Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen, What the Bible Says About Death

 Tom Lowe
4-12-03

What the Bible Says About Death

Text: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

Scripture Reading: Revelation 21:1-4 (NKJV)

 


      The fact that there are so many DIFFERENT THEORIES about what happens to our souls when we die indicates our desire to understand the phenomenon of death.  We hear and use such expressions as “THE OTHER LIFE,” “LIFE IN THE NEXT WORLD,” “LIFE AFTER DEATH,” and “LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE.”  But does the BIBLE SPEAK conclusively about this question?  YES it does!  And the scriptural answer provides ABIDING HOPE for Christians, particularly as we deal with the death of a loved one or prepare to face death ourselves.

      The Bible is going to ANSWER THREE QUESTIONS about death for us.

            FIRST, WHAT IS DEATH?

            SECOND, WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE DEAD?

            THIRD, WHAT SHOULD BE THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARD DEATH?

      There is a man by the name of JONATHAN EDWARDS, who has a television show called “CROSSING OVER.” He claims to be able to CONTACT THE DEAD, and he has a large following.  I am sure he would have an ANSWER FOR THE FIRST TWO QUESTIONS, but they wouldn’t line up with the word of God, because ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE OCCULT IS FROM SATAN, NOT GOD.

      For our purposes, LET’S GO TO THE BIBLE, and see what it has to say about death.

THERE ARE FIVE ANSWERS TO THE FIRST QUESTION; “WHAT IS DEATH?”

      TO BEGIN WITH, DEATH IS A CONSEQUENCE OF SIN. When ADAM AND EVE broke God’s commandment in the Garden of Eden, death became their companion.  THAT’S WHAT PAUL SAID IN ROMANS 5:12, “THEREFORE, JUST AS THROUGH ONE MAN SIN ENTERED THE WORLD, AND DEATH THROUGH SIN, AND THUS DEATH SPREAD TO ALL MEN, BECAUSE ALL SINNED.” 

      THEY DIED SPIRITUALLY, because they broke their relationship with God.  The very important FELLOWSHIP they had enjoyed with God in the garden was gone, and now even though they were created to be eternal they would die, just like you and me. 
The principal of death became a reality for the first time; THEY BEGAN TO DIE PHYSICALLY.  The ultimate DETERIORATION OF THE PHYSICAL BODY is a result of sin.  Now, let’s be CLEAR about what we are talking about.  IT WAS HIS FIRST SIN, not his second, third or forth sin, but his very first sin of disobedience which brought sin upon all his offspring.

NOW, WE CAN CONSIDER SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT: YOU AND I ARE SINNERS IN FOUR DIFFERENT WAYS.

      First, we are sinners because we COMMIT ACTS OF SIN.

      Second, we are SINNERS BY NATURE.  SIN DOESN’T MAKE US SINNERS, but we sin because we have that nature.

      Third, we are sinners because we are in the STATE OF SIN.  God has declared the                 ENTIRE HUMAN FAMILY under sin.

      Forth, you and I are also SINNERS BY IMPUTATION.  That is, ADAM ACTED FOR THE HUMAN RACE, because he is the head of it.  ADAM’S ONE ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE plunged the entire human race into sin.  WE ARE ALL MADE SINNERS by Adams sin. 

      Now, you may not like it, but THAT’S WHAT GOD SAYS.  Therefore, EVEN IF YOU COULD LIVE A PERFECT SINLESS LIFE, which you can’t, you would still be a sinner and unfit for heaven, because of Adam’s sin.

      SECOND, DEATH IS THE FATE OF ALL PEOPLE.
DEATH IS INESCAPABLE.  We are DYING LITTLE BY LITTLE, and we will all eventually die terminally.  Death is in the NATURAL SEQUENCE of events for man.  For the UNSAVED MAN, after death there is nothing but judgment.  Paul wrote in the book of Hebrews, “AND AS IT IS APPOINTED FOR MEN TO DIE ONCE, BUT AFTER THIS THE JUDGMENT” (Heb. 9:27).  IF THE DEATH OF CHRIST DOES NOT SAVE YOU, there is nothing ahead of you but judgment.

      THIRD, DEATH TERMINATES EARTHLY LIFE.

DEATH PROVES the mortal nature of human existence.  THE BODY IN THE GRAVE can no longer hold a hammer in its hand.  THE BRAIN is no longer able to study or perform any mental chores.  IT IS THE BODY that will be put into the grave, not the soul.  If you are a CHILD OF GOD you will go into the presence of the Lord.  If you are NOT A CHILD OF GOD, you will go into the place of the dead until you are raised to be judged at the Great White Throne.  THIS LIFE DOES NOT END IT ALL.

