Where are the Dead?

The fact that a leading London newspaper finds it worthwhile to devote half a page daily to the question of whether there is a life beyond this, proves that it is a subject in which many are interested, and that they are anxious to hear what can be said about it by all sorts of men. So there are published the opinions of scientists, spiritists, philosophers, preachers, priests and politicians, but it is surprising how little all that has been said amounts to — in fact, if we had nothing but these published opinions to go upon we should have nothing at all. How disappointed must those folk be who eagerly looked for some definite pronouncement and have got instead mere inferences drawn by clever men from suppositions or doubtful premises.

The subject is one that must give all thinking persons much concern, it is one that cannot really be ignored, for sooner or later this life must come to a close for all, and we want to have certainty as to what the future may be, if there is a future. But we can have no certainty about it at all without reliable authority. This we must have or be the victims of continual and distressing doubt.

Now it is a fact that there is inborn in the human race the feeling that the shock of death does not kill the soul, but that beyond death individual conscious existence will continue. This and the sense that there is a higher and unseen power have been the most potent instincts in the hearts of men throughout all their generations The earliest records that have been discovered by the excavators show that this was the dominating factor in the lives of the ancients, the master-thinkers of Greece, before Christ came, incorporated it with their systems of philosophy, and it matters not how degraded men may have become from their primitive dignity, or what they may have lost of the knowledge that their forefathers possessed, they have not forgotten this. The missionary from Christian lands has no need to tell the aborigines of Australia or the cannibals of the South Sea Islands that death will not be the end of them, they know it already. It is a fact that cruelty and superstition are associated with their belief of it, but the secret as to this is revealed in Romans 1:21-22, "Because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools." The darkness that is the result of turning from God to the devil has deepened about the minds and hearts of these poor wretches as the centuries have rolled on. Yet this remains embedded in their very consciousness, that the soul of a man survives the death of his body.

There always have been, of course, and always will be exceptions to this rule, like the Sadducees of our Lord's day and Sir Arthur Keith of this, whose denial of life after death resulted in the subject being taken up by this London daily paper, and we must confess that there is a considerable amount of consistency in his position, for if man has come down from a beastly ancestry, if he is nothing more than an elevated chimpanzee, why should he not end his days like his progenitors that perish? By what means has he evolved himself into a being with an immortal spirit? If we held this evolutionary theory as to man's origin, we should be compelled logically and consistently to believe with the President of the British Association that he has no existence beyond the grave, and that his life goes out at death like a snuffed-out candle, and he is no more. The inconsistency is on the part of those who have cast over the Bible account of man's creation and origin, and yet want to hold on to its teaching as to his destiny.

Of this universal feeling science takes no account, it scarcely lies within its province, nevertheless to ignore it or scoff at it is to turn light to darkness, for it has been the candle of the Lord within the souls of men along the highway of the centuries that preceded the coming of the Light. That Light has come: it is Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, who said, "I am the Light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).

The fact is that we may exercise our minds and pursue our investigations as to the facts and phenomena of our lives between the cradle and the tomb, but if we are to know from whence we came, why we are here, and where and what we shall be, we are dependent upon revelation. God must tell us or we shall not know. Is He deaf to the cry of the heart of His creatures? Is He dumb in the presence of their agony? No. He has spoken and His word is the light of the lives of all those who hear and believe it. In it alone we have reliable authority upon which, to base our confidence.

Do the Dead Live?

In Matthew 22:23-33 the Lord Jesus, in whom God has spoken to us and told us all the truth, answered and demolished the infidelity of the Sadducees. They were the materialists of that day and denied the survival of the soul. They brought to the Lord a story of a woman who had had seven brothers one after the other for a husband. It was a fable of course, but they thought it would serve their turn, and make the idea of survival and resurrection ridiculous. At once the Lord turned them to the Scriptures, and to the Books of Moses, that part of the Scriptures that the evolutionists deny. "Ye do err," He said, "not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." The words of the Lord are wonderful and plain and assuring. He gave to those ancient Scriptures their credentials when he said, "HAVE YE NOT READ THAT WHICH WAS SPOKEN UNTO YOU BY GOD?" Is it a fact that God has spoken to us in the Books of Moses? Our Lord has said so, and that should be enough for us. What God said was, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." And when He said this these men had been dead for centuries, had they, then, ceased to exist? No, for then would God have said, "I was their God," for He is not the God of the dead, of people who don't exist, but of the living. In this memorable answer the Lord not only showed conclusively that those who are dead to this present life live in the next, but He gave special emphasis to the fact that individuality is maintained. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were still Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and were in conscious individual relationship with God.

Romans 14:7-9 also bears witness to this for us, for there we read: "For none of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself. For whether we live, we live to the Lord; and whether we die we die to the Lord; whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord's. For this end Christ both died and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living." What comforting words are these for those who, having been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, can cry, "We are the Lord's." Death will not carry us beyond His reach. He will be our Lord still, for He is the Lord of both the dead and the living. And here is comfort for those who mourn for their dead. They have passed beyond your ken, but they are not beyond His, they are no longer in your care, but He has them in His safe keeping, they are still in His kingdom and under His Lordship, even as you are. Think of His words in John 10 in this connection: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand." How safe must all those be who are in the hand of Jesus, in that hand that broke the power of death! The dead who have died in the Lord are in His hand, and we who live are in His hand also, and if we die we shall still be there, for death cannot rob Him of us nor separate us from Him, nor from the love of God that is in Him. I am writing now of the Christian dead, and plainly if the Word of God is true, they live to the Lord even though they are dead to us.

