Life after death

Outside of the twelve apostles that were Jesus’ constant companions during his three year ministry on earth, there are only a few people mentioned in the Bible that were close to him. One family in particular is mentioned in John’s gospel as being among Jesus’ closest friends. John tells us, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:1-3). The love that Jesus had for Lazarus came from his heart and had to do with a personal attachment that had been formed between the two men. The Greek word that is translated love, phileo (ful-ehˊ-o) represents “tender affection” (G5368). John went on to say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’” (John 11:5-8). The Greek word that John used in this instance that is translated love is agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). The distinction between the two kinds of love that Jesus had for Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus are more evident in Jesus’ conversation with Peter after he had denied the Lord (John 21:15-17). The context itself indicates that agapao, which is used in the first two questions that Jesus asked Peter, suggests the ‘love’ that values and esteems (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration” (G5368). It was a deliberate assent of Jesus’ will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety rather than a desire to preserve Lazarus’ life that caused Jesus to respond to Mary and Martha’s request for him go to Judea in spite of the risk that it imposed to his own life. Jesus told his disciples, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

Jesus explained Lazarus’ situation to his disciples in John 11:11-16. It states:

After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus compared Lazarus’ death to falling asleep in order to make it clear to his disciples that Lazarus had not gone beyond a point of no return. The Greek word that is translated death in John 11:13, thanatos (thanˊ-at-os) “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

The thing that Jesus wanted his disciples to believe was that physical death does not separate us from God. The Apostle Paul said of God’s everlasting love, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38). Jesus told his disciples that he was glad that he was not there when Lazarus died, “so that you may believe” (John 11:15). The Greek word that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When we are convicted of things not seen, we are either shown to be wrong, convinced of our error or given proof that we are right (G1650). Faith enables us to have an accurate perception of what is going on in the spiritual realm.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, John tells us:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

Martha’s attention was focused on the fact that her brother’s physical life had been cut short and she expressed her disappointment that Jesus hadn’t done something about it. Jesus redirected Martha’s attention to the eternal state of her brother’s soul. Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23), meaning that Lazarus was born again and therefore, would experience a restoration of his physical life at some point in the future (G450). Martha acknowledged this when she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), but Jesus wanted Martha to realize that Lazarus was still living, even though he wasn’t physically present with them.

Luke’s gospel contains a story that Jesus told to illustrate life after death. It states:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (16:19-31)

The place that Jesus described, Hades was known as the place of punishment, the abode or world of the dead. “According to the notions of the Hebrews, hades was a vast subterranean receptacle where the souls of the dead existed in a separate state until the resurrection of their bodies. The region of the blessed during this interval, the inferior paradise, they supposed to be in the upper part of this receptacle; while beneath was the abyss or Gehenna” (G86). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he told the criminal hanging next to him who asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). After he was resurrected, Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51) and shortly before his death, Jesus assured his disciples that they would eventually join him there. Jesus said, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

In Jesus’ story, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them about the torment they were going to experience in Hades. “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31). In this statement, Jesus made it clear that hearing, or you might say paying attention to what God says, is a prerequisite of faith. Paul told the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Greek word that is translated convinced, peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, to persuade’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations…It also means ‘to persuade, to win over,’ in the passive and middle voices, ‘to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey’” (G3982). Believing in God and trusting in God are not exactly the same things. When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he used the Greek word pisteuo. “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God. Of course it is persuasion of the truth that results in faith (we believe because we are persuaded that the thing is true, a thing does not become true because it is believed), but peitho, in New Testament suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith” (G3982).

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” and then, he asked her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but she hadn’t yet gone so far as to put her trust in him. Jesus dealt with this issue when he instructed Martha to have the stone taken away from her brother’s tomb. John 11:38-44 states:

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Jesus used the Greek word pisteuo when he told Martha that if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40) indicating that Martha may not have actually been saved prior to her brother’s death. Martha knew in her head that Jesus was the Messiah (John 11:27), but might not yet have been persuaded to the point that she had actually put her trust in him for salvation.

