Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “death

Why does the Bible describe “death” as “sleep”?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs this metaphor is used in the Old Testament, that is where we will begin. It is related to three Hebrew words: shakab (Strongs #7109), which means “to lie down”; yashen (Strongs #3462), which means “sleep”; and shenah (Strongs #8142), which also means “sleep”.

In one of the oldest books of the Bible, death is described as to “lie down in the dust” (Job 7:21; 20:11; 21:26NIV). In death an Israelite’s body is said to be resting with their ancestors Ge. 47:30; Dt. 31:16; 2 Sam 7:12; 1 Ki. 2:10). Here we see that in ancient history, death is associated with lying down to rest.

In Psalms, death is described as the “sleep of death” (Ps. 13:3; 90:5) and the death of the Assyrian army is called their “final sleep” (Ps. 76:5). In God’s predicted judgment of Babylon, they will “sleep forever and not awake” (Jer. 51:39, 57). Here we see that the Israelites associated death with sleep. This metaphor is also evident in Greek mythology.

In the following verse the word “sleep” has been added by the translators by inference as it isn’t in the text, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Clearly in this context “sleep” means “death” and “sleep in the dust of the earth” means the body after death (corpse). So, in the context of death, the word “sleep” refers to the corpse. Therefore, “awake” means resurrection of the body. Here we see a clear indication that death isn’t the end of the body.

New Testament

Both Jesus and Paul use “sleep” as a metaphor for death in the Bible. They would have been familiar with this metaphor from their knowledge of the Old Testament.

The Greek word koimao (Strongs #2837) means “to sleep, to fall asleep, or to die”. Similarly the Greek word katheudo (Strongs #2518) means “sleep or sleeping”. Both words are also used metaphorically for death, with the meaning in a particular passage being determined by the context in which it is used.

The clearest explanation of the metaphor is given in the following Scripture passages.
‘After He had said this, He went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but His disciples thought He meant natural sleep. So then He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead …’ (Jn. 11:11-14NIV).
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Th. 4:13).

The metaphor is used to refer to the deaths of:
– The girl who died and was raised back to life (Mt 9:24, Mk 5:39, Lk. 8:52)
– Lazarus (Jn. 11:11-14)
– Some godly people who died in Old Testament times (Mt. 27:52)
– Stephen (Acts 7:60)
– David (Acts 13:36)
– A husband (1 Cor. 7:39)
– Some of those who abuse the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30)
– Christians (1 Cor. 15:6, 18; 1 Th. 4:13-15)
– People who died in Old Testament times (1 Cor. 15:20)
– Jewish ancestors (2 Pt. 3:4)

Also, 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 1 Thessalonians 5:10 say that not all Christians will die (or sleep) because the bodies of Christians that are alive at the rapture will be transformed without going through death.

“Death”, “departure” and “sleep”

How is death like sleep? Sleep is the time period between falling asleep and awaking when the body rests. It is a temporary condition, not a permanent one. How is death a temporary condition, not a permanent or eternal one? The Bible teaches that although our bodies decay after death, they will be resurrected on a future day. In fact everyone will be raised from death to one of two destinies (Acts 24:15). Jesus said “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (Jn. 5:28-29). Here goodness is evidence of salvation and evil is evidence of unbelief.

At death there is a separation of the body and soul and the believer’s soul goes to be with Christ (2 Cor. 5:8). As the soul is very much alive, when the word “sleep” is used in connection with death in the New Testament, it refers to the body, not the soul. The body is “sleeping” until its resurrection.

It is said that the early Christians called their burial grounds koimeterion (or “sleeping places”, a word derived from Strongs #2837 and used by the Greeks to describe a rest-house for strangers). This is the derivation of the English word “cemetery” (meaning “the sleeping place”).

The state of the soul after death is illustrated by the story of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham (Lk. 16:22-31). After he died, the rich man had an extended conversation with Abraham, who died about 2,000 years earlier. Likewise, Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:3; Mk. 9:4; Lk. 9:30-31). Moses died about 1,400 years earlier and Elijah was raptured about 850 years earlier. This is consistent with the soul of a believer living with the Lord after death. The Bible metaphor for the soul at death is “departure” as the soul departs from the body to be with Christ, which is better than the struggles of life on earth (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23).

Awakening

As people awake after sleeping, so in a coming day our bodies will be resurrected. The first resurrection takes place in various stages, including the rapture (1 Cor. 15:20; Mt. 27:52-53; 1 Th. 4:16; Rev. 20:4). It includes Jesus Christ and all those who have trusted in God. These are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). They are raised to eternal life and immortality with the Lord.

