Afterlife: After or Beyond?

by Jefferson Vann

Afterlife: After or Beyond? Apologist Dinesh D’Souza spent years studying how the various cultures of the world viewed the afterlife. Among his conclusions was that there was remarkable similarity among the three “Abrahamic” religions. He said “… in all three cases (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) there is an official teaching and an unofficial teaching. … The official teaching is bodily resurrection. … The alternative, unofficial, view is the immortality of the soul. In this view the body perishes but the soul lives on. Oddly enough, this idea is first articulated not in biblical or Quranic sources, but rather in Greek philosophy.”1

He attributes the view’s popularity to Plato. He states that “Life after death is not exclusively a religious belief but is also one that is shared by Western philosophy going back to Plato.”2 He credits Augustine for making it standard doctrine within Christianity. It was a slight twist of emphasis in theological anthropology. According to D’Souza, “Christianity since Augustine does not espouse life ‘after’ death, but rather life ‘beyond’ death.”3

D’souza was ready to concede that this evolved view is more appropriate for Christianity, and set out to prove it by means of science, philosophy and practical reason. His arguments only prove what we conditionalists have championed all along: the doctrine of innate immortality is not proven by Scripture, because Scripture teaches something else. It makes a great deal of difference whether one believes in life after death (all conditionalists do), or life beyond death.

Theology proper

To suggest that all human beings continue to live beyond their apparent deaths is to say that all human beings are immortal. The Bible clearly claims that only God has the attribute of immortality.4 The only way the proponents of traditionalism have of responding to this fact is by borrowing another idea from Plato – the concept of dualism. Dualism teaches that human beings are made up of two parts, the body and the soul. Plato taught that the body dies, but that the soul lives on, and always will. Traditionalists imagine that when Paul asserted that only God has immortality, he must have referred to the fact God never experiences bodily death, the way his creatures do. However, conditionalists see Paul making a more fundamental statement. Plato’s claims had been taught for four centuries. The readers of 1 Timothy knew about his claims. Paul’s claims about life after death had to either agree with Plato’s or reject them. Paul rejected the concept of life beyond death. God’s attribute of immortality was exclusive to him alone.

Anthropology

The notion of life continuing beyond death instead of being revived by resurrection after death suggests that human beings are endowed by their Creator with not only a right to life, but also with the inability to actually die. The Bible teaches the opposite – that human beings are mortal.

“Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh.”5

“Take note of my brief lifespan! Why do you make all people so mortal?”6

“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.”7

The Resurrection

The only biblical teaching that suggests a possibility of changing our destiny of death is the hope of the resurrection. Paul taught the Corinthians that our resurrection day will be our day of victory.

“For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”8

The proponents of the life beyond death philosophy would have us believe that the real victory has already happened. As they would have it, we do not have to wait for the resurrection to swallow up death, because death is merely an illusion. Our victory over it is found in the fact that we were created to survive it. Yet, that is not what the apostle said. Paul said that the victory will happen if and when the resurrection occurs.

Translators, seeking to justify their own view of life beyond death, simply insert the word “body” or “bodies” in the text of 1 Corinthians 15:53.9 The word is not in the original Greek text, nor is it implied. Paul was not talking about a partial victory. The whole person (not just his body) will become imperishable and immortal at the resurrection, because the whole person is perishable and mortal before the resurrection.

It is for that very reason that Paul claims his purpose in life is not to survive death, but to be raised to life after death.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”10

The Wages of Sin

The Bibles teaches that the wages of sin is death, 11 but if people are found to survive it, and have an automatic eternal life beyond it, then death is not real. The wages are paid with bogus, fake, Monopoly money. If people just “cross the Jordan” and are found on the other side of “the great divide” — then death turns out to be a blessing, not a punishment. Yet, the Bible is clear that death came upon all people as a consequence of our ancestors’ sins. The Bible says “in Adam all die.”12 The tactic that many people take in evangelization is to immediately deny that fact. The first thing they tell the unbeliever is that they will never die, no matter what. No wonder that so many people reject their “good news.” They immediately deny the “bad news.”

The truth is, we all die. Those cemeteries are full of people, not just bones. Those tombs will one day be opened at the sound of Christ’s second coming, and the people within them will come out. Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”13 They are bound to those graves until then. They are imprisoned in a dark, silent place, which the Hebrews called Sheol. The Greeks called it Hades. We call it the grave.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has the keys to that place. He can set people free from their imprisonment. He proclaimed, “I have the keys of Death and Hades.”14 To suggest that death is really not a prison in which people are confined before the resurrection is to – again — reject the Bible’s good news for some other good news. It is to say to Jesus, “You can keep your keys, death and Hades are not so bad.” To relish in life beyond death is to reject God’s plan to rescue us by Jesus. It is to swallow the original lie of Satan in the garden, that we will not surely die.15 It is to presume that we are all born without the need of rescue. It does not do justice to what God actually says about death. Death is not a friend, giving us entrance into the Father’s presence. It is an enemy, (1 Corinthians 15:26.) keeping us from our eternal destiny with him.

Final Punishment

Insisting that everyone continues to live beyond death also circumvents the great warning that reverberates throughout Scripture. People are constantly challenged to repent of their sins and turn to God because he will ultimately and permanently judge and destroy all those who do not. The wages of our ancestors’ sin is the first death, but the wages of our personal sins is the second death.16 The difference between the two deaths is made clear: from the first death everyone will be raised,17 but the second death is in a lake of fire. The fire cannot be put out until it has destroyed all within it. From that death there will be no resurrection. Those who are found in that fire will suffer the “punishment of eternal destruction.”18

Life After Death

The good news that the Bible proclaims is that through Jesus Christ those who believe in him can have resurrection life after their deaths, not a continuation of disembodied life beyond death. One advantage of holding to this good news rather than accepting the counterfeit good news is that it is what D’Souza calls the “official teaching” of the Bible, rather than the popular “alternative, unofficial view.” We conditionalists need never resort to having to prove our view by practical reason and science alone. We have God’s word on it.

Another advantage of proclaiming life after death through the resurrection is that it is actually what people are really after. As much as traditionalist might boast about his desire for going to heaven, he will spend his entire fortune to delay the trip. What people really want is to be alive – fully and functionally alive, and to enjoy God and the universe that he created for us. His plan for us is a new heaven and a new earth, restored to its holiness and spiritual vitality. That is our destiny, and it is a certainty for all who are in Christ. But that great event will not happen when we die. It will happen when death dies. It will happen after our Savior returns. Come, Lord Jesus.

References

1 Dinesh D’Souza, Life After Death: The Evidence . (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2009), 42.

2 D’Souza, 35-36.

3 D’Souza, 48.

4 1 Timothy 6:16-17.

5 Genesis 6:3 (NLT

6 Psalm 89:47 (NET

7 Romans 1:22-23 (NET 8 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 (NASB).

9 See ESV, NET, NLT, NRSV.

10 Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV).

11 Romans 6:23.

12 1 Corinthians 15:22.

13 John 5:28-29 (ESV).

14 Revelation 1:18.

15 Genesis 3:4.

16 Revelation 20:14; 21:8.

17 John 5:28-29.

18 2 Thessalonians 1:9.

About Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is a missionary with Advent Christian General Conference and elder at McAlpin Advent Christian Church in Florida and Relevant Church in Virgina. “My hope is that everyone who reads this will have an opportunity to understand the gospel, and will know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

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