Where are the Dead?

As to this question, the story of the dying malefactor in Luke 23 will help us. He realized, as he hung upon his cross, that his life had been a sinful one. The fear of God came upon him, and he shrank from the future until he recognized who He was who hung by his side, then hope awoke in his heart and he cried, "Lord, remember me, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." He had no doubt that both the Lord and he would survive that death of shame, and the Lord's answer to his cry made him doubly sure, and must have filled his heart with peace about it all "Verily, I say to thee, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." No one would dare to question the survival of the Lord. He was truly man, but what He was could not be extinguished by death, and we imagine that even Sir Arthur Keith would hesitate to question that. Yet if none survive death, Christ Himself has ceased to be. But to this ransomed sinner He pledged His word that he also should not only live beyond his death but that where He was there also should he be that very day. There are other Scriptures that speak definitely as to where the dead that die in the Lord are. Two shall suffice. "WE ARE CONFIDENT, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8) and, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain, … having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" (Phil. 1:21-22).

Are the Dead Conscious?

In order to bolster up the false doctrine that the soul sleeps until the resurrection of the body, it has been said that the punctuation in the Lord's words to the thief has been wrongly placed, that the comma should have been placed after "today," and that the words should have read, "Verily I say to thee today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise." But a moment's consideration will show how puerile such a contention is. The Lord could not have said it to him yesterday or tomorrow, then of what use can the word "today" be in the sentence at all if it does not describe the time when the thief would be with his Lord? There was no interval, that dying man exchanged the cross of suffering for the Paradise of God that very day. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord" conveys the same thought, and there can be no doubt at all about the words of the apostle, "to be with Christ, which is far better." The man who wrote these words, "Rejoiced in the Lord alway." No man ever found greater joy in the Lord and His service than did he. Would it have been far better for him to have sunk from that happy life of service for Christ into absolute unconsciousness? No, it would not His words mean that the highest joy that he had known or could know on earth would be far surpassed by the joy that awaited him in the presence of his Saviour.

Is the Disembodied Condition Final?

There have always been those who denied the resurrection, but we are told in 1 Corinthians 15 that these have not the knowledge of God. If we know God we know Him as the God of resurrection, and we shall believe in the resurrection of the dead. We read of THE FIRST RESURRECTION, (Rev. 20:6), a resurrection from among the dead, and "'blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection; on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." And this glorious resurrection is described for us in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. "Behold, I show you a mystery, We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on Immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

Comfort for Those that Sorrow

The Lord who wept with Mary and Martha at the graveside of their brother is not unmindful of those whose lives have been darkened by the shadow of death. His heart is just as sympathetic as ever it was, for He is the unchanging One. He has put His Spirit into us who belong to Him, and He knows that we also will desire in our measure to sympathize with and comfort those who are in sorrow. He knows also that we must feel how cold and inadequate are the best words that we could command for this, and so He has put words into our mouths We shall find them in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18.

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."

The 21st verse of Philippians 3 tells us that "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, who shall change these bodies of humiliation and shall fashion them like to His own glorious body, according to the power by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself." What a prospect! "It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2).

"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:1-3).

"The Rest of the Dead"

They were solemn words that came from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, when He said: "And I say to you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He has killed has power to cast into hell; yea, I say to you, fear Him" (Luke 12:4-5). They clearly teach the survival of man beyond the death of the body, and that God is the judge of his destiny. However men may challenge His authority and please themselves in this life, God will dispose of them according to His own justice in the next life and there will be no appeal from His verdict.

The Scriptures speak of "the rest of the dead" who will not have part in the first resurrection, for they are those that have died without Christ and without mercy. They have not believed that Jesus is He, and so they have died in their sin; and as a consequence they cannot go where He has gone (John 8:21-24). They will be raised, but at the last resurrection, and will stand at the Great White Throne for judgment, when their doom will be the lake of fire (Rev. 20), and this is the second death.

There is one passage only that gives us information as to the intermediate state of these; but we need no more. That is Luke 16:19-31: "The rich man also died and was buried; and in hell [hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments." The words of the Lord speak for themselves. We accept them as He spoke them, without either cavil or comment. Love lies behind the warnings that fell from His lips just as truly as behind the wooing words of grace. "In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you," He said; and equally true is it, that if there had been no hell to dread and shun He would have told us. He has told us in definite terms about both heaven and hell, and wise are all they who heed His words.

The way to blessing and heaven and God has been opened wide and all may tread that way of peace, but there is one way and only one. "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man comes to the Father but by Me." Thus the Saviour said, and His words abide for us until this day.

Finally: from God's hand man came forth at his creation, God is the sustainer of his life as long as he lives, for in God "we live and move and have our being," the spirit will return to the God who gave it at death, then must we give an account to Him. For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:11).