The second resurrection is when those who have rejected God’s witness to them are judged at the Great White Throne (Jn. 5:29; Rev. 20:4-5, 12-13). The penalty is to be thrown into the lake of fire where they are tormented forever. They are raised to condemnation and banishment from the presence of the Lord.

So the metaphor of sleep for death should be a warning to be ready for the resurrection when we will face Jesus as either a lifesaver or a judge. What will it be?

Written, January 2015


Does the Bible condone rape?

Rape-is-Rape

Rape-is-RapeI have received this question about the Bible: It seems that rape was condoned in the Bible, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.

Instances in the Bible

Rape is mentioned several times in the Bible. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped by Shechem the Hivite (Gen. 34:1-31NIV). Her brothers were shocked and furious at this “outrageous thing … that should not be done” (v.7).  When Shechem’s father went to Jacob to arrange their marriage, he was told that the bride price would be that their men become circumcised like the Israelites. After they agreed and were in pain due to the circumcision, two of Dinah’s brothers attacked the city of Shechem and killed all the men because Dinah had been treated “like a prostitute”. However, the word “God” is not mentioned in this chapter of the Bible.

When an Israelite traveller stopped overnight at Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, “the wicked men of the city surrounded the house” and demanded to have homosexual sex with the visitor (Jud. 19:1-30). Instead they were given the Israelite’s concubine and “they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” and she was found dead outside the door of the house. When the Israelites heard about this “lewd and outrageous act” and “awful thing”, they demanded that the perpetuators be handed over to be put to death (Jud. 20:1-48). After this was refused, most of the Benjamite warriors were killed in a war. The Bible’s description of this period is that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Jud. 19:1; 21:23). It demonstrates the moral depravity that resulted when God’s people turned away from following Him.

King David’s son Amnon lusted after his beautiful half-sister Tamar – they had different mothers (2 Sam. 13:1-39).   When he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister”, she said “No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you” (v.11-13) “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her” (v.14). “When king David heard all this, he was furious” (v.21). Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge by arranging for Amnon to be killed “because he had disgraced his sister Tamar” (v.22).

The passage of how the Benjamites obtained wives from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh has been alleged to involve rape, but Judges 21:10-25 concerns marriage, not rape. As noted above, this was time of moral depravity. Likewise, the marriage of captive women from outside Canaan was marriage, not rape (Dt. 21:10-14). The taking of female prisoners of war has also been alleged to be rape, but in this instance they probably became slaves and there is no indication of rape or sex slavery, although they may have subsequently married an Israelite (Num. 31:18).

The Bible also records instances of the rape of female prisoners of war by ungodly men such as: when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lam. 5:11), when the Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC (Isa. 13:16-17) and in a coming day when the nations attack Jerusalem before Christ returns to earth (Zech. 14:2).

Sexual immorality, including rape, was one of the sins of the Jews in Jerusalem (Ezek. 22:11). Because of these, they were conquered by the Babylonians and dispersed among the nations.

In all these cases, the Bible reports rape as an example of ungodly behavior.

What about Abram and Hagar?

Was Hagar was raped by Abram (Gen. 16:1-4)? When Abram’s husband, Sari, was unable to have children she thought “perhaps I can build a family through” Hagar, who was her slave. After Abram agreed, Sari gave Hagar to him “to be his wife”. This seems to be a euphemism for sexual intercourse because afterwards Hagar is still referred to as Sari’s slave and not Abram’s wife. Then Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. As this was Sari’s idea and there is no indication that Hagar opposed it, there is no evidence of rape. Instead it seems to be an accepted practice in society at that time. This interpretation is supported by four instances in the life of Jacob (Gen. 30:1-13). On two occasions when Rachel was unable to have children she asked him to sleep with her servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Similarly, on two occasions when Leah was unable to have children she also asked him to sleep with her servant Zilpah. This resulted in the births of Gad and Asher. Later Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). As secondary wives, concubines were associated with polygamy. While these cases seem to have been culturally acceptable at the time, they are contrary to God’s plan for marriage, which is monogamy (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-9).

Jewish law

According to the law that God gave to the Israelites, the crime of rape of a “young woman who was pledged to be married” was to be punished by death (Dt. 22:25-27). This penalty is the same as someone (male or female) guilty of adultery (Dt. 22:20-22). So rape was considered to be a serious crime.

However, if the young woman was not pledged to be married, the man was to marry her if her father agreed (Ex. 22:16-17; Dt. 22:28-29). In this case the penalty was to support her for the rest of her life. In those days a woman depended on her father or husband for her welfare. If the woman was no longer a virgin and was not pledged to be married, she would have been deemed undesirable for marriage and so would be subject to poverty after the death of her father. So this law moderated the penalty in order to provide for the welfare of the woman and her children. Taken in isolation, this could be used to assert that the Bible condoned rape. However, the rapist risked the revenge of the victim’s family as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Also, the rest of the Bible clearly condemns rape.

New Testament

Sexual immorality, such as rape, is a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9-19) and a characteristic of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is a sign of those who are under God’s judgement (v.9-11) and Christians are told to flee from it (v.18).

Summary

The Bible reports sinful behavior such as rape. Like history books and the news media, the Bible doesn’t necessarily approve all it reports. Also, much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive. Clearly, the bible condemns rape as a serious sin. To claim otherwise is to misinterpret the text and context of these Scriptures.

Written, May 2013


Looking back and looking ahead

Coffin Mar 2014 cropped

IMG_4587 resizedBased on a message given at my mother’s funeral on 3 April 2013

A funeral usually involves memories and reflections of the life of the person who has died. But the funeral of a Christian can also look ahead in anticipation of what lies ahead.

Help from God the Creator

The source of a Christian’s help and protection throughout life is described in Psalm 121NIV.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

When this song was written about 3,000 years ago, God’s people knew that the only reliable help and protection comes from the God who made the universe – “the Maker of heaven and earth”. In this context the Hebrew word for “heaven” means the atmosphere and the stars and galaxies. A God with the intelligence and power to create the universe and populate it with living plants, animals and people was surely able to help them! The Bible says He was the source of life on earth whereas all other gods and philosophies are the product of the human imagination.

Unfortunately in our modern world we have largely lost this knowledge and this confidence. We have forgotten about God the Creator. Even though we have wonderful technology, science can’t explain how matter was created from nothing or how life originated, and we often replace God the Creator with the idea that things created themselves.

So when we struggle in life where does our help come from? Some people go to counsellors for help who encourage them to get help from outside themselves. Because people usually can’t solve their own problems, they need to get help from someone else. In a similar way, we all need “outside help” to sustain us and God the Creator is the ultimate outside help!

Psalm 121 ends with, “The Lord will watch your coming and going both now and forevermore”. Here those who trusted God the Creator were promised that God would protect them throughout life and into the future. They could live with assurance and confidence that God would continue to help them. Likewise Christians can have the assurance that God will sustain them during their life and afterwards.

A different world

You may ask if God created everything in the beginning, why is there so much suffering in the world? The world today is very different from the one God made originally. We live in a different world. In the beginning it was a perfect world with harmony between God, people and the natural environment. But when people turned against their Maker, it changed and sin, evil, suffering and death came into the world. This change was caused by people like us. We live in a world with consequences – an act has a consequence and an effect has a cause. Because people turned against God our relationships have been ruined. We ignore God and are separated from Him, we can’t get along with other people, and we exploit the natural environment. Another consequence is that the Bible says we are destined to eternal punishment. Because we are the cause of this problem, we need outside help. Because each of us is guilty, we can’t help each other. The only reliable help available outside humanity is God the Creator.

Help from God the Lifesaver

Fortunately, God didn’t only create the universe and the laws of nature in the beginning, but He also continues to sustain it. He is not only incredibly powerful, but He is also incredibly loving. We remember His special act of love at Christmas and Easter when we celebrate the unique birth and death of Jesus Christ. God knew that mankind was doomed to eternal punishment unless He provided them with outside help. He did this about 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ lived on earth and died and came alive again. Jesus was unique; He was God living as a human being. He showed His power over our world by the miracles He did. When He died by crucifixion, He took the eternal punishment that we deserve. If we turn towards God by being sorry for our behaviour and accepting the fact that Jesus has taken the penalty for our sin, then He promises eternal joy instead of eternal punishment. This is called eternal life. So Jesus is like a lifesaver – He can rescue us from the eternal consequence of our selfish behaviour. In this way God is making a new creation and He gives us the choice of being a part of it. Although we spoilt God’s original creation, and there is now sin, evil, pain, suffering and death, these will be absent in God’s new creation. Instead we can be reconciled with God, we can love one another and we can look forward to the restoration of creation like it was in the beginning.

