Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
The Bible presents an alarming picture of what lies in store for believers as the end of the world approaches. The apostasy and persecution foretold by Scripture are indeed fearful heralds of our Lord’s return, but perhaps even more concerning are Jesus’ words in the verses that introduce this article: “if it were possible, they [the signs and wonders] shall deceive the very elect.” These words surely hold hope because it is clearly not possible that the elect will be deceived—but apparently only by a hairsbreadth. Whatever is in store for believers, whatever these impending “signs and wonders” are, there is little doubt that they will be the greatest test of faith that we have ever faced.
I don’t believe that anyone can predict exactly what we ought to expect regarding the “miraculous” signs that will herald the appearance of the Antichrist, but I am increasingly convinced that the idol of secular science will be the source of these “lying wonders” (). In just the last century we have gone from a society constrained by the laws of gravity to one that has placed men on the moon. We have split the atom and begun to harness its enormous energy to produce electric power. And perhaps most impressive, we have emerged from a time in which the mysteries of life were entirely unknown to one in which sequencing entire human genomes—all 9 billion chemical letters—can be done in just a few days. All this in just over one century.
One can be sure that these relatively recent technological advances are not the end of scientific achievement for human society. While ‘reading’ the genome of individuals is undoubtedly a huge step forward in medical science, the potential to ‘rewrite’ the genome heralds an even greater advance. I hope to discuss the technologies that are making this achievement possible in a future article, but for now I will focus on one use of such technology that is being discussed in some scientific forums. That use is dramatically to extend the healthy lifespan of humans, with the ultimate goal being the achievement of ‘biological immortality.’
Until recent decades, the goal of lifespan extension beyond the “three-score and ten” described by Moses in Psalm 90 has been more wishful thinking than reality. Though medical advances such as the discovery of antibiotics and the development of treatments for common maladies such as cardiovascular disease have boosted average life expectancy in most developed countries, there is currently no society that has achieved a greater average lifespan than about 80 years of age. But with the combination of recent scientific findings regarding how aging works and the technologies to combat it genetically, it appears increasingly likely that average human lifespan will continue to increase well beyond the apparent ceiling that Moses described.
Some of the most remarkable advances in science over the past few decades have been in understanding the biological basis of lifespan—or longevity—and the ability of scientists to extend it significantly in animal models through genetic manipulation and dietary modification. In very simple organisms such as worms and flies, genetic manipulation has allowed scientists to extend lifespan dramatically, up to five times that of their natural counterparts. Similar genetic or dietary manipulation of mammals, most commonly mice, yields a more modest 25-50% increase in healthy lifespan, though a few unusual studies have reported a near doubling of lifespan in these creatures.1 Though the genetic manipulation required for this effect cannot at present be done in humans—at least not legally—the dietary approach involving an extreme form of nutrient deprivation (“caloric restriction”) is being voluntarily undertaken by many different individuals who hope to achieve the roughly 40% increase in lifespan seen in mice and other mammals. Whether this works has yet to be seen (these are rather long experiments!), but there is strong consensus among scientists that a significant increase to human lifespan is scientifically possible given enough time and research into the molecular basis of aging in humans.
The tantalizing possibility of physical immortality has intrigued humanity for most of recorded history, beginning with Satan’s words to Eve, “thou shalt not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). Every culture has been fascinated with this promise, the evidence of which is embedded in a variety of myths from ancient, medieval, and modern civilizations alike.2 Things are really no different today. Consider our culture’s bizarre obsession with zombies, werewolves, vampires, and other supposedly immortal creatures of the occult. Once the ‘undead’ servants of evil, these creatures increasingly have become the heroes of pop culture, celebrated for their inhuman powers and their ability to resist death. Underlying this fascination, of course, is an unspoken desire by our culture to avoid physical death so as to continue in this life. No death, no consequences. No consequences, no restraint upon sin. Or so the theory goes.
Perhaps, then, we ought not be surprised that the desire for immortality has increasingly begun to escape the realm of modern myth to become recognized as a ‘legitimate’ field of secular science. Though certainly not part of the mainstream, there are several recognized scientists who are now challenging the idea that human lifespan has any defined limit at all. Groups such as the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation, both founded by the eccentric scientist Aubrey de Grey, have managed to secure large amounts of funding to pursue their bluntly stated goal of turning back the clock on human longevity. De Grey himself has authored a highly- cited book on human longevity entitled Ending Aging, in which he suggests that science will be able to ‘reverse human aging in our lifetime.’3 While this proposition remains very much in doubt to most serious scientists, it does beg the question of whether the coming kingdom of man, presided over by the Antichrist, might be allowed by God to overcome the lifespan barrier that He decreed at the time of the Flood ().4
Let us assume for a moment that one of the “lying wonders” delivered by secular science is ‘biological immortality’ or, perhaps more realistically, an expansion of lifespan to over 200 years. If this were to happen, ought it to shake our faith in the testimony of Scripture? Should we doubt that death is in fact the final enemy, and that the only way to overcome it is through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ?
I can certainly see how that might be the case based on an incomplete understanding of Bible passages such as Romans 6:23, which declares that “the wages of sin is death.” If one were to understand from this passage that physical death is all that Paul was referring to, it would be tempting to conclude that humanity would have overcome the consequences of sin if dramatically extended lifespan was to be achieved. But if we understand this passage and the rest of Scripture more completely, our response would be that even the achievement of physical immortality by science would not deceive us into doubting our source of hope.
