Following the publication of Charles Darwin’s world-shattering book On the Origin of Species in 1859, scientists tried to find the fossil evidence of our extinct ancestors. In 1910 archaeologist Charles Dawson found what he thought was the missing link in the fossil record. In reality, what he found was one of the most far-reaching frauds in history.
The find soon became known as Piltdown Man. It consisted of some pieces of a skull and a jaw with molars. Dawson brought his discovery to a prominent paleontologist, who confirmed its authenticity.
The discovery was quickly reported all over the world. But the lie behind Piltdown Man slowly began to unravel. Circumstances and evidence just didn’t match. In the 1950s more advanced testing showed that the skull was only about 600 years old, and that the jaw had come from an orangutan. Apparently some knowledgeable person had filed down and stained the teeth and “planted” the find.
There is something horrible about being lied to; no one likes being lied to. Yet lies often seem believable, or else we wouldn’t fall for them. One of the very first lies was told to Eve in the garden by the serpent. Eve believed the serpent’s statement “You will not certainly die” (Gen. 3:4) and ate the fruit. Ever since then, we have hung on to the lie. Even in the face of death before us, we still somehow hang on to the vague hope that something somehow goes on living afterward. This lie has become one of the most widely believed frauds. The burning question for all of us is: What happens when we die?
Whether asleep in death or alive at the time of the Second Coming, we can be witnesses to the greatest showdown in history.
Scripture tells us that death is an unconscious state. In fact, the Bible compares death to sleep. “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing. . . . Their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun” (Eccl. 9:5, 6, NKJV).2
Peter reaffirmed this on the day of Pentecost as he spoke of King David: “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day” (Acts 2:29). And he continued: “David did not ascend to heaven” (verse 34).
So even if it may not be biblical, what would be so bad with believing that my loved one is in a happy peaceful place? ask some as they struggle with the reality of death.
Believing that someone is somewhere and conscious after death does two things. First, it opens the door for direct manipulation by evil forces, which can masquerade as a dead loved one and communicate with us. Second, it takes away the necessity for the greatest event in history: the second coming of Jesus.
The Bible points toward the second coming of Jesus as the great climax in earth’s history. It will not be a low-key event that most people will miss. Jesus promised that it will be unmistakable, similar to spectacular lightning crossing from east to west (Matt. 24:27). John adds that “every eye will see him” (Rev. 1:7).
It will be an overwhelming, amazing spectacle. The second coming of Christ is the blessed hope of the church. The Savior’s coming will be a literal, personal, visible, and worldwide event. When He returns, the righteous dead will be resurrected. This will be an occasion that will be loud enough to quite literally “raise the dead.”
The apostle Paul gives us a quick preview in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (NKJV).
At the Second Coming those who sleep in Jesus will be raised to eternal life. Because we know that the dead are asleep in the grave, the promise of the Second Coming and the resurrection to eternal life is especially important to us.
During World War II, prisoners of war were surprised by the sound of airplanes flying low over their camp. As they ran out of their barracks, every eye was straining to recognize the insignia on the planes. Then the prisoners began to shout for joy, wave, and hug each other. These were not enemy planes, but their own planes. Liberation was only hours away. For the prisoners it was the greatest day of their lives; but for another group the roar of the engines brought terror, not joy. The prison guards stared in horrified disbelief. For them judgment day had arrived. Soon they would have to account for their cruel deeds. Terrified, the guards abandoned their posts and fled into the jungle.
While it brings great joy to think of the resurrection as a moment of celebration and reunion, it is also a day of terror for those who are unprepared to meet Jesus. What for some will be the most joyful event in earth’s history will be the most terrible moment for others. Those unprepared to meet Jesus will be so desperate to get away from this glorious event that they will call on mountains and rocks to “fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16).
But none of us needs to be among this group. Jesus has made every provision to have us joyfully await His return. Whether asleep in death or alive at the time of the Second Coming, we can witness the greatest showdown in history. We can watch when that great enemy, death, will be swallowed up in victory.
Ellen White vividly describes the scene: “Amid the reeling of the earth, the flash of lightning, and the roar of thunder, the voice of the Son of God calls forth the sleeping saints. He looks upon the graves of the righteous, then, raising His hands to heaven, He cries: ‘Awake, awake, awake, ye that sleep in the dust, and arise!’ Throughout the length and breadth of the earth the dead shall hear that voice, and they that hear shall live. And the whole earth shall ring with the tread of the exceeding great army of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. From the prison house of death they come, clothed with immortal glory, crying: ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ . . . And the living righteous and the risen saints unite their voices in a long, glad shout of victory.”
We do not need to believe a lie. In the face of death we do not have to cling to some desperate hope that somehow, somewhere, life may go on. We can have the blessed hope that robs death of its sting. We can look forward to the great reunion when Jesus returns in the clouds of glory to wake the dead. We can look forward to the great hello with no goodbye.