The biblical doctrine of immortality must not be confused with humanity’s puny attempts to explain what it means to live forever.
For example, a sort of biological immortality has been suggested – that is, a person lives on through the lives of his or her children.
Another idea is a sociological immortality – a person’s influence lives on after he or she is dead. While that may be so, it doesn’t come close to biblical immortality.
Then there’s a third speculation – reincarnation, a concept that a person begins a new life in a different physical body or form after each biological death. It’s also known as the transmigration of souls – a central tenet of many eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
Jesus on Immortality
All fall far short of the Bible’s explanation of endless life out of one’s physical body while remaining the same person. For instance, Jesus once observed,
“But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22.31-32).
The implication is clear. Though at the time of that statement Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead, Jesus maintained they were very much alive in another sense.
At the tomb of His friend Lazarus, Jesus made this startling claim: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes on Me shall never die” (John 11.25-26). The fact that Jesus (Hugo McCord gives the date of Sunday morning, April 9, AD 30) having been put to death three days prior, came out alive from His own tomb gives overwhelmingly strong evidence for immortality.
On another occasion a group of Greek proselytes visiting Jerusalem for the feast days approached the disciples asking to see Jesus. His response to their request is interesting –
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abides by itself alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit. He that loves his life loses it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also My servant be: if any man serve Me, him will the Father honor” (John 12.24-26).
Whatever their reason for wanting to meet Him, Jesus gave them a brief lesson on the nature and purpose of life. Physical life is that which is necessary in order to acquire eternal life and the purpose of all life is to acknowledge and serve the God who gives life.
A Moral Consideration
All accounts are not equitably settled in this life. Justice is sometimes not realized during a person’s lifetime. The executed murderer and the one murdered share the exact same fate. If there is no life after death, countless people who have suffered unspeakable crimes committed against them will have no relief or justice. Abraham once posed the question, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18.25). If injustices are to be corrected, then the doctrine of immortality is required.
Aside from the justice aspect, life is simply incomplete and meaningless without continuing life beyond the grave. What really is the purpose of physical life without eternal life? Why are human beings alone conscious of a moral ethos?
Save for immortality, a person may live a life of grace and love, altruistically benefiting the lives of numerous others only to find their destiny to be that of a worm-eaten corpse. Something is wrong if the graces of Christian living – virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love – are devoutly cultivated only to reap the exact same end as that of a godless reprobate. Life is meaningless without the reality of immortality.
“If a day can be awakened from night, if spring can be born from winter, if a tulip can arise from a bulb, if a butterfly can be the afterlife of a caterpillar, if a sprout can grow from a stump, if words and pictures can be reclaimed from the air, then it is reasonable that the Power who fearfully and wonderfully made human bodies will raise them from their tombs.”
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not 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.
But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15.50-58).
From Heaven or From Men, ‘Shall Never Die,’
by Hugo McCord, 53-57