The proper basis with which to begin understanding this issue is a striking verse in Genesis 3, where God reveals that Adam’s immediate death at the time of the Fall was spiritual rather than physical.
And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken (vv. 22, 23).
From this passage, it seems apparent that had Adam been allowed access to the tree of life, he could have remained physically alive, though spiritually dead. It would no doubt have been an increasingly miserable existence for Adam—to be biologically alive with a fallen nature—but apparently it was physically possible for him to “live forever” even after the Fall. God quickly ended that possibility, however, by removing Adam from the garden, thus beginning the slow process of corruption that would culminate in his physical death several centuries later. We can, therefore, distinguish the ‘two deaths’ that Adam experienced as a result of divine judgement based on their separation in time. In the day he took of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam’s fate was sealed: he did die spiritually at that instant, and began to die physically as a result of his sin and separation from God.
Several other passages in Scripture present a relevant contrast to Adam’s condition immediately after the Fall when he was spiritually dead, but capable of living indefinitely. The contrasting figure in all of these passages is our Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:4) and was “in all things…made like unto his brethren” (). These passages present the remarkable implication that the second person of the Trinity took upon Himself a physical form that was like ours, with the single exception that He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Rom. 4:15). Precisely what this means is difficult to know, but excerpts from the Gospels make it clear that Jesus experienced physical tiredness and emotional pain, and presumably could contract the same sicknesses and injuries to which we are susceptible. There is also no reason to doubt that His body aged at the same rate as every other man His age, so that by the age of thirty—when He began His ministry—He looked and felt more or less like other men His age. We can presume from this that Jesus’ physical constitution was, therefore, different from that of Adam, whose original body did not age or suffer the physical ravages of disease that humanity faced in Jesus’ day and currently suffers in our own. As such, Jesus—the second Adam—was the precise opposite of the first Adam after the Fall. He was morally upright and spiritually alive, but physically compromised in a body that suffered from the corrupting effects of the Fall.
So why does knowing that physical and spiritual death are distinct entities matter? In this case it matters immensely because it provides us with the understanding that physical immortality is not the same thing as eternal life spoken of in Scripture.5 Here we turn to I Corinthians 15, where Paul elaborates upon the nature of the resurrection of believers.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (vv. 50-54).
From this passage, we can understand that eternal life with Christ has two parts. First, it involves us being regenerated in a spiritual sense (“corruptible must put on incorruption”), and second, it involves the physical transformation of our mortal bodies into immortal ones. Apart from the former, the latter is simply the continuity of physical life.
And this is precisely the goal of unbelievers: physical immortality, free of life with God. What a ‘miracle’ that would be! What a ‘wonder’ for humanity to be free of the yoke of aging that God has placed on us, free to exercise our will to do as we please. Such an achievement would surely be a crowning glory to the secular age of man. This is what the unbeliever hopes for more than anything else—to avoid meeting his Maker, and having to face the eternal death promised him for his sins. A death with two parts: body and soul.
But the promise of God to believers is not just immortality—it is eternal life! No man, regardless of his scientific advances, can offer eternal life because that requires both spiritual life and physical immortality. As Paul states, both corruption and mortality must be replaced for us to dwell with God eternally. It may be possible for the kingdom of the Antichrist to offer biological immortality—or at least something that looks very much like that. But it will never, under any circumstances, offer eternal life.
That hope is reserved for those who call on Jesus Christ in true faith. That hope leaves us with a calling too. The calling to believers in these end times is to be vigilant and discerning of Scripture so that when the kingdom of this world rises to power, we do not lose faith in the promises of God despite the “lying wonders” of man. This faith rests heavily on a keen knowledge of Scripture and a right understanding of its doctrine, which leaves no doubt that ultimate deception of the elect is not possible—though only by a hairsbreadth.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world ().
1 A host of primary scientific articles describe these mouse models, most of which alter the metabolism as a means to extend lifespan. A brief catalog of these can be found at the following website. https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2009/08/a-list-of-interesting-longevity-enhancement-methods-in-mice/
2 These include the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Greek myth of Tithonus, the medieval quest of the Holy Grail, and early modern search for the Fountain of Life, to name a few.
3 Aubrey de Grey, Michael Rae. Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2007).
4 A rather interesting corollary to this can be found in the two references at the end of this footnote. In these high-profile articles, two groups of scientists posit that human lifespan is, in fact, limited, regardless of medical advances. Their (secular) interpretation of human lifespan data suggests that the upper limit of human lifespan is between 115-125 years of age, which is precisely concordant with Genesis 6:3. Cf. X. Dong, B. Milholland, and J. Vijg. Nature (October 13, 2016), 538:257-59. J. deBeer, A. Bardoutsos, F. Janssen. Nature (June 29, 2017), 546:E16.
5 By using the term ‘physical immortality’ I am distinguishing from a common usage of the term “immortality” in the New Testament when this word appears in isolation, such as in I Timothy 6:16. In these contexts it is clear that the inspired author refers to both physical and spiritual immortality, which is commonly called “eternal life.” At the same time, however, it is also notable that when the word “immortality” is used in the New Testament, it is usually found in combination with another term that specifically denotes ‘spiritual immortality’ such as “eternal life” (), “eternal” ( ), “incorruption” ( ) or simply “life” ( ).