What is the worst thing on earth that can happen to a person and has happened to every person throughout history? It is death! Death of a loved one is something that makes most people cry without shame. Many elderly people do not always realize how close they are to death. Death, once it comes and takes our close friends or relatives, often causes many to ask “why”. What is the answer to, “why death”? Then they wonder, what is beyond the grave? Shall we ever one day face a world without this enemy of death? Shall death be always there forever?
There are so many conflicting beliefs about death and what is beyond the grave that it becomes difficult to know which beliefs are true unless you go to the Bible. In ancient civilizations, there were many different ideas surrounding death that were popular. Today, there are still many different ideas. Babylonians, Egyptians, Romans, Indians, etc. all had different views about death. Therefore they all practiced different rites during funerals. Many thought that immediately after death, life continues in another world. When they buried someone, they would bury the body with his belongings (wife, servants, money, furniture, etc.).
The Babylonian’s religious beliefs began when the tower of Babel was being built just after the flood. They believed that a person was made up of a body and an immortal spirit, and that when they died their spirit would not rest in the grave, but would enter the “Netherworld” or “Underworld”, or, in other words, “Hell”, as a ghost or a spirit. Hell to them was a place of darkness, shadows, horror; a place which was ruled over by the god of fire and destruction and his brutal wife. It was a place where hideous looking demons could torture the living dead all the time.
False beliefs about death TODAY
This false belief that exists today regarding Hell and the immortality of the soul was mostly limited to the pagan religions for about 2000 years. About 170 years after the birth of Christ, it began to creep into the beliefs of Christianity.
The Catholic Church was instrumental in combining this belief into their Christian doctrines. They taught that Hell was populated with the immortal spirits of the dead.
“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’” (see Catechism of Catholic, article 12)
This doctrine, which originated about 1700 years ago by the Catholic Church, still exists today. The original purity of the Christian faith had been corrupted with this, as well as other Babylonian doctrines. The purpose of the compromise was to allow the pagans to keep their original beliefs and be able to unite with the Catholic Church in order to avoid persecution. The pagans then were able to remain pagans, while being members of the Roman Catholic Church! With this compromise of faith and resulting apostasy, the membership of the Catholic Church increased substantially.
In February 380 A.D., the Roman emperor Theodosius the Great “issued a decree. . . in favor of the faith of St. Peter and Pope Damasus of Rome. . . to be the true catholic faith.”
This laid the ground work for the rise of Papal Rome in Europe. At this time the belief system of the Pope was declared to be the one and only true faith. The Pope was regarded as the guardian of this faith, and all rivals had to respect and succumb to his authority. After the Papacy obtained nearly complete control over the nations of Europe in 538 A.D., the Catholic belief system became the one and only state approved religion throughout all of Christendom for nearly 1200 years.
The belief that Hell is an underground place where the
immortal spirits of the wicked dead are tortured in fiery agony for ever has been proven to be of pagan origin. Even though millions of sincere Christians (Catholic and Protestant) have been taught that this is true, what exactly does the Bible teach about death? (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 23, p. 259, under Theodosius, editor Thoman Spencer Baynes, C. Scribner’s Sons Publishers, 1888)
Truth about death
God has not left His people in ignorance about this important subject. In the Bible, He gave a clear understanding of what happens when someone dies. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16–17. In these sacred pages we can safely find the sure foundation for all doctrine, reproof and correction for our errors and thus obtain the pure knowledge of righteousness. So, what does the Bible teach regarding death?
In the Bible we read that death is like a sleep. In Old Testament times we read that when someone died he “slept with his fathers” (1 Kings 2:10, 11:43, 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24). We see the same teaching in The New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 11:30, 15:20; and 1 Thessalonians 4:14). In referring to the death of Lazarus, Jesus stated that: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said His disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that He had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” John 11:11–14. From these verses we conclude that being dead is like being asleep (Matthew 27:52; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Daniel 12:2).
