There is a lot of truth to the old Persian adage, handed down in various fables and tales: “This too shall pass.” It is true of buildings, landmarks, possessions, relationships, emotions and countless styles, philosophies and fads. There is very little in this world that it could not be said of. But is it true of all things?
The Bible is quite clear on the temporary nature of this world. Jesus said, “heaven and earth will pass away (Mark 13:31a).” His apostles frequently instructed the church concerning this truth. For instance, “the world is passing away along with its desires (1 John 2:17; ESV),” And, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10; NAS).”
On a more individual, personal note, we have several reminders, should we need such, that our mortal lives are ethereal in nature, being here fore a moment and then soon gone.
“What is your life?” asks James, “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14; ESV).” The Psalmist is in agreement: “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow (Psalm 144:4; ESV).” And we should not neglect the eloquent prophetic voice which cried out, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6b-8; ESV)”
There is more that we could say concerning the fleeting nature of our material experience, including the certainty of loss and decay relative to material possessions and the like (cf. Matthew 6:19), but let us notice that the Bible does not, in fact, teach that it is universally true, all things shall pass. There is that which abides. For instance, Isaiah confidently asserted that, “The word of our God will stand forever,” and when Jesus likewise taught that, though heaven and earth would pass away, “my words will not pass away (Mark 13:31b).” Similarly, the full quote from John, cited above, is, “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17; ESV).”
“This too shall pass,” is a philosophy true of so much of life, a reminder of the ever-changing nature of the world, but it is not true of all things, and we should be ever mindful of those things of which it is not true. Material things will pass, but man is more than a material creature. The material body we now have is indeed temporary, likened by the apostle Paul to a tent which we wear for a time. “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1; ESV).” Regarding this the apostle also said, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18; ESV).”
God is unchanging and eternal. The word of God is unchanging and eternal. The soul of man will likewise outlast this physical world, and the salvation that Jesus provides to those who trust in Him and obey Him is everlasting. Hence why the Bible describes this salvation as, “eternal life (Matthew 25:46).” Also why judgment is described as, “eternal punishment.”
Considering all this, it seems true that, as a whole, men spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on that which is transient, and almost no time preparing for that which is eternal. Which is logically and rationally backwards from what it should be.
Jesus didn’t die so that men would have more years on a world destined for judgment and destruction. He died so that their sins could be forgiven, and they could focus on those things which were eternal in nature, preparing themselves for the resurrection and a body which would not pass away (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50-53). He died and rose from the dead as a reminder that while this life must come to an end, there is that which will not pass away, and through His salvation we too can have eternal life. It is this life, the one which will not pass, for which we should labor (cf. John 6:27).
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.