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"For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not of ourselves."

Are You Being Duped?

by Kent Philpott

Chapter 2:

"You have been duped if you think the grave is the end"

It is uncomfortable to be challenged about what we believe. Beliefs, ideals, concepts--these go directly to our center, especially if the subject is religious or political in nature.

How is it that we are like this? Perhaps it is a lack of self-esteem, or ego strength. Maybe it is a lack of maturity. Then again, fear may play some role. Personally, I can get very sensitive if I am questioned too closely about what I hold to be true.

An appeal

When I was younger, I was not very resilient. I was less sure of myself, and what I believed was practically untouchable. Mature people, however, discover it is okay not to be right about everything, and then hope they have grace enough to be able to change if necessary.

Why cling to that which is wrong anyway? When we cling to error, it will eventually harm us. And this cannot be truer than when it comes to death, and by death, I mean both kinds, physical death and spiritual death.

To come at it another way, let me ask, “How willing are you to embrace truth? Will you do so though it might embarrass you for various stands you have taken in the past?” I hope you will have a greater interest in truth than in protecting cherished, though false, or inadequate, beliefs.

Or, please consider this question. How sure are you, if you believe that the grave is the end, that you are right? Oh, you may believe it with all your heart and soul! But how do you know you are right? Do you have anything to prove your position? Are you willing to risk absolutely everything?


Atheists are growing in number and are even forming clubs—institutionalizing if you will. They are not afraid to make their position known.

Many atheists are completely persuaded by evolutionary thought and feel they can therefore never be Christian. These do not understand that many Christians, and I mean Bible believing Christians, accept much of what goes under the name of evolutionary theory. There may be genuine disagreements among Christians about evolutionary theory, but many Christians hold to what good science says about the age of the universe and this planet. Most Christians, however, do not believe one species can evolve into another (macro-evolution), but do accept that life forms change (micro-evolution), which is the core of evolutionary thought anyway. The sciences should not determine what we think about God existence; rather, the sciences serve to inform us of the majesty of God.

And then religious people, ancient and contemporary, have embarrassed themselves so much that I can see why people avoid anything to do with God, church, and religion. God has gotten a lot of bad press over the years, and those who say they believe in Him, have too. (Somehow, people think that Christians are perfect and if they are not, well, there goes the whole thing.) On the other side of it, atheists have something less than a clean record. A little humbleness goes a long way toward arriving at the truth. But I especially appeal to the atheist, since atheists would logically believe the grave is the end--please take a fresh look at the claims of Christ. You cannot be absolutely sure of your atheism, of course, but I understand and appreciate your position. 

Proof of life after death?

While reading Evangelical Times (published in England by a sister organization of Evangelical Press), I found an article about a study that seemed to show scientifically that there was an afterlife. But the reviewer, a Christian, was not convinced.  

A study had been conducted with people who had died on an operating table and who later reported various experiences they had "while they were dead.” Some saw a white light, some a saintly figure, and others a frightening figure. Some reported they felt they were slipping into hell, or that they saw loved ones, and so on. The authors of the study concluded: “This proves there is an afterlife.”

But the reviewer of the article, with whom I agree, reasoned. "If you really died, you would not come back." Simple—dead is dead.

We do not know the complex chemical, electrical, and biological processes that go on in the mind and body once dying begins to take place. A safe and sane theory is; "If you really had died you would not come back." I do not want to be guilty of holding to quasi-scientific evidence that there is life beyond the grave. I would rather appeal to the Scripture.

Jesus and resurrection

The Sadducees were a religious/political party that had considerable power in First Century Judaism. The leading priests, those who had control of the temple worship, were mostly Sadducees. They did not believe in life after death; for them the grave was the end. They knew that Jesus, however, believed in resurrection and they approached Him one day with a bizarre question designed to cast disparagement on the doctrine. The Sadducees asked this question:

                  “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and
                        leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the wife,
                        and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers;
                        the first took a wife, and when he died left no children; and the
                        second took her, and died, leaving no children; and the third
                        likewise; and the seven left no children. Last of all the woman
                        also died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the
                        seven had her as wife.”                               
    Mark 12:18-23

The ridiculousness of the situation must, they may have calculated, convince Jesus that resurrection was an impossible notion. Maybe they hoped Jesus would sputter and fume, or, perhaps even side with them. Maybe they hoped to prevent Jesus from siding with the Pharisees, another political/religious group, and the Sadducees’ main opposition, who did believe in resurrection. We do not precisely know what the plan was, but Jesus gave the Sadducees a sharp response.