      FORTH, DEATH IS DESCRIBED AS A RETURN TO DUST, THE ABSENCE OF BREATH,  AND AS A “DEPARTURE.”

      IN GENESIS AND ECCLESIASTICS we are told that our bodies will return to the ground.  This is the judgment upon man.  IN PHILIPPIANS PAUL WRITES ABOUT HOW HE IS TORN BETWEEN his desire to be with the Lord and staying with the Philippian believers because they need him.  Well, I AM LIKE THAT TOO, because I want to go on to heaven, but I want to stay here as long as I can for my families sake.  THIS REMINDS ME OF A STORY of an incident that took place here in the South in a church.  The PREACHER ASKED one night, “How many of you want to go to heaven?”  Everyone put up his hand EXCEPT one little boy. The PREACHER ASKED HIM, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”  HE ANSWERED, “I sure do, but I thought you were getting up a load for tonight.” We all want to GO TO HEAVEN, just not right now. Students of the Bible will discover an amazing DIFFERENCE IN THE ATTITUDES of various Old and New Testament saints in regard to death.  But the COMING OF CHRIST and His teachings clarified the death experience for Christians in an extraordinary way.

      FIFTH, THE PHYSICALLY DEAD HAVE BEEN RECOGNIZED BY THE LIVING.

      Peter, James and John spiritually recognized Moses and Elijah during the TRANSFIGURATION.  The transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ is, in my judgment, THE HOPE OF HUMANITY.  The man whom you see glorified there, transfigured, is THE KIND OF PERSON YOU WILL BE SOMEDAY, if you are a child of God.  I base that upon what it says in 1 John 3:2, “BELOVED, NOW WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD; AND IT HAS NOT YET BEEN REVEALED WHAT WE SHALL BE, BUT WE KNOW THAT WHEN HE IS REVEALED, WE SHALL BE LIKE HIM, FOR WE SHALL SEE HIM AS HE IS.”  The GLORIOUS PROSPECT of being like Christ is before every man. 

      We will have a GREATER KNOWLEDGE of all things in heaven.  And the MYSTERIES AND PERPLEXITIES of this earthly life will be clear to us in heaven.  As we exist now, the Bible says that our knowledge of heaven is like looking through a DARK COLORED GLASS, but someday, when we get to heaven, all things will be revealed to us.

THE SECOND QUESTION THAT WE ASKED IS “WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE DEAD,” AND THERE ARE FOUR ANSWERS FOR US TO CONSIDER.

      FIRST, BEFORE THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST, THE DEAD APPARENTLY WENT TO “SHEOL.”  In the story about the RICH MAN AND THE BEGGAR named Lazarus in Luke 16, the rich man suffered in a place of torment but was able to look across a great chasm and see Lazarus by Abraham’s side in Paradise.  Also as Jesus was dieing on the cross He told the thief on His right, “TODAY SHALT THOU BE WITH ME IN PARADISE” (LUKE 23:43).
SHEOL OR HADES IS DIVIDED INTO TWO COMPARTMENTS: paradise (which is called Abraham’s bosom in the parable) and the place of torment.  PARADISE WAS EMPTIED when Christ took with Him at His ascension, the Old Testament believers (that is the subject of Ephesians 4:8-10).  THE PLACE OF TORMENT will deliver up the lost for judgment at the Great White Throne.  THAT’S WHAT WE ARE TOLD IN REVELATION 20:11-15.  All who stand at this JUDGMENT are lost, and they will be cast into the lake of fire. 

      Sheol is different than hell.  ACTUALLY, HELL, AS WE THINK OF IT, IS A PLACE THAT HAS NOT BEEN OPENED UP FOR BUSINESS; we don’t read of it until we get to Revelation 20:10, where it tells us that hell’s first occupants will be the Antichrist and the false prophet. 
The next answer is, “AFTER THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST, BELIEVERS WHO DIED ARE SAID TO BE “ABSENT FROM THE BODY AND…PRESENT WITH THE LORD” (2 COR. 5:8). 

      Death is also referred to as “SLEEP” in the New Testament, while the soul goes immediately “TO BE WITH THE LORD.”  Remember that the SOUL DOES NOT DIE.  The soul never dies; the soul GOES TO BE WITH CHRIST.  It is the BODY that is put to sleep.  John, in Revelation 14:13, describes believers who die as being “HAPPY” because they are able to “REST FROM THEIR LABORS,” knowing that “THEIR WORKS DO FOLLOW THEM”.  This verse reveals that we will be REWARDED FOR OUR FAITHFULNESS, PATIENCE AND WORKS.  God does not save anyone for his works, but He does REWARD US FOR OUR WORKS.  Our works (good or bad) are like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail; we CANNOT GET AWAY FROM THEM.  They will FOLLOW US to the Bema Seat of Christ.

