HOUSMAIL HM#123 - ABOUT DEATH, RESURRECTION, AND IMMORTALITY 11 June 2005
The simplest dictionary definition of “DEATH” is “extinction of life”. To be “DEAD” is to be “without life”, or “no longer living”.
It is unfortunate that many Christians have some serious misconceptions about the meaning of these words. Not the least of these is the doctrine of “The Immortality of the Soul”, which says that the dead are not really dead at all, but still alive in “Heaven” or “Hell”! This teaching has long been used to create a false comfort for some, and great fear for others. And sadly, some Churches have used it to extract money from grieving relatives, in return for promises of saying prayers to get a better deal for the dead!
There is nothing at all in the Bible to say that men are born inherently immortal. There is nothing in the Bible which says that the righteous dead are already in “Heaven”, or that the wicked dead are already being tortured in “Hell”. True Bible teaching about DEATH is that it is a “SLEEP” in which there is no conscious existence for either the righteous or the wicked. Immortality is a conditional gift, received only at the resurrection. It is for the righteous - not for the wicked.
The reward of the righteous is not immediately after death, but future, after Jesus returns from Heaven. And it will be ON EARTH - NOT in Heaven. (Matthew 5:5) The “wages of sin” is NOT “Eternal Life” under ceaseless torture. It is DEATH - cessation of existence. (Rom 6:23)
THREE DIFFERENT DEATHS!
In the Scriptures, DEATH is not always the same thing. The Bible actually talks about “DEATH” in THREE different ways. Of course the end result is the same. Non existence. Life is extinct! But the cause of death is what makes the difference in what the Bible means by the word. The cause can affect the eternal outcome for those who are dead.
1. MORTALITY - THE COMMON DEATH OF ALL MANKIND
This is "ordinary" death which results from having a mortal body which cannot live for ever. It is inevitable that sooner or later, we will die.
The Bible calls it “the common death of all mankind”.
“If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me.” (Numbers 16:29)
All men, righteous and the wicked alike, experience this death. It happens because God has created them with mortal bodies. Except for executed criminals, and some other clearly defined cases where God specially intervenes to cut life short, it is NOT a penalty for sin.
It is not necessarily permanent. For many it will be reversed by resurrection.
2. THE SECOND DEATH - A PENALTY FOR THE WICKED AT THE JUDGEMENT
This death is different because it happens at a different time , for a different reason . This is the death which will be the lot of unsaved and unrepentant sinners at the judgement. It is described as the “SECOND DEATH” because it is the death of men who have already died once, and then been raised for Judgement.
Those who belong to Jesus will not experience this death. It is reserved for sinners only. It will be a penalty imposed at the Judgement for unrepented and unforgiven sins, committed in this life.
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Rev 21:8)
And unlike the “ common death of all mankind ”, this death is permanent. There can be no return from it.
3. “SPIRITUAL” DEATH - THE PRESENT STATE OF LIVING SINNERS
This is a “spiritual” condition. It is a "living death" which results from being separated from God by sin.
“But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Eph 2:1)
GOD ALONE HAS IMMORTALITY
“(God) only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting.” (1 Tim 6:16)
DO MEN HAVE AN “IMMORTAL SOUL”?
The words “immortal soul” do not appear anywhere in the Bible!
DO MEN HAVE INHERENT IMMORTALITY?
Men do NOT have inherent immortality. Nor can they live for ever, without God’s intervention.
“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 for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Gen 3:22-24)
WHAT IS A SOUL?
“Soul” is the English translation of the Hebrew word “Nephesh”. It has many meanings. It most often seems to mean something like “The inner being of a man”. It is the mental awareness of who we are and what we are. It dies when the man dies. Other common meanings, in context, are “a person” or simply “life”.
None of the meanings of “nephesh” imply that souls have inherent immortality. In fact the Bible is explicit that they can and do die.
“Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezek 18:4)
“Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)
WHERE ARE THE DEAD?
In the Old Testament they are in a place for which the Hebrew word is “SHEOL”. This is a word which means simply “the place where the dead go”. In the Bible it is described as located under the earth.
The Greek word which the Septuagint Greek Old Testament uses to translate “sheol”, is HADES. The Greek New Testament has also used this word to describe the “abode of the dead”. However we must be careful to avoid confusion with the “Hades” of Greek mythology. The NT has borrowed the word from the Greeks, but uses it with a different meaning.
Sometimes confusion arises because the KJV translation uses the word “HELL” to translate these words. People with preconceived notions of what “hell” is, jump to the erroneous conclusion that it is a place of eternal torment for the immortal wicked. Of course that is “circular logic” in action!
Careful reading of the OT will show that SHEOL means simply “the “grave”. In the KJV it appears 65 times, and is translated “grave” 31 times, “hell” 31 times, and “pit” 3 times. There does not seem to be any good reason for this difference. Some modern translations use “grave” almost exclusively. Others simply include it as “sheol”, without translation.
This is only a very brief treatment of a big subject. There is quite a bit more to say about the identification of Hell and Sheol and Hades, and what happens there, but this will have to be left for another time.
