Benjamin Franklin once said: “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Despite this reality it seems that our society spends an incredible amount of effort to avoid death and dying. We eat organic foods, exercise obsessively and even use expensive wrinkle-reducing creams to eliminate any sign of decay. But the truth of the matter still remains—we will all die someday.
This raises important questions for our consideration: Why must man die? What happens to us when we die? And most importantly, does God offer us any hope?
John 3:16: The Hope God Gives Us
What does this verse mean and what does it teach us about the nature of mankind? What this verse does is set up a contrast between those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. It makes the following connections:
A belief in Christ = Eternal Life (Immortality)
John 3:16 illustrates the two very different potential ends for man. All men will die but, because of God’s love for the world, those who believe in Christ have a hope of a better end and a chance for eternal life.
Why Do People Die?
Since the Garden of Eden, man has followed his own desires and ignored God’s standards; this is what God calls “sin.” God’s word, the Bible, tells us that the ultimate result of “sin” is death. Death is the necessary consequence of sin, by sinning we set our bodies on the road towards death. A just and righteous God cannot allow those who rebel against Him to continue to exist forever. Consequently, because all men sin, one day we will all die. God told Adam after he sinned:
Death cannot be avoided; it is the well-deserved result of man’s sin. But God provided a way of escape from death through His Son, Jesus Christ. Expanding the verse above we see the complete picture:
God desires to give us a hope: eternal life through Jesus Christ, His Son.
What Happens to Us When We Die?
This verse describes the creation and constitution of man. Man is dust into whom God has breathed life. This combination of dust and God’s breath is called a soul. The scriptures similarly describe the reverse process, which occurs at man’s death:
The death of man is described as God removing his breath. If a living being (or “soul”) is described as dust with God’s breath, then dust without God’s breath is no longer a living person. The human being therefore only possesses the soul when the physical body is given the breath of life (see also Job 34:14-15).
Scripture gives us several passages that confirm that we are not conscious in death.
The scriptures teach that when we are dead we do not think, we do not love and we do not hate. When dead, we do not work or plan and we are without knowledge and wisdom. In fact, we will not even remember God or be able to praise Him. In short, we will not have a conscious existence.
At this point one may wonder about several terms that the scriptures use to describe the place or abode of the dead. In the Old Testament the Hebrew term sheol, often translated “grave,” is used. This term is often used to describe a place where all kinds of people will go when they die—those who know God and those who do not know Him [see Genesis 37:35, Numbers 16:30-33]. The New Testament also uses other words Hades and Gehenna to describe the abode of the dead. For example the Greek word Gehenna, translated in the New Testament as “hell,” is the Hebrew name for the Valley of Hinnom. This valley was a geographical location outside the walls of Jerusalem on the south side and was the place where all sorts of filth and garbage, carcasses of dead animals and unburied bodies of executed criminals were thrown. The people kept Gehenna burning with fire to burn up the trash that filled it: Gehenna was equivalent of a modern day incinerator. In Jesus’ day, Gehenna had come to represent a place of utter destruction, therefore when Jesus talks about our bodies going to the grave (Gehenna), he is making the future of man perfectly clear. If God did not offer us a hope for a different future and there was no way to escape from the grave, man would be utterly destroyed!
This ultimate destruction is a very fitting picture to keep in mind when considering the following verses!
In these verses, Jesus is warning us that if we do not choose to follow him our future is utter destruction in the grave. And, as we have shown in previous verses, when in the grave nothing remains: our bodies are destroyed and consciousness is gone.
Is there an Alternative to Death?
Our hope begins with God’s work of raising Christ from the dead. The Gospels record the events of how Christ was crucified, died, lay dead in the tomb for three days, and was resurrected by God from the dead [see Matthew 27:32-28:8, Mark 15:21-16:20, Luke23:26-24:8, John:19:16-20:18]. It also describes his encounters with his disciples after his resurrection.
God resurrected Christ from the dead and returned him to life in a physical body. This physical resurrection, which God gave to Jesus, is also the one and only hope that God offers to humanity. We, too, have the opportunity to be resurrected when Christ returns--- it is at that time that our mortal bodies will be made immortal.
The apostle Paul makes it clear that Christ’s death is crucial to our own salvation. When Paul was on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, (a sect of Jewish Leaders), he began his defense by stating: “I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” (Acts 23:6) At this critical point in his life Paul emphatically stated that his hope and the hope of all who follow Christ, is the resurrection from the dead. So important is this hope, in fact, that Paul goes on later to state in his first letter to the Corinthians that without this hope our faith in Christ is useless:
This passage links Christ’s resurrection to our own, making it an example of what our resurrection may be like. Because Christ was raised by God from the dead, we also have the hope that we can be raised from the dead as well. But God makes it clear this hope of eternal life is not for everyone. Rather, resurrection from the dead is God’s gift to those who believe in him. The gospel of John states:
Belief in God is what gives us the hope of resurrection to eternal life. In requiring belief in Christ as a prerequisite for eternal life, God does not mean to keep this great gift from anyone. The Bible tells us that God does “not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) It is God’s greatest hope that everyone would turn to Him and believe in his Son so that he can save everyone. Therefore our future is in our own hands.
What Happens to Me?
Therefore the question must be posed: what will happen to me when Christ returns? Do I believe that God’s Son is the vehicle God provided to give humanity eternal life? Belief in Christ is much more than just believing Jesus existed, died and was raised or that he was sent by God to save us. Believing in Christ is believing that in him, God was fulfilling His plans for mankind: fulfilling promises He made in the Garden of Eden in His provision of hope through the gift of resurrection to eternal life through Christ. It is recognizing that without God, we would all perish.
God voices the following promise to his people Israel through his prophet Jeremiah:
Just as God desires to give his people Israel a hope and a future, He also desires to give hope to everyone. The choice then is yours. What hope do you have for your future?
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