From ancient sacred literature comes a question that still haunts the human mind, ‘If a man dies, shall he live again?’ A world view today maintains that there is no Creator God, no design to the universe, no life after death, so there is no accountability for what we have done in life.
There is a poem on a tomb in Scotland that ends with the following lines:
Were not a Hereafter Man’s
Predestinated Lot Man’s Destiny
would be to revel and to rot,
Nature’s Shame and Foulest Blote.1
The inscription points towards life after death and suggests that if human beings move through this present life without God they lack all hope and may sadly become the most shameful and repugnant stain on nature.
Almost three hundred years ago, an English poet asked two questions: ‘Seems it strange that thou shouldst live forever? Is it less strange that thou shouldst live at all?’2 He appears to be saying that if there is no life after death, how do you explain the human being’s presence now in history?
The human race is an enigma, a puzzle that continues to engage brilliant minds. Writing on the moral condition in society, Paul employs some strong language. He uses terms such as ‘uncleanness’, ‘lusts’, ‘vile passions’ and ‘a debased mind’. If the apostle’s comments seem too strong, scholars remind us that the classical writers who study this period of Roman history describe the existing moral conditions with terms even more abhorrent. Paul also points to the most developed religion of those times. He asserts that the adherents had openly disobeyed the divine laws to such a degree that the neighbouring nations mocked their God. Quoting from an ancient prophet, he states, ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’. Christian churches down through the centuries have also been guilty of this. The apostle summarizes his argument; ‘there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. When human beings lack a credible hope of life beyond this world, the consequences are sinister.
Old Solomon’s devastating words lack any hope. He writes, ‘if a man lives many years and rejoices in them all … let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. All that is coming is vanity’.
Yet, running right through the Bible, the note of hope permeates God’s message. Hope comes to light in Genesis; it takes on substance in the body of the book, and the Revelation is an explosion of symbolic images describing this hope as already converted into an eternal and glorious reality.
It was Job, in the great crisis of his overwhelming affliction, who asked the question, ‘If a man dies, shall he live again?’ The Bible answers this question categorically, asserting positively that human beings will live again. The Scriptures describe the glory of life with God. In spite of this coherent message, modern society ignores or belittles the fact of life after death. Yet we should pursue this subject and stimulate among God’s people the reality of our Christion hope. We can do so without exaggerations, or pretensions of understanding all the details of this formidable work of God.
The Christian faith is not the only one that offers hope to human beings. Is there a religion that does not offer the promise of immortality to the faithful? However, the hope of the Christian faith is unique, because it rests on the historical fact of Christ’s death and resurrection. Were it not for this well documented fact, and for the witness of millions of Christians that Christ is a living reality in their lives, the perspective of Christian happiness beyond death would not be anything more than another religious tradition about pleasures to be enjoyed in the next life. The truth is that the Christian’s coming glory only receives substance when it is linked directly to the death and the resurrection of Christ. For this reason, a good part of any study of hope must be devoted to the important task of understanding this matter.
To concentrate on the coming glory is more than a mere theoretical exercise.One must go beyond abstract theory. If the subject does not awaken in the student a deep renewal of his or her love for Christ, it has not achieved its purpose. Only the Lord Jesus could bring hope to us.
It has been suggested that a heaven that does not revolve around Christ as the indispensable hub is an aberration. A glory in which Christ does not figure as the principal splendour is a travesty. When the vision of ‘the city that sparkles like jasper’, of ‘the river that is clear as crystal’, of the ‘the main street that is paved of pure gold’ and of ‘the city gates that are made each one of a single pearl’, surpasses the personal magnificence of Christ, it is a distortion of the coming world of glory. The future glory becomes increasingly clear only when in the Christian there is a growing love for Christ. For many down through the centuries, Christ, in the beautiful phrases from the ancient Hebrew, is undoubtedly the ‘chief among ten thousand …Yes, He is altogether lovely’.
The Christian never seeks death, but fully understands Paul’s words, ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain’, and that ‘to depart and be with Christ … is far better’.3 When there exists a clear understanding of the coming glory of Christ the Lord, it always expresses itself in this deep longing to be with Him. For this reason, hope becomes the principal characteristic of the church. It is with sure hope the church continues forward with loyalty to the Lord Jesus, and with dedication to the cause of God in this present world.
Around the year 110 A.D., the very respected and loved bishop, Ignatius of Antioch, Syria, was condemned to die in the gladiator games. The elder Ignatius sent a message to his friends: ‘My birth pangs are at hand. Bear with me, my brothers. Do not hinder me from living; do not wish for my death … Allow me to receive the pure light; when I arrive there I shall be a real man’.4
There is no doubt that, ‘If a man dies, he will live again!’5
Cryptic 18th century inscription in MacKenzie of Coul burial enclosure, Fortrose Cathedral, Fortrose, Ross-shire, Scotland.
Edward Young (1683-1765), Edythe Draper, Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.), No 6103.
Bible references: Job 14. 14; Rom. 1. 18-32; 2. 24; 3. 22ff; Eccles. 11. 8; Song of Sol. 5. 10, 16; Phil. 1. 21ff; Heb. 10. 37.
Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, The Doubleday Christian Quotation Collection (New York, Doubleday, 1998), p. 5.
Probably because of the immediate context, Job’s question, in spite of the question sign, in the Hebrew, appears as an assertion in the LXX.
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