John tells us that before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, “he lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41-42). What was going on between Jesus and his Father was a visible display of their cooperative effort to persuade the people standing around that Jesus was in fact “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and because of that, even though Lazarus was physically dead, he was spiritually still alive. It seems that Jesus’ ability to raise Lazarus from the dead was somehow being hindered by the unbelief of the people standing around. It’s possible that belief and unbelief are somewhat like opposing forces that compete against each other to determine the outcome of a situation. When Jesus told a man that wanted him to cast a demonic spirit out of his son, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23), the man responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The Greek word that is translated help, boetheo (bo-ay-thehˊ-o) means “to aid or relieve” (G997). The boy’s father had faith (I believe), but his unbelief was counteracting it and needed to be dealt with in order for Jesus to heal his son.

One of the biggest hindrances to the Jews accepting Jesus as their Savior was that they didn’t understand how things worked in the spiritual realm and therefore, couldn’t comprehend how a person could be “born again” (John 3:3-4). Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8). Jesus indicated that the sound of the wind is evidence of its presence. Even though it’s invisible, wind exists and can be detected by its sound. When God the Father testified to Jesus’ identity, he did so with his voice. Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Likewise, at Jesus’ transfiguration, Matthew indicated “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and told the Jews, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:3-5). Jesus’ emphasis of the sheep knowing the shepherd by his voice suggests that spiritual connections are formed through vocal interaction. Jesus often used the statement, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43) to draw attention to the spiritual truths in his lessons and distinguished believers from unbelieves by stating, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). The Greek word that is translated words, rhema (hrayˊ-mah) refers particularly to “a word as uttered by a living voice; a saying, speech, or discourse” (G4487).

After Jesus instructed Martha to take the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb, John tells us:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42).

Jesus wanted everyone to know that God could see and hear what was going on at Lazarus’ tomb. By looking up to heaven and praying out loud to his Father, Jesus shifted the focus of everyone’s attention to what was going on in the spiritual realm. John went on to say:

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43-44)

Lazarus’ response to Jesus’ command demonstrated that he was able to hear what he said to him. It seems likely that Jesus intentionally used a voice command to bring Lazarus back from the dead to show everyone that even though he had died, Lazarus was still spiritually connected to Jesus. Before they left for Bethany, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). Jesus was speaking in a figurative sense when he said he was going to wake Lazarus up, but when Jesus cried out to him with a loud voice (John 11:43) Lazarus was not actually dead; his soul was just temporarily separated from his body.

Spiritual success

A major problem with life is that it always ends in death. The goal of Jesus’ ministry on Earth was to overcome death, to make a way for humans to live forever. Jesus told his followers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24, ESV). The Apostle Paul expanded on this point by stating, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2, ESV). The Greek word translated condemnation, katakrima means an adverse sentence or verdict (G2631). Paul was referring to the punishment that is associated with sin and made it clear that believers are excluded from God’s judgment of mankind.

One of the stipulations Paul placed on the believer’s freedom from condemnation was to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). What Paul meant by that was to think about things from a spiritual or eternal perspective rather than a carnal or temporal perspective. Paul said, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). The Greek words translated spiritually minded, pneuma (pnyoo’-mah) phronema (fron’-ay-mah) have to do with the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit (G4151/G5427). In other words, Paul was saying that we need to listen to the Holy Spirit and let him tell us what to do in order to achieve spiritual success. Paul described this process as intercession and stated:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches our hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

Intercession is possible because the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart of the believer and is able to see what is going on from both a temporal and an eternal perspective. An advantage that believers have over unbelievers is that the Holy Spirit knows the will of God and can lead us to do the right thing in every situation. Paul stated, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Paul associated God’s calling with his purpose in the life of a believer and suggested there was a spiritual joining that takes place when a believer accepts Christ. Paul may have been referring to the marriage supper of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19:9 which is probably retroactive to the believer’s date of salvation.

In addition to the intercession of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, Jesus is also interceding for believers in heaven. Paul asked, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). Paul made it clear that our spiritual success is not dependent on our knowledge or understanding of God’s will. Even as much as we might like to know everything that God has planned for our lives, we have to live on a need to know basis of what God wants us to do. Many of the things that we do during our life on Earth that are God’s will for us might not be known to us until we get to heaven.

