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The Expert

Jesus with disciples

By Dennis Pollock

Practically since its inception, the news media have relied upon “experts” to address current topics of interest or controversy. If the story is a sports story, then a former professional athlete is called to weigh in on the issues involved, someone who knows the sport inside and out. If the topic is health, a doctor is grilled and gives his or her opinion on the matter. If there is a scandal involving a business, often a former employee with an intimate knowledge of the company and its practices is called to address the issue.

This is both sensible and reasonable. No use having an American plumber or a truck driver give “expert” insight into some mysterious plague that is ravaging a small African country. In the courts, experts are often called to give expert testimony about what they know that may apply to the trial at hand. If there is debate about DNA evidence that may or may not prove a man guilty of murder, both the prosecution and the defense often bring in DNA experts to state their opinions based upon many years of studying the nature of DNA. Again, a very sensible thing to do.

There is a topic, however, and one that has enormous implications for every one of us, in which there are no experts to be found. There is no one on earth we can call to give expert testimony about the subject of death and what may or may not follow it. Here is a scenario which every single human being will face, and there is no one on our planet who can tell us, by experience, what will happen when our hearts stop beating and our lungs stop breathing. The problem is, there is no one who has died, hung out in the afterlife for days, weeks, or months, and then returned to tell us exactly what we can expect.

There are people who seem to have died for a few minutes, who have then been resuscitated, and spoken of seeing a great white light, or feeling a sense of tranquility, or perhaps being swallowed up by a fearful darkness, but these stories are ultimately unsatisfying. Were they hallucinating just as their bodies began to fail them? Was their story the result of a brain deprived of oxygen painting its last images on their consciousness? Somehow the testimony of these near-death experiences doesn’t really settle anything for us. If only there were an expert who could tell us exactly what will occur when we cross that river which separates the living from the dead!

Seeking a Philosophy

The former president of France, Francois Mitterrand, was a man preoccupied with the subject of death, especially in his latter years. He read extensively the writings of the philosophers, he visited the tombs of some of France’s great historical figures to meditate, and questioned people who were considered “experts” on death. Of course, they were not truly experts since they had never visited the other side, but they were intellectuals with a lot to say on the subject, and very definite opinions.

Finally, Mitterrand developed prostate cancer and it became evident that his days were numbered. His interest in the subject of death reached a fever pitch, and he read book after book about life, death, and the concept of an afterlife. He was not a believer in God but seemed to have a hard time accepting eternal unconsciousness as his final end. At last, just before he died, he told a friend, “Now I have my philosophy.”

But of course, most of us non-intellectuals would not be all that keen about facing death with a philosophy; we would much rather face that mysterious conclusion to our lives with a living hope. If only there were a real expert, not just a philosopher or some intellectual writing from his ivory tower, but someone who could speak about the subject with authority, who really knew what he was talking about!

The good news is, there is! He is called Jesus Christ, and He has a lot to say about life and death, and what will happen to us after death. He is the ultimate Expert, and if anyone ever had the authority and knowledge to speak on these things, He surely does. Let us consider first His credentials, and second, what He had to say about that mysterious afterlife that awaits us when our time on earth is finished.

Jesus’ Credentials

When we decide to allow an individual to teach us something on any particular subject, we should consider their credentials. Are they educated on the subject? Do they have any experience with it? Is there any reason they should be more trustworthy to speak on the topic than any ordinary Joe or Joanne off the street?

In all the important questions of life, Jesus is in fact the most trustworthy and the only real expert we can trust. Sometimes when I hear some celebrity opine about morality, I think to myself: “Ok, let’s see… Jesus raised dead people. How many dead people has this guy raised? Jesus walked on water. Wonder if this guy has ever done that? People were healed just by touching Jesus’ garments. Has anyone ever been healed by touching this movie star’s Prada polo shirt or Versace blouse or Gucci shoes? Uhhhh, let me think about this. Nope, I daresay not a one. I think I’ll believe Jesus over this celebrity.”

