WHAT LIES BEYOND THE GRAVE? This has been a universal question through the ages. Throughout the history of mankind, the question has received a host of varied answers. Ancient civilizations often believed the deceased lingered on as spirits and influenced the affairs of the living. The Egyptians decorated their coffins with magical spells in hopes of helping their deceased loved ones make it safely through the dangerous journey to the afterlife. Other religions believe one is reborn countless times in various physical bodies after death. Some cultures brought offerings to their dead in an effort to help them in the afterlife. Still today, belief in life after death is evident all around the world.
Man has always had an innate knowledge that the grave is not the end of our existence. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He hath set the world in their heart.” The world in this verse is defined in Strong’s as “continuous existence, unending future, or eternity.” Adam Clarke comments on this verse, “God has deeply rooted the idea of eternity in every human heart; and every considerate man sees that all the operations of God refer to that endless duration.” Barnes wrote, “God has placed in the inborn constitution of man the capability of conceiving of eternity, the struggle to apprehend the everlasting, the longing after an eternal life.” Regardless of the diversity in thought and belief throughout the centuries, humanity has always known that there exists a life after death.
But only the Christian enjoys the fullest assurance of what awaits him beyond the grave. For him the afterlife is not a hopeful dream or a dark unknown. Oh, no! He can sing wholeheartedly, “Once heaven seemed a far off place, ‘till Jesus showed His smiling face; now it’s begun within my soul, ’twill last while endless ages roll.”
The Christian possesses this lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So fundamental is the resurrection of Christ that Paul declared, “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). But Paul knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus Christ had indeed risen. So certain was Paul of the resurrection of Christ that he willingly endured imprisonment, scourging, and even death to preserve the truth of the resurrection.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter faced the antagonistic Jews and confidently proclaimed, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Thereafter, the apostles, as fearless witnesses of the resurrection, went throughout the world spreading the gospel of the resurrected Saviour. And so powerful, so indisputable, was their witness that multitudes were converted, pagan temples were deserted, and even the Roman Empire was unable to stand against the power of the resurrection!
Of this resurrection Paul asserts, “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). And Matthew Henry comments, “Christ’s resurrection is a pledge and earnest of ours, if we are true believers in Him; because He has risen, we shall rise.” This assurance is what astonished those that witnessed the Christian martyrs.
For so long, humanity had been kept in bondage by the fear of death. Now the world beheld a people that had been delivered from all such dread. The Christian, facing his last agonizing moments of life, looked death boldly in the face and sang– yes, sang for joy!–for they were assured that a glorious resurrection awaited them!
Moreover, the Christian knows experientially what awaits him when this life is over. At times the heavenly joy in his is so intense, so tangible, that he longs to exchange his mortal flesh for a glorified body that could better take in such glory. His days are perfumed with the very foretaste of heaven. This foretaste belongs to the Christian, for God has given him the earnest of His Spirit. Paul told the Ephesians, “…after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory.” The Spirit, then, is God’s down payment to the Christian, or the first installment paid as a pledge that the rest will follow. The glories that flood the sanctified soul are the very foretaste of what awaits him in eternity! No religion but Christianity is able to bestow such palpable glories and blessed assurance to the soul! And none else but the gospel has so fully conquered man’s fear of death. Death naturally frightens the human heart. This fear has caused men to face death in gripping ways in an attempt to alleviate their forebodings. What could Emperor Qin Shi Huang have dreaded so to feel compelled to build his massive terracotta army and cavalry for the purpose of protecting him in the afterlife?
Although attempts have been made to deny the afterlife in an effort to hush the fears that surface at the thought of eternity, it is impossible to completely destroy our innate understanding. When death looks us in the eye, our God-given knowledge of eternity overpowers all the reasonings we had sought refuge in. We inherently know we must face a life after death.
But, oh, how beautiful and incomprehensible is the love of Jesus Christ that brought us liberty from the fear of death! For Christ put on mortal flesh “that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
What blessed assurance Christ’s resurrection has purchased for us! The Christian has no need to fear death nor the life beyond the grave. Neither is the Christian frightened of trials, afflictions, or persecutions in this life, for he is fully persuaded of the eternal bliss that awaits him beyond the grave.