Do we take matters regarding the afterlife seriously? What does the Bible say about the hereafter? Can we choose the kind of life we want to live for all eternity?
Mainstream Christianity professes belief in the Nicene Creed, and English versions of the Nicene Creed in current use include the phrase: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Christian eschatology is concerned with death, an intermediate state, Heaven, Hell, the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, end of the world, the last judgment, a new heaven and a new earth, and the ultimate consummation of all of God’s purposes. Eschatological passages are found in many places, especially Isaiah, Daniel, Matthew 24, Matthew 25, and the Book of Revelation.
When questioned by the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead (in a context relating to who one’s spouse would be if one had been married several times in life), Jesus said that marriage will be irrelevant after the resurrection as the resurrected will be (at least in this respect) like the angels in heaven (cf. Matt 22:23-33).
The doctrines of Christ displeased the infidel Sadducees, as well as the Pharisees and Herodians. He carried the great truths of the resurrection and a future state, further than they had yet been revealed. There is no arguing from the state of things in this world, as to what will take place hereafter. Let truth be set in a clear light, and it appears in full strength. Having thus silenced them, our Lord proceeded to show the truth of the doctrine of the resurrection from the books of Moses. God declared to Moses that he was the God of the patriarchs, who had died long before; this shows that they were then in a state of being, capable of enjoying his favour, and proves that the doctrine of the resurrection is clearly taught in the Old Testament as well as in the New. But this doctrine was kept for a more full revelation, after the resurrection of Christ, who was the first-fruits of them that slept. All errors arise from not knowing the Scriptures and the power of God. In this world death takes away one after another, and so ends all earthly hopes, joys, sorrows, and connections. How miserable are those who look for nothing better beyond the grave!
They know not the scriptures, which decidedly affirm that there shall be a resurrection and a future state. The power of God, determined and engaged by his promise, is the foundation for faith to build upon. Now the scriptures speak plainly, that the soul is immortal, and there is another life after this; it is the scope both of the law and of the prophets, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust (cf. Acts. 24:14-15). Job knew it (Job. 19:26), Ezekiel foresaw it (Eze. 37), and Daniel plainly foretold it, (Dan. 12:2). Christ rose again according to the scriptures (1 Co. 15:3); and so shall we. Those therefore who deny it, either have not conversed with the Scriptures, or do not believe them, or do not take the true sense and meaning of them. Note, Ignorance of the scripture is the rise of abundance of mischief. Jesus rectifies their mistake, and (v. 30) corrects those gross ideas which they had of the resurrection and a future state, and fixes these doctrines upon a true and lasting basis. Concerning that state, observe (1.) It is not like the state we are now in upon earth; they neither marry, nor are given in marriage. In our present state marriage is necessary; it was instituted in innocency; whatever intermission or neglect there has been of other institutions, this was never laid aside, nor will be till the end of time. But, in the resurrection, there is no occasion for marriage; whether in glorified bodies there will be any distinction of sexes some too curiously dispute (the ancients are divided in their opinions about it); but, whether there will be a distinction or not, it is certain that there will be no conjunction; where God will be all in all, there needs no other meet-help; the body will be spiritual, and there will be in it no carnal desires to be gratified: when the mystical body is completed, there will be no further occasion to seek a godly seed, which was one end of the institution of marriage (cf. Mal. 2:15). In heaven there will be no decay of the individuals, and therefore no eating and drinking; no decay of the species, and therefore no marrying; where there shall be no more deaths (cf. Rev. 21:4); there need be no more births. In heaven, where there is all joy, and no care or pain or trouble, there will be no marrying. The joys of that state are pure and spiritual, and arise from the marriage of all of them to the Lamb, not of any of them to one another. (2.) It is like the state angels are now in heaven; they are as the angels of God in heaven; they are so, that is, undoubtedly they shall be so. They are so already in Christ their Head, who has made them sit with him in heavenly places (cf. Eph. 2:6). The spirits of just men already made perfect are of the same corporation with the innumerable company of angels (cf. Heb. 12:22-23). Man in his creation was made a little lower than the angels (cf. Ps. 8:5); but in his complete redemption and renovation will be as the angels; pure and spiritual as the angels, knowing and loving as those blessed seraphim, ever praising God like them and with them. The bodies of the saints shall be raised incorruptible and glorious, like the uncompounded vehicles of those pure and holy spirits (cf. 1 Co. 15:42, etc.), swift and strong, like them. We should therefore desire and endeavour to do the will of God now as the angels do it in heaven, because we hope shortly to be like the angels who always behold our Father’s face.
Jesus also maintained that the time would come when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who were in the tombs would come out, who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation (cf. John 5:25-29).
Our Lord declared his authority and character, as the Messiah. The time was come when the dead should hear his voice, as the Son of God, and live. Our Lord first refers to his raising those who were dead in sin, to newness of life, by the power of the Spirit, and then to his raising the dead in their graves. The office of Judge of all men, can only be exercised by one who has all knowledge, and almighty power. May we believe His testimony; thus our faith and hope will be in God, and we shall not come into condemnation. And may His voice reach the hearts of those dead in sin; that they may do works meet for repentance, and prepare for the solemn day.
The dead shall hear his voice; that is, he shall cause them to hear it, as Lazarus was made to hear that word, Come forth; a divine power shall go along with the voice, to put life into them, and enable them to obey it. When Christ rose, there was no voice heard, not a word spoken, because he rose by his own power; but at the resurrection of the children of men we find three voices spoken of (cf. 1 Th. 4:16). The Lord shall descend with a shout, the shout of a king, with the voice of the archangel; either Christ himself, the prince of the angels, or the commander-in-chief, under him, of the heavenly hosts; and with the trumpet of God: the soldier’s trumpet sounding the alarm of war, the judge’s trumpet publishing the summons to the court. The dead shall come forth out of their graves, as prisoners out of their prison-house; they shall arise out of the dust, and shake themselves from it (cf. Isa. 52:1-2, 11). But this is not all; they shall appear before Christ’s tribunal, shall come forth as those that are to be tried. To what they shall be raised; to a different state of happiness or misery, according to their different character; to a state of retribution, according to what they did in the state of probation. (a.) They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life; they shall live again, to live forever. Note, [i.] Whatever name men are called by, or whatever plausible profession they make, it will be well in the great day with those only that have done good, have done that which is pleasing to God and profitable to others. [ii.] The resurrection of the body will be a resurrection of life to all those, and those only, that have been sincere and constant in doing good. They shall not only be publicly acquitted, as a pardoned criminal, we say, has his life, but they shall be admitted into the presence of God, and that is life, it is better than life; they shall be attended with comforts in perfection. To live is to be happy, and they shall be advanced above the fear of death; that is life indeed in which mortality is forever swallowed up. (b.) They that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation; they shall live again, to be forever dying. The Pharisees thought that the resurrection pertained only to the just, but Christ here rectifies that mistake. Note, [i.] Evil doers, whatever they pretend, will be treated in the Day of Judgment as evil men. [ii.] The resurrection will be to evil doers, who did not by repentance undo what they had done amiss, a resurrection of damnation. They shall come forth to be publicly convicted of rebellion against God, and publicly condemned to everlasting punishment; to be sentenced to it, and immediately sent to it without reprieve. Such will the resurrection be.
Let us join the angels in Heaven in praising God with the Song “I Hear Angels”: