God's Concern for Man
The Bible, being a revelation from the Creator, gives us information about man's origin, his nature, and God's purpose with him. The record tells us of the entrance of sin and death, and accounts for the frustration in human life which all men experience, and also gives us information of the way God will bring His purpose to the consummation He had in view from the beginning. We now consider what the Bible teaches us concerning man.
The question "What is man?" is part of a statement by the Psalmist, who wrote: "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet " (Psa. 8; 3-6). The Psalmist asked the question because he recognized a divine purpose in human life. God thinks of man, for God made him, and made him with a plan for his future. The greatness of the heavens shows the smallness and frailty of man-yet the Bible here and throughout its pages bears testimony to the fact that his Creator has not ceased to be mindful of him and of his destiny.
The ultimate proof of this divine concern for man is to be found in God's work in Jesus Christ. Explaining the Psalmist's words in relation to Jesus, the Apostle says that while we see not yet all things put under man, we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for very man" (Heb. 2: 6-9). Thus Jesus is our example, both in the nature that he shared with us and in the glory that we may share with him as the result of his "tasting of death". What, then, is man who is thus in need of a redemption that called for the death of Jesus? The answer of the Bible is clear.
Man as "Made"
The account of how God "made" man is given at the beginning of the Bible record -- the very next thing after the preparation of the world for man. We may turn to Genesis with a confidence founded upon Christ's endorsement: "Have ye not read", he said, "that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female?" In the formation of a woman as a helpmeet for man, Jesus found the divine sanction for marriage "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matt. 19: 4-6). The apostle Paul likewise turned back to the account in Genesis for reliable information concerning man, upon which to base an argument. "The first man Adam was made a living soul"; "the first man is of the earth, earthy" (1 Cor. 15: 45, 47). He also turned to Genesis to find the reasons for man's present failure and mortality in order that both the need and the success of Christ's redemptive work might be set forth (see Rom. 5: 12-21, to be presently considered).
Turning then to Gen. 2: 7, we are told that "The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul". The material of which man's body is made is chemically identical with the dust of the ground he breathes by inhaling the breath of life, and so is a living creature. In the material of his bodily constitution and in the means by which he lives, he differs in no way from the rest of animal creation. They, too, are formed of the dust of the ground (2: 19); they, too, live by the process of breathing "the breath of life " (7: 21, 22); and they, too, are called " living creatures " (2: 19). In the Scripture account of creation man and the beasts are stated to be identical in physical substance and in the essential processes of life. But there is also an important difference of man only it is stated that he was "created in the image of God" (Gen. 1:27): and to man was given dominion over the animal creation. Man was divinely endowed with the power of speech, and with all the qualities that spring from that endowment. He alone could communicate with the Creator and to him alone could the Creator reveal His purpose. This divine likeness, with its moral endowment and ability to reason, distinguishes man from the rest of creation. In this presentation, as in all else, Old and New Testaments agree (James 3:9; and compare 2 Cor. 4; Col. 3:10).
These endowments placed man in a different relationship to the Creator from that of the other creatures: he was different in capacity and potentiality. He could, and inevitably would, develop a character by his reaction to the divine will. The very constitution of man as a moral being involved the revelation to him of that will. Man, therefore, as the Scriptures state, was placed under law, by which his obedience was tested.
In this enquiry we need not stop to discuss the objections that men have raised regarding the record in Genesis we are examining the facts recorded in the Bible. This, however, must be noted in order to understand the events that followed the giving of a law to man. The Creator's will is supreme, and it is His prerogative to give laws to determine man's conduct. To disobey those laws is to challenge God's supremacy, and to set up man's will in opposition to the will of God. Such a challenge cannot be ignored by the Creator.
Man, then, was placed under law - "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:16, 17). The penalty of the broken law was death.
Sin and Death enter
Genesis, chapter 3, records the history of the entrance of sin -- " the transgression of law " -- into the world. The serpent, endowed with speech, impugned the word of God, suggesting that the forbidden fruit was most desirable, and that the declared penalty would not he imposed "Ye shall not surely die, but shall be as gods knowing good and evil'', it said. The insinuation of the serpent was not repulsed by Eve, and, parleying with the suggested disobedience, the woman fell; and the man partook with her of the forbidden fruit, disobeyed, and also fell.
The immediate effect of their sin was a consciousness of their nakedness and a desire to avoid meeting their Maker, with whom they formerly had had fellowship. Fear and shame they felt for the first time. The Biblical account then states the sentences God passed upon those involved in the transgression
Upon the serpent "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen. 3: 14, 15).
Upon the woman: " I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (verse 16).
Upon the man "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return " (verses 17-19).