Because a Christian has accepted Jesus as their Savior they can have an inner assurance, joy and peace.

Coffin Mar 2014 croppedDeath

What happens when a person dies? Not only do the lungs stop breathing and the heart stops pumping. The Bible says that at death a person’s invisible soul and spirit is separated from their body. If they trusted in Jesus the Savior, their soul and spirit goes immediately to be with God in heaven. After death they are enjoying a perfect place. That is why Paul could say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and that he preferred to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they are in a better place. Their death is a loss for us, but a gain for them.

Resurrection

But there is more! On Easter Sunday we recall that the body of Jesus was raised back to life after being buried in a grave. The Bible describes a coming day when the bodies of believers, who trusted in Christ the Savior will also be raised back to life:

“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57NLT).

This is also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. As part of God’s new creation they will have new bodies which won’t wear out and die (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2) and they will be transported to be with God in heaven – spirit, soul and new body. This will be a great victory over the sin, suffering and death of our world. That’s why Christians can look forward confidently to the coming resurrection. There’s victory ahead!

Summary

The hymn, “How great Thou art”, summarises the greatness of God and the reasons for our Christian faith.

The first verse is about God the great Creator and source of life on earth. It says “Your power throughout the universe displayed”. Do we see God’s power in His creation?

The third verse is about Jesus Christ the great Lifesaver and source of eternal life. It says “On the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin”. When we stand before God, will He be like a lifesaver or like a judge? If we turn towards God by confessing our sins we can be ready to meet Him.

The last verse is about the great resurrection when the bodies of those who have trusted in Christ will be raised and changed to be with Him forever. It says “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home – what joy shall fill my heart”. Are you ready to experience this joy?

Written, April 2013


If an infant dies, do they go to heaven?

Baby grave

Infant death is agonizing and raises many questions. The Bible teaches that we are sinful from childhood: “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8:21), “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15) and “from our youth till this day we have not obeyed the Lord our God” (Jer. 3:25). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So children are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death is a bigger issue than physical death. It leads to eternal separation from God, which is the opposite of eternal life (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).

Three Bible verses teach that infants are not accountable for their sin. Firstly, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan, they were punished with all their army except Joshua and Caleb dying while they wandered 38 years in the desert. At this time God promised that their young children would enter Canaan, “And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it” (Dt. 1:39, Num. 14:31). Because they did not yet know good from bad, they were not responsible or accountable for the Israelites’ disobedience.

Secondly, when the king of Judah was being attacked by the kings of Syria and Israel, he was given a sign that his enemies would be defeated by Assyria. Isaiah was to have a son and before he “knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right” the land of the two kings will be laid waste (Isa. 7:14-16). Children who are not accountable do not know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.

Thirdly, when God rebuked Jonah, He similarly distinguished between young children and adults,“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jon. 4:11).

God judges people who haven’t heard the gospel message according to their response to the revelation of His eternal power and divine nature in the universe He created (Rom. 1:19-21). If they can discern what God has made, they have no excuse. However, if they are unable to discern what God has made (which is true for infants), then they have an excuse and will be saved instead of judged.

At what age can a child respond to God’s revelation in creation (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16)? It is the age at which they can understand the issue and respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life (Jn. 16:8-9). It is when they can recognize His works of creation and choose to accept, honor and thank Him (Rom. 1:21). Those who die at a younger age go to heaven rather than be condemned to spiritual death.

Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for … the sins of the whole world’ (1 Jn. 2:2). As a loving and merciful God, it is reasonable to assume that He accepts Christ’s payment for the sin of those who are unable to understand God’s revelation and their sinful state such as babies and young children. After all, Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). But once children reach the age of God-consciousness, they are accountable for their sin.

We will now look at some other Scriptures that are sometimes used to answer this question.

Age of accountability

As all the Israelites over the age of 20 died in the desert before they reached Canaan, except for Joshua and Caleb, some think this is the age of accountability for one’s sins (Num. 14:29). However, this was the age above which men served in the army (Num. 1:3; 26:2; Josh. 5:4, 6). They were punished, not because 20 was the age of accountability, but because instead of serving the Lord by taking possession of Canaan, they grumbled against the Lord.

