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The Christian Counter

   
What Happens at Death
Lesson 37
page 1 of 3

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

~ John 6:44

Introduction

Some people in the Bible are remembered for their good deeds, while others are remembered for their rebellion. King Saul, the first king of Israel, is remembered for his rebellion against God. His life is an object lesson showing how quickly self-centeredness can lead to a ruined life. The Bible says that Saul died a tragic death – he took his own life when he was 61 years old. In an attack on Shunem about 1000 B.C., the Philistines critically injured Saul. Rather than let his enemies gloat in victory, he fell upon his own sword and died. (1 Samuel 31:4) Many Christians believe that King Saul went directly to hell that afternoon. According to the doctrines of an eternally burning hell, King Saul and millions of people like him are writhing and jumping about in the flames of hell fire this very minute. Advocates of an eternal hell claim that once God sends a person to hell, there is no escape and no relief. The torment is said to be painful and torturous beyond words!

According to the scenario above, King Saul has been on fire for about 3,000 years. He must be discouraged beyond words since there is no second chance – no way out of hell. He cries for relief are no doubt drowned out by the roar of hell’s furnaces. Think about it. If there is a burning hell where sinners, young and old, writhe in eternal torment, it must be the most awful place in the whole universe! There is no way out, no hope, no end. I can imagine how the hostages of hell curse God and cry out for immediate release from their misery every time the devil turns up the thermostat. Many Christians believe this scenario to be true, or something similar to it and they use the parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus to prove it. (Luke 16:19-31) Unfortunately, many non –Christians refuse to believe in God because they find the doctrine about God’s justice to be repugnant. About 15 years ago, George Gallup surveyed American Christians regarding their views on Heaven and hell. Almost 87% of the individuals surveyed believed they were going to Heaven and 91% said they knew someone in hell or someone who was going there. In recent years, some theologians have lessened the cruelty of hell. Consequently, recent surveys reveal that larger numbers of Christians do not believe that hell is a literal place where the souls of wicked people writhe in eternal flames. So, is there a hell? Where is it? What is it like? When does a person go to hell?

Nobody is Burning in Hell Yet

The idea of an eternally burning hell is based on the idea that man’s soul is immortal or not subject to death. Therefore, man’s soul continues to live an intellectual life after it leaves the body. For this very reason Christians often speak of deceased friends saying, “They have gone to be with the Lord.” This comment raises a good question. Do you think Abel and everyone else who has died “in the Lord” are in Heaven, playing harps and eating delicious fruit that grows on the Tree of Life? Do you think Cain, the first murderer, King Saul, and everyone who has died in rebellion against God are writhing in eternal hell? For the following reasons I am convinced that King Saul is not in hell and Abel is not in Heaven.

  1. First and foremost, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. (Romans 5:9; 1 Corinthians 15:3) If the penalty for sin is an endless burning in hell, then Jesus did not pay the penalty for sin. Jesus was resurrected on the third day! (Acts 10:40) We also know that Jesus returned to Heaven forty days after His death. (Acts 1:3) So, Why would God require human beings to burn forever for their sins when He required far less of man’s Sin Bearer? (2 Corinthians 5:21) The Bible indicates the Father does not impose more on fallen man than He put upon Jesus.
  1. God is fair. (Psalm 89:14) God does not torture people forever just because they lived in rebellion for a few years. Eternal punishment for 70 years of rebellion is not fair. A judicial system is fair if it upholds the principle that punishment is commensurate with the crime. (Matthew 7:1,2) Does God do less? No! Should King Saul be tortured with fire for billions of years when he only lived a mere 61 years? No. In fact, the Bible says that God will not torture the wicked for eternity, but instead reduce the wicked to ashes. (Malachi 4:3)
  1. God is love and the New Earth will be a wonderful place to live. (1 John 4:8; 1 Corinthians 2:9; Revelation 21:1-4) However, it would be impossible for the saints to remain content and happy with God’s government and justice if they had to observe their loved ones in the flames of hell day after day.
  1. The Bible teaches there will be two resurrections. (John 5:28,29; Revelation 20:4,5) The first resurrection occurs at the Second Coming. At that time, the righteous will be resurrected and they will meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17) The second resurrection occurs at the end of the 1,000 years. At that time the wicked will be resurrected and they will face their Maker as He announces their sentence. Why are there two resurrections if people are already in Heaven or hell? Why would God resurrect the wicked at the end of the 1,000 years (who are alleged to be in hell already), for the purpose of putting them back into an earthy body and then throwing them into a blazing fire again? (Revelation 20:7-15)

Things Do Not Add Up

Is it possible that the Bible teaches that good people do not go to Heaven when they die and wicked people do not go to hell the day they die? Consider the following:

1.      The Bible teaches there are a resurrection for the righteous and a resurrection for the wicked. If the righteous go immediately to Heaven when they die, why does Jesus say that the righteous are resurrected at the last day? “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.” (John 6:40,44; 12:48) Some scholars claim that God’s purpose for resurrecting the righteous at the last day is to reclaim an earthy body. This argument does not make any sense. If the soul is a living entity that can exist outside the body, why is a body necessary? For example, if Abel has been in Heaven for almost 6,000 years, why would he want or need a body now? Besides, the Bible says the flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life! (1 Corinthians 15:50) Even more, what about the individuals who suffer with physical deformities while they are alive? Would their soul want to return to a deformed and degenerate body again? Certainly not. If a body actually returns to dust after death as the Bible indicates (Psalm 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20), then why would Jesus wait until the Second Coming to gather some dirt to create a new body for the deceased? He would certainly create a new body at any time.