The entrance of sin was thus followed by sorrow and pain, by toil and struggle with a ground cursed, and finally by death: "Till thou return to the ground; for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return". Here is the divine definition of death - "thou shalt surely die" is interpreted as a returning to the dust. This is the first reference to death in the Scriptures man's subjection to death is therefore a consequence of sin.
The account of man's origin from the dust is confirmed by many later references in the Bible. "The Lord God sent him (Adam) forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken (Gen. 3: 23). "Thou hast made me as the clay: and wilt thou bring me into dust again?" (Job 10:9). Abraham said, " I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27). "He knoweth our frame he remembereth that we are dust" (Psa. 103:14).
Man is Mortal
The teaching of the Bible is that man was made by God, but because of disobedience he was sentenced to return to dust again. When man dies and returns to his earth, he has ceased to exist. Such a conclusion is irresistible, and is confirmed by many statements in the Scriptures. The Psalmist says, "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (146:3, 4). Solomon urges the necessity for diligence in life because all activity ceases when death comes. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest" (Eccl. 9:10). It will be observed that in both these passages it is stated that when death comes all thought, all knowledge, and all activity come to an end. This also is declared in emphatic terms in the following statements: "In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave, who shall give thee thanks?" (Psa. 6:5). "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward: for the memory of them is forgotten" (Eccl. 9: 5). This cessation of conscious existence was before David when he wrote: "Hear my prayer, 0 Lord, and give car unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. 0 spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more" (Psa. 39:12, 13).
Some Bible Figures
There is no evidence in the Bible for a conscious existence after death in a disembodied state. On the contrary all it's teaching agrees that man is mortal, and that in death he ceases to be. This is interestingly confirmed by a consideration of the figurative language employed in the Bible to illustrate the nature of man. While men speak of death as "passing into another room", "turning a bend in the road", or of "death as the gate to life", implying continued existence but out of our sight, all the figures used in the Bible emphasize the shortness of life and the end of man's existence with the advent of death. Thus Job compares man with the flower that is cut down and the shadow that continueth not (Job 14:2). The Psalmist says, "Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity" (39:5); and again
"Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away" (144:4).
There is also a figure used in the Scriptures of special significance in a country like Palestine where the earth is carpeted with grass and flowers each spring time, but becomes bare and scorched with the summer heat, the dried herbage being used, as Jesus said, for fuel: "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isa. 40:6-8). This statement is quoted and endorsed by Peter (1 Pet. 1:24). James also uses this figure (1:10, 11), and he also uses another figure which equally expresses man's complete lack of permanence: "For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (Jas. 4:14). Hezekiah compared his life to a shepherd's tent, something easily removed, here to-day hut gone tomorrow; and to a weaver's thread, soon broken. It cannot be said that he is speaking relatively, thinking only of the present form of existence, for he adds
"The grave cannot praise thee . . . as I do this day (Isa. 38:12, 18, 19).
The Sleep of Death
Another figure is used of death, the appropriateness of which is only appreciated when the true Bible doctrine of death and of a future life is understood. Death is compared to a sleep. Job in an agony of suffering exclaimed, "Why dust thou not pardon? . . . for now shall I sleep in the dust.?" (7:21). God himself uses the figure when announcing to Moses that he should shortly die: "Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers" (Deut. 31:16). In the New Testament we read the words of Jesus: "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep". The disciples thought he spoke of natural sleep, upon which Jesus said plainly, "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:11, 14). So Stephen "fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). The aptness of this figure is three-fold: it is suggested by the restfulness and stillness of the dead body in repose healthy sleep is a state of complete unconsciousness in which passing of time is completely lost to the sleeper; but beyond that, the sleeper may be awakened, and thus sleep presents an analogy to the Bible hope of resurrection. Bible writers cherish the figure of sleep as representing death because the hope of the Bible is that of resurrection from the dead.
The following statements from the Bible illustrate the use of sleep as a figure for death and of awakening from sleep as a figure of resurrection from the dead. "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust . . . and the earth shall cast out the dead " (Isa. 26: 19). "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12: 2). "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness " (Psa. 17: 15). The New Testament teaching is the same. Jesus spoke of the death of Lazarus as a sleep because he knew he would awaken him Out of that sleep. Jesus himself slept a little while in the tomb; but his flesh did " rest in hope " (Psa. i6: 9, with Acts 2:26). God raised him from death; so Paul says, "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15: 20). Paul allayed the anxiety of Thessalonian believers concerning those who had fallen asleep in Jesus, by the assurance that those alive at Christ's coming should not precede those which are asleep, but " the dead in Christ shall rise first" and all will share the meeting with the Lord (1 Thess.4:14-18).