OUR THIRD ANSWER IS THAT PAUL CONSIDERED DEATH FOR BELIEVERS TO BE AN EXPERIENCE OF “GAIN” INSTEAD OF LOSS.

      To Paul death meant the FINAL VICTORY over self and temptation.  Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “FOR ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST, AND TO DIE IS GAIN.”  TODAY PEOPLE LIKE TO TALK about serving God or being dedicated or doing this or that.  But the most important thing is to have FELLOWSHIP with Him so that your joy might be full.  Then we will have a POWERFUL WITNESS. 
      The problem is that most PEOPLE WANT THE END, but they forget about the means. 
THE MEANS, in this case is fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Everything else is the FRUIT OF THIS FELLOWSHIP.  

      FINALLY, WE SEE THAT PAUL ANTICIPATED “THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS” THAT AWAITED HIM AND ALL THOSE WHO “LOVE HIS APPEARING.”  (2Tim. 4:8)

      Paul’s attitude toward death was not a morbid desire to escape from life; rather, he knew THE JOYS THAT AWAITED HIM AFTER THIS LIFE were far and beyond anything he could imagine. 
      The “CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS” will be given to all those who live a righteous life and I am sure that Paul will get one.  But notice that it says “ALL THOSE WHO LOVE HIS APPEARING.”  DO YOU LOVE HIS APPEARING?  To love His appearing means that you will have to LOVE HIM.  DO YOU have such a close relationship with Him?  I have a notion that PAUL TOLD HIM EVERYDAY that he loved Him, because he had hated and persecuted Him before. 

      THE FINAL QUESTION IS “WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARD DEATH.  

      Paul said, “FOR I AM HARD-PRESSED BETWEEN THE TWO, HAVING A DESIRE TO DEPART AND BE WITH CHRIST, WHICH IS FAR BETTER.  NEVERTHELESS TO REMAIN IN THE FLESH IS MORE NEEDFUL FOR YOU” (Phil 1:23-24).  Paul says that he is TORN BETWEEN wanting to go to be with the Lord, which is the better of the two, or staying with the Philippian believers because they needed him. Again this was NOT ESCAPISM on Paul’s part.  He lived in such constant and close communication with his Lord that he LONGED TO BE WITH JESUS.  At the same time, he felt the pressing RESPONSIBILITY of establishing these new churches and strengthening these new Christians in the faith.  He was “NEEDED” in this life and would find joy fulfilling the purpose God had for him.

      PAUL ALSO DESCRIBED FOR THE THESSALONIAN BELIEVERS (AND FOR US) THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARD THE DEATH OF LOVED ONES. 

      He attached the CERTAINTY OF THE RESURRECTION of the dead to the belief and assurance that Christ had been raised from the dead.  That’s the thought he expressed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “BUT I DO NOT WANT YOU TO BE IGNORANT, BRETHREN, CONCERNING THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP, LEST YOU SORROW AS OTHERS WHO HAVE NO HOPE.  FOR IF WE BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED AND ROSE AGAIN, EVEN SO GOD WILL BRING WITH HIM THOSE WHO SLEEP IN JESUS.”  “THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP” refers to the death of the body, because the soul or spirit of man does not die. 
      There are SIMILARITIES between death and sleep.  I have been to FUNERALS where the comment is always, “So and so looks just like he is asleep.”  Well, IN A WAY IT IS TRUE-the body of a believer is asleep.  Sleep is TEMPORARY and death is also temporary.  Sleep has its WAKING and death has its RESURRECTION.  It is only the BODY which can stand up in resurrection.  IT IS THE BODY that will go to sleep until the resurrection-only the body.  THE SPIRIT of the believer will return to God.  THE SPIRIT or the soul does not die, and therefore the spirit or the soul is not raised.  ONLY THE BODY can lie down in death and only the body can stand up in resurrection.  And at the resurrection or the Rapture the verse says that “GOD WILL BRING WITH HIM THOSE WHO SLEEP IN JESUS.”  He is talking about the BODY, because the SOULS of believers who have died are already with the Lord.  THIS IS A GREAT HOPE!  OUR BODIES WILL BE CHANGED because we are told that there will be no more pain or tears.  So Christ is going to FIX OUR BODIES, and the one who made them can certainly do a good job of fixing them. While physical death is not something we normally look forward to, GOD REGARDS DEATH as the glorious homecoming of His children. 

      Jesus said to His disciples, “IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE ARE MANY MANSIONS…” (JOHN 14:2).  HE HAS GONE to prepare a place for us, and He will come again to receive us (v. 3-4). 
DEATH IS NO LONGER AN ENEMY to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is simply a BLESSED TRANSITION from an earthly life of imperfection and incompletion to one of perfection and eternal joy.

 

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