The Gift of Immortality
THE greatest gift a mortal man could be given is that of immortality. It would mean for him deathlessness, independence from any created thing for his existence and the impossibility for him to waste away and decay. Being made of flesh that does waste away and that needs outside energy to keep it alive, man is corruptible. He is not born with immortality, as some persons imagine.
If every man possessed an immortal soul that perpetuated forever his conscious existence, why would God hold out immortality as a reward to Christians for faithfulness? Why would his Word speak of incorruptibleness as something to be sought? Would God tell men to seek what they already have? The Bible says: “He will render to each one according to his works: everlasting life to those who are seeking glory and honor and incorruptibleness by endurance in work that is good.” (Rom. 2:6, 7) Because man is corruptible and his body wastes away with the passing of time, the gift of immortality is something to be highly prized.
Many thousands of years passed after the creation of the first man before the Creator, Jehovah, rewarded one of his creatures with immortality. Until then, he alone possessed it, being incorruptible, indestructible and imperishable. That One was the first of his created sons who, while on earth as a perfect man, was known as Jesus Christ. The Scriptures speak of him as “the first-born of all creation.” (Col. 1:15) On the third day following his violent death on a torture stake Jehovah raised him from the dead, not as a corruptible human whose body can waste away, but as an immortal spirit creature. Regarding this the apostle Peter wrote: “For Christ himself died once for all, for sin, an upright man for unrighteous men, to bring us to God, and was physically put to death, but he was made alive in the spirit.”—1 Pet. 3:18, AT.
Being the first of Jehovah’s creatures to receive immortality, he was, at the time the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, the only creature possessing it. As an immortal spirit, he now dwells in a glory that is unapproachable by man. No man could endure to see it just as no man can endure to see with unprotected eyes the intensely bright fireball of a hydrogen-bomb blast.
Speaking of this only rightful Potentate who has been anointed by God as King, Paul states: “This manifestation the happy and only Potentate will show in its own appointed times, he the King of those who rule as kings and Lord of those who rule as lords, the one alone having immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom not one of men has seen or can see.”—1 Tim. 6:15, 16.
That some of Jesus’ faithful followers would also be given the gift of immortality is made clear in the Scriptures. The apostle John wrote: “Beloved ones, now we are children of God, but as yet it has not been made manifest what we shall be. We do know that whenever he is made manifest we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is.” (1 John 3:2) It has not been possible for these followers of Jesus to visualize what they will look like when they become immortal spirit creatures like the resurrected Christ. The physical eye cannot register the appearance of spirit creatures. Their glory is beyond the range of visible light as well as other radiations in the electromagnetic spectrum.
How these faithful followers will receive immortality will be by the same means Jesus received it. They must first die and then be resurrected as spirit creatures. The apostle Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Corinthians. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised up in incorruption. It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body. For this which is corruptible must put on incorruption, and this which is mortal must put on immortality.”—1 Cor. 15:42, 44, 53.
What Paul said about the gift of immortality was directed, not to the world of mankind, but to the members of Christ’s congregation who had been anointed with holy spirit to be kings with him. “If we go on enduring, we shall also rule together as kings.” (2 Tim. 2:12) As would reasonably be expected, this kingly group is limited in size. Not all who exercise faith in Jehovah and in Jesus Christ are divinely chosen to be members of it, and therefore only a comparatively small number are resurrected to spirit life, as Paul describes, and given the gift of immortality.
The vast majority of faithful Christians can look forward to being earthly subjects of that heavenly body of kings. They are the meek who will “possess the earth.” (Ps. 37:11) Their reward for maintaining integrity to Jehovah will be, not the gift of immortality, but the gift of eternal life in human perfection. They will receive what the first man Adam could have had if he had been obedient.
Although they will enjoy human perfection, they will still be corruptible because they will still be made of flesh that is capable of decaying or of being destroyed by another creature. They will have the power to live indefinitely, but for them to continue living they will have to keep their bodies supplied with food and water. Without these necessities they would waste away. Such is not the case with the few who are made incorruptible by being given the gift of immortality. Their continued existence is not dependent upon outside sources of energy. God has given them the power to be self-sustaining, just as he is. This is one of the factors that contributes to their being superior to the angels. Their superiority is revealed by Paul’s statement to them: “Do you not know that we shall judge angels?”—1 Cor. 6:3.
The angels have the power of an indefinite life, but their life force is not self-sustaining and indestructible. Immortality was never given to them. This is evident from the fact that the resurrected Jesus was the only one of Jehovah’s creatures who possessed it in the days of the apostle Paul, although angels had been living for a very long time before then.
For the chosen few who receive the gift of immortality, death loses its sting forever. They are made eternally free from its power. “Then the saying will take place that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up forever.’ ‘Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:54, 55) As these receive the marvelous gift of immortality, faithful Christians not of this select group are assured that Jehovah will keep his promise to give eternal life to everyone exercising faith in him and his Son.—John 3:16.