Article of the Month

April 2011

 

IMMORTALITY IN GOD'S PLAN 

 

The word “immortality” is an interesting one because of its frequent mis-use.  People use the term “immortal soul,” but they are apparently unaware that the term never appears in the Bible.  Actually, “immortal” or “immortality” never appears in the Old Testament at all; and it appears (legitimately) only three times in the New Testament.  The King James Bible has “immortal” or “immortality” six times in the New Testament, but three of these occurrences are from the Greek word APHTHARSIA which does not mean immortal.  It means undecaying (either in organism or character). The Greek word which is legitimately translated immortal is ATHANASIA—deathlessness. 

 

―  THE MEANING OF THE WORD  ―

 

Sometimes people use words with their common-usage meaning.  This is not always the meaning of the word in the Bible.  Mankind in general uses “mortal” to mean that death is inevitable; they use “immortal” to mean that one lives forever.  These uses, however, are not consistent with Biblical usage.  In Scripture, mortal means that death is a possibility, not an inevitability.  Thus, angels are mortal, but they don’t die.

Immortal, in Scripture, means that death is an absolute impossibility.  Thus, for instance, God is immortal. 

Perhaps the very best definition for immortality is found in John 5:26.  It reads, “For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in himself.”

“Life in himself” means that the continuance of existence is not DEPENDENT. Mortal beings are dependent on external things.

They depend on the PERMISSION to live, and, in the case of humans, mortal beings depend on air, climate, water, and food.  But an IMMORTAL being needs none of these things.  Thus, as Strong’s Concordance defines immortal (athanasia) as DEATHLESSNESS, we can see truly that immortality is DEATHPROOFNESS because it is not subject to any external things for its existence.  It is inextinguishable life totally within self.

The text above (John 5:26) also demonstrates that immortality is not a GENERAL quality, but rather a very rare and specific GIFT. Thus, as God has life in Himself, “so hath He given to the Son to have life in himself.”  The great and wonderful mystery is that God also intends to give it to a limited number of others!

 

―  A PREDICAMENT (!?)  ―


It is evident from the testimony of the New Testament that God (long before an earth even existed) intended to create a VERY SPECIAL CREATION—a group of “DIVINE” or IMMORTAL beings which are to be His intimate “family”—sharing His own nature (immortality).  (Hebrews 1:2, 3; II Peter 1:4) 

This most special work of all creation has a built-in predicament.  If a being is INITIALLY created immortal,  that being will be indestructible—an ETERNAL part of the universe.  If that being is IN ANY WAY contrary to God and His purposes, the universe would be ETERNALLY DOOMED to experience conflict!  God’s wisdom knew this, and He therefore devised a way to TEST THE CHARACTER AND FIDELITY of a being BEFORE it receives immortality.  The solution is this:  God decided to make His IMMORTAL CREATION from beings already in existence!

 

―  TWO EXCEPTIONS  ―

 

In God’s creation, the natures of beings remain constant.  Lower animals don’t become human; humans don’t become angels; angels don’t become humans (although they may APPEAR as such).  Natures are distinct and FIXED.  There are, however, TWO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS RULE.  Both exceptions are for special reasons.

(1)  The first exception is when Jesus became a man.  He had been a spirit being; but he allowed God to change his nature to human.  (John 1:14; 6:51; II Corinthians 5:16; Hebrews 2:9, 14; 5:7; I John 4:2, 3, 7; Galatians 4:4)  This was done because the ONLY way to get man out of the death sentence was to pay the price demanded by justice.  All are dying in Adam.

Adam must be REDEEMED.  But (Psalm 49:7) “no man can give a RANSOM for his brother.”  Thus, a PERFECT HUMAN BEING was needed to provide this RANSOM.  Jesus’ change of nature was accomplished (as an exception to the rule) so that he might provide that ransom.  (I Timothy 2:6)  Thus, as all in Adam DIE, so in Christ shall all be MADE ALIVE.  (I Corinthians 15:21, 22)  This solution to the foreknown fall of man was determined by God “BEFORE the foundation of the world.”  Thus Jesus was prophesied to be this slain “lamb” before man existed.  (I Peter 1:20 and Revelation 13:8)

(2)  The second exception to the rule that creatures DO NOT CHANGE NATURE, is God’s insistence that His NEW CREATION (immortal beings) be made out of existing beings so that their fidelity can be tested before they are given INDESTRUCTABILITY.

God decided on this immortal creation “before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:14)  Thus, before mankind existed, God determined to change the nature of some of mankind, using their time as humans as a TEST for their acceptableness as indestructible, divine, immortal beings.  He determined to give them HIS NATURE—the DIVINE NATURE (immortality).  See II Peter 1:4.

