Deathís True Destiny
"To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?
Those lines from William Shakesphereís play Hamlet are some of the most recognized words ever uttered. While you may instantly know them and may even be able to recite all or most of them by heart, have you ever stopped to consider the actual words that may so easily roll off your tongue? What is it that Hamlet is saying and whatís the intent of his meaning? Letís look at Hamletís entire statement.
"To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream:"
The famous soliloquy uttered in Hamlet speaks of the void in manís life and of the gigantic gap in mankindís knowledge of any afterlife. Hamlet speaks of ending his troubles by cutting short his tumultuous life through suicide. Even though he was prince in the royal line of Denmark and, therefore, heir to all the trappings on the road to kingship, Hamlet did not have the answers to lifeís purpose. If he did have the answers to the issues he sought, he would have been able to weather the storms and the troubles that came his way.
From time to time, you might have found yourself asking the same types of questions. Is there a purpose to life? Why am I here? Do I have a duty to perform? To whom do I owe my allegiance and by whose standards should I live my life? Is there an afterlife? Many people throughout the centuries have asked such questions and most of them havenít found the answers. Several decades ago, there was a popular song about a woman who, in reviewing various stages of her life, continuously asked the question, "Is that all there is?" Her conclusion was an empty one, which kept resounding throughout the refrain of the song: "If thatís all there is, my friend, then letís keep dancing. Letís break out the booze and have a ball, if thatís all there is."
We need to ask ourselves the big questions. Do you know the answers? Many in the world will say that the answers to lifeís biggest questions lie in some of the worldís great religions. The three most notable religions in the world today are Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Letís examine each of those to see if they really teach the answers to lifeís most important issues.
There are more than one billion people in the world who now claim to believe in the writings of the revelations given to the prophet Muhammad who lived in the 7th century A.D. What does Islam teach about life after death? In his book Understanding Islam: An Introduction to the Muslim World, Thomas Lippman writes:
Though Muhammad lived about six centuries after the writings of the apostles in the New Testament and thousands of years after the writings of Moses in the Old Testament, Mr. Lippman sheds light on the true foundation of Islam.
It is clear to see that the followers of Islam believe in a resurrection to either eternal life in the heavenly Paradise or eternal torment in the fires of Hell. It is further clear, however, that the declared roots of Islam lie in the Pentateuch of Judaism and the Gospels of Christianity. Letís examine the beliefs of each to compare their teachings about what lies after death.
Judaism is one of the worldís oldest religions but one that has evolved its structure of authority since the time of Moses. The descendants of the priestly line of the sons of Aaron for many centuries were the Sadducees. At about the time of Jesusí life on earth, the sect of the Pharisees grew in importance to ultimately supplant the religious authority of the Sadducees over the general populace. After the destruction of the temple when the Romans sacked Jerusalem, the descendants of the Pharisees came to be the currently recognized Rabbinical structure of modern Judaism.
In his book What Do Jews Believe? David Ariel explains the current teachings of the Rabbis on the subject of death and the afterlife.
Thus far, weíve heard descriptions explaining the beliefs of the religions of Islam and Judaism. What does the worldís most widespread religion, Christianity, believe about the subject of life after death? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Christian teaching about life after death and the resurrection from the dead is described in the following manner:
The Common Source
One thing should be apparent to all from what weíve read so far. All three major religions of the world believe similar things about the fate of the dead and the potential for life after death. Itís not surprising that we should find such commonality among them since both Islam and Christianity supposedly share the same basis for the most fundamental of their scriptures in the Pentateuch and Pslams of the Bible given to Israel and the Jews. Since they all basically agree, it looks like itís an open and shut case and, therefore, our study should be over.
Wait a minute, though. So far, weíve heard from excellent sources documenting what the mosques, temples, and churches teach about their beliefs but we havenít confirmed those teachings from the foundational scriptures claimed by those bodies. We shouldnít just accept the word of others but letís go to the Pentateuch itself to see what God actually says about the subject.
In Genesis 3:19, God pronounces the curses Adam earned through his disobedience and his rebellion against God in the issue of eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. In enumerating those curses that would befall Adam, God spoke of the true origin and the true destiny of humanity.
So, we see that man came from the dust of the ground and is destined to return to the dust of the ground at death. In Genesis 49:33, we can see that the same fate eventually confronted even some of the most righteous of the patriarchs such as Jacob.
Genesis 15:15 tells us that even Abraham, the friend of God and the father of both the Ishmaelites and Muslims as well as the Israelites and Jews, shared in the same fate. He died and was buried and joined his forefathers in the grave.