But it wasn’t only that Jesus did miracles that no one else did, or in such abundance as has never been seen before or since. He also taught like no one else taught, and today about a third of our world’s population profess to follow Him, making Christianity the world’s largest religion. But even more important than what He did or what He taught or how many followers He has is the fact that Jesus was and is God. No other person on this planet could ever make that claim. Jesus declared, “When you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” John wrote about Him: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Paul wrote that we should be: “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). And Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

And because He is God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He had no beginning. He existed long before He was born of the virgin Mary. He knows Heaven intimately, front, back, and sideways. He knows everything there is to know about life and death, and what awaits us after death. When He speaks on these subjects, He is not giving an educated guess or some opinion that may or may not be correct. He is speaking the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We do not have to go to our graves guessing about what may or may not come next. We do not need to read lengthy philosophy books in our old age to comfort us, enlighten us, and take away our fears. We can go straight to the Source, the One by Whom everything was made that was made, the One who holds the universe together by His own powerful word, the One who holds our very life and breath in His hands, and we can learn everything we need to know about life, about death, and every other subject of which human beings need to be informed.

What Jesus Taught

So what did Jesus teach about death? The first thing we need to know is that death does not bring about a cessation of consciousness, according to Jesus. Our minds, our thoughts, and our personalities go on, and this is true of saint and sinner, of missionary and serial killer, of the licentious and the holy. For the Christian this is great news. For the unbeliever this is very bad news. Jesus declares: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25, 26).

The idea of never dying sounds patently false. Who has lived on this earth without dying? Millions of Jesus’ followers, men and women who loved the Savior and served Him faithfully, have lived out their lives, aged, got wrinkles, and died. Christians die every day. They die of cancer, they die of heart disease, they die of old age – but they all die, sooner or later. So how can Jesus say that if we believe on Him we will never die?

The answer is obvious. Jesus was not talking about physical death, but about total, absolute cessation of life and consciousness. In Christ we are immortal. Our spirits, our minds, our personality, our identity, our consciousness does not miss a beat when our eyes close in death and our breathing ceases. For the Christian death is not the end but the beginning – the start of a new life with Jesus in the realm we call heaven. And the life we will experience there will be happier, more peaceful, and vastly superior in every possible way. Paul believed Jesus and declared:

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

As Jesus died on the cross, He told the thief dying next to Him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). He did not say, “Today you will become a feast for the worms,” or “Today you will cease to exist,” or “Today you will think your last thought.” Jesus informed this miserable man that his situation was about to change drastically – for the better! His body would die but his spirit would live on and be taken to a blessed and happy place. To believers Jesus tells us: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2, 3).

Even the Wicked will Continue

But it is not only the Christians who will continue to think, feel, and exist after death. The wicked also will experience a continuation of consciousness. In the parable about the rich man and a beggar who lay at his gate, Jesus describes both men as dying and transitioning into another realm. The godly beggar entered what Jesus described as “Abraham’s bosom” and the rich man entered a place of torment and misery. Both men could think and feel. Both men were as much “alive” as ever – they had simply transitioned from one place to another, just as a man might immigrate from one country to another.

But the rich man’s destination was not a happy place; in fact, he was in agony. For this reason, Jesus warns us: “Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell” (Luke 12:5). If death were simply the end of consciousness, this warning would make no sense – it only has meaning if the wicked, upon their deaths, still have consciousness, and the ability to think and feel. The same applies to Jesus’ pronouncement upon Judas: “It would have been better for him if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).

Expert Testimony

Here is the “Expert Testimony” which every human craves, the entirely reliable, absolutely trustworthy, and completely dependable information which solves the mystery once and for all about life after death. It turns out that our brief time on this planet is not all there is for us; indeed according to the Expert, it is merely a warm-up for what will take place afterwards. Our lives on earth are simply a time for us to be born, grow up, and find reconciliation with our Creator through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that we may take our place in God’s eternal family when we die and enjoy Him forever and ever.

Our bodies will grow old, sickness and weakness will come inevitably upon us, and the icy fingers of death will come to claim us. But if we are in Christ, death can only claim our bodies. Our spirits, our minds, our identity, our consciousness will go on and on in Christ, life without end, forever and ever. We do not need a philosophy to accompany us to the grave; we have a Savior, Jesus Christ, “who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

 

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