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Article from May 2002 issue of "God's Message" magazine.

By Steven V. Kroll

What the Bible teaches about death

By Steven V. Kroll

 

 

A subject that most people dont even want to think about but which surprisingly carries with it great fascination is death. Death happens everyday. It is a fact of life. "Death and taxes", as the saying goes, "are the two sure things in life."

The truth is, many are scared to die. Almost all people will go to great lengths to try and avoid death. If there were only a pill that would give eternal life, most people would exert great effort to earn enough money to buy such a pill.

There are so many questions about death that people seek answers to. Our Creator, the Almighty God, has the answers to these questions. Since it is He who gave us our life, He knows what will become of us. If we want to know the way to life, then God in the One to teach us through the words written in the Bible.

So, let us set aside any preconceived notions and let the words of God be our guide.

The uncertainty

One of the truly fearful things regarding death is how it makes life so uncertain. Even if we made plans for the future, all can end in a moment: "Whereas, you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." (Js. 4:14, New King James Version)

Life is a like a vapor that appears for a little while and then it vanishes away. It is uncertain as is the morning fog-now you see it, soon it is gone.

What truly strikes fear in the hearts of man is not so much that death will come, but the uncertainty of it all. Do you really know what will happen tomorrow? We have made so many plans for our life. We plan to take a vacation or to buy a new car. We have decided to go to school we have always dreamed or to see the world. Then death comes- and what has become of all those things which we have planned for? All these will end. This truth is iterated in the following biblical passage:

"For every man must die. His breathing stops, life ends, and in a moment and all he planned for himself is ended." (Ps. 146:4, Living Bible)

Where are the dead?

Catholicism upholds the belief that a person who dies immediately goes to heaven, hell or purgatory. Many believe that we are guarded or threatened by the dead. Stemming also from this view in the belief in haunted houses and ghosts which continue to be the subject of books, movies, TV shows and everyday conversation.

What happens to a person when he dies? Where do the dead go? Can they help us? Can they harm us? The Bible makes it very clear that the dead are in the grave:

"Adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, and who are cut off from your hand." (Ps. 88:5, New King James Version)

So, when a person dies, he does not go immediately to heaven or hell but to the grave.

While the aforementioned verse does not specify the soul, could it be possible that only the body is in the grave and not the soul? God Himself declared:

"Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins shall die." (Ezek. 18:4, Ibid.)

The Bible makes it clear that the soul dies. Not only does it die, but it also goes to the grave with the body:

"For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. (Ps. 44:25, Ibid.)

So, when a person dies, both body and soul go to the grave and stay there not just for a short period of time. I other words, not just for three days as some superstitiously believe. When a person dies, he will stay in the grave until Judgement Day:

"But man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he? So man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused from their sleep." (Job 14:10,12, Ibid.)

Notice the question, "...and where is he?"...The answer we seek is right in the passage: "...man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more," There is a definite time given by the Bible and that time is when "the heavens are no more." The Scriptures clarifies the time is when the heavens are no more or when the "heavens shall pass away":

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. But the heavens and earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word, reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." (II Pt.3: 10,7, Ibid.)

The time when the dead will come out of the grave or be resurrected is on Judgement Day. This is not only biblical but also logical. Imagine for a moment, for the sake of argument, if it were true that all the dead are in heaven, hell or somewhere else-then why would there still be a need for Judgement Day? All the dead would have already been judged and gone to their destination. But since all the dead are in the grave after they die, there is still a need for Judgement Day. Then and only then will the dead come out of the grave. This was taught by Christ Himself:

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

Christ, referring to the dead or those in the grave, said "for the hour is coming," which tells us that this is not in the present but rather the future. Judgement Day is what Christ is referring to here when the dead will come out of the grave-not from heaven, not from hell, not from an alleged purgatory, but from the grave.

Thus, the Bible clearly teaches that when a person dies, he will go to the grave and remain there until Judgement Day. Let us not be deceived by those who would say or teach that our loved ones are somewhere else besides the grave or the place they have been buried.

The aforementioned verses of the Bible should make us realize that the two basic beliefs of the Catholic Church regarding purgatory and their so-called saints are unbiblical. By Catholic definition, a saint is someone who had died and is in heaven and can mediate or intercede in behalf of the living. What we would like to point out is that the belief that there are people who had died and are now in heaven, aside from our Lord Jesus, is unbiblical. Remember, that all the dead, whether evil or good, are in the grave and will remain there until the Day of Judgement except for our Lord Jesus. In like manner, not only is purgatory never mentioned in the Bible, but even the belief that there are dead people in so-called middle state being "purged" from their sins goes against biblical teachings.

Ghosts?

As we mentioned in the first part of our discussion, there are so many superstitious beliefs concerning the dead. Foremost is the belief that the dead come back to visit the living. Many people believe in ghosts and haunt houses. But what does the Bible say about this? Will the dead still go back to their house?

"As the clouds disappear and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, nor shall his place know him anymore." (Job 7:9-10, Ibid.)

Here we can see very clearly that the dead will not return to their houses. Some may argue that they have had so-called experiences of the dead returning to their house. But, remember that the word of God in the Holy Scriptures makes a very definite statement-"He shall never return to his house."