Deuteronomy 31:16 states (in the NIV) that death is likened to rest and that when Moses died, he was going to be buried and rest in death just as his fathers had done.
We can also look further into Godís word beyond the Pentateuch to learn even more about the fate of the dead. In previous studies, we have seen how God stated in Ezekiel 14:14 that Job was one of the most righteous of the Old Testament.
If Job was such a pillar of righteousness as to be named by God as a rare example of righteousness, then it makes sense that Jobís words recorded for us in the book of Job should speak to us with the righteous authority, knowledge and understanding given him by God. In Job 14:10, Job gives us understanding of the true fate that awaits mankind, apart from God.
In Psalms 49:20, even David the "man after Godís own heart," knew that the fate of man, apart from God, is no different than the beasts.
In Psalms 89:47, David continues the subject of death affecting all men.
In Psalms 13:3, David went on to say that he knew death is equated with sleep.
Finally in Psalms 116:15, David spoke of the value of that sleep regarding the ones who have fulfilled the calling given to them by God.
The one reputed to have been the wisest man of all was Solomon, the son of David. He wasnít wise on his own. He was the wisest because of his source of wisdom. He had asked of God to be given wisdom when he first inherited the throne over Israel from his father, David. God granted him the wisdom he requested. So, it was not merely Solomonís wisdom that is dispensed to Israel in the pages of the Bible. It is Godís wisdom and the truth of God given to Solomon. In Ecclesiastes 2:14, Solomon spoke of the commonality between all humans.
In Ecclesiastes 11:8, Solomon goes on to describe the value of living while life is still available and he compares it to the inability to be able to do anything in the darkness of the grave that is to come to all men.
The sum of the matter is finally expressed by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:9. He speaks again of the value of striving while there is still life because of the certain knowledge that nothing further can be gained after death.
Job, David, and Solomon were not the only men of God who knew the truth about death. So did the prophet Isaiah, as we can see in Isaiah 38:17. He knew there is nothing in the grave.
We have seen through many scriptural examples that the Old Testament teaches the same fate awaits all humans, whether good or evil. All will die and will return to the dust of the ground from which they were formed. It is the next step after death, however, in which the actual teaching of scripture differs from the teaching of Judaism.
We read earlier that "According to the rabbis, the righteous receive their reward in the afterlife in the celestial Garden of Eden, while the wicked are punished in Gehenna or Gehinnom." That teaching, however, does not agree with several of the scriptures we just read that said "for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol [thatís the grave] where you are going." We need to ask if Judaism is alone in teaching concepts conflicting with the very scriptures that form the basis of the religion. What about Islam? Are the writings in the Koran in agreement with the teachings and beliefs espoused by Moslems?
The Koran does teach going to Paradise as the reward of believers, in Surah 2:25.
The Koran also teaches that hell and torture is the penalty that awaits unbelievers, in Surah 78, 21).
So, it looks like the writings of the Koran agree with the teaching of the Islamic religion but what about Christianity? Are the New Testament scriptures in agreement with the teachings of Christianity?
Certainly there is no better authority than Jesus Christ to assert the proper teachings of Christianity. In John 11:11 is the account of Lazarus. Lazarus was one of Christís best friends. He had become sick and had died prior to Jesusí arrival. That would have been a golden opportunity for Jesus to straighten out his disciples on the subject of whether the dead go to heaven or to hell. Instead, Jesus taught his disciples that death was a type of sleep.
Rather than teaching that, at death, people go to heaven or hell, Christ taught that all are still in the graves now but there will be a future resurrection. In John 5:28, Jesus spoke of that future resurrection and of what will happen when that day comes.
If there was any question about the dead going to heaven at death, in John 3:13, Christ definitely put to rest that issue. No one: not even the most righteous of the men of old, not Noah or Abraham or Moses or Job or David or Solomon or Daniel have gone to heaven.
So, itís plain there will be a future day of decision. All who are in the graves will rise from their graves back to life and it will then be determined whether or not they will be given the gift of eternal life.
In recent decades, there has been much publicity in the news or in the movies about so-called "near-death" experiences. People have testified about things such as "seeing lights" or "seeing angels" or "hearing the voice of God" as they lay dying on operating room tables, only to be miraculously restored to health. All sorts of stories are put forth that seem to support the notion of going to heaven at death. We have seen, however, that such notions are contrary to the weight of evidence in the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments.
