These questions have baffled the greatest thinkers and philosophers down through the ages.
We ponder the meaning of life. A child naturally wonders, “Where did I come from?” As adults we ask, especially in our twilight years: “Is this physical life all there is? Does my life have a purpose?”
Think about your own existence. Can you see a purpose for your own life with its ups and downs, its mixture of joys and sorrows? Do you sense lasting value in its toil, challenges and uncertainties?
Just why were you born? In the pages that follow, we will explore this, one of the greatest of all mysteries.
Man’s place in creation
Three thousand years ago King David considered the apparent insignificance of human beings when compared to the vastness of the night sky. As a shepherd, he had spent many nights outdoors gazing at the star-studded expanse overhead. Notice the thoughts he recorded in Psalms 8:3-4 Psalms 8:3-4 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained;
4 What is man, that you are mindful of him? and the son of man, that you visit him?
American King James Version×: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?”
David wondered why, considering the magnificent and vast universe, God is so concerned with human beings and their future. He realized that, within the larger scope of the vast heavens, we can appear to be insignificant. Yet he perceived that, in the plan of the great Creator God, no part of God’s physical creation even begins to compare with His purpose for human beings.
Understanding that only God can reveal His purpose for creating us, David continued his reflection on the destiny of man: “For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen—even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas” (Psalms 8:5-8 Psalms 8:5-8 5 For you have made him a little lower than the angels, and have crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen, yes, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout).
David was reflecting on the dominion God gave mankind at creation, using some of the same language as Genesis 1:26 Genesis 1:26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
American King James Version×. Here God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So man was made in God’s image to rule over His creation.
David realized that God has already granted people the capacity to manage a significant part of His creation—our planet and its wonders. But he knew that much more was to come.
David’s words in Psalm 8 are quoted in Hebrews 2:6-8 Hebrews 2:6-8 6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that you are mindful of him? or the son of man that you visit him?
7 You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor, and did set him over the works of your hands:
8 You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.
American King James Version×, with an explanatory comment at the end: “But there is a place where someone has testified: ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.’ In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (New International Version).
“Everything” here is translated from the Greek ta panta, meaning “the all” —essentially, “the universe.” This is what God has determined to be in subjection to man—but, as clarified here, not yet.
Indeed, as he gazed at the celestial grandeur overhead, David may well have recalled God’s amazing proclamation given through Moses that “the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven … the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage” (Deuteronomy 4:19 Deuteronomy 4:19And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, should be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD your God has divided to all nations under the whole heaven.
American King James Version×).
This is astounding to contemplate! These verses reveal that man was created to share dominion with God over the entire created universe. Yet this is only one aspect of an even greater reality.
Beyond our wildest dreams
What does it mean to say that God made mankind “a little lower than the angels”? As David looked at the vast expanse above him, was he really saying that man was only a little lower than immortal spirit beings? As mortal, material creatures, we are far, far below what Scripture reveals about the power and glory of beings in the heavenly realm.
Instead of “a little lower,” perhaps a better rendering is the New American Standard Bible’s translation of Hebrews 2:7 Hebrews 2:7You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor, and did set him over the works of your hands:
American King James Version×: “You have made him for a little while lower than the angels …” This seems likely, considering the vast gulf between us and the heavenly realm, and the implication is stunning. For if we are only temporarily at a lower level of existence than the angels, then what does that say of the future?
Consider again what God said in Genesis 1:26 Genesis 1:26And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
American King James Version×: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion …” In all of God’s physical creation, He made only man in the image and likeness of Himself. He gave only man dominion or rule over the creation. Mankind is unique within the creation of God. And God has planned for us an unfathomable destiny!
The apostle Paul said of God’s marvelous plan, “This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to his own holy people” (Colossians 1:26 Colossians 1:26 Even the mystery which has been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:
American King James Version×, New Living Translation; compare 1 Corinthians 2:7 1 Corinthians 2:7But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world to our glory:
American King James Version×; Ephesians 3:9 Ephesians 3:9And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×).
Throughout the ages the overwhelming majority of people have failed to grasp the amazing future God has in store for those who develop a proper relationship with Him. As the apostle Paul put it: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 1 Corinthians 2:9But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.
American King James Version×, NLT).
The Scriptures tell us that our destiny can exceed anything we could imagine in our wildest dreams! Isn’t it time we let God explain—from His Word—what He has in mind for us?
A prophetic passage gives us our first clue to our fantastic future. Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, it tells us that a time is coming when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” It adds: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3 Daniel 12:2-3 2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
American King James Version×, New Revised Standard Version).
This is just a hint of the amazing future God has planned for us— to live forever, shining in glory like brilliant stars!
What man is now
Before we can comprehend man’s eternal destiny, however, we need to clearly understand what man is now. We are physical beings composed of the chemical substances of earth. That is how God created us: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7 Genesis 2:7And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
American King James Version×).
But almost all ancient religions taught the error that man is a nonmaterial spirit entity confined for a time in physical flesh. They taught that man has a dual composition, that a human being is both a physical body and an immortal soul.
