“If a man dies, will he live again?
All the days of my struggle I will wait
Until my change comes.”
– Job 14:14
Many people have asked the same question Job asks here, “If a man dies, will he live again?” Much ink has been spilt on the issue of whether man survives after his death. It’s a debate that has been going on since the beginning of time. As we look at cultures around the world, we find that nearly all of them had some concept of life after death. Burial practices from around the world tell us that there is something in man that recognizes a life which extends beyond these few short years we experience now. But what does the Bible have to say about life after death?
Although the Old Testament doesn’t have much to say about life after death, the story of Eden implies that man was intended to live eternally (see Genesis 3:22). Solomon also recognizes that there’s something within man that longs for eternity when he writes that God “has also set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
This lack of discussion of life after death in the Old Testament is no evidence against its reality. God revealed himself and his plan progressively. This plan was not made fully evident until all that was spoken of in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Jesus’ ministry as well as the ministries of the Apostles and early Church make it clear that man survives death. The Sadducees were Jews who did not believe in a resurrection from the dead. They only believed that the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) were authoritative scripture. Since nothing substantive is said in those books about resurrection, they denied it. Jesus confronted their view by saying, “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus was saying that, in some way, the patriarchs were still alive.
The Apostle Paul also clearly believed both that man would be raised from the dead, and that he would experience some kind of life in an intermediate state. In his epistle to the Philippians, he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (Philippians 1:21-24). When speaking of the resurrection to the Corinthians, Paul also claimed, “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6b-8).
When Jesus spoke about his second coming, he did so in terms that strongly implied both the righteous and unrighteous would be alive. At the end of his parable about the sheep and the goats, he says that the unrighteous “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Likewise, Daniel prophesied that the day would come when, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). In other words, both the righteous and unrighteous will experience an existence that extends into eternity. But do they both receive immortality?
There are a few Greek words that are translated ‘Immortality’ in the New Testament. Two of them mean incorruptible or resistant to ruin. The other, athanasian, was an innate characteristic of the gods within Greek thought. According to one interpreter, this word “is naturally more than simple duration. It is participation in the blissful divine nature, and therefore divinisation.”¹ This is the word Paul uses when he discusses the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter we’ll look at shortly.
It should be evident that immortality is more than a mere extended length of days. It entails a joining with the divine nature. It contains within it, the idea of incorruptibility. This is what Paul encourages his readers to pursue when he writes, “seek for glory and honor and immortality” (Romans 2:7). It’s also what is signified by his words, “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’” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
In this same chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul ties many of these thoughts together by discussing the resurrection. He writes that each body is “sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). When Paul talks about a “spiritual body”, he isn’t talking about a disembodied state where people float around Casper-the-Ghost-like. He’s saying that we are raised with a body. But it’s a body fully empowered and directed by the Spirit. This is true, Biblical immortality: living in bodies which are imperishable, glorified, empowered, and spirit-directed.
Although all may experience consciousness, not all will experience immortality since the scriptures clearly say that God “alone possesses immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). However, Paul goes on to write that the purpose and grace of God “has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). In Christ, all can experience true immortality rooted in an unending fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.
1 – Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964–). Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 3, p. 23). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.