? The prophet humbly answered, Lord, only you know.
God told the prophet, Speak to these dry bones. As Ezekiel spoke, the dry bones began to connect to one another. Then flesh and skin covered the bones.
What is the meaning of this vision? It means resurrection after death. Israel’s return to their homeland, vividly pictured in the new life breathed into the dry bones, reveals God’s intent to raise the dead. Israel’s “resurrection” depicted in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones finds its climactic realization in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a descendent of those dry bones that came to life when Ezekiel spoke to them.
These are facts of history. In fulfillment of prophetic words spoken by God’s servants Moses and Ezekiel, Israel went into exile and then experienced a glorious restoration. Their experience anticipated the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the son of God. By his resurrection, Jesus has been established as the one who will ultimately judge the living and the dead. He was proven to be the innocent one, the Son of God who did not deserve to die. For that reason, God has appointed him as the judge of all other people.
You would do well to consider the historical facts of Israel’s exile and restoration, the nation’s death and resurrection. Think about what happens after death as you consider Israel’s “death” and “resurrection,” their exile and restoration.
For it is appointed for all men once to die, and after this the judgment. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Daily deaths are being reported as a consequence of the coronavirus. The death of someone close to you may have been included in these reports.
But after death - what? God’s word says there is a time to be born and a time to die. It also says, God has made everything beautiful in its time.
The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. With that expectation and hope, you need no longer dread death. For in Jesus Christ death has lost its sting, the grave has lost its victory. Your death can be transformed by him into the gateway to eternal life.