Even today most people believe that after our physical body dies, our supposedly immortal “soul” will continue as a living and conscious entity apart from the body. This idea that we have a soul that is immortal is never taught in the Holy Scriptures. It came to us from the superstitions of ancient religions—possibly as far back as Eden, when Satan convinced Eve she would not die if she disobeyed God (Genesis 3:2-4 Genesis 3:2-4 2 And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.
4 And the serpent said to the woman, You shall not surely die:
American King James Version×).
On the contrary, the Bible clearly tells us that our “soul” is mortal, rather than immortal, because it can die (Ezekiel 18:4-20 Ezekiel 18:4-20 4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die.
5 But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,
6 And has not eaten on the mountains, neither has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither has defiled his neighbor’s wife, neither has come near to a menstruous woman,
7 And has not oppressed any, but has restored to the debtor his pledge, has spoiled none by violence, has given his bread to the hungry, and has covered the naked with a garment;
8 He that has not given forth on usury, neither has taken any increase, that has withdrawn his hand from iniquity, has executed true judgment between man and man,
9 Has walked in my statutes, and has kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, said the Lord GOD.
10 If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that does the like to any one of these things,
11 And that does not any of those duties, but even has eaten on the mountains, and defiled his neighbor’s wife,
12 Has oppressed the poor and needy, has spoiled by violence, has not restored the pledge, and has lifted up his eyes to the idols, has committed abomination,
13 Has given forth on usury, and has taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be on him.
14 Now, see, if he beget a son, that sees all his father’s sins which he has done, and considers, and does not such like,
15 That has not eaten on the mountains, neither has lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, has not defiled his neighbor’s wife,
16 Neither has oppressed any, has not withheld the pledge, neither has spoiled by violence, but has given his bread to the hungry, and has covered the naked with a garment,
17 That has taken off his hand from the poor, that has not received usury nor increase, has executed my judgments, has walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.
18 As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, see, even he shall die in his iniquity.
19 Yet say you, Why? does not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son has done that which is lawful and right, and has kept all my statutes, and has done them, he shall surely live.
20 The soul that sins, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be on him.
American King James Version×; Matthew 10:28 Matthew 10:28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
American King James Version×). Indeed, the words commonly translated “soul” in Scripture—Hebrew nephesh in the Old Testament and Greek psuche in the New—refer simply to physical, mortal creatures. They are used not only to refer to human beings, but to many kinds of animals, including birds, reptiles and fish.
The Bible makes it plain that immortality is not something we already possess. Paul clearly tells us that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:13-16 1 Timothy 6:13-16 13 I give you charge in the sight of God, who vivifies all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;
14 That you keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ:
15 Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;
16 Who only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach to; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen.
American King James Version×). He explains that we are “corruptible” and “mortal” and that “this mortal must put on immortality” by being changed from corruptible to incorruptible existence when Jesus Christ returns at the last trumpet (1 Corinthians 15:51-53 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 51 Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
American King James Version×; compare 1 Thessalonians 4:16 1 Thessalonians 4:16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
American King James Version×; Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×).
At this present time God’s servants are those who “seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7 Romans 2:7To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life:
American King James Version×)—showing they are not already immortal. But they do understand that, by sacrificing His life for ours, Jesus Christ “has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10 2 Timothy 1:10But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:
American King James Version×). Immortality is available only through mankind’s Savior, Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
American King James Version×).
Again, man is mortal! Human life is temporary! We are physical beings who can die; we can cease to exist. Our life does not reside in some supposedly immortal soul. No such teaching can be found in the Scriptures. When we die, our consciousness ceases (Psalms 6:5 Psalms 6:5For in death there is no remembrance of you: in the grave who shall give you thanks?
American King James Version×; Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. 7 Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts your works. 8 Let your garments be always white; and let your head lack no ointment. 9 Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of the life of your vanity, which he has given you under the sun, all the days of your vanity: for that is your portion in this life, and in your labor which you take under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.
American King James Version×); it doesn’t continue in an altered form.
There is a spiritual element to man’s existence, but it is nothing like the concept of an immortal soul.
God’s gift of life to come
Many passages reveal that our only hope for eternal life lies in being resurrected from the dead in a transformed body just as Jesus Christ was. (For a thorough explanation of what really occurs at death and afterward, and the many misconceptions associated with the afterlife, be sure to write for our booklets Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and What Happens After Death? )
Moreover, the Bible also makes it clear that being resurrected to immortality comes only through the gracious mercy of God: “For the wages of sin is death [not immortal life in some other form or place], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×).
Eternal life is the gift God has in store for those who turn from the way of sin and begin obeying Him from the heart. Again, it is not something human beings inherently possess. Rather, it is something God offers to us— if we turn from our old sinful ways and, through Christ, accept His forgiveness and direction for our life.
This is what He wants for everyone: “God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 1 Timothy 2:3-4 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior;
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×). He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
American King James Version×). God desires to give us the precious gift of life forevermore. He will do everything He can to ensure that we receive the eternal destiny He has planned for us!
But just what is that destiny? Let’s look further at what the Bible reveals.