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Death! Then what?

Death has always been a mystery to man. All world religions, great and small, have offered their understanding of what happens to a human being at death. The issue of death has been addressed in the Bible also. First, in this study, some general misunderstandings will be put to rest. Second, the biblical teaching that death is a sleep and that death is a condition in which the brain is dead will be examined. Third, the few passages of Scripture that seem to contradict the second point will be looked at. And then, finally, the question of an eternally burning hell will be dealt with.

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Death! Then what?
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By Pastor George Rice

Death has always been a mystery to man. All world religions, great and small, have offered their understanding of what happens to a human being at death. The issue of death has been addressed in the Bible also. First, in this study, some general misunderstandings will be put to rest. Second, the biblical teaching that death is a sleep and that death is a condition in which the brain is dead will be examined. Third, the few passages of Scripture that seem to contradict the second point will be looked at. And then, finally, the question of an eternally burning hell will be dealt with.

A. Some general misunderstandings

1. The generally accepted idea that there is consciousness after death originated with Satan and has been passed down from his deception in Eden - Genesis 3:1-4

2. Man is not immortal (living on after death), we are mortal (no life after death), but immortality (eternal life) will be given as a gift to believers in Jesus when He returns - 1 Corinthians 15:51-55

3. God alone is immortal. He possesses unending life naturally, it is a part of His nature. He has immortality underived whereas he gives immortality to the redeemed as a gift at Jesus’ return. - 1 Timothy 6:16.

B. Death is a sleep

1. The Old Testament repeatedly calls death a sleep (a few of many references follow)

a. Moses to sleep with his fathers - Deuteronomy 31:16

b. David to sleep with his fathers - 2 Samuel7:12

c. Job to sleep in the dust - Job 7:21

d. Man lies down and does not rise until heavens be no more, not roused from his sleep - Job 14:12

e. Death a sleep - Psalms13:3

f. Those who sleep in dust of earth will be awakened - Daniel 12:2

2. New Testament repeatedly calls death a sleep

a. Jesus calls death a sleep - John 11:11-14; Matthew 9:24

b. Paul repeatedly refers to death as a sleep - 1 Corinthians 11:30; 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 14:14

3. The New Testament uses one of the two Greek words for sleep (κοιμαομαι)and applies it to death 15 out of the18 times it appears - Matthew 27:52; John 11:11, 12; Acts 7:50; 13:36; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 15; 1 Peter 3:4.

4. The second Greek word for sleep (καθευδω) appears 22 times and of these four refer to death - Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52; 1 Thessalonians 5:10.

C. Brain dead

1. The dead do not praise the Lord - Psalms 115:17

2. Thoughts and plans perish in death - Psalms 146:3, 4

3. The dead know nothing of what is happening on earth - Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10

D. Apparent contradictions

Philippians 1:21-23 is the most frequently quoted passages to support life after death. Paul says he is hard pressed between staying alive and working for the churches and departing to be with the Lord. The following must be considered.

1. Of the 15 uses of κοιμαομαι (sleep), Paul used it 9 times for death - 1 Corinthians 7:39; 11:30; 15:6,18,20, 51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 15.

2. The 9 times Paul says death is a sleep cannot be ignored when interpreting one verse (Philippians 1:23) and then say that the Bible teaches consciousness after death.

3. What was Paul saying?

a. Death being an unconscious state was accepted by the Christian church in Paul’s day

b. When he talks about dying and being with the Lord, all knew that there was an intermediate state - die, sleep, be with the Lord at Jesus’ return

c. To say otherwise ignores and contradicts all of the biblical evidence that death is a sleep with no brain activity.

4. 1 Peter 3:18-20 is also misinterpreted

a. Jesus is presented between His death and resurrection as preaching to the souls who perished in Noah’s flood.

b. Again this ignores the weight of evidence that death is an unconscious sleep.

c. Besides, it was not Jesus who preached to these disobedient people but the Holy Spirit through Noah while the ark was being built.

d. The NKJV has it right: “[Jesus] being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, . . .while the ark was being prepared.”

5. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus - Luke 16:19-31

a. The instructional devices of this parable are taken literally - the poor man is in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man is in hell.

b. There is communication between the rich man and Abraham.

c. Jesus is not teaching the state of the dead nor the existence of hell.

d. The point of this story is given by Jesus: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”

e. If people will not listen to scripture, they will not listen even if someone did arise from the dead and talk with them.

g. Again, the weight of biblical evidence must be kept in mind that death is an unconscious state where there is no brain activity.

E. Hell

1. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is used to support the erroneous idea that there is a burning hell and the wicked will live in it forever.

a. First, remember that man is not immortal. Immortality is a gift given to the redeemed at Jesus’ return

b. The Bible presents a burning hell only at the end of the millennium - Revelation 20:10, 14, 15.

c. A burning hell is prepared for the devil and his angels - Matthew 25:41, and humans who follow him instead of Jesus - Revelation 20:11-15

2. Fate of the wicked

a. The wicked will be awakened from sleep to receive their punishment - John 5:28, 29; Revelation 20:12:-14

b. The Greek word hades (ᾅδης) means pit, hole in the ground, or the grave. It is not a place of burning.

c. The wicked will be consumed - Psalms 21:9

d. The wick will be turned into ashes - Malachi 4:1-3

e. The devil will be consumed by fire - Ezekiel 28:18, 19.

f. The fire of hell is called an unquenchable fire, it cannot be put out by human effort - Mark 9:45-48

g. Jerusalem was destroyed by an unquenchable fire, but it is not burning today - Jeremiah 17:27

h. The fire of hell is also call eternal fire - Matthew 25:41.

i. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by eternal fire, but they are not burning today - Jude 7

3. The surface of the earth will be destroyed by fire - 2 Peter 3:10

4. When this unquenchable fire has done its work, it will go out by itself. The wicked will be ashes, and God will recreated the surface of the earth to be like Eden again - Revelation 21:1-7

5. Stay by what the Bible teaches and do not be led astray by the theories of men.