The Word Immortality in the Bible
The word "immortality" is not of frequent occurrence in the Bible, although the idea involved in the word finds frequent illustration. But the five occurrences of the word yield so much information that all are here given. Together they present a good outline of the teaching of the Bible on the subject.
(1) 1 Tim. 6:15, 16. Paul affirms of God, "who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see". In these words Paul cannot mean that God was then the only one possessing immortality, for at the time he wrote Jesus had been raised from the dead and given everlasting life; the angels also possess immortality, for on the testimony of Jesus (Luke 20:36) they "cannot die". But both angels and Jesus have received their immortality from God. He has immortality inherently. It is, however, the purpose of the gospel to invite men to become heirs of this life of God. Peter says that God has given us " exceeding great and precious promises that by these" we might become" partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Pet. 1:4).
(2) 2 Tim. 1:8-10. Paul exhorts Timothy, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who bath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." These verses are very important. The apostle is writing about God's "purpose and grace" which was long foreknown to God but had become plain by historical happenings. The appearing of Jesus Christ had made plain that purpose, for he had abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. The gospel had been preached from the days of man's first transgression, to Adam (Gen. 3:15), to Abraham (Gal. 3:8); but the purpose received an unfolding by the Redeemer's work. His life of perfect obedience, even unto death (Phil. 2:8), had resulted in death being vanquished-not by .Jesus escaping death, but by his being saved from death (Heb. 5:7). Death has been brought to nought" (R.V.) because Jesus has become victor over it, despoiling it of its power by his resurrection from the dead. He could not be holden of death, which is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), for he was sinless. God therefore raised him from death, and the body restored to life was given a nature which enables Jesus to live for ever. The tomb where Jesus was buried was found to be empty when the women went to anoint the body: for Jesus had been awakened from the sleep of death. Resurrection thus concerns the body, as is evident from the resurrection of Jesus; and whereas death had a short victory, Paul affirms that death hath now no more dominion over him (Rom. 6:9). Jesus says himself: "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev. 1:18). He is now made after the power of an endless life" (Heb. 7:16).
Jesus, raised and made incorruptible, and possessing life and immortality", illustrates what is meant by salvation from death, and is a living example of the redemption which God provides. If we would know God's purpose, we must look at the Son of God who shared our nature with its weakness and mortality, but who now lives forever. He is called "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20), and the harvest at his coming will conform to the firstfruits -- deliverance from death is by resurrection.
(3) Rom. 2: 7. The whole section (verses 1-16) should be studied. Paul is showing that men are accountable to God when they know His revealed will, and God will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life" (Rom. 2:6, 7). From this statement we learn that immortality is not now a possession: it has to be sought for by patient continuance in doing God's will. Immortality (or incorruption, R.V.) is also evidently equivalent to eternal life, for the seekers after immortality will receive eternal life at the appointed time which Paul defines in verse 16 "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ".
(4 and 5) 1 Cor. 15 53, 54: "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory". The whole of this chapter is of vital importance on the subject of this Section. Some in Corinth turned away from the gospel Paul preached and, returning to the popular pagan Idea of man's inherent deathlessness because of a supposed possession of an immortal soul, logically denied the need for a resurrection of the body. Paul meets this error, which undermines all the gospel, by proving first that Christ had been raised, and that resurrection from the dead was fundamental to the Christian faith (verses I - II). He then discusses the conclusions that would follow if Christ had not been raised (verses I 2-19), conclusions which involve that if Christ was not raised then all, even those "in Christ" who have died, have perished. But Paul affirms that Christ had been raised, "the firstfruits (verse 20); that as death had come by man (Adam) so by man (Christ) had come the resurrection from the dead (verse 21); that there was an "order" in resurrection first Christ, then those who are Christ's at his coming, then the final resurrection at the end of his reign on earth (verses 23, 24). Paul is here thinking exclusively of those in Christ who attain to everlasting life, and does not introduce the appointed destruction of those who are unfitted for life, although they have been candidates for it.
There were skeptics then, as now, concerning God's purpose to recreate the bodies of men who have been dead for ages, and also concerning the nature of bodies that would endure for ever. The apostle discusses the matter in verses 35-57. Man's present condition is one of corruption, weakness, dishonour; in the resurrection of the dead, because there has been a "sowing" of the seed of God's word during mortal life, God will clothe His resurrected people with incorruption, glory and power (verses 42-44). Adam and Christ, as Christ now is, are examples of the present and of the future conditions; and as the image of the one is borne in the present, so the image of the other will be borne in the future; "for this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (verses 53, 54). This transformation of the very quality of bodily existence is expressed by Paul in Phil. 3:21 we look for the Saviour from heaven "who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself"
The triumph of Christ over death will be extended to those who by faith and obedience share the fruits of his work) and to them will be accorded "the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 57).