                  “Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the
                        scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the
                        dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like
                        angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you
                        not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush,
                        how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God
                        of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but
                        of the living; you are quite wrong.”     
           Mark 12:24-27

Jesus’ correction of the Sadducees applies equally to those who believe the grave is the end. On the one hand, the Sadducees did not know the Scripture, which clearly taught resurrection. On the other, they did not know the power of God. When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, (see Exodus 3:1-6), Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had all lived and died at least five centuries before Moses’ day, and God was yet their God. In that one passage from the Law, the part of the Hebrew Bible the Sadducees did accept as inspired, it is shown that the three great patriarchs of Israel were living and that God had to have raised them from the dead. Indeed, the Sadducees, and those who believe like them, were quite wrong.

Could the God who created the universe in an instant from nothing not have power over death, which is merely a sub-system in the scheme of life? No, the creator of life and death is sovereign over both. A fundamental reason for believing the grave is the end is rooted then in a misunderstanding of who God is.  

Paul and resurrection

Paul, a Jew of the First Century, a reluctant convert to Christ and author of many New Testament books, wrote to the church at Corinth: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” The resurrection of Jesus had occurred and He had appeared many times to the disciples. He had even appeared to at least one non-believer, His half-brother James. And Paul, a persecutor of those who believed Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, Jesus had appeared to him, too. On his way to trouble Christians in Damascus, Paul encountered the living Christ. He knew, therefore, that Jesus lived.

As a Jewish person, the resurrection of Jesus would have had enormous consequences. It would have meant abandoning much of what he had grown up with. The resurrection could lead to no other conclusion but that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. Yet, Paul could do no other than testify to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul knew that a denial of Jesus' resurrection would be a lie so he said in verse 20, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." “Fallen asleep” is a euphemism for death, but Paul asserted that Jesus was the first to rise from the dead.

Did you know that Jesus rose from the dead exactly on the Jewish feast of First Fruits? There are seven major Jewish feasts celebrated each year. First Fruits has to do with the first harvest, the barley harvest, among other things. Jesus was the first to be raised from the dead. It is an interesting point, and when you see that additionally He was crucified on Passover, the day when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and buried on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when sin was symbolically removed from each Jewish house, you start to think that this was not all coincidental.

Jesus rose “first” from the dead. Our own resurrection will be the fruit that comes after, or the second fruit. Our assurance of life beyond the grave depends upon the resurrection of Jesus.
Proof for the resurrection?

But what proof is there for the resurrection of Jesus? Ultimately the proof comes to us
subjectively through the Holy Spirit. By this I mean the Holy Spirit of God must show us. We will never find it out any other way. And many of us know that that which is concrete is not as reliable as that convincing work of the Holy Spirit. We might question what we see and feel and touch and smell and hear, but we will not deny the resurrection of Jesus once we know Him as Savior and Lord.

Yet, there are substantial "proofs" of the resurrection; many are quite compelling.

For instance, there is the issue of what happened to Jesus’ body. The place where Jesus’ body was laid, which was sealed in the traditional Jewish method with a large rock and mortar, was found to be empty on that famous Sunday morning. No one ever did find a body though it would have been in the interest of Jesus' enemies to have produced one. The religious authorities would not have taken it thus inadvertently fulfilling the claims that Jesus had made that He would be raised from the dead. If the disciples had stolen the body despite the Roman guard at the tomb—would such a fraud have issued in the events that later took place in the lives of those men? So, what happened to the body of Jesus? This is one proof.

Then, the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. In the culture of that day women had no legal standing as witnesses, and beyond that, women generally had very low status. Yet, the Gospel writers, all of them, reported that women were first at the grave and first to witness the resurrected Christ. Why report this to their potential detriment unless it was absolute fact and incontrovertible.

Also, there is the dramatic change in the downhearted, fearful disciples. The death of Jesus was a terrible blow to the disciples—executed as a criminal by the hated Romans. At the time of the arrest of Jesus, and the subsequent trials, the apostles scattered and hid, fearful they might receive the same treatment as their master. But Jesus appeared to them alive and in the flesh, and they were never the same afterward. When you read the accounts of this in the Gospels, you do not get the idea that the disciples conned themselves into believing. They weren’t so heartbroken that they needed to resurrect Jesus “in their hearts” as some have supposed.

