Death and Life
The Scriptures have a lot to say about death and life. It addresses these aspects of humanity from the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation). But what about life after death?
What is Life?
According to Nelson’s Bible dictionary, life is “The physical functions of people, animals, and plants. In physical terms, life is the time between birth and death. Because God is the source of life, it is a gift from Him. He first filled Adam with the breath of life (Gen 2:7), and He continues to be the source of all life. ”
What is Death?
Again, according to Nelson’s Bible dictionary, death is “A term which, when applied to the lower orders of living things such as plants and animals, means the end of life.”
Life after Death?
Is there life after death? Well, it depends on whom you ask. Since no one has returned to tell us, there has been much discussion and debate in answering that question.
What Does the Bible Say?
The Bible says in 2 Tim 3:16-17
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
“All Scripture”; the Scriptures are well-balanced when approached and applied correctly.
There are numerous Scriptures that address death used by those who support life after death and those who do not. For example, those who believe all of life ends in the grave would use the following: Ps. 115:17; John 5:28, 29; Ps. 146:4; 1 Cor. 15:51-58, etc.). However, these Scriptures address only the physical aspect of death, such as the dead, the grave, the body, as well as the final resurrection. However, other Scriptures shed light on the spiritual aspect of death between dying and the final resurrection.
For example, those who support an existence beyond the grave would use 2 Cor. 5:8
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. KJV
This Scripture unmistakably affirms that to be away from the body connotes being at home with the Lord. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul also wrote that departing from this life means to “be with Christ” (Phil 1:23 NIV). Notice that He didn’t say that he would rather be dead than alive! He further states in this Scripture that he’d rather “be with Christ, which is better by far.” It doesn’t appear that he is seeking a state of nothing until the final resurrection.
Never the less, these passages have been the subject of much debate over the actual state of believers at death. Theologians call this condition “the intermediate state” between being at home in the body (vs.5:6) and at home with the Lord. He does not address resurrection or heaven in these Scriptures. He addresses these in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54
Since Paul addressed the bodily resurrection occurring upon Jesus’ return and believers being with Jesus immediately after they die, several conclusions have been proposed to explain this transitional state of the believer.
It appears that in recent years, conclusions regarding the disembodied state have been severely criticized. Many of these condemnations are based more on philosophical ideas about a person’s soul than on Scripture. Some of the confusion is due to very little scriptural explanation.
There are three main views of the “intermediate state.”
Soul sleep — Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses hold this view that believes that the soul rests in unconsciousness or oblivion until the resurrection. This view is based on verses where death is referred to as “sleep” (Acts 7:6, 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:6; 1 Thess. 4:13-15, and even Jesus’ words in John 11:11). However sleep is a figurative way of addressing the dead and refers to the physical body and not the soul. Some have even modified this view to say that believers are “with Christ,” but not in a conscious state.
However, Scripture teaches the believer’s immediate presence with the Lord at death in Jesus’ words in Luke 23:43 to the thief on the cross,
“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (NLT) and his final prayer, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” (NLT) Stephen, the first Christian martyr, said right before he died, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59).
Purgatory — This is the Roman Catholic view that at death, those who have died in their sins and rejected Christ go to Hades (hell) for eternal punishment; those who died in a perfect state of grace go directly to heaven. Those who are not spiritually perfect go to purgatory for a refining process and purification of sin.
This view has developed mainly from church theologians and church councils rather than the Bible itself, although Catholics have used 1 Cor. 3:15 to justify this view, which reads: “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
Incomplete resurrection — This is the most commonly accepted view of Paul’s words in the New Testament. There is a conscious, personal existence for the believer after death. At death, a believer goes to a place and condition of blessedness. The time interval between the believer’s death and the complete resurrection of the body will be undetectable to the Christian. No anxiety or discomfort will blemish this condition. However, the body will not be in its complete and final form because Paul points to a future resurrection as a specific event (Phil 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:16-17), as does Jesus (John 5:25-29). At death, we will transition and assume a different expression or condition of the bodily self; then, at the Second Coming, this will be exchanged or reconstituted as the resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:51-53).
A passage of Scripture illustrates this disembodied state from no other than our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Luke 16:19-31
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
A lot is contained within this passage, and an article could be composed on it alone. But to summarize, this is one of Jesus’ parables. Jesus used them to communicate a spiritual truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.
