ach of us is moving toward two great experiences. No matter how much money, power, or influence we may have, we cannot avoid them. Each day brings us another step closer to what no human being can escape: the hour of our death and the day of our judgment. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it: “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27).1
Why write on such unsettling subjects? In the Bible God repeatedly reminds us of these sobering realities, exhorting us to recognize the brevity of life and our accountability to Him and calling us to make any needed changes while we still have time. By doing so, we will be enabled to grasp more fully the glorious and joyful future that lies beyond them.
As important as they are, these two subjects are unpopular today. Among affluent, secularized Westerners, it has become fashionable to ignore death and judgement. Even to intimate one’s eventual death is considered crude, unenlightened, and morbid. And to speak of one’s accountability to God and the day of judgment is to risk social banishment. Even the church is largely silent on the two Final Things. When did you last hear a sermon on either topic?
In a short article, it would be impossible to do justice to what the Bible teaches about death or judgment; indeed, many books have been written about each. Nor does space permit a discussion of their relationship to other related topics, including the intermediate state, the rapture, and the millennium.2 So we will restrict our discussion to a few key biblical passages and how they can help us grow in grace and live with confident and expectant hope.
The Brevity of Life and Certainty of Death
In our fast-paced, high-pressured, stress-filled world, we easily lose perspective. Work, family responsibilities, social events, and various ministries and activities compete for our time and crowd out serious reflection on our mortality.
Yet throughout Scripture, God tells us repeatedly that our earthly life is short. Moses said, “The years of our life are seventy, // or even by reason of strength eighty; / yet their span is but toil and trouble; // they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Ps. 90:10). Centuries later, David echoed him when he said, “As for man, his days are like grass; / he flourishes like a flower of the field; / for the wind passes over it and it is gone, // and its place knows it no more” (Ps. 103:15–16). In the New Testament, James notes: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Many other passages speak to the same effect, reminding us that our life on earth is brief and uncertain and death is sure. Once we are gone, we are soon forgotten. Life in all its busyness goes on without us, having taken little notice of our departure.
David’s reflection on the brevity of his own life and the prayer it evoked can help us. He prayed,
O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah.
Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
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