Thursday, September 16, 2010

State of the Dead Bible Study: Part VII

I once went to see the Oscar winning film Gladiator with a SDA friend of mine.  Near the beginning of the film we find out that the hero, Maximus, dreams of leaving the wars and returning to the life he loves of raising crops with his wife and son.  Unfortunately, before he is able to return to the fields that he loves so much, his wife and son are murdered and he is made a gladiator slave.  In the final scene, as Maximus lays dying in the Coliseum, we see an image of him walking through a field of ripe grain with his wife and son before him in the sunlight…….fade to black………

I was very impressed with Ridley Scott’s film which later won best picture.  On the way out of the theater I remarked to my SDA friend how much I enjoyed the movie.  His comment to me was, “I liked it right up until the point where it got into all that spiritualism.  I couldn’t recommend it because of the spiritualism.”  I was stunned.  A well crafted film that managed to combine epic story-telling, action, and breath taking cinematography had just been dismissed out of hand because of one beautifully artistic scene near the end.  The entire movie was worthless because it promoted “spiritualism”. 
Had my friend said he disagreed with the idea that a polytheistic Roman who died apart from Christ would be in Heaven, then I could have heartily agreed with him.  But that wasn’t why my friend was so offended.  He was offended by the portrayal of conscious existence at death.  I have run into this same attitude with close family members as well.  Any art that so much as hints at conscious existence at death is written off as being either “spiritualism”, or more often, “satanic”. 
Perhaps I should not be surprised by this as I grew up believing that the idea of conscious existence at death was the first lie Satan ever told.  So therefore any teacher, preacher, movie, song, TV show, or book that suggested a conscious existence at death must be satanic in so far as they were promoting Satan’s lie.  But if conscious existence at death is Satan’s lie and those who teach it are false teachers, what does that say about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  Jesus tells a very interesting story in Luke, chapter 16.
Luke 16:19-31 (NASB)
19 "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.
20 "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores,
21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
22 "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
23 "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw* Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'
25 "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.
26 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.'
27 "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house—
28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "But Abraham said*, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'
30 "But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!'
31 "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.' "
Now I have heard some try to dismiss this passage by saying, “Well, it’s only a parable and the main point isn’t the state of the dead.”  This may very well only be a parable, but if it is, then it is the only recorded parable of Jesus where he uses a name for one of the characters.  Because of this, many commentators believe that Jesus is recounting actual events involving people some in the crowd would have known.  However, I’m fine with assuming that this is a parable.  I also agree completely that the main point isn’t the state of the dead. 
However, neither of those points allows us to dismiss the significance of the illustration Jesus is using here.  Assuming this is a parable, then we can say that Jesus’ parables ALWAYS made use of something TRUE from life to illustrate an even greater spiritual TRUTH.  It just doesn’t work to say that Jesus was illustrating a truth by using a falsehood.   Can you imagine Jesus saying, “You know that point I was making? Well, it was a true point, but the way I went about making it was absolutely false.  In fact, I was using an illustration that is a satanic lie to make my point.  My illustration is dangerous spiritualism, but the point is still valid.”?  Why would Jesus say something that was completely false and thereby mislead generations of Christians?  Why would he wait until the 1840s to raise up a group to correct the misconception he started over 1800 year’s before?  That’s a long time to leave Christians confused and misled by a satanic illustration.
It almost feels like blasphemy to write the paragraph I did above, and yet that’s essentially what those who try to explain away this passage are saying when you peel away all their layers of double talk.  We’re talking about God in the flesh.  We’re talking about the greatest teacher, preacher, and prophet to ever walk among us.  This is the illustration He chose and the people in His illustration are conscious and communicative at death.  If we accuse other teachers and preachers of spiritualism and promoting the lies of Satan when they say such things, should we accuse Jesus of the same thing?  Well, I guess one might if they were consistent, but it would be a grave mistake. 
This isn’t “spiritualism”.  It reflects a spiritual reality that Christ knew to be true and the rest of the Bible confirms.  Although I would not want to make a passage like this the primary source of my doctrine, Jesus’ illustration fits perfectly with the rest of His teaching and the didactic teaching of His apostles so I can accept this story as representing spiritual reality.  I don’t need or want to explain it away and dismiss it.
I believe we have been guilty of falsely accusing some of our Christian brothers and sisters of spiritualism for preaching and teaching things that the Bible itself preaches and teaches.  I know I have to personally repent of such accusations that I have made.  My accusations and judgments were made out of my own ignorance, but I bear the responsibility for that ignorance. 
Now that I know what the Bible teaches on this subject, I can now watch films that depict a conscious existence at death without becoming angry and agitated.  I may not agree with every theological implication in the way it is presented, but I can at least enjoy the story for its artistic merit without fearing a satanic deception.  But much more importantly, now that I know what the bible teaches on this subject I am now much more comfortable fellowshipping with Christians who believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
Based upon much prayer and Bible study, I now believe that at death I will be consciously with the Lord awaiting the resurrection of my perfect imperishable body.  I don’t know exactly this means or what it will be like, but perhaps it will be just a little like Ridley Scott’s vision of walking through a beautiful field of ripened grain, surrounded by sunlight and loved ones.
I hope this study has been helpful.  I’ve certainly enjoyed presenting it.  Now that we’re done with the study, please let me know if there are additional questions or items for discussion.  Thank you for reading!


  1. Hello Chris, I have enjoyed your teaching on the "dead". can you please shed some light on pre cross and post cross resurrection?

    1. Speaking of the dead, I thought this blog was dead, but since there’s a question I’ll attempt to answer it. :-)

      First, to avoid any confusion let me say two things about pre-cross and post-cross believers:

      1. I believe all believers, both pre and post cross, are saved in the same way, through faith in the Messiah. Either through faith looking forward to the Messiah or through faith looking back to the realization of the Messiah/Christ in Jesus.

      2. I believe all believers will experience resurrection, that is the union of spirit and resurrected glorified body, at the same time at the second coming of Christ.

      Having said that, I tentatively lean towards the view that there was a difference in the intermediate state of believer pre-cross vs. post-cross. The Jews believed that the dead went to Sheol and that Sheol essentially had two compartments, one for the righteous and one for the wicked. There are hints of this in Jesus story about the Rich Man and Lazarus where Sheol is referred to by it’s Greek name, Hades (note Hades is not Hell, it’s an intermediate place). The OT sometimes present Sheol as a place of rest were people were with their forefathers, but it also sometimes seems shadowy and is not well fleshed out in any description.

      By way of contrast, the intermediate state in the NT is described as being with Christ and there is quite a bit of active verbiage around being able to be pleasing to him, functioning as a cloud of witnesses, being at His throne, etc. So it appears to me that the post-cross, believers go directly into the presence of Jesus at death. I also think there is reason to believe that Jesus set free the captives in Sheol/Hades at the time of His resurrection so that they too are now in his presence. So all believers, of all ages, are consciously in the presence of Christ awaiting bodily resurrection.

      I would just say again that there are some uncertainties about the intermediate state, particularly pre-cross, so I offer these thoughts humbly and with some tentativeness.