Is There a Hereafter?

by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates

In this new series, Dr. Zodhiates explores the implications of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13:12 on our future state, when we shall live eternally in the light of God’s glory. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12). You often hear the well–meaning advice, “Live a day at a time.” That is, enjoy the present, act in the present, and don’t borrow trouble by worrying so much about the future that your anxiety robs you of all present happiness. Surely this is good advice, as far as it goes, but any beneficial advice can be overdone when followed as an absolute rule. The opportunist and the materialist claim that “now” is all we know, and therefore we must take advantage of every opportunity to advance ourselves in this life, without allowing ourselves to be deterred by considerations of a reckoning in some dim, far-off future. On the other hand, the “ivory-tower” visionary is often so preoccupied with thoughts of the future life that he neglects the duties and joys of the present. The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:12, places “now” and “then,” in proper perspective: “Now we see through a glass, darkly,” he says, “but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Let’s consider the adverbs of time Paul uses as they occur in the original Greek: Árti (now) means more specifically “up to the immediate present,” taking in any point of time that we can call the present. Tóte (then) refers in this context to a definite state in the eternal future that provides a contrast to the present time. Paul was speaking of our present corruptible and future incorruptible states—the here and the hereafter—and our ability to know and be known in each state. To Paul, “now” was a time of incomplete knowledge, of dim and obscured vision. “Then” would be a state of certainty and clarity of understanding. He regarded the present time in the light of the future. Accordingly, Christianity teaches that, by God’s grace, we must conduct ourselves in this life with a view not only to doing God’s will on earth but as a preparation for the life to come, thus relating “now” to “then.” As we consider Moses, who “endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27), we see that there are two ways of looking at life’s troubles. We can consider them as blows of fate, which we must muddle through somehow, without seeking to understand them or becoming any the better for them; or like Moses we can recognize them as permitted of God for our discipline, to help us grow toward that perfection which will be fully ours in heaven. The only man who approaches a genuine understanding of the present is the man who recognizes that he has a tangible future before him. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ,” says Paul, “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). The man who sees only as far as the horizon, and judges everything in accordance with the standard of this limited outlook, inevitably mishandles life because there is so much that he cannot comprehend and so much that he cannot foresee, much less provide for. Life can make no sense at all unless in your mind you see it from beginning to end as part of God’s overall plan, with far greater ends in view than mere buying and selling, eating and drinking, births, marriages, and funerals. The philosophy of “While we live, let us live in clover; for when we die, we’re dead all over,” is the tragic folly of a blind man dancing on the edge of a precipice. You can never understand the partly-finished work on a loom, or contribute any effort toward its completion, unless you have the expert’s pattern to guide you. You cannot grasp the overall structure of a building from its scaffolding; you need the architect’s plan to be able to visualize it in its completed form, and to contribute meaningfully to its construction. You understand the purpose of seedtime when you have a vision of the harvest. That is why Paul regarded even his troubles as superficial in reality. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” he says, “…for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17,18). What are our few years of mingled happiness and sorrow on earth (cf. Ps. 90:10) as compared with the eternity of joy and fulfillment to come—this glorious eternity which is the lot of God’s people! Let us ask God to give us the long sight, because the vision of “then” is always better than the experience of “now.” The very incompleteness of this life argues for a hereafter. No matter how old we may live to be, and how many of our years we devote to study, research, and experiment, we will die reaching out toward the greater knowledge that still eludes us. No matter how much we may achieve, unless we set our sights very low indeed, we will always feel that given more time and strength we could have done far more. And as for character development, often in later life we are haunted by the consciousness that we have just begun to learn how to live, how to appreciate our loved ones, how to react in a Christian manner to temptation and trial, to the need around us in this world; in a word, how to love God and our neighbor as we ought. Have we begun to learn all these lessons only to stop there? Must we go off and leave our lives uncompleted forever? Our hearts rightly protest against this partial fulfillment of Christ’s injunction, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). We prefer to believe with the Apostle Paul “That he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6), at which time “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The deduction I want to draw from this sense of incompleteness is that sometime, somewhere, completeness must surely be ours. For God never planted these hungers and cravings for knowledge, achievement, and character within us simply to mock and torture us. They are prophetic of the completeness to come, as the blade of corn is prophetic of the full corn in the ear. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me,” said David; and then addressing God directly he prayed, “Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands” (Ps. 138:8). How could we ever think that a God of love would forsake us at the grave? Instead, let us look to His promises in the Word and reaffirm our faith in the completeness of His purpose in the words of the Apostle Paul: “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (Petty, “Now and Then,” Christian World Pulpit, 100–102; and Jones, Richmond Hill Sermons, 173–89.) © From To Love Is to Live, an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 13, 1967, revised 1998. Available from AMG Publishers