Religious literature often sounds syrupy and otherworldly. The encounters between the resurrected Christ and the disciples that we find in the four Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, lack the fanciful, mystical kind of language a “sell” job would attract. The reporting is essentially unadorned, matter-of-fact narrative. It has occurred to me that if I had been able to edit the New Testament, I would have insisted on punching up the accounts of the resurrection.

It comes as a surprise to some, but Jesus had a half-brother named James who was the child of Joseph and Mary, probably the next oldest to Jesus. This birth order is indicated because James is always named first in the lists of Jesus’ four siblings. (see Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3) This half-brother, though not a believer during Jesus' earthly ministry, not only became a believer but also ended up being the first pastor of the Jerusalem church. This “proof” ranks right up there for me. Remember--one of the resurrection appearances was to James. (see 1 Corinthians 15:7)

There are many other evidences of Jesus' resurrection, yet, no one can be argued into the kingdom of God. Reason and logic, though not antithetical to faith, cannot produce it. Miracles are not necessary to faith, either. But the person who has tightly closed his or her mind to the possibility that Jesus is the living Lord is indeed in trouble.    

Why we gamble

Why would someone gamble all of eternity that the grave is the end? And I use the word gamble deliberately, because it is exactly that, a gamble. The Bible offers a number of answers for such a reckless attitude.

One reason

First, look at Psalms 14:1. “The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" What is a fool in Bible language? It is a person without knowledge. It doesn’t mean a person with a low IQ, it means ignorant of fact. The fool should or could know there is a God but chooses to reject the obvious. "In his heart” shows that the denial of the existence of God is willful and is not a flight of fancy, or something coming out of desperation, frustration, or anger. No, the belief that there is no God runs deep.

The Psalmist notes the reason for the inability, or better, unwillingness, to look at truth. The very next verse says, "They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good." (verse 2) Moral and spiritual and theological corruption is the problem rather than an analysis of fact. The corruptness is the source of the ignorance. There is also the idea that a corrupt person will simply not want to cease from wrong doing, which would be expected by acknowledging the existence of the holy God of the Bible.

Jesus said much the same thing in John 3: 19-20.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into
the world, and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil. For every one who does
evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his
deeds should be exposed.

A second reason

A second reason for rejecting life beyond the grave, one that springs naturally from the John 3 passage above, is that our deeds are evil and we are therefore fearful of being found out. What bigger exposure is there than judgment before a holy and righteous God, who, by the way, has a right to judge because He is our Creator. The corrupt are strongly tempted to rely on theories that postulate that the grave is the end and will absolutely cling to them simply out of fear that they would have to face up to their sinful ways.

I remember how it was before I became a Christian. I knew some things about Christianity. I had been to church with my Dad, before I was big enough to resist. Though I was no believer, I had a sense that somehow I wasn’t going to be able to get away with all the stuff I had done. I didn’t talk to anybody about it and I didn’t dwell long there when it came to my mind because it was unpleasant to think about it. It may be that God puts a sense of judgment into us--into our conscience. It might be that it is hardwired into us, hardwired into the genetic structure or the conscience, that we will face judgment. In fact, Paul seems to indicate this very thing in Romans 1:18-19.

                  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all
                        ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their
                        wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about
                        God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

A third reason

A third reason why the faith doctrine (and that is all it is, faith not fact) that the grave is the end is attractive is that it seems to provide liberty and freedom. Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way” and I have to think that part of it meant freedom to do whatever he wanted to do, some of which he would not have wanted plastered all over the morning paper. 

Have you ever felt restrained or inhibited by laws and authorities? The rebellious mind protests, "If I could just get rid of restraint! If I could be free of authority!" Such freedom lovers feel the laws choke out their freedom and happiness. “I’m not free to do what I want to do.”

Problem is, as long as there is a God, especially one who is righteous and holy, no one can be truly free to do whatever he or she wants without consequences, either immediately or ultimately! And personally, I know exactly what this feels like; I have been there. I know how it can anger and frustrate, even incite to rebellion. Yes, atheism comes naturally to those who want to sin and get away with it.

A fourth reason

The fourth reason for gambling that the grave is the end is an abhorrence of the notion that there is a hell. And you don’t need to be an atheist for this one.

