In more than 40 years as a minister I've stood at the graveside many times committing the dead to the earth. I've buried my mother and father. I've stood with parents and buried their infant children. I've carried friends and mentors to the darkness of the grave. And every time I have opened the Bible to explain what it all means to those saying farewell to their loved one.
Those words have given comfort and understanding to the mourners at the darkest, most painful moment of their lives. There is hope in the power of Scripture to lift an eye and heart as we read key verses that explain the hope laid out in the Bible.
These passages answer that crucial question: Is there life after death? Let me take you through these scriptures to show the power that comes from the Holy Bible, the Word of God.
I always start with the key question in the book of Job: "If a man dies, will he live again?" (Job 14:14). To me there's no better spot from which to begin answering a mourner's questions.
Here, where the man Job sits on a heap of mental and physical misery, comes the plaintive cry. His children are dead. His body is wracked with boils and sores. His wife is so distraught she tells him to "curse God and die" (Job 2:9). No help there!
Job's question and cry comes out of a direct appeal that God would hide him in the grave and shelter him from divine wrath, pleading, "Appoint me a set time, and remember me!" (Job 14:13).
Job then asks the great question in the next verse and immediately provides the answer: ". . . All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come" Job 14:14, King James Version, emphasis added throughout). And he further states, "You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands" (Job 14:15).
This is an amazing passage! Job clearly knows something about the purposes of God. His words speak to the meaning of so many other scriptures. It is uncanny—so much so that the volumes of commentary on this unusual story and book fail to grasp its connection to other parts of the Bible that explain God's purpose for human life.
Job understands that a change lies in store for him. He knows that this series of unimaginable tragedies he's going through is under God's supervision. And he knows that he is destined for the grave—that this is part of a life process that has a purpose and an end.
But beyond that lies a staggering truth—that he will wait in the grave until his change comes, when God will call and from the grave Job will answer that call!
The epitaph that the American author, inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin wrote for himself echoes a similar sentiment:
The Body of
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.
"A new and more perfect Edition" is how Franklin put it in describing how he believed his body would "appear once more" beyond the grave—a body new and perfected by its original author, God.
Yes, God does have a purpose for us. Our lives are not random. Those who have studied Scripture and looked honestly at the physical creation understand this truth.
The scriptural key
Job's statement ties in with another key scripture in Genesis 1:26-27: "Then 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 God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."
I look at this passage as the key to the great question posed at the beginning of this article. Man is created in the image of God, not of one of the animals in creation. Adam's descendants—which include you and me—were created to complement the God family, with the potential to become part of that family!
This passage tells us that we were created "in the image of God"—a phrase that involves more than physical form and shape. It also speaks to spiritual character and becoming like God in thought and action. God has put us human beings in "earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7)—temporary physical bodies—with the potential to be molded and shaped into a treasure like the glory of God.
That is why we were created, and that is our purpose in life!
Jesus Christ's teaching about life after death
The question "If a man dies, will he live again?" leads naturally to statements Jesus Christ made in the Gospel of John. Christ was challenged over healing a man on the Sabbath and chose to answer by stating the Father's love for the Son and works done through the Son: "For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will," said Jesus (John 5:21).
Going on a few verses He said: "Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live" (John 5:25). What an astounding statement—"the hour is coming . . . when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live"! This sounds remarkably similar to what Job said some 2,000 years earlier.
And Jesus went on to say: "Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29, English Standard Version).
When I read these words of comfort to a room full of mourners you can hear a pin drop. They resonate clearly and begin to give hope at the darkest moment: "The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live"!
They are among the most powerful words in Scripture. They're at the core of belief for one who follows Christ. If we believe Jesus was sent from the Father, bore witness of Him, died for mankind's sins and was resurrected as He foretold, then we must believe there will be a day when the dead will live.
What did the apostle Paul teach?
Next I turn to one of the apostle Paul's earliest writings, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. To a group of believers facing the untimely deaths of friends, Paul wrote these words: "But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus."
Notice here that Paul describes death as being like a "sleep" from which the dead will awaken!
The key is in Paul's statement, "If we believe that Jesus died and rose again . . ."
We must believe this and know beyond doubt that Jesus rose from the dead.
Paul goes on to describe a vivid picture of Jesus Christ's coming descent from heaven at the sound of a great trumpet, when "the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Here is the resurrection at the sound of a great trumpet blast. The age-ending events are announced by many great signs, and the resurrection of the dead at Christ's appearing is the centerpiece. What great comfort these words give (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18).
Those in Thessalonica who heard this would have been deeply moved and encouraged at the powerful imagery of the resurrection. Every time I read this I am riveted by the meaning and God's astounding promise! So are those who gather to mourn at a time of death. God in His love and tender mercy inspired Paul to write such heart-lifting words.
"In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye"
As powerful as these words are, there is another passage I read to mourners. In a chapter that many call the Resurrection Chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains how the Kingdom of God is inherited by those who are transformed by a resurrection: "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)
Here the words of Job are brought full circle. Job said he would wait till his change would come. Paul gives the answer for all who seek to know the answer to whether one would live again. The change for Christ's true followers will come at the moment of the last trumpet sound, and by an instantaneous change from flesh to spirit, and those among them who are already dead, "asleep," will be raised and changed then too.
These verses form a powerful message of hope for those who mourn the death of a loved one. I've witnessed the transformative power of these words countless times through the years. They are so complete, so stunning in their simplicity—yet so clear in their truth that they lift an audience, for one moment at least, beyond themselves into a glimpse of what God's glory offers ultimately to all of mankind.
I've learned through so many of these moments in so many funeral homes and at so many gravesides across the midwestern and southern United States that it's best to just read the words and let them do their healing work.
That is, I think, how God intended them to be given and understood. The power of the living Word of God, "sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12), pierces through the heavy shroud of death that lies over the heart at the time of the passing of a loved one.
These words begin the process of healing the heart. There is opened the opportunity for one to look on Jesus Christ and believe that He burst the bonds of death and lives today at the right hand of God, holding the power of life in His hands. Jesus Christ has defeated death and waits for the time when death itself will be cast from man's presence (Revelation 20:14).
There is a living hope of life after death, through a resurrection at the appearing of Jesus Christ—the glorious second coming. This truth is found in the Bible in countless passages.
Those I've quoted in this article form the basis of my few remarks I am called upon to make during a funeral service. It's always a high privilege to speak these holy, inspired words. Years of experience prove to me their power to give comfort and begin the healing of sorrow and pain. This of itself provides me with further proof that what they promise is certain.
But what proof do you need? Read these words in your Bible. Study them on your knees and ask God for understanding on this most basic of subjects. Then do one more thing. Go deeper into the Bible in this matter with our free Bible study aid What Happens After Death?.
Find the proof and come to know the truth on this question. There is hope! You can know the answer to the question Job asked—"If a man dies, will he live again?"