STATE OF THE DEAD
The Bible describes the physical state of man at death in this verse. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Psalms 146:4. When we die, we no longer have any thoughts or mental processes. In the grave, man has no consciousness. The following verses support this doctrine: “Wilt Thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise Thee? . . . Shall Thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or Thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall Thy wonders be known in the dark? and Thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?” Psalms 88:10–12. “The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.” Psalm 115:17. “For in death there is no remembrance of Thee: in the grave who shall give Thee thanks?” Psalm 6:5. “I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave. . . . I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.” Isaiah 38:10–11
The Bible does not teach that we go directly to heaven when we die. “But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost. . . . His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not…” Job 14:10, 21. Those who have died really do not know anything! “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” Ecclesiastes 9:5
The Bible clearly teaches that being dead is like being asleep. Yet, many Christians today believe that when a person dies the faithful go straight to heaven. Different religious groups sincerely believe that good people who have died in the past can help them today. They pray to them because they have been taught that their dead relatives are in heaven and are watching over them and working in their behalf for their well-being. However, the word of God clearly declares, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Ecclesiastes 9:10
Some believe that they have actually seen, or even talked to, their dead loved ones who continue living in the spirit world after they died. But the word of God is clear: “So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” Job 14:12 “…the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 9:5–6
Since, as the Bible states, “the memory of them is forgotten”, it would indicate that the dead have no memory of the events of their life, so it would not be possible for them to help their loved ones. But yet many people claim to actually have seen an apparition of their loved one who has gone to the grave. Others state that they have heard unexplained voices and seen supernatural phenomena. Since the Bible teaches the truth about the state of the dead, then who are these apparitions?
“The fallen angels who do his bidding appear as messengers from the spirit world. While professing to bring the living into communication with the dead, the prince of evil exercises his bewitching influence upon their minds. [Satan] has power to bring before men the appearance of their departed friends. The counterfeit is perfect; the familiar look, the words, the tone, are reproduced with marvelous distinctness. Many are comforted with the assurance that their loved ones are enjoying the bliss of heaven, and without suspicion of danger, they give ear ‘to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.’” –The Great Controversy, p. 551–552
There are spirits today who have appeared to people that may appear as their dead loved one; however, not one of these is actually a dead person that has continued living in the spirit world, or that has come back from the grave. They are only the evil angels who were cast out of heaven and who are capable of impersonating the dead loved ones. The reason that these evil angels impersonate the dead and sometimes even communicate information to the living is to deceive people into believing that the information given them is really the truth. We must always remember that Satan and his angels cannot tell the truth. “He. . . abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:44
The Bible clearly states that the dead do not go on living for eternity. They do not go immediately to heaven or to hell, but they rest in the grave. Some Asian religions teach that the dead are reincarnated into some other creature—a continual rebirth, only to die again. But God clearly states that human beings die once—not many times. “. . . it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
DEATH SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY
Why do people die? “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou neatest thereof thou shalt surely die. . . . And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. . . . And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him. . . . In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Genesis 2:16–17; 3:6, 9, 19
Death entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commandment to not eat from the tree of Knowledge. “Whosoever committed sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4. Disobeying God’s law is sin and “the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23
Before Adam and Eve, sin originally began with Lucifer in heaven. “Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou was created, till iniquity was found in thee.” “He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning. . .” Ezekiel 28:15; John 8:44
We have the hope that when Jesus returns, “He will swallow up death in victory.” Isaiah 25:8. Sin and sinners will be no more. Death will never separate us from our loved ones ever again.
The Apostle Paul explains that when Jesus will come “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 15:52–55, 58
“Our personal identity is preserved in the resurrection, though not the same particles of matter or material substance as went into the grave. The wondrous works of God are a mystery to man. The spirit, the character of man, is returned to God, there to be preserved. In the resurrection every man will have his own character. God in His own time will call forth the dead, giving again the breath of life, and bidding the dry bones live. The same form will come forth, but it will be free from disease and every defect. It lives again bearing the same individuality of features, so that friend will recognize friend. There is no law of God in nature which shows that God gives back the same identical particles of matter which composed the body before death. God shall give the righteous dead a body that will please Him.” –Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1093
“The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” –The Great Controversy, p. 678
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14–18. Amen.
D R Congo
(Part 2 in next month’s issue)