Is there a life after death? Did anyone ever come back from the dead to tell us? Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ, who arose from the dead, is the One who came back and who knows. The best proven fact in history is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some years ago, two eminent legal authorities of England, Lord Lyttleton and Gilbert West, were unbelievers. They held that the truthfulness of Christianity rested upon two foundations—first, the resurrection of Christ, and second, the conversion of the apostle Paul. In order to disprove both of these things, they agreed to write books against them. As honest men, they said they would first study the evidence. They set a date to meet a year hence and discuss their findings. When they met, Lord Lyttleton said that he had written his book but admitted that instead of it being against, it was on the side of the truth of the conversion of the apostle Paul. Then Gilbert West acknowledged that the book he had written was not against but on the side of the truth of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. These two volumes are now in many libraries. The writer possesses a copy of each of them. Both of these unbelievers were converted by the facts. All honest investigators will likewise be converted.
After rising from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ plainly declared: “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:18). And this is His testimony to God’s Word, the Bible: “Thy Word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). Then let us hear and heed the truth from the Word of God concerning “Life after Death.”
The Meaning of Life and Death
God‘s Word tells us that there are two kinds of life and two kinds of death—physical and spiritual. The Savior said, “I am come that they might have life” (Jn. 10:10). Now the only kind of people who need life are people who are dead. The Word of God reveals that in our natural state we are physically alive but spiritually dead. Many imagine that there is a “divine spark” in every human being. But God’s Word says that until we are “born again” (Jn. 3:3), we are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We would not speak of a person as being dead as long as there was a spark of life in their body. Neither would God call a soul “dead” if it had a spark of life. Therefore, we do well to receive the Word of God and reject the imagination of men. Physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body. “The body without the spirit is dead” (Jas. 2:26). Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. The apostle Paul writes, “At that time”—before they had received life in Christ—“ye were without Christ … having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Many indulge in false hopes and say they have “God.” But God’s Word says that until we are “in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:13), we are “without Christ” and have “no hope” and are “without God in this world.”
Christ explained the meaning of “eternal life” when He said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” (Jn. 17:3). “Eternal life,” then, is vastly more than mere endless existence. It is blessed fellowship and union with God for all eternity. And eternal death is the opposite—separation from God and all that is good and union with all that is evil, forevermore.
The Cause and Cure of Death
Death came into the world through sin, which is disobedience to God (Rom. 5:12). The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s cure for sin and death. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). In order to give us life, He gave His precious life for us upon the cross. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). May we never forget the awful cost He paid to save the lost. To those who personally believe in Him, He immediately gives them spiritual life, fellowship with God. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power (the right) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (Jn. 1:12). We are not God’s children until we receive His Son. When we receive Him, He delivers us from all fear of physical death by the assurance of a glorious resurrection. He triumphantly declared, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (Jn. 11:25).
Christ Draws Back the Veil
In the narrative in Luke 16:19-31, the Lord Jesus Christ drew aside the veil between life and death. We see a believer comforted and a godless man in torment. Some call this a parable, but our Lord did not call it a parable. He said, “A certain rich man” and “a certain beggar” and said the beggar was named “Lazarus.” However, supposing this is a parable, does that make it any easier for those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ and so die eternally lost? Not at all. Certainly, symbolic expressions are used, but remember that a symbol is always less intense than the reality symbolized. If the symbol is a “flame,” what must the reality be? Christ said, “I am … the truth” (Jn. 14:6). He is not deceiving by exaggeration nor encouraging any misconception of the woe of the lost. And the teaching here agrees with the teaching of God’s Word elsewhere.
Death Does Not End All
Many unsaved people wish that death did end all. They realize that they are utterly unprepared to meet their Creator. But God’s Word speaks to us plainly concerning “the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).
No Universal Salvation
God‘s gracious love and provision for salvation and His invitation are universal, praise His name. But man‘s acceptance of salvation is far from universal. “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” (Jn. 3:16). Many believe about Christ who do not believe “in Him.” There is the difference between hell and heaven in those two words about and in. Believing about Christ saves no one. Believing in Him—which means yielding the heart and trusting Him—will save anyone! God will not save anyone against his or her will. My reader, be not among those to whom the Lord Jesus must say, “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (Jn. 5:40).
God’s Word warns us against those who handle the Word of God “deceitfully” (2 Cor. 4:2) and who twist the Bible to their own destruction and the destruction of their followers (2 Pet. 3:16). They talk about “the restitution of all things.” But the Bible does not say that. God‘s Word speaks of the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21). And God‘s prophets never predicted the salvation of those who leave this world without having received the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Other false teachers are known as “Reconciliationists” or “Universalists.” But God’s Word clearly teaches that those who refuse God‘s loving entreaty to be reconciled to Him in Christ, in this world, will be lost forever (2 Cor. 5:20-21; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).
Some try to make universal salvation out of 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” But “made alive” and salvation are poles apart. Christ said, “All”—the saved and the lost—“that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth,” that is, “be made alive.” Now notice the eternal difference—“they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jn. 5:28-29). In the sight of God, the only “good” thing an unsaved sinner can do is to receive the Savior. Such will have “the resurrection of life.” And in the sight of God, the most “evil” thing an unsaved sinner can do is to reject the Savior. Such will receive “the resurrection of damnation.” There are only two ways to die—“in your sins” (Jn. 8:24) or “in Christ” (1 Thess. 4:16). If you die “in your sins” you will perish forever in the very body in which you listened to the gospel and rejected the Savior.