Jesus was the first human being to be offered this change.  Thus he is the ONLY created being to experience TWO nature changes.  In the end, he and 144,000 others will have been selected to become this NEW CREATION of God. (See Revelation 14:1; II Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15.)

 

―  THE “IMMORTAL” SCRIPTURES  ―

 

As mentioned, three of the King James’ usages of “immortal” are incorrect.  They are from a word meaning “undecaying” (in organism or character).  We will not discuss these here since they are not a direct part of our subject.  But for those who wish to see their locations, we list them:

Romans 2:7

I Timothy 1:17

II Timothy 1:10

This Greek word is used elsewhere in the New Testament, but translated differently.  The genuine uses of the word “immortal” or “immortality” are found in:

I Corinthians 15:53

I Corinthians 15:54

I Timothy 6:16
 

―  THE ONLY THREE MENTIONS OF IMMORTALITY  ―

 

In I Corinthians 15 Paul has an extended sermon on resurrections.  In the first nineteen verses Paul confirms Jesus as the first resurrected from the dead.  He argues the importance of this as a testimonial to the success of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Had Jesus not been faithful in his test for immortality, the RANSOM would have been invalid, and salvation would not be possible (15:17, 21, 22).

In verses 20-28, Paul explains that God’s plans for resurrection include two groups:  (1) the “firstfruits” (which is Jesus and his 144,000), and (2) the remainder of mankind who will become “Christ’s at his coming”—when he establishes his promised kingdom on earth. 

In verses 29-34 Paul argues that a Christian’s difficult life is a testing to prepare him to be a part of the “first resurrection.”  (Revelation 20:6)  This “first resurrection” is to IMMORTALITY (15:53).  Its purpose (its first assignment) is to RAISE THE DEAD world of mankind (15:29).  Paul here explains that this is the purpose of our baptism.

In verses 35-41 Paul attempts to explain that more than one kind of resurrection is to be expected—celestial (in heaven), and terrestrial (on earth).  But, beginning with verse 42, he begins to focus exclusively on the heavenly resurrection—the EXCEPTION TO THE RULE.  The heavenly resurrection involves A CHANGE OF NATURE.

In English, we do not see the emphasis of the original Greek text.  Verse 42 must be read with LOUD EMPHASIS on the little word “the.”  “So is THE resurrection of THE dead”—not just ANY dead, but THE special dead:  those whom God Calls His NEW CREATION.  Its change of nature is clearly stated in verse 44.

Chapter 15:42 to the chapter’s end is ONLY about the 144,000 who gain immortality.  It is not about mankind in general.  As Paul states of this select group:  They “shall all be CHANGED.”  (15:51) 

Two of the three New Testament uses of “immortal” are here in this context.  They are in verses 53 and 54:

“This mortal must put on immortality.”
“When…this mortal shall have put on immortality…”

Paul is speaking about the time when God will give to Jesus’ faithful 144,000 “Life in themselves.” 

 

―  ONLY ONE?  ―

 

The third and final use of “immortality” in the Bible is found in I Timothy 6:14-16.  It reads:

“Jesus Christ…King of kings, and Lord of lords,
Who only hath immortality, dwelling in
the light which no man can approach unto.”

These verses are very difficult on the surface.  When Paul wrote them, Jesus was already raised to immortality, “the express image of” God’s person.  (Hebrews 1:3)  Thus, to say that only one being has immortality seems faulty.  God must have it, too!  Fortunately, Paul gives us the solution.  Back in his I Corinthians 15 sermon (15:27), Paul says that “it is manifest that He (God) is excepted.”  In other words, God need not be used in comparisons, and leaving him out of lists, etc., does not mean that He is excluded; it simply means that certain things about God are OBVIOUS and need not be mentioned.  So, here in I Timothy 6:16, God is ALSO EXCEPTED.  Yes, God has immortality—obvious!  But at that point in time, ONLY ONE OTHER had it, the glorified Jesus.

The Apostle John (I John 1:5) teaches that “God is light.”  So, it seems here in I Timothy that the phrase about Jesus,

“Who only hath immortality,
dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto,
whom no man hath seen, nor can see”

means that the LIGHT is God, unapproachable by mere men, and invisible to mere men; but Jesus dwells directly with Him, sharing His very nature!

Thus, when I Timothy was written, ONLY two beings possessed immortality.  But during the “last trumpet” (I Corinthians 15:52, 53), there will be an increase of that number to 144,002.  God will have completed that special immortal creation which He planned “before the foundation of the world.”

So we see that immortality is not inherent in anyone except God, Himself.  He gave it to the resurrected Jesus, and He plans to give it to 144,000 others.  All other intelligent beings will be mortal, but will enjoy “everlasting life.”  Immortality becomes a logical and heart-warming doctrine. 

 

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