A two-year old toddler darts out in front of an onrushing car . . A Jewish philanthropist, who has aided thousands, dies of a stroke . . . A carefree high school student with a promising future is cut down in a drive-by shooting . . . A non-religious soldier dies on the field of battle in defense of his country . . . A Hindu mother dies in the pains of childbirth . . . All five of these have three things in common. They were all good people. None of them were Christians . . . and . . . they are all dead! What is to become of them?
This is a question Christianity has struggled with for centuries. Kind hearts want to see them live again. Christian dogma says that "there is none other name under heaven" by which to be saved than that of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). Therein lies the dilemma. Yet Scripture is clear. The Bible promises . . .
They Shall All Live Again!
The Bible clearly states that "all that are in the graves" shall hear the voice of the son of man and come forth" (John 5:28, 25, 29) and that Jesus Christ "gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2:6). All includes not only the good unbelievers, as in the cases above, but even the evil. Consider the case of the residents of ancient Sodom. Their wickedness was so great that even today the name of their city is preserved in the sexual perversion of sodomy. Yet, despite their wickedness, their resurrection is assured. "When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate" (Ezek. 16:55). Not only will they return to their "former estate" of life, but in their return they will find even more congenial conditions of judgment than the less wicked, but more enlightened, residents of the Israeli city of Capernaum. "But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day" (Matt. 11:22, 23— NIV).
Life and Death
In order to understand the biblical concept of resurrection we must examine the biblical concept of death. In order to understand that concept we need to look at the biblical concept of life. According to the Bible, human life originated in the middle-eastern Garden of Eden with the creation of the first man, Adam. "And 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" (Gen. 2:7). The statement is clear. Man was not given a "living soul" but became a living soul. The soul was not a possession of the creature, but man was, himself, "a living soul." The formula was equally simple: "God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life" (body + breath = living soul). If life is as simple as the union of body and breath, then death is equally simple. It is the dissolution of body and breath. The living soul simply ceases to exist. There is nothing immortal about it. The words "immortal" and "immortality" and the related word "incorruptible" only occur ten times in the Bible. Always they are either given as an attribute of God and of Christ, or one to be striven for by the footstep followers of Jesus. They are never given as an inherent quality of man. In fact, at the time the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, he states that Christ alone possessed immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). The mistaken notion that man possesses an immortal soul has been the source of much confusion concerning death and resurrection. If man is immortal he cannot die. If he cannot die provision must be made for him after he ceases to breathe. Since many are not considered good enough for heaven, an alternative place must be sought. Only too often the horrors of eternal punishment in an ever-burning hell of fire is put forth as that alternative place. The Bible says that such a concept of the burning of man never came into God’s mind (Jer. 19:5; 32:35). The Bible Hell It is true that the Bible does use the word "Hell." A careful study of this word’s usage in the Bible provides an interesting insight into the condition of death. The Hebrew word translated "hell" in the Old Testament is sheol. It simply means the condition of the dead and is frequently left untranslated in most modern versions of the Bible. The word is used 65 times and is translated "hell" 31 times, "grave" 31 times, and "pit" three times. The word describes the death condition of both the good and the bad. However the translators of the King James version have obscured this fact by translating it "grave" when used of a good person and "hell" when used of a bad person. For instance, the faithful patriarch Jacob thought his son Joseph was there and expected to go to him in that abode (Gen. 37:35). Afflicted Job prayed to go there (Job 14:13). It is prophesied of Jesus that he would go there for a short while (Psa. 16:10). No man is said to escape it (Psa. 89:48). Those in the Bible hell have no consciousness (Eccl. 9:10; Isa. 38:18). Good king Hezekiah anticipated going to this biblical hell (Isa. 38:9, 10). Men will be redeemed from hell and hell itself will be destroyed (Hosea 13:14). Quotations from the Old Testament sheol use this word hades. The ultimate destiny of this Bible "hell" is graphically described in Revelation 20:14, "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." If hell is to be cast into the lake of fire, it is obvious that hell itself is not the burning fire, but merely a symbol of complete and total destruction. There is, however, another Greek word frequently translated "hell." It is the Greek Gehenna. Jerusalem is a mountainous city and is topographically marked by three great valleys—the Kidron, the Hinnom, and the Tyropean. The Hinnom valley lies just to the south of the city walls and in ancient times was the site for the pagan rituals of human sacrifices. In later time it became the garbage dump for the city where fires were constantly kept burning and where the bodies of dead criminals were cast to be disposed of by the elements. These naturally bred maggots which fed on the decaying flesh. Thus it was considered as a place where the "worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43, 44; Isa. 66:24). The fires of Gehenna were destructive fires. Nothing lived in them. They utterly consumed all the refuse thrown therein. Thus they describe a place of utter annihilation, and not a place of torment. Even the noted Professor W. E. Vine, himself a believer in hell as a conscious place of torment, admits that this is not the significance of the word: "Often incorrectly translated "hell" in the KJV, sheol was not understood to be a place of punishment, but simply the ultimate resting place of all mankind." The concept, therefore, of the Bible teaching a place of eternal conscious torment in hell is purely an interpretation and is not based on the meaning of the words involved. Even the scholars of such respected church denominations as the Church of Canada (in 1950) and the Church of England (in 1996) have endorsed the conclusion that the Bible does not teach a literal hell of fire and torment. Other denominations, such as the Presbyterians, have taken a similar stand, though not as publicly.
