MOST PEOPLE do not like to talk or even think about their own deaths. It is a very disturbing subject. However, the death of someone we know, or coming close to the experience of it, reminds us that “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)
What is death? Who has set this appointment with death? How many appointments do men have with death? What comes after this appointment and how does one prepare for this event? These are the questions that will [be] addressed. May God open our hearts to receive His Word.
What is Death?
THERE are many people today who believe that death means the complete cessation of human existence beyond the grave. They claim man is just a material being and, when he dies, his body returns to dust, and that is the end of his existence.
The above-mentioned belief is not a modern notion, as some would like to believe. Through the centuries, there have always been those who held to this position. The Sadducees and the Epicureans during the time of Christ were among those who held to this age-old belief.
However, the infallible Word of God – the Bible – clearly teaches, that there is an existence beyond the grave. For what comes after death? Judgment! That indicates that death is not the end of human existence.
When God created man, He did not only create him as a body entity. He created man as a body and soul entity (Gen. 2:7). When a person experiences death, his soul and body fall apart. His body returns to dust, but his soul continues to have a conscious existence. Thus in speaking about Rachel’s death, we read in Scriptures, “And it came about as her soul was departing (for she died)…” (Gen. 35:18) Elsewhere, it says, “For just as the body without the Spirit is dead…” (Jam. 2:26) Furthermore, we read of Jesus speaking to His disciples, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul” (Mat. 10:28).
Therefore, death is not the complete end of human existence. It simply means the separation of the body and the soul. While the body returns to dust, the soul continues to have a conscious existence.
Who has set this Appointment with Death?
IF people were given a choice, most will surely choose never to die. But our text asserts that “it is appointed for men to die.” So the question is: who set this appointment with death? The clear biblical answer to the question is – God.
This is clear elsewhere in the Bible. The prophet David, in speaking of the all-knowingness of God, writes, “Thine (God’s) eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written.” What was written? David further says, “The days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:16). Furthermore, in Jesus’ story of the rich fool, God speaks to the rich fool and says, “You fool, this night your soul is required of you” (Lk. 12:20). The rich fool thought he was going to live much longer. He had many definite plans about his future, but God had appointed that he die that very night!
The fact that God Himself has set this appointment with death implies that this appointment is inescapable. Some scientists today boast that someday they will find the remedy to eradicate the ugly reality of death and that man will then live eternally. God will never make it happen. He will frustrate every attempt man will make to eradicate death. Why should God do that? The answer goes right back to what happened to our first parents. God said to Adam, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). And elsewhere it is written, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). So God has set men’s appointment with death.
How many Appointments do men have with Death?
REINCARNATION is a belief that when human beings die, they will be regenerated into another form of life. If they lived a bad life, then they will reincarnate into a lower form of life – like animal life, such as a dog or even a fly. But if in that state they will live a good life, then they will again move to a higher form of animal life and then to a highest form of life – a human being. And if as a human being, they live a good life, then they enter into the state of Nirvana in which they will be absorbed into the great life force of the universe. But that is the devil’s lie! God’s infallible Word asserts that “it is appointed for men to die once.”
There are however a few exceptions to this rule as recorded in the Bible. Lazarus, and a few others, must have died twice for Jesus raised them from the (dead). In fact Enoch and Elijah did not even experience death at all. But exceptions are exceptions, they are not the rule.
What comes after death?
MANY people speculate about what comes after death. But God’s infallible Word, which our conscience also affirms, is that judgment is the next great event that happens after death: “It is appointed for men to die and then comes judgment”.
In other words, there are no second chances after death. When a person dies, then he will be ushered to the bar of God’s judgment throne, to be judged by God.
Away with this notion that man can still have another chance in a place called purgatory. There is not a single piece of evidence in God’s Word that there is such a place. In fact, the clear teaching of our text and elsewhere in the Bible is that judgment is the next great event that follows death.
This explains Jesus’ uncertain statement to a would-be-disciple who wanted to delay following Jesus in order to bury his father. Jesus said to him, “Allow the dead (that is, the spiritually dead) to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”(Luke9:60) There was nothing more that man could do for the soul of his father – he was already dead. And where death meets him, eternity will find him. Therefore, Jesus pointed that man to those who are still living – “Go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
For many people, the answer to that question is “Do good works; forsake a life of sin and live in obedience to God.” Now in a real sense that is true. The Bible insists upon repentance as absolutely necessary if one is ever to be ready for death and judgment. Jesus, speaking to certain Jews who self-righteously reported to Him of the gruesome death of certain Galileans at the hands of Pilate, said, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. or do you suppose that the eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Lk. 13:2-4). If we trace Jesus’ ministry recorded in the gospel narratives, we find Jesus continually insisting upon repentance – turning from specific sins, which were manifestations of one’s rebellion against God, to a life of submission and obedience to Him. We also see this in the ministry of the Apostles recorded in the book of Acts.