Death

God’s plan of salvation included a provision for everyone to be reconciled to him through the death of his son Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). In order for there to be a level playing field, God provided salvation by grace, as a free gift, so that no one would be left out. Paul stated, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s comparison of the wages of sin to God’s free gift of salvation showed that there was no logical reason why a person should choose to live a life of sin. He stated, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Greek word translated death, thanatos “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

Paul used the analogy of a woman that was freed from the law of marriage by the death of her husband to explain how a believer is dead to sin as a result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. Paul stated, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Paul’s primary concern was that believer’s understand that freedom from sin was something that had to be dealt with apart from the sinner’s justification by faith. Although the guilt of sin is removed instantaneously when a person is born again, the desire to commit sin does not go away. Paul admitted, “I do not understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLV). The Apostle Paul, who is considered by most to be a model Christian wasn’t exempt from the natural human tendency to rebel against God. His description of the believer’s struggle to overcome sin (Romans 7:13-25) is thought by some to be a personal testimony to the weakness of his flesh.

Paul suggested that sin is a powerful force that operates in believers and unbelievers alike. He argued, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:20-21). Rather than giving believers an excuse to commit sin, Paul’s identification of the sin nature that dwells in everyone was most likely meant to explain why Christian’s are not made perfect when they are reconciled to God. Paul stated, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:15:14). The point Paul was trying to make was that his human body or flesh was still subject to sin as evidenced by the physical death he would eventually experience. It was only his spirit that was regenerated when he accepted Christ. Paul stated, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). It seems likely that Paul was thinking of his own physical death when he exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Transformation

Paul talked about the death of believers’ physical bodies in the context of moving to a new home. He said, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). Paul continued his discussion of the believers’ transformation by explaining to the Corinthians how the transformation process takes place. Paul described life after death as being clothed with immortality and said, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:2-3). Paul’s idea that we will put on our eternal bodies like a new set of clothes may have come from his understanding of spiritual transformation. The Greek word Paul used that is translated clothed, enduo comes from the two words en which has to do with a fixed position (G1722) and dumi which means “to sink into” and is used of the “setting” of the sun. In Paul’s time, “the sun, moon and stars were conceived as sinking into the sea when they set” (G1416). Paul might have been thinking about the fact that when the sun sets, we can’t see it, but it still physically exists and will return at an appointed time.

Paul made it clear that our heavenly bodies are not the same as our earthly bodies. He said, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s comparison of old things and new things was probably meant to explain the change in material structure that would be necessary for a human body to go from a temporal to an eternal existence. Paul went on to say, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV). The Greek word translated reconciliation, katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) means to exchange (G2643). What I believe Paul was talking about here was the exchange of our old bodies for one like Christ’s. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the church collectively as the body of Christ and indicated we are all members or particular parts of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12). When believers get to heaven, it appears that all the parts get put together so that a single unit exists instead of the individual pieces our human bodies now represent.

One of the keys to understanding the transformation that takes place when a believer’s body and spirit are separated from each other at death is the process God uses to reconcile us to himself. The Greek word translated reconciling and reconciled in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 is katallasso which means “to change mutually” (G2644). What Paul was saying was that the sum total of the propitiation of everyone’s sins to Christ’s account of righteousness will result in a balanced account. In other words, there will be no discrepancies when we all get put together, somewhat like a completed puzzle that has no missing pieces. On the day we received salvation, Paul said we were given the Holy Spirit as an earnest or down payment on the heavenly bodies we receive when we die (2 Corinthians 5:5). At the time of our death, a transaction takes place that Paul described as being absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). What I believe happens is that we leave our physical bodies behind and take on a new appearance that reflects our place in the body of Christ; one that is completely suited to the work we have been designed for in God’s eternal kingdom and one that fits perfectly with the spiritual schema that was developed during our lifetime on earth.

Death

The part of Jesus that was a man, a human being just like you and I, experienced death in the same way that we do. When he died, his soul and spirit were separated from his body and the body was placed in a grave in the usual manner for people that lived in the first century. Matthew described what happened this way, “When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: he went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed” (Matthew 27:57-60).

John’s account of what happened when Jesus’ body was placed in Joseph’s tomb included some details that made it clear that Jesus was in fact dead and had been buried according to traditional procedures, even though the process was accomplished in just a few hours. John indicated Joseph was able to complete the task so quickly because he had help from another person and the tomb was very close to the site where Jesus was crucified. John stated that Joseph came and took the body of Jesus, “and there came also Nicodemus, which at first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then they took the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury” (John 19:38-40).

