Job, the ancient religious philosopher, asked, "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14). To this question three answers have been given. Two answers are false; one answer is true.
Atheism's answer is that man will never live again. When man dies, according to this theory, his existence is ended for all eternity. Atheism denies the reality of God, the supernatural life of Jesus, and man's hope for eternal life. It asserts that there is no future life for any man.
Paganism's answer is that there is an immortal future life for all men. It declares that men naturally are immortal and cannot be destroyed. All men, according to its teachings, must continue to live in some form and in some place throughout eternity. It asserts that there is an eternal future life for all men.
The Bible alone gives the correct answer. The answers of atheism and paganism are incorrect. The Bible's answer to Job's question is that all men will live again, but only those who meet God's requirements will be given immortality and eternal life. Men who fail to meet God's requirements will be raised to judgment in the final resurrection and then will be destroyed. The Bible teaches that men naturally are mortal. It asserts that future eternal life for man is conditional.
Atheism believes in no gods. Paganism believes in many gods. The Bible teaches the existence of one God. Atheism is the denial of the true. Paganism is the perversion of the true. The Bible is the revelation of the true. Atheism believes in no immortality. Paganism believes in natural immortality. The Bible teaches conditional immortality.
I. Atheism -- No Immortality
Atheism explains all existence in terms of matter. Whatever cannot be perceived by man's physical senses is declared not to exist. God's existence, the Bible's inspiration, and man's future life are denied. According to atheists, man's candle of life is extinguished at death and will never be lighted again. Man's obituary, they say, forms the permanent concluding chapter of his biography. They explain that man came out of darkness, lives a few years in the sunlight, and then enters eternal darkness again.
Atheism is doomed to ultimate failure. Men normally believe in God's existence. Atheism is abnormal. Atheism fights a losing battle; it travels the wrong way on a one-way street. When men regain normalcy, they return to belief in the existence of God.
II. Paganism -- Natural Immortality
Legends and myths of the pagan world are filled with accounts of what is imagined to happen to man after death. Paganism has perverted the worship of God into idolatry and the truth of God into mythology. The truth that God created man with a desire for immortality has been perverted by paganism. God promised immortality to man if he met God's requirements. Having turned his back to the light, fallen man plunged into darkness. Dwelling in paganism, man continued to have a desire for immortality, but he forgot that God's promise of immortality is conditional. Pagan religion, accordingly, began to teach that all men naturally have immortality. It insisted that death is not death at all but only the continuation of life in a new form and in a new place.
Belief in natural immortality can be found in many pagan religions. It was formulated into a philosophy by the pagan Greek Plato. Through the influence of his followers, Plato's doctrine of natural immortality entered the theology of some sections of Christendom during the early centuries of the church age.
III. The Bible -- Conditional Immortality
The Bible answers the false teaching of atheism by promising immortality and future life to men properly related to Christ. These blessings are included in God's gift of salvation. They will be bestowed upon those in Christ when He returns.
The Bible answers the perverted theology of paganism by teaching that man is mortal and at death ceases to live. Future life is dependent upon resurrection. Christians will be resurrected to immortality and glory in the first resurrection. Sinners will be resurrected to mortality and judgment in the final resurrection. The Bible is the only authoritative source of information concerning man's future.
The history of conditional immortality begins with the Bible. The men who wrote books of the Bible taught consistently that man does not now have immortality. They revealed that man is totally mortal, that he is a dying creature. Immortality and eternal life are pictured in the Bible as gifts of God, which can be acquired only through Christ. Apart from Christ, there is no hope of eternal life. Sin will result in death; the wicked will experience final destruction. Conditional immortality was the belief of the New Testament Church. It was the original, official, orthodox teaching of the Christian religion. Any contrary belief has resulted as a departure from this truth.
IV. The Brevity of Man's Life
In the Bible, God is compared to mountains which endure from generation to generation, and eternal life is compared to a river which flows on and on, century after century. Man, however, is never compared to anything durable. His life is brief, transient, momentary. He is subject to change, suffering, and death. If the mighty Pacific Ocean represented eternity, man's present life would be merely as a grain of sand on a seashore.
Teach me the measure of my days, Thou Maker of my frame: I would survey life's narrow space, And learn how frail I am. A span is all that we can boast, An inch or two of time; Man is but vanity and dust, In all his flower and prime. --Isaac Watts.
V. The Mortality of Man
Man is mortal; he is subject to death. All men are mortal, and all of man is mortal. Mortality is not only universal among men, but also total within man. No part of man is immortal. Not one verse in the entire Bible teaches that man or any part of man is immortal.
The Bible constantly reveals that man is mortal, not immortal. Job asked, "Shall mortal man be more just than God?" (Job 4:17). David wrote, "What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?" (Psa. 89:48). "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Heb. 9:27).
1. God Is Immortal. God alone is the original source of immortality. All creatures are subject to corruption, change, and decay. Men today are mortal. Believers will not receive immortality until the resurrection at Christ's return.
The word "immortal" occurs only one time in the entire Bible. The word in that verse refers to God. "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (I Tim. 1:17). Paul described the Creator as "the uncorruptible God" (Rom. 1:23). God is immortal; He can never die.
Reading 1 Timothy 6:16, one observes that God " only hath immortality." God is the only one who has always had immortality. Immortality originates with Him. It can be received only from Him through His Son.
2. Jesus Mortal Until His Resurrection. Jesus was born mortal in the physical likeness of man. If Jesus had been immortal, He could not have died. One who is immortal cannot die. In His glorious resurrection our Saviour rose from the dead to immortality.
3. Christians Seek Future Immortality. All men today are mortal. Immortality is one of the blessings promised through the gospel. Today, Christians "by patient continuance in well doing seek for...immortality" (Rom. 2:7). The fact that believers are seeking immortality is definite proof that they do not yet possess it. If men today already were immortal, there would be no need for them to seek for it.
The believer's physical change will occur when Christ returns. "This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:53). When man has experienced a change from mortality to immortality, he will have a suitable physical nature for God's perfect eternity.
VI. Promise of Immortality Conditional
Immortality is not a natural possession of man. Through His grace and mercy God has promised immortality to believers as the crowning part of salvation. In order to receive immortality, man must meet God's conditions of salvation.
Immortality and eternal life can be received only by believers who are properly related to God's Son. Christ was raised from death to immortality by the power of God and became the medium through whom God will bestow immortality upon believers. Jesus became the authorized agent to give immortality and eternal life to men who meet God's requirements.
"God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (I John 5:11, 12). The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:23.) They who reject God's Son reject the only door to eternal salvation.
(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)
© Church of God General Conference. This lesson may be reproduced without change for non-commercial purposes without prior permission.