From these occurrences of the word immortality we learn (a) that immortality is inherently the possession of God alone; (b) that it is offered to men in the gospel on the condition of being sought by patient well-doing; (c) that already the Son of God who was a member of the human family has attained to this immortality, for Jesus has been raised and made deathless by the transforming power of divine energy; (d) and that this incorruption and immortality will be granted to others in the day of resurrection by the present weakness and mortality being superseded by a "change" in "a moment".
It will be observed that not one of these passages of Scripture gives any support at all to the idea that immortality is an inherent possession of man.
The Teaching of Jesus
The teaching of Jesus confirms that of the prophets and apostles on these important doctrines. The addresses which bear particularly upon this question are to be found in John's gospel. John wrote his gospel that "ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life through his name" (20: 31). This declaration is of itself important: for it implies that life is only available in him who is the Messiah and the Son of God: and if it is in him that we might have it by belief, then clearly we have not that "life" in ourselves, nor shall we ever have it apart from him. The following is only a selection of the abundant material to be found in this fourth gospel.
In his interview with Nicodemus at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus told him that "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (3:14, 15). The incident of Moses lifting up the serpent (Num. 21:9) was to Christ a foreshadowing of his own lifting up in crucifixion. But why should he be "lifted up"? Jesus answers: "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life". The correspondence between the historic episode in the wilderness and its fulfillment in the death of Jesus is easily traced. The Israelites were disobedient, and a plague of serpents sent by God as punishment was destroying them. Even in this extremity God provided a way of salvation. He commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and erect it on a pole, so that any who looked on it should find healing. Absurd, it may be said! So also might have said a serpent-bitten Israelite and in his unbelief he died. But another, believing God's promise, looked and lived. The uplifted serpent was for them the only way of life. We, too, are serpent-bitten in the death-stricken nature we bear as descendants of the man who adopted the serpent's lie, disobeyed God, and through whom death entered into the world of mankind.
Men may think lightly of a crucified man as God's means of giving us life, but if we face frankly the saying of Jesus, we are compelled to recognize that he regarded his crucifixion as necessary to fulfill God's will, and that he knew it was the only way by which dying men should have life. That conclusion is emphasized in the well-known words which follow the declaration of Jesus: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16)
In John, chapter 5, a discourse of Jesus is recorded which bears directly on the subject. He said, "The Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel" (verse 20). He explains that the Father's purpose is to raise the dead and give life, and this work the Son would do; "For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will" (verse 21). Judgment, too, was committed to the Son (verse22). Then, in verse 24, he declares, " He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation but is passed from death unto life ". It is evident from this teaching that Jesus thinks of men as not now having everlasting life but as being able to obtain it through him. We shall do violence to the thought of Jesus if we infer that he means that men have everlasting life now by believing in him: his meaning is that they have taken the steps that will bring them to life and this is so assured that he can say they have everlasting life; though its actual bestowal is declared by Jesus to be "at the last day" (John 6: 44). This is clear also from the words that follow in John 5:24: for he first speaks of men who were dead toward God hearing his voice" now" and being awakened to life toward God (verse 25). He then passes from this obviously figurative use of death to the clear announcement that the dead in the graves will be raised by him "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (verses 28, 29).
Chapter 6 contains a discourse by Jesus on himself as the bread of life. Again he brought out the import of an experience of Israel in the wilderness. They were fed by manna from heaven at a time when it was their only means of subsistence. If they refused the manna they died. Jesus said he was the true bread of life which God had provided that men might partake of him and live. "The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world", (verse 33). This he declared was the Father's will who sent him, and those who believed in him would be raised up at the last day. Four times in his discourse he mentioned resurrection at the last day. He will raise those God has given him (verse 39); those who believe on him (verse 40); those drawn of the Father (verse 44) and those who receive his sacrifice (verse 54). And since the last day" by a common idiom of the time meant the day of Israel's Messiah, the words of Jesus contained an implicit claim that he would come as Israel's king as well as the bringer of life to those who have believed on him. He thus asserted that he came that men might have everlasting life, and that men on their part must believe (verse 40) and partake of Jesus as the bread of life (verses 51, 57).
Many of his disciples, being unable to accept such teaching, left him after this address; Jesus asked the twelve, "Will ye also go away? " (verse 67). The answer of Peter springs directly out of the teaching of the address "To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God', (verses 69, 70).
Whilst Christ taught that only through belief on him could men attain to everlasting life, he also taught the complementary doctrine that death was the consequence of sin and that rejection of him precludes deliverance from death. This important declaration is found in John 8:24: "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins". Jesus boldly affirms that sin leads to death, and that only in him is hope of life.
