This is a challenging and difficult question to approach in a simplistic manner. The subject of an immortal spirit in man has numerous presuppositions associated with it. Entire books have been written arguing the two primary viewpoints. Rather than try to address all the aspects of this topic, I will simply review a couple of scriptural references that bring out some characteristics that can’t be ignored by proponents on either side of the argument. This gives the reader someplace to start their own investigation into the depths of the truth brought to the world through the work of Jesus Christ, our savior.
A Simple Question
Let’s begin with a young man who asked Jesus the same question, as recorded in Matthew 19. Jesus had been teaching in the region of Judea where he would encounter primarily other Jews (Israelites) familiar with Judaism.
Matthew 19:16 (ESV) – Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?
There are a couple of presuppositions associated with this question that we must consider. First, note the young man, clearly an Israelite (vs 20), was asking in the context of a works-based theology – what good deed must I do? The young man expects to gain it by his own efforts. This is consistent with the thinking and teaching of Judaism in Christ’s day.
Second is the young man’s expectation toward eternal life. He recognizes that eternal life (immortality) is something to be inherited, not something one already possess. It’s almost certain that the young man would have heard Christ’s teaching on the kingdom of heaven previously. Perhaps a teaching suggesting that a person can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5), or the admonition to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6), or a more recent admonition to humble oneself like a child if one seeks to be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18, 19). Either way, the idea of a glorified or eternal salvation was not a traditional teaching in Judaism, which makes the young man’s question genuine.
The idea of a glorified salvation where one inherits eternal life, what a Christian refers to as the new creation in Christ, was a revelation of the mystery of God manifested to the world in the work of Christ our Lord. It was not an expectation in Judaism. Though the scriptures clearly teach otherwise, Israel, and the Jews especially, focused on the kingdom and the salvation that accompanied it as a collective national matter.(1) Restoration of their national prominence was fundamental to their thinking.(2) This was especially evident in the relationship of Christ and his disciples. The Jews expected one thing from their Messiah, but were shown something altogether different.
Interested in the scope, origin, purpose, and fulfillment of the Mystery of God? Discover more.
Continue in Mathew 19 to see how Christ responds to the young man.
- First, Christ defers the adjective good to his Father alone. This indicates the good needed to have eternal life rests only with God who gives it.
- Christ then begins with something the young man would understand, the law of Moses; do not steal, do not murder, etc.
- The young man, though he has kept all these things, recognizes they are insufficient to attain immortality, and seeks to know what more he lacks.
- This is a genuine perspective, looking beyond the law.
- On another occasion Christ rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees for not seeking beyond the law, thinking it was in the scriptures they would find eternal life (Fourth Gospel 5:31-40).
- Then Christ transitions to those things that would ultimately lead the young man to eternal life;
- Let go of your trust in material wealth
- Come and follow me
The first thing Christ suggests might seem obvious, but why have the young man come and follow Him as a means to gain eternal life?
Does Christ offer what you already possess?
Yeshua, the Son of Man, offers the young man the only solution, or way, to attain eternal life and immortality – Christ himself. He makes this very clear as recorded in the fourteenth chapter of the Fourth Gospel(3), where he claims – I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Christ alone was begotten and born from the seed of God. He came from heaven. Christ alone has been resurrected to glory and has ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (Fourth Gospel 3:5-8, 13).
This same inheritance is what Christ promises and entrusts to those faithful and trusting in him, through the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, which leads them to eternal life (Colossians 1:11-14, 15-23).
It is only in Christ Jesus, the source of eternal life that we are called out of the domain of darkness, which only leads to death, and are transferred into his kingdom of life everlasting (Colossians 1:12-13).
The Contrast between Death and Life
The Apostle Paul, throughout his writings, does an excellent job of contrasting the two states that interest humanity most; the state of death which enslaves us all, and the hope for the future state of eternal life and immortality in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 2:10-15; Titus 1:1-3; 3:4-7).
And nowhere is this contrast better enumerated for us than in 1 Corinthians 15.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 34-36
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame…. 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
- Death came by one man – Adam
- Eternal life (immortality) comes by another man – Jesus Christ
- This is essential knowledge of God
- Death is part of the transition to eternal life
1 Corinthians 15:42-47
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.
- Eternal life (immortality) is not inherent in the natural which dies. It is perishable.
- Eternal life comes through, not just death, but the resurrection.
- What is sown on earth is perishable, but it can be resurrected imperishable.
- The natural (mortal) body, the man of dust, a living being, comes first.
- The spiritual, heavenly man, only comes later at the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:48 – As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.
- The man of dust is the earthly man, mortal and perishable (dies) (vs 42, 44, 54)
- Jesus Christ is the heavenly man, similar to those dwelling in heaven, imperishable
1 Corinthians 15:49-50
49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
Paul shows quite convincingly that we now bear the image of the earthly man of dust, mortal and perishable. Through Christ and the resurrection we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man, because the earthly man who is flesh and blood cannot inherit the heavenly kingdom of God.
Christ, who is the imperishable one, ultimately swallows up death for the perishable ones (1 Corinthians 15:51-55). This is the will of God.
Want to dig deeper into when Christ delivers this inheritance to his faithful chosen? Discover more.
The whole promise of the good news of the kingdom of God is manifest in Christ our Lord. He is the source of eternal life and immortality, and it is only through him and his resurrection do we attain it. The contrast throughout all of scripture, old and new, is between death for those made from the dust of the ground and the hope of immortality made available to all in the work of Yeshua, the Christ. That work comes through death, and is manifested for his faithful servants at the resurrection of the firstfruits of salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). Blessed are those who have a part in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6).
There is much more to learn about each of these topics and links have been provided to related articles. Those tagged with Read more lead you to related channel questions and their basic answers. Those tagged Discover more are part of a more in-depth study program. Any tagged with Learn more address methods, processes, and resources which can aid your approach to learning. All are free resources to assist you in gaining a more unfiltered view of God’s word.
To discover more about what the work of God in Christ Jesus tells us about the fall of Adam, look for my coming book –
The Mystery of God in Christ Jesus: the New Creation from Beginning to End
At the close of each article, the relevant presuppositions that support it will be cited. This enables the reader to gain a clearer and deeper understanding of the context. To learn more about presuppositions, see the About page.
- God is proactive and purposeful in all that he does (Matthew 13:34-35; Ephesians 1:3-14; Hebrews 1; 1 Peter 1:18-21)
- God is faithful and will fulfill in those called and chosen what he has already completed in Christ (Fourth Gospel 1:9-13)
- Faith, which is a gift of God, is the basis of the hope of salvation for all those committed to the Lord. (Romans 11; 1 Peter 1; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Jude 3)
- Christ’s work results in a new creation (Fourth Gospel 3:1-21; Romans 8:28-31; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 6:14-18)
- God’s redemptive work on humanity’s behalf is to save them from the second death, not the first death. (Genesis 2:16-17; Fourth Gospel 3:16-21; 5:24; 6:40; 17:1-3; Romans 5; 6; 1 Corinthians 15:19; Hebrews 9:25-28; Revelation 20:6)
- The Lion of Judah, Rabbi Kirt A. Schneider (pg 145)
- Jeremiah 50:17-20; Ezekiel 34:25-31; Daniel 2:44-45; Zechariah 10
- Due to the dispute over the authorship of the Fourth Gospel, traditionally attributed to John, I will refer to this book as the Fourth Gospel. I have concluded on the side of such authors like J. Phillips (ISBN13: 978-0-9702687-3-0) who has shown conclusively John could not be the sole author and instead attribute primary authorship to Lazarus – the disciple whom Christ loved.
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