Did Old Testament Believers Hope for Life after Death?

Life after death is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament. But what about the Old Testament? Did believers before Jesus Christ speak about their hope for the future?

From our consideration of God’s promises to Abraham in the early chapters of Genesis, we have seen in Acts 7 and Hebrews 11 that Abraham didn’t expect to receive God’s promises in his lifetime, although he saw them from a distance, and eagerly looked forward to the city that God will build in the future. Abraham can only inherit these promises if he is brought back to life again, and lives ‘forever’.

What about other Old Testament characters? Did any others express hope for a future existence?

Job

The sufferings of Job are well known, but maybe not so much his outbursts of hope? Yet, one of the famous songs in Handel’s Messiah highlights Job’s earnest desire. Job says, in chapter 19, verses 25-27, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another…” (all references will be from KJV)

Surely Job believed he would come to life again! In Job 14:13-15, he says, “If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.”

David

Some incredible promises were given to King David, which the angel Gabriel reiterated to Mary, telling her that they were primarily about Jesus Christ! (Luke 1:26-35) Yet, if you look carefully at the promises given to David in 2 Samuel 7, you will also read these words in verse 16, “And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.”  Surely this indicates David will see these promises fulfilled.

David speaks of his great longing to experience this “forever time” in Psalm 27, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple even life for evermore.”

And in Psalm 61:5-7,  David says, “For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name. Thou wilt prolong the king’s life: and his years as many generations. He shall abide before God for ever:…” (See also Psalm 2; 72; 133:3; 23:6)

This ‘forever’ time is not something which David is now experiencing, as we are told in Acts 2:29 &34, “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day… For David is not ascended into the heavens…”

Instead, David speaks at length in Psalm 37 about the day when ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ and the wicked will be ‘cut off’. Jesus even quotes these words of David in the Beatitudes! (Matthew 5:5)

Isaiah

Numerous chapters in Isaiah describe the paradise God has promised for this earth. Isaiah tells us so much about the ‘last days’, the time when flowers will bloom in the desert, the animals will cease killing one another – even a wolf will lie down peacefully with a lamb! He speaks of all nations going up to Jerusalem to worship the King and learn of God’s ways. If you long for an exciting vision of the future age, ponder these details in Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:6-7; chapter 11 and 35, 51:1-6; chapter 60; 65:17-25.

Like other Old Testament believers, Isaiah refers to his hope of resurrection in chapter 26:19, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”

Daniel

Several visions and dreams are in the book of Daniel. Daniel’s visions are very similar to those given to John in Revelation. Daniel specifically speaks of the resurrection, telling us in chapter 12, that when “Michael” (symbolic name for Jesus) stands up, “… many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

In Daniel chapter 2, the prophet interprets a vision of the great empires of the earth standing up as a metallic man and being broken by a rock. He says in verse 44, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”

Later on Daniel is given a vision from God in chapter 7.  “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him… And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.” (Daniel 7:13-14, 27)

Other Prophets

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of his hope for a paradise on earth in Jeremiah 3:17-18. Zechariah in chapter 14, adds to this vision with details of major topographical changes to the area around Jerusalem. Ezekiel foretells the regathering of Israel, the time when they will finally be at peace, worship God in truth, and have a righteous King (Ezekiel 36-39). Ezekiel also gives extensive plans for the future temple to be built in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 40-48). The prophet Micah speaks of this future time of peace and righteousness (Micah 4:1-8). Habakuk assures us that in the future “… the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

God’s grand purpose that the whole earth will be filled with His glory was first revealed to Moses in Numbers 14:21.

The Old Testament Hope

In summary, then, the Old Testament believers looked forward to a time when God’s promises will be fulfilled on this earth. They knew they would die and return to dust, but they believed that God would bring them back to life – and that this future life would be FOREVER! After listing many of the Old Testament faithful in Hebrews 11, the chapter ends with the summary message, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Will we all be given the promises at the same time??

To stir your vision of this exciting time we have listed some key Old Testament passages  on Paradise in the Passages to Consider section.

In our next blog we will consider the New Testament hope. Is the New Testament hope the same what was revealed to the Old Testament faithful? Or did Jesus offer something different for his followers? We will look in particular at what Jesus and his disciples preached, and the hope that the Apostle Paul openly proclaimed. What could be more exciting than the promises God has made to his followers? Especially when we’ve been invited to share!

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