Among the figures of speech which Jesus used concerning himself, none is more attractive than that of the Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11). "The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly". "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:10, 11, 27, 28). In this language, with crystal clearness, Jesus asserts that men are mortal and that the one hope of immortality is centred in himself. If there had been no shepherd, or if he had not laid down his life, there would have been no life for us beyond the present one.
The clearest of all utterances of Jesus on this subject is in John 11 where the death and resurrection of Lazarus is recorded. Lazarus was dead -- "asleep", Jesus said but he would go and awaken him out of his sleep. How absurd would such language be from any one other than Jesus! He assures Martha that her brother shall rise again. This was already Martha's hope, but she knew her hope would not be realized until " the last day", in the day when Israel's Messiah should be revealed and the dead would be raised. Jesus thereupon affirmed: "I am the resurrection, and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (verses 25, 26). This statement leaves no room for doubt or misunderstanding. He was "the Resurrection" - and this he demonstrated by raising Lazarus immediately. What he did to Lazarus then, he will do for all who believe in him -- he will raise them up from death" at the last day". He is the "Life", and this will be shown in the day of his return when he gives his resurrected people eternal life. If we would focus the teaching of Jesus on the question of a future life it would not be possible to do so more clearly than in the words of Jesus in his prayer on the eve of his death: "Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him" (John 17:2).
We have confined our examination of the teaching of Jesus to the Gospel of John, but a careful reading of the other three gospels will show that there is perfect harmony in all that is recorded by the four writers of the sayings of Jesus.
After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the apostles were sent out into the world with the word of salvation. Their message was an announcement of God's offer of the forgiveness of sins, of reconciliation with God, and of a hope of everlasting life in the day of Christ's return. This was the hope of the gospel. In their letters the apostles dwell on it with assurance. "This is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life" (1 John 2:25). "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began " (Titus 1:2) "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son (1 John 5: 11). "That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:7). "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:4).
Eternal life is not now ours, or there would be no need for God to promise it. It is not a present possession or it would not be a matter of hope: no one is both possessor and heir at the same time. So far as eternal life is concerned men without Christ are utterly destitute; but the same statements which imply this so clearly, convey also the strongest assurance that life will be given to those who accept God's offer of life in Christ Jesus.
The End of the Wicked
The Bible is definite and clear about man's nature now, and about the cessation of all his activity when death comes. Death puts an end to sinners, and death is the sinners' end. The destruction of the sinner is affirmed again and again in the Scriptures. When figures of speech are used they emphasize the completeness of the destruction: "For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be" (Psa. 37: 10). "The transgressors shall be destroyed together" (verse 38). "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Mal. 4:1, 2). "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). "As sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 5:21). "These (the unrighteous), as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (2 Pet. 2:12). "Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psa. 49:20).
These representative citations hardly call for comment. Utter destruction -- to become as though they had not been -- is the appointed end of the wicked. But the Bible unfolds a plan for the future blessing of those who trust in God -- a purpose harmonious in all its parts, and confirmed as true by the complete agreement of every aspect of Bible teaching. With the assurance that eternal life is promised, the reader is asked to examine the plan greater detail, in the remaining chapters.
The doctrine concerning the nature of man, drawn from the Bible, which is set forth in Part I of this chapter, is obviously opposed to the view of a great many people who are persuaded that they hold Bible teaching. Many earnest people have the belief which is aptly summed up in the words of Longfellow: "There is no death! What seems so is transition". They regard death as merely an incident which changes the form of existence but does not interrupt conscious life; they believe that in man is a soul which survives death, and that in accordance with the moral life of a person, so at death the appropriate reward is immediately received on another plane. Heaven is generally accepted as the place where the righteous will enjoy bliss, and there was a time when the corollary of a hell as a place of eternal punishment for the wicked was as earnestly believed. The horrible pictures which men have drawn of endless suffering in the fires of hell have caused a revolt against the doctrine of hell torments, and it has been quietly abandoned by many, and with it the question of the fate of the wicked is also largely ignored. Many of those who retain the basic doctrine of the immortality of the soul do not face its implications. Many seek refuge from the dilemma in some form of universalism; others, like the Roman Catholics, hold the doctrine of a purgatory in which the soul is cleansed from the guilt of sin.
These problems are inevitably bound up with a doctrine of man's inherent immortality; they must perplex and confuse those who try to think out the implications of their belief; but when the true teaching of the Bible is understood, such perplexities do not arise. Death being the end of life, when that end comes all conscious existence ceases; unless God intervenes by resurrection death is finality. That act of divine intervention is assured by the gospel of God's grace through Jesus Christ, as we have already seen in Part I.
How then has the doctrine of the immortality of the soul come to be so widely accepted, upon what grounds was it introduced, and when did it come to be held as a Christian doctrine? The answer of history to these questions is clear and emphatic, and is an indirect but powerful support to the conclusions reached in our examination of the teaching of the Bible.