The Origin of Death
Not only was the Garden of Eden the location for the creation of life, it was there that the death process began. After creating man, God gave him a simple rule to live by. Placing man in a fertile garden setting, God gave him permission to eat of the trees in the garden and live. There was but one exception. The Bible calls it "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Of this tree, God said, "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. 2:17). The story is well known. Satan, through a serpent, tempted Adam’s wife, Eve. She ate. She gave of the fruit to Adam and Adam ate. Disobedience entered the world. The consequences were severe and they were carried out. "The wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). The first couple was expelled from their garden home and began a long slide into the grave. The process that began in that 24-hour day back in Eden saw its full fruition when Adam expired at the age of 930 years—within a biblical 1,000 year day (2 Peter 3:8). Being the universal father the genes of death were inherited by his offspring and death became equally universal. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12).
Hopes for Life
Over the next forty centuries hopes began to evolve for a new life after death. These hopes were vague at first, but became more sharply defined as God revealed his plans through the writers of the Old Testament. The first glimmer of a reversal of the death sentence was immediate. While God was pronouncing the curses upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent for their respective roles in introducing sin and death he implied a removal of the evil, saying to the serpent, "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. 3:15). The fact that Eve believed this promise is indicated in the naming of her son, Seth, when she said that God "hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel" (Gen. 4:25). Both the provision of coats of skins, requiring the death of an animal, and the "more acceptable sacrifice" by Abel of an animal implied that this reversal would come through "blood" atonement. It was not until the time of Abraham, however, that the hopes began to take more definite shape. On numerous indications God reiterated a covenant promise to this faithful patriarch: "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3; 28:14). On the basis of this promise the children of Abraham began to develop a solid belief in life after death. Thus Job could answer his own question, "If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands" (Job 14:14, 15). It was thus that Moses could write: "Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men" (Psa. 90:3).
The Turning Point
The hopes of the Old Testament reached their fulfillment in the New. The cross of Christ became the crossroads of history. The object of his ministry was not only to be the Messiah of Israel, but the redeemer of all mankind. As the angels spoke on the day of his birth, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10, 11). This was the very cause for which he came to earth. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). In line with this Paul writes: " Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Rom. 5:18). This redemption for all became the theme of the apostle’s writings. "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:21, 22).
More Than Life
In fact, the death of Jesus assures more than life. The Apostle Peter described its effects as "times of restitution of all things." Even the earth will return to Edenic conditions. "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God" (Isa. 35:1, 2). For man, raised from the dead to these perfect conditions, life will be far different than now. "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert" (Isa. 35:5, 6). Then there will be freedom from war for "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:4). Then there will be freedom from poverty for "they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the L ORD of hosts hath spoken it" (Mic. 4:4). Then there will be freedom from sorrow because then God will "swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces" (Isa. 25:8; Rev. 21:4).
Sleepers in Death Awake
Today all mankind goes into the grave. Death is now the end of all life. It is in the tomb that we now end life’s journey— the innocent toddler, the Jewish philanthropist, the promising youth, the fallen soldier, the Hindu mother—all! But the Bible describes death as merely "a sleep." It was thus that the Bible describes such men as David and Solomon as having "slept with their fathers" (1 Kings 2:10; 11:43). It was thus that Jesus described Lazarus when he was deceased (John 11:11-14). Just as sleepers compose themselves for the peaceful rest of the night with full expectation of awakening refreshed in the morning, so all the sleepers in the tomb will awaken in the resurrection morning, refreshed and ready to learn from their great deliverer the laws which they must keep to enjoy life forevermore. When men are raised from the tomb there will be a need for a great educational program. The majority of earth’s population have never even heard of Christ, nor even of the God of Israel. This will be the work of the Kingdom of God, to educate the billions of humanity in the laws of righteousness which, if kept, will permit them to live forever in the paradise conditions that will fill this planet of earth. Then shall be fulfilled the prophetic words, " For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the L ORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14) And again, " And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the L ORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:34). This work is described as a highway that leads to holiness in Isaiah 35:8-10 upon which " the ransomed of the L ORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Then death will be "swallowed up in victory" and the triumphant call will sound throughout the world, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:55).