Wednesday, September 15, 2010

State of the Dead Bible Study: Part VI

Before addressing the questions dealing with the death of Moses and the Rich Man and Lazarus, I had asked for the opportunity to first lay a foundation for my thoughts.  I believe I am now ready to address these two cases starting with Moses.
If you grew up Adventist, you probably grew up believing that Moses was bodily resurrected from the grave with a perfect, imperishable, resurrection body just like we will have some day. But the question arises; do we really have any strong biblical reason to believe that Moses was the first person to be resurrected from the grave with an imperishable resurrection body?  Although the point may be debatable, I personally don’t see any particularly good reason to think that Moses was the first to rise from the grave with a resurrection body and I can think of at least one very good theological reason to think this is not the case. Let’s start with what the Bible has to say on the death of Moses.
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 (NASB)
1 Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan,
2 and all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah as far as the western sea,
3 and the Negev and the plain in the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.
4 Then the LORD said to him, "This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there."
5 So
Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.
6 And
He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day.
7 Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.
8 So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end.
9 Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses.
10 Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,
11 for all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land,
12 and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
That’s it.  Those are the very last versus of the Torah.  We’re basically told three things:
  1. Moses died.
  2. God buried Moses.
  3. No one knows Moses’ burial place.
It is likely that God buried Moses in a remote spot and did not allow anyone to know where it was because the children of Israel would have worshipped the spot and/or the body if they had known where it was.  The Israelites had a tendency toward this type of idolatry as evidenced by the fact that they were worshipping the bronze serpent that Moses had made as late as the time of Hezekiah.  Even this good thing had been turned into a false object of worship and had become a snare to them.  It is likely that the tomb of Moses would have been a snare to them as well.
But whatever the reason for God burying Moses, not a single thing is said or even suggested about resurrecting Moses in a resurrection body.  You would think that if such a significant event in history had occurred, the Bible might mention it.  If Moses was the first fruits from the dead, that is, the first to receive an imperishable resurrection body like we will one day enjoy, then you would certainly think the Bible would say so, but it doesn’t.
A Jewish tradition arose stating that Michael the Archangel (no, Michael is not Jesus, but that’s another study) was assigned the task of burying Moses by God.  According to this tradition, Michael and Satan disputed over the body of Moses.  This tradition was evidently recorded in a noncanonical work variously referred to as “The Testament of Moses” or “The Assumption of Moses”.  In his epistle, Jude alludes to this tradition about the burial of Moses.  It should be noted that such an allusion to popular tradition does not mean that “The Testament of Moses” was inspired, only that Jude found this well-known story to be helpful in illustrating the point he was making.
Jude 1:9 (NASB)
9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
Jude’s main point in using this illustration has nothing to do with Moses at all.  Rather Jude is making a point about showing proper fear and respect regarding spiritual beings that are more powerful than we are.  But what I want us to note is that Jude is not saying that Michael resurrected Moses.  To the contrary he is alluding to a Jewish tradition that said that Michael buried Moses.
Now let’s look at what God tells Joshua after the death of Moses.
Joshua 1:1-2 (NASB)
1 Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant, saying,
2 "
Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.
God just says that Moses is dead.  There is no hint whatsoever that Moses has been resurrected in a resurrection body.  If this had happened, how could God say that Moses was “dead” in any sense of the word?  Surely after we have our resurrection bodies we will no longer be referred to as “dead”!  Compare what God says about Moses to what the angels say about Jesus at His resurrection: "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen.” - Luke 24:6-7.  There’s a big difference!  God simply says that Moses is dead, but when Jesus rises from the dead with a resurrection body the angles make it clear that He is not among the dead, He is “living”.