Many prominent leaders in the churches have stated their conviction that the Bible does not teach the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Wm. Temple, the late Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote in his book Nature, Man and God:
"In the light of such considerations we may proceed to form some estimate of that doctrine of the future life which properly belongs to our own religious tradition. This will involve our first disentangling the authentic teaching of the classical Scriptures from accretions which very quickly began to obscure this . . . The authentic Christian doctrine has three special characteristics: (a) It is a doctrine, not of Immortality, but of Resurrection. (b) It regards this Resurrection as an act and gift of God, not an inherent right of the human soul as such. (c) It is not so much a doctrine of rewards and punishments, as the proclamation of the inherent joy of love and the inherent misery of selfishness."
It appears that the writer regarded the immortality of the soul as an accretion to primitive Christianity.
Dr. F. S. M. Bennett, Dean of Chester, published a book in 1929 entitled The Resurrection of the Dead. In it he says: "No doctrine of the natural or unconditional immortality of a part or nucleus of the human organism, called the soul, has any right of place within the precinct of revealed Christian truth. It is a philosophic doctrine or theory, older than Christianity, often very ingeniously sustained and as often very effectively contested." (page 115)
W. E. Gladstone made a deep study of the origin of the doctrine in his book, Studies Subsidiary to the Works of Bishop Butler. He comments on the mental freedom of the first generations of Christians and finds the reason in the absence of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. He says: "The secret of this mental freedom, the condition which made it possible, was the absence from the scene of any doctrine of a natural immortality inherent in the soul. Absent, it may be termed, for all practical purposes, until the third century; for, though it was taught by Tertullian in connection with the Platonic ideas, it was not given forth as belonging to the doctrine of Christ or His Apostles. It was held, too, by Tertullian in alliance with the contention that the soul was material in its nature, an idea very unlikely to recommend it to the Christian mind . . . It seems to me as if it were from the time of Origen that we are to regard the idea of natural, as opposed to that of Christian, immortality as beginning to gain a firm foothold in the Christian Church" (page 184).
Dr. Bennett endorses the view that Origen was one of the earliest to introduce speculations of the philosophers as Christian doctrine.
Origen was one of the most remarkable thinkers who ever lived. He had read probably more widely than any of his contemporaries, and he was possessed of a most speculative mind. His speculations included the pre-existence, the reincarnation and the ultimate restoration of every human soul (pages 21, 22).
Influence of Augustine
It was Augustine, however, who was mainly responsible for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul receiving wide acceptance. But Augustine never found proof in Scripture, but in the writings of Gentile philosophers. Dr. Bennett says
"As logical and as courageous as Origen, Augustine was rigid rather than elastic. It was he who took Plato's doctrine of the inherent immortality of the soul, disengaged it from ideas of re-incarnation and gained for it the general credence which it has held to this day" (page 24).
Bishop Gore also states that Platonism is the source of this doctrine. In his book, The Epistle to the Romans, he says
"Careful attention to the origin of the doctrine of the necessary immortality or indestructibility of each human soul, as stated for instance by Augustine or Aquinas, will probably convince us that it was no part of the original Christian message, or of really catholic doctrine. It was rather a speculation of Platonism taking possession of the Church. And this consideration leaves open the possibility of the ultimate extinction of personal consciousness in the lost, which Augustinianism somewhat rudely closed" (vol. II, 212).
In his Jesus of Nazareth he declares that the popular idea of going to heaven at death is not found in the teaching of Jesus
"The idea of the consummation of all things given to us in the New Testament, or from the lips of Jesus, is never that of our being carried to a distant heaven, but of a return of the Son of Man to a recreated earth, when the kingdoms of this regenerated world shall become the kingdom of God and of His Christ (page 127).
The examination by Mr. Gladstone of the history of the doctrine in the book already quoted leads him to say
It seems indisputable that the materials for the opinion that the soul is by nature immortal, whether we call it dogma or hypothesis, were for a long period in course of steady accumulation; though this was not so from the first. After some generations, however, the mental temper and disposition of Christians inclined more and more to its reception. Without these assumptions it would be impossible to account for the wholesale change which has taken place in the mind of Christendom with regard to the subject of natural immortality. It would be difficult, I think, to name any other subject connected with religious belief (though not properly belonging to it) on which we can point to so sweeping and absolute a revolution of opinion from the period before Origen, when the idea of an immortality properly natural was unknown or nearly hidden, to the centuries of the later Middle Ages and of modern time, when, at least in the West, it had become practically undisputed and universal" (page 188).
