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What Should I Know About Death?

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What The Bible Teaches
Unit 3
Is There Life After Death?


Lesson 10
What Should I Know About Death?

Job 14:14 (NKJV)
14 If a man dies, shall he live again?

This is one of the great questions of life.  What happens when I die?

Last week we finished our discussion about mankind.  We considered man’s purpose or destiny and discovered there are only two ultimate choices – life with God or life without God.  Unfortunately, for most of humanity, life ends at death.  Death is the great equalizer and finalizer.  Men do not want to acknowledge God, so death becomes the end of the road. 

This is a terrible and empty view.  It provides no reason to live.  In today’s world of evolution, it is easy to understand how so many people end their lives in suicide and support the idea of euthanasia.  Life is nothing more than 70 or 80 years on planet earth and then nothing.

We, however, are blessed because the Bible teaches us there is much more.

Daniel 12:2 (NKJV)
2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Getting Attention

Is there life after death?  What should I know about death?  Why don’t people talk about death?

Knowing and Understanding the Bible

Have you noticed that death is not a particularly popular topic, except when it comes to murder mysteries?  Casual conversation generally avoids death.  While people do think of the afterlife, their views are skewed by their fear of death. 

On the other hand, the biblical view of death is one of hope – as Paul says, to die is to be with the Lord! (cf. 2 Cor 5:8)  This same view, however, brings fear to those who do not have a relationship with God.

I. The Biblical Teaching on Death

As a general note, there is some vagueness to the question of soul and spirit and their distinction, especially upon death.  For purposes of what follows, it will be assumed that the soul and spirit are an interchangeable unit.

Is death the end?

We learned in last week’s lesson, that the Bible tells us death is not the end.  Life continues into eternity, either in heaven or in hell.

Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV)
27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,

John 14:1-3 (NKJV)
1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

John 14:19 (NKJV)
19 “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.

While this may be easy for a Christian to accept, those drowned in the world’s view discount the supernatural.  “Secular” or a “naturalistic” view of the world sees death as the end of life and existence.  Man is a collection of chemicals and chemical processes.  Death terminates the processes and, thus, there is nothing left after life.  This results in a world view that stresses the here and now – eat, drink, and be merry!

Is death an illusion?

There are those in the world who view death as an illusion.  This is really a modern day version of Gnosticism where the world is viewed as bad or evil and the soul or spirit is viewed as good.  This view can be seen on current television in the form of the various shows whose heroes or heroines are mediums talking to the spirit world.

The Bible teaches that the earth and all material items are inherently good.  The world is decaying due to the curse of sin.  Material things and spiritual things enjoy the same status under God’s plan.  Consider Genesis 1, “it was good” (Gen 1:9), Gen 3:14-19, Rom 8:19-21.  This decay is the result of the first sin.

Genesis 2:17 (NKJV)
17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Does the soul sleep?

Another current view is that of soul sleep.  This view holds that the body and soul are indivisible so that upon death of the physical body the soul goes into a sleep, to be awakened upon the resurrection.  This is the view of the Seventh Day Adventists.

The Bible teaches that the soul does not sleep but upon death it leaves the body to either join the Lord (for believers) or to go to hell (for non-believers).  Consider the following Scriptures in support of this position:

Matthew 27:50 (NKJV)
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Luke 23:46 (NKJV)
46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.

Acts 7:59 (NKJV)
59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NKJV)
6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Does God annihilate unbelievers?

Related to the question of what happens to the spirit, is the question of what happens to the spirit of non-believers upon death.  Many people dislike the concept of an eternal punishment.  This has lead to the view of annihilation, the destruction of the soul/spirit upon death.  This means that at the death of a non-believer, God destroys the soul so that it no longer exists. 

As we saw last week, this view cannot be reconciled with Scriptures.  God raises all persons at the end times and casts them into the Lake of Fire, a place of eternal punishment.  Upon the death of a non-believer his soul/spirit goes to hell awaiting the final judgment.

Revelation 20:12-14 (NKJV)
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

Is the teaching of reincarnation true?

The vast majority of the Eastern Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc) teach reincarnation.  The soul goes through a series of “levels” on its way to each religion’s equivalent of heaven (“nirvana”).  As such at death, the soul is reincarnated into a new being.  How well a person lived their live determines if the reincarnation is to a better or worse position in life (“karma”). 

A similar development in the west might be the pantheistic view of the Force of Star Wars – God is all and all is God, so upon death the soul is incorporated or reincarnated into this universal being.

None of these views fit with the picture developed in the Bible.  There is nothing in Scripture to show the cycle of karma or the reincarnation of the soul, let alone a universal being.  Scripture makes it clear that each individual person maintains his or her complete identity both before, at, and after death.  Personal existence is eternal (Rev 20-22).

Is the teaching of the resurrection true?

