Saturday, September 11, 2010

State of the Dead Bible Study: Part II

In part one of our study, we saw that the words pneuma and ruach do not normally mean “breath” when applied to man by the Bible.  These words, both of which are usually translated “spirit”, are used to refer to “man's immaterial nature which enables him to communicate with God, who is also spirit” according to Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary.   So we can see that man is not body and breath, but body (physical nature) and spirit (immaterial nature). 

The next logical question is, “What happens to the body and the spirit when we die?”  First let us note that what happens to the body at death is not the same as what happens to the spirit.  The Bible often refers to death by the euphemism of “sleep”.  However, that euphemism is only applied to the body, never to the spirit.  “Sleep” describes the appearance of the body at death, but not the state of the spirit. 

The following is what I believe happens to the spirits of post-cross believers at death.  At death the spirit departs the body.  The spirit returns to God. The spirit is consciously with the Lord.  At the second coming God will bring those departed saints with Him when He comes.  He will then raise up for them imperishable bodies in the resurrection. 

Let’s look at a few scriptures that support these ideas either explicitly or implicitly.  I have not used what I would consider to be the two strongest didactic (teaching) passages in this part of our study.  I would like to reserve these for a later part of the study when we can take more time to exegete each of them thoroughly.

I.              At death the spirit departs the body.

Genesis 35:18 (NASB)
18 It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she [Rachel] named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
When Rachel died her spirit departed.
Luke 8:53-55 (NASB)
53 And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died.
54 He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, "Child, arise!"
55 And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat.
When Jesus brought the girl back to life her spirit returned.  It is therefore implied that her spirit departed at death.

James 2:26 (NASB)
26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
The absence of the spirit is the very definition of death.  Death is the separation of the spirit from the body.

II.            The spirit returns to God.

Ecclesiastes 12:5-7 (NASB)
5 Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street.
6 Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed;
7 then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.
Notice that this text speaks of man going to “his eternal home”.  It does not say that breath goes to its eternal home.

Acts 7:59-60 (NASB)
59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!"
60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Having said this, he fell asleep.
Again, it makes little or no sense to insert “breath” here. Why would Stephen cry out to the Lord to receive the spent CO2 in his lungs as he is being stoned to death?  Stephen is asking Jesus to receive that immaterial part of him that departs the body when the body sleeps in death.

III.           The spirit is consciously with the Lord.

Revelation 6:9-11 (NASB)
9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained;
10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.
Even if there are symbolic elements in this passage, it is difficult to imagine why the Bible would depict the spirits of dead martyrs standing at the foot of the altar and asking the Lord for justice if such a notion is all a satanic lie.  However much of this might be symbolic, it is clear that the Bible has no problem depicting departed saints as being consciously in the presence of the Lord.

IV.          At the second coming God will bring those departed saints with Him when He comes.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NASB)
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
I have actually been to SDA funerals were verses 13 and 15 are read, but verse 14 is completely skipped over as if it did not exist. It’s rather inconvenient to SDA theology to have the departed saints coming with Jesus when He comes.

V.           He will then raise up for them imperishable bodies in the resurrection.

1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 (NASB)
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Corinthians 15:52 (NASB)
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 imperishable, and we will be changed.
All of the texts above are very interesting indeed and I think that together they support the general premise.  However, I would not consider some of these texts to be completely conclusive all by themselves, particularly those that come from wisdom or apocalyptic literature.  I will discuss the reasons for this in part five, but for now suffice it to say that the strongest Christian doctrine is formulated upon New Testament didactic passages like the last two I referenced (1 Thess. 4:13-16 and 1 Cor. 15:52). Understanding the teaching contained in clear didactic passages helps us to properly interpret those passages that are less clear.

In the next two parts of our study I would like to continue by examining two of the strongest New Testament didactic passages dealing with death.

No comments:

Post a Comment