Mr. Gladstone is equally emphatic both concerning the pagan philosophic origin of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and of its entire absence from scripture
"Another consideration of the highest importance is that the natural immortality of the soul is a doctrine wholly unknown to the Holy Scriptures, and standing on no higher plane than that of an ingeniously sustained, but gravely and formidably contested, philosophical opinion. And surely there is nothing as to which we ought to be more on our guard, than the entrance into the precinct of Christian doctrine, either without authority or by an abuse of authority, of philosophical speculations disguised as truths of Divine Revelation" (page 197)
His further reference to the gradual acceptance of the idea of the immortality of the soul, and how it crept into the church "by a back door as it were", should be noted:
"The doctrine of natural, as distinguished from Christian, immortality, had not been subjected to the severer tests of wide publicity and resolute controversy, but had crept into the Church by a back door, as it were; by a silent though effective process; and was in course of obtaining a tide by tacit prescription" (page '95).
These quotations might be supplemented by the testimony of Dr. Agar Beet. In his book, The Immortality of the Soul, A Protest, Dr. Beet states in the preface that his pages "are a protest against a doctrine which, during long centuries, has been almost universally accepted as divine truth taught in the Bible, but which seems to me altogether alien to it in both phrase and thought, and derived only from Greek Philosophy. Until recent times, this alien doctrine has been comparatively harmless. But, as I have here shown, it is now producing most serious results. My protest against it is an appeal, which no Protestant can disallow, from the traditional teaching of the Church to the supreme authority of Holy Scripture."
In another book, The Lost Things, Dr. Beet ascribes the popularity of the idea to the immense influence of Augustine:
"The prevalence, in the Christian Church, of this doctrine is due probably to the immense influence of Augustine. This great father was familiar with the systems of the Greek philosophers; and among these gives the palm to Plato. . . His whole teaching about the future punishment of sin rests on the assumption that the human soul is immortal" (page 217).
Dr. Beet declares that evidence from the Bible is wanting, and has been found instead largely in the writings of Plato. The following words deserve careful attention:
The phrase every soul immortal, or phraseology equivalent, is found, in Jewish or Christian literature, so far as I know, only in writers influenced by Greek thought, and indeed by Plato. To his influence it was undoubtedly due. A similar belief underlies the religion of the Hindus. But the phrase is not found, in all ancient literature known to me, outside the school of Greek philosophy of which Plato is the most conspicuous representative. The Christian doctrine of the immortality of the soul is a curious example of an opinion destitute of any foundation in the Bible, and in some measure contradicting it, derived only from Greek philosophy, yet held firmly by large numbers of educated and intelligent Christians and Christian teachers and writers on the mistaken supposition that it is taught in the Bible. It is also a remarkable example of one common phrase being used to describe two very different doctrines, one resting on a broad Biblical foundation and the other on uncertain metaphysical inference " (page 218).
Whenever men come to the Bible with open minds and study also the history of the doctrine of the endless permanence of the soul in Christian times, the same conclusion is always reached. In the preface to the Fernley-Hartley lecture, published in 1944, entitled Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, the Rev. Norman H. Snaith, M.A., Tutor in Old Testament Languages and Literature, Wesley College, Leeds, states that what is regarded a' Christian doctrine is really a synthesis of Greek philosophy with some Christian forms of speech: "Traditional Christianity has sought to find a middle way, combining Zion and Greece into what is held to be a harmonious synthesis. The New Testament has been interpreted according to Plato and Aristotle, and the distinctive Old Testament ideas have been left out of account. Here is the cause of the modern neglect of the Old Testament . . . The wholly non-Biblical doctrine of the immortality of the human soul is accepted largely as a characteristic Christian doctrine. Plato is indeed 'divine', and Aristotle 'the master of them that know'."
Professor Nygren has written a book entitled Agape and Eros, the Second Part of which was translated by Philip S. Watson. Nygren's findings are so definite that we may give the following extracts, every sentence of which is important: "The ancient Church differs most of all from Hellenism in its belief in Resurrection. Christian tradition affirmed the Resurrection of the flesh ', which the Apologists opposed to the Hellenistic doctrine of the 'Immortality of the soul'. The antithesis was conscious and intentional, for at no point so much as this was their opposition to the Hellenistic spirit felt by the early Christians. The Platonic, Hellenistic doctrine of the Immortality of the soul seemed to the Apologists a godless and blasphemous doctrine, which above all they must attack and destroy. Their motto in this regard might well be Tatian's word 'Not immortal, 0 Greeks, is the soul in itself, but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die'. The difference between Christian and non-Christian in this matter was so great that belief in the 'Resurrection of the flesh' could become a shibboleth. One who believes in the 'Immortality of the Soul' shows thereby that he is not a Christian. As Justin says 'If you have fallen in with some who are called Christians . . . and who say that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians'. The idea of the Immortality of the soul causes offence primarily because it is an expression of man's hybris (insolence) towards God. For Christian faith, salvation from death is a mighty act of God; in the Platonic, Hellenistic view, immortality tality is a native possession of the human soul. But such a doctrine, from the Christian point of view, is in line with the Fall; it is man's attempt to make himself like God, to make himself God; it is an assault on God's divinity
When God through Christ awakens the dead to life on the Last Day, there can no longer be any doubt that eternal life is His gift. By setting the Resurrection faith over against the Hellenistic doctrine of the Immortality of the soul, the Apologists maintained a position of the utmost importance for Christianity. ." (Part II, vol.1, pages 64-67).