Some find the evidence for a Creator to be very strong. For instance, the information/programmer argument is very compelling. We have learned that in our DNA is coded a huge amount of information. From computer science we recognize that stored information requires a programmer. Something as complex as life requires a programmer. Also persuasive is that the material for the universe had to come from somewhere, probably from Somebody. Because of these and other arguments, many people will admit that there is a God. Some will even accept much of what the Bible says about Jesus, but will reject the doctrine of hell. It amounts, on an emotional level at any rate, to about the same as the doctrine that the grave is the end of it all.

The point is simple: no God, no real penalty, no actual judgment, and no accountability—it all amounts to about the same thing.  

Let me make this direct appeal to you. If you gamble that there is no hell, do you really want to risk everything on something you cannot prove. Will you want to risk eternal life on your own negative, God denying notion that the grave is the end? This is ultimate spiritual suicide.

Please consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:46, “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

How about "purgatory"?

There is a movement within Christianity, which is picking up momentum day by day, that is designed to avoid the horror that springs to many minds around the biblical doctrine of hell. There has been a revival of the concept of purgatory, a non-biblical concept most associate with Roman Catholicism. It roughly teaches that after death there will be an opportunity to work things out, avoid hell, and eventually get to heaven. This doctrine is being embraced by some in the Evangelical Christian camp. There is also the idea that hell is nothing more than eternal death—virtually the same idea that the grave is the end. Several Christian based cults already teach this concept.

I know that Christians, including preachers, like anyone else, want to be liked, accepted, and approved. What an advantage it would be for me if I would simply drop the notion that there is an eternal hell! And let me tell you, if the Bible gave me the opportunity to get out of it, I would get out of it quickly. You would never hear me talk about it. And I am sorry that I have to do it. But I must, because the Bible teaches it.

(Let me say, almost parenthetically, that the popular concept of hell, that is often depicted in the comic strips with the demons and flames and pitch forks, and so on, may not be entirely accurate. The view of hell inspired by Dante may be overblown. I will have more to say about hell in the miscellaneous topics in the last chapter.)

I am reminded of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16. Jesus told the story of someone who had died yet was conscious and in torment in hell. It revolts us. We don’t understand it, but dare we reject it because it is unpleasant?

What will you do? The truth of it is you will one day discover your error.

I have a cartoon from the morning paper. It reads: “What do the dead atheist, the agnostic, and the saint have in common?” The answer is that they all know there is a God, but they will also discover this too late. Hell is a truth learned too late.

The very worst case

The person who says the grave is the end not only remains deceived, but let me tell you something even worse—she or he will deceive others. We don’t live our lives completely unto ourselves. What I hold as true and precious I communicate to those around me. To my children, my friends, other family members, to many people that I associate with, whatever I believe I communicate. I won’t go into length about the story Jesus told of “one of these little ones.” (Matthew 18:5-6) But He said it would be better for people who mislead innocents that a millstone be hung around their neck and that they would then be dropped into the sea. This parable employs an idiom that is not to be taken literally, but Jesus taught that to be engaged in the process of deceiving others is a very serious thing. If you believe that the grave is the end not only have you been duped, but you are no doubt duping others.

A protest

Someone might protest: “You would use fear as a tactic to convince me to believe in Jesus?"

If I could do that, I probably would try it. But I can’t. No one can scare you into the kingdom of God. Oh, I may frighten you; I may cause you to rethink your position. I may cause you to come to the place where you reason, “Well, I’d better take another look at this.” But I can’t scare you into the kingdom of God. Faith and trust in Jesus is a gift that comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. Didn’t Jesus teach that we must be born again before we can enter the kingdom of heaven?

You can’t be scared into the kingdom of heaven. But maybe I can get you to look at Jesus afresh today. That is what I invite you to do, to see in Jesus the crucified and risen savior.

But I must also warn you of your danger. What doctor, who after examining a patient and discovering disease, will not warn of the danger? What physician would ignore that and say, “Go home, you’re all right, see you next year” when he knows a disease is raging?

For those who hope the grave is the end, you have a spiritual disease that will finally lead to a terrible eternity. Therefore, I must say by the love of God, turn to Jesus, that you would no longer be duped. Why should you live your life basing all that you have and are on a gamble you are sure to lose?

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Last Update: 2012-10-20 10:53