Jesus’ burial was similar to the man Lazarus’ whom he had raised from the dead. An issue that came up when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead was the huge stone that blocked the entrance to his tomb. John indicated that the stone in front of Lazarus’ tomb was a barrier that made it impossible for anyone or anything, including the smell of the dead body, to escape (John 11:38-39). In Jesus’ case, not only was the tomb sealed but a guard was set in front of it to make sure the body was not removed. Matthew stated, “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as you can. So they went, and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch” (Matthew 27:62-66).

 

Individual responsibility

God’s covenant with Abraham was based on collective treatment of all who descended from him. In his promise, God said, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee” (Genesis 12:2). The Hebrew word for nation, goy (go´ – ee) represents a group of individuals who are considered as a unit (1471). In God’s eyes, the blessing of Abraham was given to all who would believe in him, not just the individual man he was speaking to at the time,

In the same way that Abraham’s blessing was transferred from generation to generation, so was the curse of sin that began with Adam in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19). In his ten commandments, God clearly stated that the punishment for sin could be transferred from father to son for as many as four generations (Exodus 20:5). A proverb that originated in Jerusalem expressed self-pity, fatalism and despair because people believed they could not escape from the curse they inherited from their fathers. The proverb stated that corporate solidarity was responsible for the captivity that was about to consume God’s people (Ezekiel 18:2).

God argued that everyone had a chance to be saved under the law. He said, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Perhaps, the greatest misunderstanding that resulted from God’s second commandment was the idea that a person could be punished even though he had committed no sin. In actuality, what God was saying was that he would do everything he could to break the cycle of hereditary sin, but ultimately, it was up to each person to take individual responsibility for their soul’s well-being and eternal destination.

The human soul is referred to in Hebrew as nephesh (neh´ – fesh). In simple terms, the soul is what makes us alive. It is the inner person, separate from the flesh or human body. When God said, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), he was basically saying that sin was the cause of death in every person. If there was a person that did not sin, then that person would not die. God said, “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right…he is just, he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 18:5,9). The Hebrew word translated live, chayah (khaw – yaw´) means not only to live, but also to revive. In other words, a righteous soul cannot be killed, if it were, it would come back to life, just as Jesus did after he was crucified.

The power of the grave

In the book of Hosea, God used the analogy of a marriage to depict his relationship with the nation of Israel so that his people would understand he wanted a personal relationship with them. The prophet Hosea was chosen to model that relationship and was told to marry an adultress because Israel had been unfaithful to God and did not deserve his mercy. The only way Hosea could model God’s love effectively was to forgive his wife and redeem her from a life of prostitution.

The story of Hosea’s wife was meant to portray God’s redemption of his people, but it also showed his people that God’s love was not dependent on their behavior. In spite of their wickedness, God intended to fulfill his promise to king David that he would establish David’s throne for ever (1 Chronicles 17:12). In order to do that, God had to not only forgive his people, but provide a way for them to live eternally. Through Hosea, the LORD declared, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death” (Hosea 13:14).

As when Hosea bought his wife Gomer for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley (Hosea 3:3), God planned to ransom his people. The Hebrew word translated ransom, padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (6299). Rather than taking away his children’s freedom to choose sin, God intended to take away Satan’s ability to punish them for it.

The power of the grave was the power of Satan to separate someone from the love of God. Sin was the key that enabled Satan to lock a person in the prison called hell, or the grave. Satan was given the key to hell when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5-6), but God told them he would one day take that power away (Genesis 3:15). The message God communicated through Hosea was that the day of their redemption was about to arrive.

Although Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection was still hundreds of years away when Hosea spoke to Israel, the events were relatively close compared to the thousands of years that had transpired since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden. As if Hosea had a clear picture of the process of salvation, he stated, “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” (Hosea 14:1-2).

It’s not the end

“The LORD said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1). Jesus specifically used this verse to refer to his divine origin (Matthew 24:41-45). In his message about the resurrection of the dead, Paul used this verse to conclude that Christ had defeated all enemies, including death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

The issue that I believe David was trying to resolve in Psalm 110 was the eternal nature of God’s kingdom. David had spent most of his life establishing God’s kingdom on earth. In the end, I think he realized that ruling over people was a divine act that only Christ, God in human flesh, was capable of doing.