This parable is the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. While the rich man enjoyed his luxurious life, the beggar was stationed outside his gates, never invited in by the rich man, only to receive crumbs from his table.
Both Lazarus and the rich man died but ended up in different places. But notice verse 22, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom:…” Abraham’s bosom is a synonym for the life hereafter and a place of rest and tranquility—“comforted” (vs. 25).
According to the Old Testament, when an individual died, he went to be with his fathers (Gen 15:15; 47:30; Deut. 31:16; Judg. 2:10). The patriarch Abraham was regarded as the “father” of the Jews (Luke 3:8; John 8:37-40). At death, therefore, the Jew went to his forefathers or, more specifically, to join “father Abraham.” As a child of Abraham, Lazarus gained closeness to Him as a fellow beneficiary and companion of Abraham. The only use in the Bible of “Abraham’s bosom”
is this parable.
A great gulf or chasm divided him from the rich man, who was being “tormented” in the flames of hell. The Greek word translated as hell is Hades, the place or state of departed souls. In the King James translation, it is also translated as grave (1 Cor. 15:55).
The Pharisees deemed wealth to be evidence of a person’s righteousness. Jesus troubled them with this story where a diseased beggar is rewarded, and a rich man is punished. However, God’s judgment is just no matter the social status. Therefore, no matter how much material wealth one has, God sees the heart.
Another moral of this story is that it matters how we live our lives on earth, which determines our eternal destinations. However, within this story is another precept; there is a spiritual
existence that is initiated when we die. There is no contact with the natural world. Notice that when the rich man requested Abraham to send Lazarus to impart a warning to his household, he was refused (vss. 27 & 28). There is no contact will the dead. Once death has occurred, that is the end of the story (Eccl 9:10).
Jesus Christ, Himself delivered a message about the eternal gateway of the lost and the saved in this parable. Having come from eternity, who else would be more proficient in the things of the spiritual world and acknowledge that there is a veil that separates this present world from the unseen? With His divine knowledge, He could speak with authority of the afterlife.
The contrast between the eternal abodes of the lost and the saved in this parable is colossal. Although Jesus’ parables were stories, they were factual principles used to illustrate a point for teaching. They were not fairy tales. Jesus would not have said that “…the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom:” if that was not factual. Jesus would never mislead anybody or tell a lie (Numbers 23:19).
Let’s look at more of Jesus’ sharing of eternal destinies, Matt 10:28
28 And 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.
This Scripture containing the words of Jesus unambiguously illuminates the point that there is the “soul” and the “body.” The Scripture acknowledges that the body dies, but the soul does not. According to the Scripture, if an individual kills a body, the soul continues “but is not able to kill the soul.” Only God “is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” So, if the soul is not destroyed, where does it go until the resurrection? [Answers and comments can be left below]
Jesus’ point for His disciples was not to be afraid of persecution from men but to be afraid of God only.
[Other Scriptures to consider: Psalm 146:4, Ecclesiastes 12:7, Hebrews 9:27]
What is the Soul?
The Greek word translated as soul is psuche (psoo-khay’) which means breath and, by implication, spirit.
According to Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, Soul is “A word with two distinct meanings in the Bible:”
1. That which makes a human or animal body alive. This usage of the word soul refers to life in the physical body. The best example of this usage is those passages in the New Testament in which the Greek word for soul is translated as life. “For whoever desires to save his life [soul] will lose it,” Jesus declared, “but whoever loses his life [soul] for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).
This idea is also present in the Old Testament. For example, the soul of a dying person departed at death (Gen 35:18). The prophet Elijah brought a child back to life by stretching himself upon the child three times and praying that God would let the child’s soul come back into him (1 Kings 17:19-23).
2. The word soul also refers to the inner life of man, the seat of his emotions, and the center of human personality. The first use of the word soul in the Old Testament expresses this meaning: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (soul)” (Gen 2:7). This means more than being given physical life; the biblical writer declares that man became a “living soul,” or a person, a human being, one distinct from all other animals.
Therefore, only God can deliver the soul and life, and only God can destroy it.
In the final analysis, Christians can only affirm precisely what the Bible says: there is the body, and there is the soul. The body, upon death, goes to the grave, and the soul and spirit transition and commences an eternal journey. How we live our lives determines whether we enter a place of rest or a place of torment until the time of the final judgment.
So what do you think? What happens when we die? Your questions, comment, and concerns are welcomed below.