2.      The Bible teaches there is an appointed time for the people of Earth to be judged. (Ecclesiastes 12:14; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Acts 17:31; John 12:48) If people go to Heaven or hell at the time of death, God would have to judge them at the time of death. This is not what the Bible teaches and contrary to what many people believe. Neither Abel, the first man to die about 6,000 years ago, nor King Saul, who died on the battlefield 3,000 years ago, were sent to their eternal destinations at the time of their death.

3.      Even more compelling are the Bible verses that confirm that the dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) and that they are in a state of “sleep.” (John 11:2-15) God foreknew the devil would use man’s curiosity about death to trap people with his sophisticated lies. (2 Chronicles 33:6) Therefore, God expressly forbade man from trying to communicate with people who are dead. God said, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18:10,11)

4.      Revelation 20:15 reveals that God will put an end to sin at the end of the millennium and everyone not found in the Book of Life will be burned up. Here is the problem as I see it. Eternal life in Heaven or hell requires immortality; however, God grants immortality only to the saints at the Second Coming. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.) The wicked never receive immortality. Therefore, the souls of the wicked are not immortal. In fact, the Bible clearly says, “the soul who sins is the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) Think about it. If wicked people were immortal and suffered in hell forever, the presence of sinners and rebellion within the universe would last throughout eternity!

Conditional Mortality

To understand man’s condition in death we must begin with the book of Genesis. When God created Adam and Eve, He granted them conditional immortality. They would live indefinitely as long as they had access to the Tree of Life. But, when they sinned, God separated them from the Tree of Life so they would eventually die. “And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:22-24)

At the beginning of life Jesus warned Adam saying,”You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16,17) This text does not mean that the body would die and the soul would live on. No! This text means that man would cease to exist. The issue is at the heart of the lie that the devil wanted Eve to believe. Remember, Satan said to Eve, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4) Satan led Eve to believe that if she ate of the forbidden fruit that she would become immortal like God. If she had immortality, she could not be subject to death! What a clever deception!

God did not insert an everlasting soul in Adam’s body. Instead, Adam became a living soul when God created him. “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7, italics mine.) In other words, God united Adam’s body of dust with His own breath of life and Adam became a living being. When Adam died at the age of 930 years, his soul ceased to exist because the human soul cannot live as a separate entity outside the body. The souls of man results from a combination of two parts – a human body and the breathe of life. Here is an illustration that might help to illustrate this concept. A light bulb comes to “life” when the power of electricity is applied to it. Light occurs when the light bulb is connected with electricity. If the power is removed, there is no light. Likewise, if there is no breath of life in the body, there is no soul. A man’s soul is mortal which means it is subject to death. God alone is immortal and not subject to death. When Jesus died for humanity, He had to lay His immortality aside! (John 10:17,19) When the Father resurrected Jesus, the Father restored immortality to Him. (Revelation 1:18) But notice what God said about man at the time Noah’s flood. “Then the Lord said, My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his [remaining] days will be a hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3, insertion mine.) Each time the word immortal is used in the Bible, it pertains to God, not man. “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen…God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:15,16) Paul expounds on this point by writing that God will grant the gift of immortality to the saints at the Second Coming! When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:54) If the righteous receive immortality at the Second Coming, it is obvious that they do not have immortality before that time!

Therefore, no one has knowledge or intelligence before he or she is born and there is no knowledge or intelligence in death. Death is a state of nonexistence. Many people, of course, disagree with this view and Christians offer certain texts to demonstrate otherwise. Let us examine these texts and see what the Bible actually says:

Spirit Returns to God

“And the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit [ruach] returns to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7, insertion mine.) Some people use this text to prove that the spirit of man returns to God when he dies. Although this text does not say so, the alleged implications are something intelligent returns to God at the time of death. Advocates of the exterior soul reason that when the body and the spirit are separated, the spirit (or “rauch”) returns to God who gave it. The Hebrew word “rauch” means wind or breath. Notice how this word is translated a few verses earlier: “As you do not know the path of the wind [rauch], or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5) The rauch of the righteous, as well as the rauch of the wicked, returns to God at death! The text is clear on this point: the “breath of life” is a gift from God to all people at birth and the “breath of life” [rauch] returns to God who gave it when we die, regardless off our moral behavior!

Job’s use of the word “rauch” helps clarify the meaning even further. He says, “As long as I have life within me, the breath [rauch] of God in my nostrils, my lips will not speak deceit.” (Job 27:3,4 [KJV]) An unrefined translation of Job’s comment might read, “As long as have life within me and the breath from God in my nose, my lips will not speak lies.” Neither Solomon nor Job used the word “rauch” to mean a conscious spirit roaming the heavens.

King David also knew that death brought an end to consciousness. He said, “Do not put trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit [nephesh] departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” (Psalms 146:3,4) The Hebrew word “nephesh” also means breath. This word is used many times in the Bible to describe the breath of living creatures. Notice: “And the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [nephesh] of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) Concerning the flood, the Bible says, “Everything on dry land that had breath [nephesh] of life in its nostrils died.” (Genesis 7:22, insertion mine.)

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