Part of what makes eternity unfathomable to us is the concept of death. Paul labeled death the last enemy because he wanted us to understand that Satan uses death to change our perspective of life. He wants us to think of life as temporary, something that comes to an end.

David’s view of death is revealed in 2 Samuel 12:20-23. After his child died, David knew he would see him again:

Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

The word translated go in 2 Samuel 12:23 is hâlak (haw – lak´). Halak means to walk. “Essentially, this root refers to movement without any suggestion of direction” (1980). David expected to go somewhere after he died and that he would be able to reconnect with people he had known during his life on earth. David did not perceive death to be an ending, but a continuation of some sort to the life he already had.

The sleep of death

The title of Psalm 57 indicates that it was spoken by David when he fled from Saul in the cave. Psalm 57 is a prayer and it is possible that David prayed it on multiple occasions, but didn’t record it until the end of his life. It is clear from David’s language that he believed he was near death and even spoke as if he was already dead when he said, “My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire” (Psalm 57:4).

The word translated lie is shâkab (shaw – kab´). “An emphasis of shakab is ‘to die,’ to lie down in death (7901). David’s reference to being set on fire suggests that he was expecting to go to hell when he died and to be among the wicked men that were seeking to kill him. David described them as, “the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword” (Psalm 57:4).

Thinking about the prospect of dying and going to hell, David said, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise” (Psalm 57:7). The word translated fixed, kûwn (koon) means to be readied or to be prepared. Kuwn can also mean to be established or unchangeable. The sense is that David was ready to die as his fate had already been sealed. He knew that he could not avoid what was coming.

When David said, “Awake up, my glory; awake…I myself will awake early” (Psalm 57:8). he was referring to waking up out of the sleep of death (5782). David said, “I will praise thee, O LORD, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations” (Psalm 57:9). David’s use of the words people and nations indicates he was talking about a time in the future when God would be worshipped by everyone, not just the Israelites.

At the end of Jesus’ ministry, he instructed his disciples to, “go ye therefore, and teach all nations…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Regarding signs of the end of the age, Jesus said, “the gospel must first be published among all nations” (Mark 13:10). It appears that David was talking about worshipping the LORD at the end of the age, after the resurrection of the dead.

David’s insight into the future made it possible for him to accept death as a temporary waiting period. Although David knew that he would live for ever, his soul would sleep until it was awakened at the dawn of a new day, a day when Jesus would be king.

Famous last words

Recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 23 are what are described as the last words of David (2 Samuel 23:1). I think it is interesting that we find in David’s discourse that it is not his own words, but those of the LORD that David is speaking. David said, “The Spirit of the LORD spake by me” (2 Samuel 23:2). The Spirit of the LORD that David refers to is probably the Holy Spirit and his message a prophetic utterance meant to encourage David before he died.

It is possible that the message David received was a response to his psalm of praise that is recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 22. David opened his psalm with the statement, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer: the God of my rock; in him will I trust” (2 Samuel 22:2-3). The message David spoke through the Spirit of the LORD stated, “The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3). In his psalm of praise, David referred to the LORD as his rock with a lower case “r.” In his prophetic utterance, David refers to “The Rock” of Israel using a capital “R” indicating it was a reference to the Rock as God.

The apostle Paul clarifies God’s purpose in taking the Israelites to the Promised Land via the desert. He wanted to show the Israelites that spiritual sustenance was necessary for their faith to grow. Paul stated:

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

The statement, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3) indicated that David did not measure up to the standard that God required for his king. The ruler that God was referring to was the Messiah, one that would not be made just, but would be just by nature. He was described as follows:

And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. (2 Samuel 23:4)

What the LORD was telling David through his prophetic utterance was that his salvation, from a spiritual standpoint, was not yet complete. During his lifetime, God had been David’s deliverer, a rock that could protect him from harm. After he died, David would go to sheol or hell, the resting place of all who died, until Christ came and paid the penalty for his sin. Then, David would be justified and able to rule and reign with Christ for ever according to God’s covenant with him (2 Samuel 23:5).