"How can it be said that we Christians have everlasting life when we still have to undergo death?"
UK Apologetics Reply:
Okay, it's an interesting question.
First off, God never promises us a mere continuation of this present physical life. What good would that do? We have bodies which are continually deteriorating and degenerating as we get older; no, He promises us something far better!
The Word of God assures us that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will have everlasting life (John 3:16; 6:47; 1 John 5:13). As many have pointed out, the Greek word translated "everlasting" there means something like 'perpetual, eternal, forever, unending.' This speaks of the life that continues perpetually into eternity, human physical death (which we must all suffer) being no barrier nor obstacle to it. So physical death is momentary, the soul of the deceased person apparently immediately ascends to Heaven, while the physical body commences to perish in the grave (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Putting all Scripture together, it appears that the true believer goes into the presence of the angels and probably of previously deceased believers in his or her family, they then await the full resurrection of body and soul at Christ's return (Revelation 6:9-11). These people are then fully and finally saved; the second death - the lake of fire - never having any jurisdiction over them once they have entered Heaven upon their physical deaths (Revelation 20:6).
Non-believers also have their souls 'stored' in an eternal spiritual realm until judgement (Ecclesiastes 12:7). This too might be in a part of Heaven but probably not the highest Heaven of God's throne. For a few incorrigibly evil ones, however, it appears that they are allowed to experience the grave (or, hades) as an initial 'hell' directly after death (Luke 16:19-31). But the real, final hell is the Lake of Fire, or gehenna, and one only goes there after receiving condemnation on the Day of Judgement (Revelation 20:11-15).
Despite what some teach, the Bible never states that all of those who rise on the Day of Judgement are necessarily doomed because God is able to show mercy even to those never specifically called during this present age. Micah 7:1; Isaiah 30:18; Matthew 5:7; 9:13; John 3:17; Romans 9:15-16. The mercy of God is huge and all-encompassing, He is able to apply Christ's sacrifice much broader than we might sometimes think. It is somewhat depressing that a section - quite a large section - of Christianity pictures the Day of Judgement simply about sending millions of hapless and hopeless souls straight into hellfire, all the verdicts already decided! That would be a 'kangaroo court' indeed.
Consciousness Continues After Physical Death (The First Death)
All the Bible indications are that physical death does not mean the end of consciousness, but consciousness continues to exist, but maybe more as a dream-like form of consciousness. It is our souls, or 'spirit essences' which continue to exist. Evolutionary scientism has always laughed at the idea of consciousness whilst separated from a physical body, but right now more and more voices are insisting that this is possible and some claim to have experienced it even whilst technically brain dead for short periods of time on the operating table. Interestingly, some writers from the world of quantum physics are also beginning to teach that consciousness continues after physical death! This intrigues me because several years ago I suggested that the small, closed, materialistic world of evolutionary "science" would finally be overturned by the new science of quantum physics. Quantum physics is prepared to 'think outside the box,' whereas evolutionary 'science' has reversed itself into a most narrow, hopeless cul-de-sac.
So man's life is not merely physical. Rather, the true life of human beings is spiritual, and while the physical life comes to an end, the spiritual continues (Genesis 1:26-27). Now, some might object to this by saying that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16), now that is true because God alone is the true source of immortality, but God has obviously granted this gift - or some degree of this gift - to others, for example, to the angels and - if the Scriptures are to be accepted (which I obviously believe they should be) - to men and women also. It may be that consciousness only finally comes to an end in the Lake of Fire (the second death).
The Last Enemy to be Destroyed is Death
24. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).
Right at the beginning God created Adam and Eve, putting them into the Garden with the Tree of Life, giving them the opportunity to live joyously forever, both physically and spiritually, but, as we know, they sinned and brought physical and spiritual death to themselves and to all subsequent generations (Romans 5:12–14). Sin must be punished and the only acceptable punishment to a holy God is everlasting punishment (Mark 9:43–44). However, our merciful God sent His Son as a perfect sacrifice to suffer, once for all time, the punishment due to all of mankind for sin, thereby providing a perfect way to the tree of life for anyone and everyone who believes in Him (1 John 5:12; Revelation 22:14). So it is only through the sacrifice of Christ - freely available if only we will appropriate it - that we can be saved, entering Heaven upon death and eventually inheriting "all things" in the final Eternal State.
So it is that when we die physically, our soul will immediately be with the Lord, and still later, when He returns, the Lord will resurrect our bodies to meet Him in the air (this is not a "rapture" but the resurrection of body and soul). A few (but possibly only a very few), true Christians may still be living at our Lord's return, their bodies will then be changed "in the twinkling of an eye," and they will not even experience physical death (1 Corinthians 15:51–52). This is the only group - as far as one knows - who never experience physical death (although, arguably, this could also apply to Enoch and Elijah; see Hebrews 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11).
Eternity Then Opens To Us
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies" (John 11:25). Do you have everlasting life with God? If so, that seed is already present and growing within you right now. (carefully read Ephesians 1:3-14). Take heart! It is the Father's good pleasure to give us His kingdom (Luke 12:32).
Jesus also said:
...I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b).
While in the flesh, we don't really have full and abundant life, especially as we age; we have aches, pains, physical and often mental turmoil too. No, real abundant, continually joy-filled life - no limitations - only comes to us after the resurrection of the dead upon Christ's return. Now that is really something to look forward to! That is when the saints really do inherit all things; only our souls enter Heaven upon death but after the full resurrection of body and soul - at Christ's return - both a new earth, Heaven, and an entire universe probably become open to us - as God might will it.
Robin A. Brace. December 31st, 2016.