There is one other personal story of experience I would like to relate that does support what we have just read in scriptures. As a youth when I was twelve years old, I was involved in an automobile accident. Actually, I was on a bicycle and was hit by a car at an intersection. My leg was broken by the impact. The knuckles of my left hand were crushed to bits. My chin was gashed by the broken glass of the car windshield and there was blood coming out of my left ear. In short, there was blood over most of my body. I lay on the road for some period of time with no heartbeat.
Fortunately, there happened to be a U.S. Navy doctor visiting a friend just a few blocks away from the accident scene at the time. His friend heard the noise of the crash and the two of them arrived to find me without a pulse. The doctor administered CPR at the scene and was able to restart my heartbeat.
I knew nothing until I came to consciousness in the hospital days later. From my personal experience long before I knew anything about Godís scriptures or the proper Biblical teaching about death, I knew there is nothing at death. There is no "great light" or "seeing angels" or "hearing the voice of God." There is only what the scriptures tell us: nothingness, just black nothingness.
The Future Resurrection
Fortunately for us and for the rest of humanity, that "nothingness" is not to be our ultimate destiny. There is hope for the future. Letís go back to where we were earlier in Job 14:10. We read that all men are destined for the grave where we now know there is no afterlife, just nothingness. Letís read further, though, about the hope that Job had of his future resurrection.
A few chapters later in Job 19:25, Job speaks of his sure trust in the future resurrection from the grave. The Complete Jewish Bible renders verses 25 through 27 in the following manner:
So, we can see that Job was sure in the knowledge that, even after the disintegration of his body in the grave, he would be resurrected by God back to a fleshly physical existence. Job was not alone, however, in his trust in God providing a future resurrection. In Psalms 16:9, so, too, was David full of confidence in God fulfilling his promise.
David knew that he, like all men, would undergo decay in the grave but he also had confidence in God keeping his promise not to abandon him in the grave. David also had confidence in God keeping his promise to resurrect the "Holy One", Jesus Christ, in three days and not allow his body to undergo the typical decay destined for the rest of humanity.
In Daniel 12:2, we can see that Daniel also knew that death was sleep. Beyond that, though, he knew of the future resurrection and the hope for all mankind.
Not only did Daniel know about the future of mankind, in Daniel 12:13, he was specifically told of his personal destiny.
The power that will raise Daniel is the same power that raised Christ from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 6:14, Paul tells us itís the same one who will raise us up from the dead.
Baptism, the Picture of Death and Resurrection
The apostle Paul had much to say about the metaphorical connection between baptism and its picture of death and resurrection. In Colossians 2:12, he said that our act of baptism was a sign of submission and our material participation in the burial of Christ.
In Romans 6:3, Paul went on to show how our sharing in the picture of Christís death actually brings upon us a greater responsibility to live a new life. We are to no longer live according to our former lifestyles. We are to strive to live anew according to the righteous standards of Godís laws and follow both the physical and spiritual examples of Jesus.
In Galatians 3:24, Paul draws together the significance of baptism and our new allegiance to God. Regardless of our physical circumstances, we are bound together by that new covenant with the Father. We have pledged to obey him and he has pledged to adopt us as sons. He, therefore, will apply to us the promises he made to the patriarchs of old. We can place our confidence in the Fatherís reliability. Yes, our total commitment actually depends upon our reliance on God upholding the words of his promises.
The Ultimate Destiny
The full truth about mankindís fate at death is not to be found in the religious teachings of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity but it is found in the actual scriptures common to the basis of all three. While in captivity in Persia, Daniel was given the privilege of seeing into the future. He saw a picture of our ultimate destiny at the throne of God, the Father.
Continue in verse 13.
Danielís vision was a distinct picture of judgment at the throne of the Father, God Most High. Daniel saw that the judgment, which belongs to the Father, was willingly given to the son of man, Jesus the Messiah. Christ will be given that responsibility of judgment over all mankind. With it will come the right of rule in the Kingdom of God over the whole earth.
The story doesnít end there. We can hear the rest of the story at the end of the last book of the New Testament in Revelation 20:4.
Continue in verse eleven.
That is the truth of God, revealed for all to see in the scriptures. Our destiny is not to go to the heavenly Paradise to be fed by virgins. It is not to go to the heavenly Garden of Eden or to live forever in Nirvana. It is neither to burn forever in the fires of hell. The scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments plainly teach that Godís righteous "called-out ones" will rule with the Messiah in the Kingdom of God for a thousand years after having the privilege to be in the first resurrection at the Messiahís return to earth. The rest of humanity will be brought out of their graves and come back to life at the end of the thousand years to be judged and taught Godís righteous way of life. That is truly a message of hope for all of humanity.
That is deathís true destiny.
Sermon by Philip Edwards
February 17, 2006