To these quotations we might add an extract from the recent "Report of a Commission on Evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York", entitled Towards the Conversion of England, published June, 1945. The compilers of this Report state (page 23)
"The idea of the inherent indestructibility of the human soul (or consciousness) owes its origin to Greek, not to Bible sources. The central theme of the New Testament is eternal life, not for anybody and everybody, but for believers in Christ as risen from the dead".
It would be possible to give quotations from a chain of witnesses through the ages to the Bible doctrine of man's mortality and to the Bible hope of resurrection from the dead. From the time of Origen men have protested that fables were being taught for fact, but the doctrine of the immortality of the soul became firmly established and the objectors were generally found among the smaller groups who also objected to other forms of corruption which had crept into the Church. Among the groups of followers of Christ who were persecuted as heretics for many centuries, were those who protested against the prayers for the dead and the doctrine of purgatory, both doctrines having their basis in the teaching man has an immortal soul. Tyndale, to whom we owe so much in the translation of the Scriptures into English, was unsparing in his language in denunciation of the doctrine
In putting departed souls in heaven, hell and purgatory, you destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection. What God doth with them, that shall we know when we come to them. The true faith putteth the resurrection, which we are warned to look for every hour. The heathen philosophers denying that, did put that souls did ever live. And the pope joineth the spiritual doctrine of Christ and the fleshly doctrine of philosophers together -- things so contrary that they cannot agree no more than the Spirit and the flesh do in a Christian man. And because the fleshly minded pope consenteth unto the heathen doctrine therefore he corrupteth the Scriptures to establish it". "If the souls be in heaven, tell me why they be not in as good case as the angels be, and then what cause is there of the resurrection?
Luther placed the doctrine of the immortality of the soul among "the monstrous fables that form part of the Roman dunghill of decretals".
Many Anabaptists in the sixteenth century repudiated the doctrine of the immortality of the soul; so also did Milton; Professor Saurat has recently shown that he had a part in publishing a pamphlet entitled, MANS MORTALITIE OR A TREATISE, Wherein 'tis proved, both Theologically and Phylosophically, that whole Man (as a rationall Creature) is a compound wholly mortall, contrary to that common distinction of Soule and Body And that the present going of the Soule into Heaven or Hell is a Meer Fiction And that at the Resurrection is the beginning of our immortality, and then Actuall Condemnation, and Salvation, and not before . . "-(Saurat Milton: Man and Thinker, 1944). This may seem surprising in view of the fact that Milton wrote Paradise Lost, but Prof Saurat's conclusions are borne out by writings which are beyond question by Milton.
As has been shown, the Bible teaches that men are not immortal, but may be made immortal through faith in God and by God's act. The Bible alone is the authoritative source of information concerning man's nature and future. No list of names of the learned~ however eminent, can constitute proof; but that being said, two points may be added. It is undoubtedly of value to see that this doctrine is recognized to be Bible teaching by a number of independent scholars; further, the same scholars recognize that the source of the popular doctrine of natural immortality is to be found in the teaching of pagan philosophers. It is these two facts which the quotations in this section have been submitted to establish. Neither the idea nor the language of the immortality of the soul is to be found in the Bible. At what point, then, did it enter into the teaching of Christendom, and whence did it come? The answer is to be found in these quotations from acknowledged scholars. It came in towards the end of the second and during the third centuries. The changes were introduced by Christian leaders with sympathies for Greek philosophic thought. They found proof for the new doctrines in Plato's writings and not in the Scriptures. More testimony could be added, but it is not necessary to multiply evidence. If we want a faith founded upon a rock, we must go back to Bible teaching. However pleasing human speculation on this subject may be, it has no real value. A doctrine which is not true deludes.
In Part II of chapter 2, evidence was given from the Bible that Christian teachers would arise who would turn from truth to fables. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is one of the fables which was introduced-without Scriptural warrant, but in opposition to the teaching of Scripture into Christian teaching. To hold beliefs which are contrary to God's word cannot be pleasing to Him.