One of the most challenging questions for Christians is what happens to those who died without God or hope. Thankfully, the Bible reveals a marvelous plan of hope!
The marble tombstones in cemeteries don’t give much information. Generally there is a name, a date of birth and a date of death. Sometimes there is a short phrase or a Bible verse.
Have you ever wondered about the stories behind each one? What were their lives like? Were they happy? Did they accomplish their goals, their dreams?
“To Won’s Father”
Not many years ago in the city of Andong, South Korea, while workers were removing graves in an old cemetery in order to build houses, they found the tomb of a young man from the 16th century.
Archaeology.org reported: “The excavation began at eleven in the morning, and took several hours of painstaking work. First archaeologists dug into the tomb, then, after breaking through its hardened-earth shell, they exposed a wooden coffin. They dismantled it, and removed pieces of clothing, until they reached the body. Everyone at the site was stunned. Inside was a male mummy, a very rare find in Korea ten years ago.
“Although his skull was badly decayed, his skin and beard were still visible. He was tall, even by today’s standards, measuring 5 feet 9 inches, and sturdily built.
“‘The dark mustache made me feel that he must have had a charming appearance,’ says Se-kwon Yim, former director of the Andong National University Museum and one of the first people to see the mummy.”
On closer examination, the archaeologists discovered a letter from his wife on his body. It was addressed: “To Won’s Father, June 1, 1586.”
The touching letter captivated the Korean public for more than a decade. Here are translated excerpts from the letter:
“You always said, ‘Dear, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day.’ How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?
“How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, ‘Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?’ How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?
“I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you? …
“When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.”
A future lost forever?
In heartrending words, the young woman expressed her anguish and the hopelessness she felt at this unexplained tragedy that struck the young couple and their son and unborn child. She was tortured by her grief and loneliness. All their hopes and dreams had been swept away by an untimely death.
Was this all there was for them? How many millions—no, billions—of young men, women and children have died prematurely without the opportunity to live out a normal life span?
War has taken the lives of millions of young men. For example, by the time World War I ended in November 1918, 9 million men had lost their lives. There were times when more than a thousand British soldiers were dying every week in the bloody trenches of Belgium and France. On the first day of the Battle of Somme alone, the British suffered more than 57,000 casualties. It was said that a man assigned to be a machine gunner could expect to live only about 30 minutes in combat.
The flower of Europe’s youth perished in a futile conflict that would be fought again in less than 25 years. The war left 160,000 young English widows and 300,000 fatherless children.
“We shall never know how many potential prime ministers, cabinet ministers, poets, scientists, physicians, lawyers, professors, and distinguished civil servants perished in the mud of France and Belgium, but the conclusion is inescapable: an entire generation had lost most of its ablest men” (William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, p. 663).
D.H. Lawrence, an English novelist, wrote in a letter to a friend, “Will the nations continue to empty the future?”
A plan of hope
Have all of those who have died such deaths lived in vain? What about those who have never known the truths of the Bible or had a relationship with Jesus Christ? Is their destiny forever without hope? No, it isn’t!
The chain of human life began with the creative act of a loving God. He did so with a long-range goal in mind. However, most people throughout history have lived and died with no knowledge of Him or His purpose for them. Yet the Bible tells us it is God’s intention to make sure no one misses out on his or her chance to know Him.
Jesus Christ stated that everyone who has ever lived will one day live again. “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice” (John 5:28).
God’s annual festivals reveal His divine plan to transform physical people into the spiritual family of God. Those seven festivals give us the seven steps by which God will work with everyone who has ever lived. Not even an untimely death can thwart God’s plan. The last festival shows that all who have never known Him will be resurrected back to a physical life so they can learn of God’s truth.
No matter the circumstances of their death or where they died, all will be given an opportunity to know God and His way of life.“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
No matter the circumstances of their death or where they died, all will be given an opportunity to know God and His way of life.
The prophet’s vision
God demonstrated this plan through His prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was taken in vision to a large valley full of human bones that had been there a long time, indicating they had died long before, perhaps in some battle.
“The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry” (Ezekiel 37:1-2).
God then asked Ezekiel if he thought those bones would ever come to life again. “And He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So I answered, ‘O Lord GOD, You know’” (verse 3).
Still in the vision, Ezekiel was told to speak the following to the dead to awaken them to life: “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: ‘Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD’” (verses 4-6).
So Ezekiel spoke to the thousands of scattered human bones and watched in amazement as they came together as they once were in life. “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them” (verses 7-8).
Now, instead of a valley full of weathered bones, it was full of lifeless bodies. But God wasn’t finished.
“Also He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’”’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, “Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!”’” (verses 9-11).
Thousands of years of history have left us with the graves of billions who have died without hope or knowledge of God’s plan for the future. But it will not end that way for these people. Whether they died on the battlefield, in the oceans or on their beds—whether they died as babies, children or old men and women—God assures us all will live again.
“Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,” says the LORD’” (verse 12-14).
Hope for all humanity
This prophecy was given to ancient Israel, but God is no respecter of persons. What He has in mind for them holds true for all races of humanity. Paul wrote that God “‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; … of the Jew first and also of the Greek. … For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:6-11).
And again in his letter to Timothy, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Humankind is not the product of some evolutionary process. We are the offspring of a Creator God who has a plan to share His life with us if we are willing to learn to live by His guidelines.
The young man whose grave was found in South Korea will live again. He will see his wife and children and other members of his family. He and many, many others like him will come to know the true God and will finally learn His truth about the reason they exist.
Most of mankind has been unaware of God’s plan, yet it is made plain through the annual festivals spoken of in His Word, the Bible. For thousands of years, mankind has been deceived by Satan. But Satan’s deception will be brought to an end and all who have died in spiritual blindness will be brought back to life to learn God’s way and be given an opportunity to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
The future that they once lost will be given back to them along with a hope to live a wonderful new life for all eternity. God’s encouraging words for Jews who had been taken captive by the Babylonians several thousand years ago also apply to those who died prematurely or without knowing their Creator: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Learn more about God’s plan of hope in the articles in this section: “Plan of Salvation: How God's Festivals Reveal His Plan.”