Others might say that it is not the physical body of the dead that returns but the spirit. The Bible testifies about what happens to the spirit.

"Then the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it." (Eccl. 12:7, Ibid.)

Remember that the dead cannot do anything to us; neither can they do anything for us.

On the other hand, can the living do anything for the dead for which they can benefit? We know that there are many who believe that by saying prayers, lighting candles, and performing certain rituals the living can help the dead. In some cases, they even believe that actions or works done by the living can help the dead reach heaven. But this is not true. According to the Bible, the living can do nothing to help the dead.

"For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun." (Eccl. 9: 5-6, Ibid.)

Notice the last part of the verse that states, "Nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun." What does this mean? Exactly what it says. The dead will never have a share in anything done under the sun. This includes lighting candles, saying prayers, saying Mass, doing rituals, and all others.

Of course, we remember the dead. There are friends and loved ones who have passed away but whom we can never forget. But, we must remember that once a person dies, there is nothing more we can do to help him go to heaven. Biblically speaking, when the reward is to be given, it will be based on what each individual has done and not on what the living have done for the dead:

"And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work." (Rev. 22:12, Ibid.)

So, it is the living that should prepare himself for the life to come. We should not wait until it is too late or until death claims our life.

The dead who are fortunate

Time will come when we will die. We will leave behind everyone and everything. Our hopes and dreams, our desires, our loved ones, everything, in a moment, will all come to an end. Who does the Bible consider as fortunate or blessed at the moment of death?

"Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, Write: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on". Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works will follow them." (Rev. 14:13, Ibid.)

Not all the dead will be considered fortunate. The Bible is specific-"the dead who die in the Lord" will be among the fortunate ones.

Those who die in the Lord are very fortunate or blessed because those in the Lord or those "in Christ" will no longer be condemned:

"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1, Ibid.)

Apostle Paul concluded that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. Remember, not all the dead have this promise; only those in Christ or "in the Lord." Thus, before Judgement Day comes, we should make sure that we are "in Christ."

The phrase "in the Lord" or "in Christ" refers to those who are in the "body of Christ." No one can truly be in Christ if he is not in the body of Christ. Apostle Paul proves this:

"For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another." (Rom. 12:4-5, Ibid.)

Those in Christ are in His body or are "members" of the one body, which is the church.:

"And He is head of the body, the church" (Col. 1:18, Ibid.)

And this is the Church of Christ.

"Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock whi8ch the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, to feed the church of Christ which he has purchased with his blood," (Acts 20:28, Lamsa translation)

I f a person is a member of the Church of Christ, he is a member of the body of Christ. Jesus Christ is the head of the body, so He is the head of the of the members of the Church of Christ. Therefore, those who are members of the Church of Christ are "in Christ" and, as such, will no longer be condemned. This is one reason why it is stated in the Book of Revelation that "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."

Rest from their labors

There are other reasons why the members of the Church of Christ are considered fortunate or blessed. The Bible says "they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them" (Rev. 14:13). How can someone be given rest if he is already dead? How can we say that the members of the Church of Christ are blessed if they are dead? The answer was given by Apostle Paul. He taught that the dead "in Christ," or members of the Church of Christ who have died, will be resurrected first:

"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." (I Thess. 4:16-17, NKJV)

In the first resurrection, the dead in Christ will come out of the grave and those who are alive in Christ will be caught together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Notice that not all the dead will join the first resurrection-only those who died in Christ-the members of the Church of Christ. If we desire to be included in the first resurrection, then we should enter or join the Church of Christ. This cannot be done after we die; it must be done now, while we are still alive.

The Bible teaches that after the first resurrection, there will be a second resurrection. There is a great difference between the first resurrection and the second resurrection. Those who will be resurrected first are "greatly blessed":

"Happy and greatly blessed are those who are included in this first raising of the dead. The second death has no power over them; they shall be priests of God and Christ, and they will rule with him for a thousand years." (Rev. 20:6, Todays English Version)

The second death will have no power over those who will rise first. The second death referred to is the death in the lake of fire:

"then death and the world of the dead were thrown into the lake of fire. (This lake of fire is the second death)". (Rev. 20:14, Ibid.)

Thus, the members of the Church of Christ will overcome not only the first death, but also the second death or the punishment in the lake of fire. On the other hand, those who will be included in the second resurrection will be condemned to eternal punishment. (Rev. 20:5-10).

It is the desire of all to reach the heavenly kingdom. No one wants to be punished in the lake of fire. Therefore, we should make certain that before claims our life or before the Judgement Day comes, we have found ourselves in Christ or are members of the Church of Christ who will be resurrected and thereafter be with the Lord.

This is in fulfillment of the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ when He established His Church. He made this promise concerning His Church and the problem of death:

"And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever overcome it." (Mt. 16:18, TEV)

If the Church is not necessary, why then did Christ say, "not even death will ever overcome it"?

Death will come to our life someday. Are we prepared for it? Let us be found in Christ as members of the Church of Christ. Let us honor the invitation of Christ Himself:

"I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved." (Jn. 10:9, NKJV)