Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28-29).

Unless gravely ill, the young rarely think seriously about the fragility of life and the reality and certainty of death. As a person ages, he see more of his friends and acquaintances growing more feeble and many of them passing from life to death. Death is a curse that causes many hearts to break and tears to flow continuously. If this life was all that there was, Thomas Hobbes’ assessment might be correct: “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” But the teaching of Jesus provides both a warning and hope for those who face the turmoil and travail of life. This life is not all that there is. There will be a resurrection from the dead and for some this will be a blessing. For others it will be an eternal curse.

The certainty of the resurrection

Jesus’ language leaves no doubt about the certainty of the resurrection–“the hour is coming” and they “shall come forth.” The apostle Paul affirmed that God had given us “assurance” of the judgement, consequently of the resurrection, when He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:30,31). Even back in the patriarchal dispensation Job affirmed the resurrection when he said “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer Thee: Thou shalt have a desire to the works of Thy hands” (Job 14:14,15). He affirmed a bodily resurrection when he wrote that in his flesh he would see God, his Redeemer, for himself (Job 19:25-27). The fact that many cultures believe in some kind of future life shows that they have a rudimentary, though limited and faulty, knowledge of the fact of resurrection.

Universal resurrection

Jesus said that “all that are in the graves” shall come forth. It will be a wondrous site to behold when all the dead, small and great, from all the ages, are raised up to stand before the throne of Christ to be judged according to their works (Rev. 20:11-15). Some have used I Thessalonians 4:14-17 to argue that the righteous will be raised separately from the unrighteous, because the unrighteous are not mentioned there. Neither are they mentioned in I Cor.15. But the purpose in these passages is to inform and encourage Christians. Elsewhere, Paul describes a single resurrection of both the good and the bad. For instance, Paul, in defending his actions before Felix, affirmed that there would be “a {i.e., singular – ELP} resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). There is nothing in Paul’s teaching that contradicts the Lord’s plain statements regarding the universality of the resurrection.

Hear His voice – He is the authority

Jesus said those in the graves shall hear “His” voice. While Jesus was on earth, everything was subject to the voice of Christ. Evil spirits obeyed His voice and came out of those whom they possessed (e.g, Mark 9:25). Even the wind and the sea obeyed His voice (Mark 4:41). The ears of the dead also heard His voice obeyed (Mark 5:41,42; John 11:43,44). God the Father commanded all to heed the voice of His beloved Son (Matt. 17:5). When the Lord returns, He will descend with a “shout” that all shall hear and obey (I Thess. 4:16). In fact, all those who refuse to obey the Saviour this day, will one day bow the knee and call Him Lord, submitting to His authority (Phil. 2:9-11).

Two destinies – life and damnation

Jesus also clearly lays out only two possible destinies for man: life and damnation. The fact is we are all created, immortal souls; we will spend eternity somewhere. Elsewhere, Jesus describes these two destinies as life and destruction (Matt. 7:13,14). Again, Jesus describes these two destinies as “life eternal” and “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46). The words “eternal” and “everlasting” are translated from the same Greek word and show us that what is true of one regarding it’s length is also true of the other–“punishment” will last just as long as “life.”

Eternal punishment is a scary prospect. Jesus described this punishment as “outer darkness” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). He further describes it as a place where refuse is being burned with a fire that never shall be quenched, “where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48). This burning lake of fire is described as “the second death” (Rev. 20:14). On the other hand, eternal life is described as a place where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The contrast between these two destinies could not be any more stark.

Moral objectivity – Good and evil

Our eternal destiny is determined by what we do in this life. Jesus said some will do “good” and others will do “evil.” The world sees good as a fluid concept. One of my secular professors once told me that good was a negotiable concept. Men and women decide what is good or what is evil. The Bible, however, tells us that good is defined by the character and nature of God (Psalm 25:8; 34:8; 119:68). Only God is intrinsically good (Matt. 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23). His word is also good (Psalm 119:39; ). Goodness, therefore, is not some ever changing, negotiable idea, it is an objective standard unalterably set by the nature of the Creator of all that is.

The day of the Lord will come as thief in the night (II Pet. 3:10). We do not know the day of our Lord’s return. But it is coming. Even if we are in the grave at that time, you and I will nevertheless answer His call and come forth. But to what end? Will it be life or death? We both will decide that for ourselves in this life.

Eric L. Padgett

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