This lost man in hell whom our Lord Jesus Christ told us about could see, speak, feel, reason, remember, and pray (Lk. 16:23-28). No sleeping soul could do these things. Those who teach soul-sleeping quote Ecclesiastes 9:5, which says, “The dead know not any thing.” They refuse to quote what immediately follows: “neither have they any more a reward” because they believe the dead have a reward. And, they ignore what it says in the same book—“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. 12:7)—because it disagrees with their theory of soul-sleeping. Neither do they acknowledge that not once does the book of Ecclesiastes say that God said a single thing recorded in it. God gave us the book of Ecclesiastes to show us the contrast between His revelation and the reasonings of man “under the sun.” Satan, and many uninspired men, said things that are recorded in the Bible, but no one who is intelligent and honest would quote these statements as though God had said them. When the Bible speaks of death as sleep, it refers to the appearance of the body in death and not to the state of the soul. The apostle Paul said that he had “a desire to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23), not a desire to depart and go to sleep in the grave!
No Second Chance
In the life to come, the “great gulf” between the saved and the lost is “fixed” for all eternity (Lk. 16:26). If you are unsaved, my reader, have you not had scores of opportunities to accept the Savior? Then what right have you to ask God for “a second chance” after death? False teachers who would comfort those who reject the Son of God say that when Christ “went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:19), He offered them salvation after death. The Bible says no such thing. The word translated “preached“ means ”to proclaim.“ Christ proclaimed His victory over Satan. What God’s Word does say is this: “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2); and, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27)—not, “a second chance.” The inspired Word of God says nothing about any purgatory. That is an invention of priestcraft to get money for prayers for the dead. At death, eternal destiny is settled—heaven or hell.
The Greek word apollumi is translated “destroy,” “perish,” and “lost” (Rom. 14:15; Jn. 3:16; Lk. 19:10). It never means “to annihilate.” Rather, it means “to ruin” and “to mar,” so as to never be what it was intended to be. Everyone will exist somehow, and somewhere, forever, but a soul that does not receive Christ as Savior can never, in all eternity, be what God intended a human being should be. The Bible teaches no such thing as “conditional immortality.” The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the “everlasting punishment” of the lost and the “life eternal” of the saved (Matt. 25:46). The words “everlasting” and “eternal” come from the same Greek word. The woe of the lost is just as long as the bliss of the saved. Christ said of Judas, the traitor, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). Not to have been born and annihilation would amount to the same thing—nonexistence. In other words, the Lord Jesus said the future of Judas was worse than annihilation. Judas, and all the lost, live under God’s wrath forever (Jn. 3:36).
This lost man in hades wanted Lazarus, the saved man, to go back from the dead and warn others, yet this was not permitted. He was told that they had God‘s Word, and if they refused to hear that, they would not believe although one went to them from the dead (Lk. 16:27-31). When our Lord Himself arose from the dead, the leaders who put Him to death knew of His resurrection but continued to reject Him (Matt. 28:1-4, 11-15). Do not fool yourself, my friend. If you do not accept God‘s Word about your sin and the Savior, neither would you believe if one came back from the dead and told you these truths. God‘s Word says that all who seek to communicate with the dead ”are an abomination unto the Lord“ (Deut. 18:9-12). He commands us to seek unto Him and His Word and not to the dead (Isa. 8:19-20). The Scriptures show that all “mediums” who traffic in alleged contact with the dead are “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23). Unless these deceivers honestly repent and receive Christ as Savior, God‘s Word says they will “have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Rev. 21:8). Keep off the devil’s territory. Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:19, and Ephesians 2:7 tell the saved one what God wants him to know now about his present and future.
Eternal Gain or Loss
The apostle Paul wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). If we have received Christ, death brings eternal gain. We gain the personal and immediate presence of Christ (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:6-8). Sin, sorrow, tears, and pain are gone forever (Rev. 21:4). To those who have not received Christ, death brings eternal loss. They go forever to that dark abode where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Lk. 13:28), the land of vain regret.
Robert Ingersoll, the well-known unbeliever, and D. L. Moody, the well-known Christian evangelist, both had brothers they dearly loved. When Ingersoll’s brother died, he stood beside the casket and said, “Life is a dark and barren valley between the ice-clad peaks of two eternities. We strive to look beyond the darkness for the light. We cry for help, but only hear the echo of our cry.” Then he sat down, weeping. When D. L. Moody’s brother died, he stood beside the casket and said, “I thank God that He gave me a brother, and most of all that He permitted me to lead him to accept Christ as his personal Savior, and I know I shall see him again in a better world.” Then, with eyes uplifted, he shouted in triumph, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? … Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55, 57). My reader, delay not another moment to trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, and then yield yourself to Him. The instant you believe in Him for your eternal well-being, you will pass forever “from death unto life” (Jn. 5:24), and for you, death will bring eternal gain.
— This article was written by Franklin Huling, who served on the faculty of the FEA’s Fundamental Bible Institute from its inception in 1936 until his homegoing in 1946. Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Issue 2, 2018.