But here’s the biggest reason that I don’t think it’s theologically possible for Moses to have risen from the grave with a resurrection body.  If Moses had risen from the grave with a resurrection body then he would be the first fruits from the dead and not Jesus Christ.  The Bible tells us clearly that Jesus is the first fruits from the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (NASB)
20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the
first fruits of those who are asleep.
21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
23 But each in his own order: Christ the
first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming,
Other people in the Bible had been brought back to life after dying (resuscitation), but they all eventually grew old or sick and died again.  Only Jesus has been resurrected from the grave with a perfect imperishable resurrection body guaranteeing that one day we will have resurrection bodies just like His.  If Moses had done it first, then Jesus would not be the first fruits from the dead.

So here is a summary of the reasons that I think it is highly unlikely that Moses was resurrected from the grave with a resurrection body:

  1. The Bible never says that Moses was resurrected; only that he was buried.
  2. The Bible specifically calls Moses “dead”.
  3. Jewish tradition does not claim that Moses was resurrected with a resurrection body, only that Michael buried him.
  4. Jesus is the first fruits from the dead, the first to have an imperishable resurrection body, not Moses.

So why were we taught our whole lives that Moses rose from the grave with a resurrection body?  We were taught that because of this account in the Gospels which is rather embarrassing for SDA theology.

Luke 9:28-36 (NASB)
28 Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.
30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were
Moses and Elijah,
31 who,
appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.
33 And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah"—not realizing what he was saying.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
35 Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"
36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.
The transfiguration creates no problems whatsoever for evangelical Christian theology because Christianity has always believed that the dead do not cease to exist, but are consciously awaiting resurrection.  So to have Moses appearing with Christ raises no problems at all because it is in harmony with the rest of what the Bible says on death.  But it creates a HUGE problem if you happen to teach that there is no spirit and death is a state of non-existence.  If you teach that, then you are backed into a corner and have to find a way to explain how Moses could be dead and also be present at the transfiguration.  The only way out of such a thorny dilemma seems to be inventing the story that Moses was resurrected.  Never mind that the Bible never says any such thing.  This seems to be a necessary invention if you are going to maintain that there is no spirit and people are non-existent at death. 

All this raises the question, why insist that there is no spirit and that people are non-existent at death in the face of so much biblical evidence against this view?  The answer is simple and it has nothing to do with good hermeneutics.  The SDA teaching on the state of the dead is a necessary teaching that is required to maintain the integrity of another key SDA distinctive, the Investigative Judgment.  Exploring how the SDA teaching on the state of the dead is necessarily linked to the SDA teaching of the Investigative Judgment is beyond the scope of this study, but anyone with a basic working knowledge of both aberrant doctrines will likely be able to make the connection.

In part seven, I’ll talk a bit about Lazarus and the Rich Man.


  1. Cuz you can't have people going to heaven BEFORE they pass the IJ.

  2. 1. chris i have to disagree with your conclulsion on Jude. The text says nothing about burial or ressurection. so your conclusion is premature.

    2. you reject ressurection, because you reject Michael the Arch Angel as Christ. in other words, you don't want it to be ressurection because it does fit your beliefs.

  3. one more thing.

    who was that who showed up with Elija and Jesus on the Mt of Transfigruation. if it is Moses as the text tell us, then your conclusion is wrong. I noticed you did not quote that text. HUM???

  4. Hi Marshall!

    You're right, the Jude passage doesn't say why Michael and Satan were contesting the body of Moses. Deuteronomy is the passage that says that Moses was buried and that's all it says. I am not saying that I can prove without a doubt that Moses wasn't resurrected. No one can make a strong argument from silence. I'm just saying that there is absolutely no biblical reason to say that Moses was resurrected because the Bible never says so (only Ellen White claims this). On the other hand there's pretty good biblical reason to say it's highly unlikely. In Joshua God refers to Moses as "dead". Also I Cor. 15 tells us that Jesus, not Moses, was the the first fruits from the dead. There is no reason to invent a resurrection from Moses other than to try and explain away why he appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration.

  5. Marshall,

    I'm not sure I follow your second comment. I quoted Luke 9:28-36 which shows Moses appearing at the transfiguration. I believe this is why Ellen White invented the idea that Moses was resurrected because otherwise this passage would blow away the SDA doctrine of non-existence at death.