IN WHAT STATE ARE THE DEAD?
They are ASLEEP.
“Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”
Daniel says that both the wicked and the righteous “ SLEEP in the dust of the earth ”. (Daniel 12:2)
The phrase “ slept with his fathers ” is used repeatedly to describe death. e.g. 1 Kings 2:10; 1 Kings 11:43.
Job says that in death ALL are at peace. (Job 3:11-20) Note that Job specifically includes even the wicked in this place of peace. They are NOT being tortured in “hell”!
ARE THEY CONSCIOUS?
Death is described as “a sleep”. It is a sleep in which there is no conscious existence.
“For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5)
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
The experience of time between death and resurrection is described as no more than “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”. (1 Cor 15:51-52)
CAN THE DEAD COMMUNICATE WITH GOD?
“For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?”
“For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day:” (Isaiah 38:18-19)
Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” (Psalm 88:11-12)
“The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.” (Psalm 115:17)
CAN WE COMMUNICATE WITH THE DEAD?
If the dead are not in any conscious state of existence, this is obviously impossible. Further, it is forbidden to even try to do this.
What then do we make of claims from mediums who profess ability to act as go-betweens, to pass on messages from the dead to the living?
Of course many strange things happen from time to time in seances. A great deal of it is exposed by investigators as blatant fraud. But not all of it can be explained away quite so easily. It would seem that in trances, some mediums can delve into things outside the range of “normal” human experience. When that happens “someone” or “something” IMPERSONATES the dead.
Is it some freak “power” or “ability” in the mind of the medium, which ordinary people do not have? Is it what we call the “occult”. I confess I don’t know. The Bible is not explicit. BUT whatever it is, it is not harmless. God calls it abomination! And He absolutely forbids it. It is one of the many forms of witchcraft which God says is punishable by death. (Deut 18:10) It is listed amongst the sins which will exclude those who practice them from the Kingdom of God. (Gal 5:20)
WILL THE DEAD RISE FROM DEATH?
The Resurrection of the Dead is prominent in the teaching of Jesus. e.g. Luke 20:27-38.
In the preaching of the 1st century Church, it is THE HOPE which undergirds all else.
e.g. Acts 23:6; Acts 26:8.
The Apostle Paul wrote that the without the Hope of the Resurrection, there is NO HOPE at all!
“If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (1 Cor 15:17-18)
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE RESURRECTION?
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28-29)
“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10)
“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left..” (Mat 25:31-33)-
“These (the goats=the wicked) shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
WHAT IS THE REWARD OF THE RIGHTEOUS AT THE JUDGEMENT?
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matt 25:34)
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the EARTH.” (Matt 5:5)
WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED AT THE JUDGEMENT?
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:41)
“The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (2 Thess 1:7-9)
“Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” (Jude 13)
WHO WILL RISE FROM THE DEAD?
The Bible says that MANY will rise from the dead.. (Daniel 12:2) But, in passing, note carefully the “many” implies “NOT ALL”.
The Bible does not draw a clear dividing line between those who will rise and those who will not. However we may be certain that God will act justly. (Gen 18:15) Sometimes people ask about the fate of those who were too young to be held responsible for their actions, or the mentally retarded, or those who were in ignorance of what God required of them. For those who know God, it is inconceivable that He would consign any such to endless torture, God is not like that at all.
But we may be equally certain that any who heard the Gospel and wilfully rejected it, will be judged and punished as God sees fit.
“Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.” (John 9:41)
“If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.” (John 15:22)
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
RESURRECTION - COMFORT FOR THE BEREAVED
When the apostle Paul offered comfort to bereaved Christians, it was NOT that their loved ones were already in “heaven”. Instead it was a reminder that they were “ASLEEP”. They were to take their comfort from the promise that those who are “in Christ” will be reunited at the Resurrection of the Dead. This is a FUTURE event which is scheduled to occur at the Second Coming.
“I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thess 4:13-18)
HAS ANYONE YET RECEIVED THEIR REWARD?
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. se all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.“ (Heb 11:13)
“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.” (Heb 11:39-40)
It is clear that NO ONE has yet received their eternal reward. All past generations are asleep awaiting the Resurrection, which is the time when all the faithful, past, present, and future, will receive their reward together.
IMMORTALITY IS CONDITIONAL
For mankind, immortality is conditional.
“(God) will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath.” Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 0 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” (Romans 2:6-8)
MEN DO NOT HAVE IMMORTALITY YET
Men do not have immortality yet. It is a FUTURE gift.
“And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
“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.” (1 Cor 15:52-53)
HAS ANYONE EVER GONE TO HEAVEN
Jesus alone has gone to Heaven.
“No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” (John 3:13)
Not even David, who is described as “a man after God’s own heart”, (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22) has gone there.
“For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand.” (Acts 2:34)
The verses quoted above show clearly that:
That God alone has immortality.
That for humans, immortality is a conditional gift.
That no human except Jesus is in heaven.
That the reward of the righteous is not in heaven but on earth.
That the dead are asleep and unconscious.
That any hope of immortal life after death depends on receiving an immortal body at the resurrection.