We have already considered that God is always true and, thus, His Word is always true.  Therefore, the teachings of Scripture on the events of death are true.

Interestingly enough, most of the passages on immortality or the eternal life of a person focus either on the body or are presented in a context that speaks to the whole person.

1 Corinthians 15:51-56 (NKJV)
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.

Daniel 12:2 (NKJV)
2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.

All persons will experience a resurrection.  This demonstrates the importance of the entire person to God.  Body, soul, and spirit are of equal value in the long run. 

John 5:28-29 (NKJV)
28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

While the body occupies the grave, the concept behind the resurrections is that of a complete person.  Jesus’ own resurrection forms the cornerstone for all future resurrections.  Christ was raised a complete person, just as each of us will be raised complete.  Christ’s resurrection provides the hope for each of us.  Some day, at the resurrection, all believers will be like Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (NKJV)
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

1 Corinthians 15:12-28 (NKJV)
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (NKJV)
35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. 39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.

Philippians 3:20-21 (NKJV)
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 (NKJV)
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

II.  The Intermediate State: Luke 16:19-31

We are designed as a rational, intelligent being.  As such we strive for answers to every question we encounter.  We become dissatisfied when there is no answer, or the answer is vague or uncertain.  In the realm of death and the body and soul, there is not a great deal of information presented in the Bible.  It is clear that death involves the separation of the soul/spirit from the body.  We have seen this in the above discussion.  Further, Scripture makes it clear that for the believer the soul goes to be with the Lord.  Beyond this, little information is given.

The believer

It is clear the positions of believer and non-believer are different. 

Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV)
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 “Then 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 in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ 27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

Material blessings in life do not translate into similar circumstances after death.  Lazarus was poor, yet he goes to be with Abraham.  The rich man suffers the opposite fate.

The unbeliever

The unbeliever is the rich man.  He finds himself in hell (“hades”).  It appears that both Lazarus in Paradise and the rich man in hell were recognizable.  This suggests some type of “soulish body.”  The rich man has some form capable of sensation since he is tormented.  In addition, vvs.27-30 suggests the rich man believes in some type of future resurrection.

This passage shows that there is an intermediate state following death where there is still sensation and consciousness.  The person in hell understands and is tormented.  The person in heaven understands and is at peace.  Beyond this, little is told us.

III.  The Judgments of the Bible

Associated with the resurrections are several judgments.  These appear to occur at different times and for differing purposes.  The three most significant judgments from the viewpoint of an individual are the Bema seat judgment, the judgment of the nations, and the Great White Throne judgment.

The Judgment Seat of Christ

Following the Rapture / resurrection of believers, each Christian will stand before God at the Judgment Seat of Christ (the “Bema” seat).  Here the believer’s works will be judgment for their worth to God.  Good works will result in rewards to the believer, while bad works will result in a loss or lack of reward.  In part the rewards have to do with one’s place in the future administration of the coming Kingdom.  While a believer does not face eternal punishment (Rom 8:1), it is clear that the believer can suffer real loss as the result of a poorly lived life for Christ.

Romans 14:10 (NKJV)
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:10 (NKJV)
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Luke 19:11-27 (NKJV)
11 Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. 12 Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’ 15 “And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16 Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ 19 Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’ 20 “Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. 21 For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 “And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ 25 (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) 26 ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 27 But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’ ”

The judgment of the nations

While it is true that God continually judges the nations throughout both current history and during the millennium (Isa 2:4), there is a special judgment of the nations at the Second Coming of Christ.  This is the true time of the imposition of punishment upon all of the nations because they failed to follow the lead of Israel and the Church and turn to God.

Matthew 25:31-32 (NKJV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

The Great White Throne Judgment

The last, and most terrifying, of the judgments is the Great White Throne judgment.  This occurs at the end of the millennium, but it is to be noted that none of the judgments involved in Scripture determine if a person will go to heaven or hell!  Each individual makes a choice during their lifetime as to their final destination.  The judgments merely confirm that choice. 

John 3:18 (NKJV)
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:36 (NKJV)
36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

The Bema seat judgment is the judgment of the works of the Church.  This occurs following the Rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18) and will be finalized before the end of the seven years of the Tribulation Period.  At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return in judgment upon the earth as seen in Rev 19.  Following this return is the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-16).  This is a joyous event so the Bema Seat judgments must be completed before this event.

The judgment of the Nations occurs at the Second Coming.  This is the resurrection of the Old Testament saints and the Tribulation saints.  This is the event referred to in Dan 12:2.

The final resurrection and final judgment relate to all unbelievers of all ages.  This occurs at the end of the millennium.  All unbelievers will be raised from the dead and their works will be reviewed to demonstrate their choice against God during their lifetime.  None of these people will find their names written in the Book of Life, because they did not choose to believer in Jesus during their lives. 

Revelation 20:11-15 (NKJV)
11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

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