However, it must be remembered that repentance alone that leads to obedience to God’s law is not enough to prepare one for death and judgment. For what does the Bible teach? Paul, under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, writes, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speak of those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable before God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:19-20). Although we are under obligation to keep God’s Holy Law, yet the Scripture clearly asserts that no human being will ever be declared righteous in God’s sight by trying to keep God’s law. The law exposes our sinfulness, and shuts our proud, self-righteous mouths. Keeping it can never put us in a position where God would declare us righteous in His sight.
Why can no one ever be declared righteous in God’s sight by keeping God’s Law?
FIRST, because God’s law demands absolute or perfect obedience for compliance. It does not only demand that you keep 95% of its requirements. It claims perfect obedience. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He said, ‘do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (Jam. 2:10-11). This is even illustrated in human courts. A man, who has been a good abiding citizen of the land, can’t plead acquittal of a crime he has committed on the basis that all his life he has not been guilty of breaking other laws. He still must be sentenced as guilty for the crime he has committed. So also in God’s court. If we are able to keep all of God’s law except one, then we are still guilty.
Furthermore, God’s law demands not just external but also internal conformity. This is clear in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court’. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool’, shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Mt. 5:21-22). In other words, Jesus is saying that violating the sixth commandment does not only involve getting a gun and blowing out someone’s brains with it. No! No! But even harboring sinful anger in the heart and expressing that anger even in hurting words is already murder! Jesus said that violation of God’s law is enough to sink one’s soul to hell! For God’s law was not just meant to regulate our outward conduct, but also our thoughts and desires and words. Similarly, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say unto you, that every one who looks at a woman with lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Mt. 5:27–28) In other words, violating that seventh commandment does not only involve sleeping in bed with someone who is not your husband or wife. But even to entertain lustful thoughts of someone who is not married to you is already adultery – a violation of God’s law. Therefore, how can anyone ever be justified by the works of the law? It is impossible! We are under obligation to keep God’s law. But no one will ever be justified by keeping it. No one!
In addition, our obedience to God’s law can never pay for our failures to keep it. Our obedience today is only what God demands today and therefore it cannot pay for yesterday’s failures. Besides, what payment must one pay for sin? The Bible’s answer is clear: Death!
“For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a); “For every soul that sins shall die (Ezk. 8:4b). So the payment one must pay for sin is not obedience or some other good works. The wages of sin is death, and death in the Bible means nothing less than being separated from God forever in a place called the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8).
Finally, we must remember that our compliance to God’s law is never perfectly good. As Isaiah put it, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa 64:6a). In other words, if God were to judge our “works,” there will be enough sin to damn us to hell forever.
Therefore, repentance alone leading to obedience to God’s law is not enough to prepare us for death and judgment. This is why the call of the gospel is not only to repent of sins but also to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance must be joined with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the Bible teaches that one cannot exist without the other. We must not only repent but also believe in the Lord Jesus. Thus Paul, summarizing his gospel ministry to the elders at Ephesus, said, “Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
Why is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ essential if one is to prepare for death and judgment?
First, it is only by believing or trusting in Christ alone that our sins can be forgiven. As Peter said, “Of Him (Jesus Christ) all the prophets bear witness that through His name every one who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). Christ died on the cross to pay for sin’s wages. Those who believe in Him receive the benefits of His death – the forgiveness of sins. This is true no matter how great your sins might be. For as God through the prophet Isaiah said, “Come now, and let us reason together. Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isa. 1:18)
Moreover, faith in Christ is essential because it is by believing in Him alone that His perfect righteousness is regarded as our own. If we are to stand at the court of God and be declared righteous in His sight, then we must have a perfect righteousness. However, we have seen, that is impossible for us to achieve. Ah, but God has provided a perfect righteousness in the perfect life of Jesus Christ. It is when we believe in Him that His righteousness is regarded as our own. This was prophesied in the Old Testament. Jeremiah, prophesying of the coming Messiah, said, “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness’” (Jer. 23:6). The New Testament also explicitly deals with this point. As Paul puts it, “So then as through one transgression (Adam’s transgression) there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness (Jesus’ deed of righteousness) there resulted justification to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18-19).
Therefore, if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, then immediately we will be pardoned for all our sins and be declared righteous in God’s sight. This gives us the right to enter heaven. This was what happened to the dying thief. When he repented of his sins and trusted in Christ, Christ said to him at that very moment, “Truly, I say to you, today, you shall be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This was not just true of the dying thief, but this is true of all who would believe in Christ. As it is written, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Also, Jesus said, “He who believes in Him (Christ) is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).
But what does it mean to believe in Christ? It means to know the Jesus of the gospel story; to acknowledge that everything the gospel story says about Jesus is true or factual; and to trust in Jesus alone for salvation.
My dear reader, your appointment with death will surely come. Are you prepared for it? If not, then repent of your sins and believe and trust in Christ alone for salvation. http://rcbcc.net