King David

When Bathsheba’s baby died, David stopped fasting and said “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). Some believe that David believed that when he died he would go to heaven where his son would be. However, it is more likely that David was referring to death or the grave, not to heaven. There is little in the Old Testament about life after death. Job may have believed in a future resurrection (Job. 14:13-15) and the psalmists allude to an after-life (Ps. 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:14-15). The clearest passage is Daniel 12:2-3.

Child-like faith

Some believe that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”, He was saying that the little children belong to the kingdom of heaven and so would go to heaven if they died (Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14; Lk. 18:16). However, the verse seems to be explained in the following verse as “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mk. 10:15; Lk. 18:17). In the case of Matthew this thought is given in Mt. 18:3. The emphasis is that child-like faith is required to enter the kingdom of God, not that young children belong to the kingdom of heaven.

So infants go to heaven when they die, but what about us? We can join them in future by realizing our sinfulness and believing that Jesus Christ has taken the penalty for our sin (Acts 16:31).

Written, November 2012

Also see: When David said he was sinful at birth & from conception in Psalm 51:5, what did he mean?


The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?

Paul wrote that he had been “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4NIV). In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and is used in three contexts: the earth’s atmosphere (Mt. 6:26), the realm of the stars (Heb. 11:12) and God’s dwelling place (Mt. 6:9; 12:50). So “paradise” is another name for the “heaven” where God is; they are synonyms. Furthermore, the term “third heaven” doesn’t mean that there are three levels or stages of heaven.

When Jesus died He committed His spirit to God the Father who lives in heaven (Lk. 23:46). This was soon after He told the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). So Jesus and the good thief both went to heaven after they died. As their bodies were placed in graves, the part of them that went to heaven was their spirit and soul.

When Lazarus died, “angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). For a Jew to be with Abraham would be a place of bliss. If the setting of the story is after Christ’s resurrection, “Abraham’s side” is synonymous with heaven. If the setting is earlier, then we need to look at the Old Testament. At the end of his life on earth, “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Ki. 2:11). Although Elijah went to heaven without dying, this seems to indicate that at this time heaven would also be the destiny of the soul of the righteous after death, which supports “Abraham’s side” being synonymous with heaven. On the other hand, some say that the righteous of the Old Testament only went to heaven at Christ’s ascension. However, the passages they use to support this view are addressing Christ’s ascension and incarnation (Eph. 4:8-10) and His resurrection (Acts 2:27, 31), not events in the spirit world.

The three phases of the Christian’s life is described in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. They are:

  • When alive on earth, their spirit and soul are united with their body. This phase is ended by death when the spirit and soul separate from the body (Eccl. 12:6-7).
  • Between death and the rapture, the spirit and soul are with Christ in heaven and the remains of the body are on earth.
  • At the rapture, the body is resurrected and changed and reunited with the spirit and soul in heaven.

For the believer, death is described as being “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul said that “to die is gain” because it meant being “with Christ” (Phil. 1:21-23). Therefore, when Christians die their spirit and soul immediately go to be with Christ in heaven.

Written, June 2012

Also see: What is paradise?


Please explain Romans 8:28 in light of such disasters as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and in Japan in 2011?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:28-29NIV).

The context

Disasters are one of the characteristics of our sinful world. Our present suffering and future glory is the theme of Romans 8:18-30. In this passage believers are given three things to help us through times of suffering. They are truths that we should know (eido in Greek). First, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time …” (v.22-25). Christians are not the only ones suffering and it won’t last forever. As “the whole creation” is suffering, Christians are affected as well as the rest of God’s creation. Our suffering ends either when we die and go to be with the Lord or when we are resurrected to receive new bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; 1 Th. 4:15-18). Second, because “we do not know what we ought to pray for …”, the Holy Spirit prays for us (v.26-27). So, we can know that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we are going through difficult times. Third, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him …” (v.28-30). God’s desire is that believers would be “conformed to the image of His Son” because they have been “called”, “justified” and will be “glorified” (v.29-30). So, Romans 8:28 is set in the context of things to help us through difficult times.

The text

Romans 8:28 mentions two things to help Christians through difficult times:

  • Believers have “been called according to His purpose”. God wants to make all believers like Jesus Christ; so they share His character. He wants their lives to be transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). Everything that happens, whether good things or bad , has this purpose. This includes disasters, suffering and tragedy.
  • “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him”. What does “for the good” mean? Surely anything that is consistent with God’s purpose, which is to transform our lives to be more like our Lord’s. “All things” includes all the circumstances of life. So this verse is saying that God uses them to achieve His purposes. For example, although Joseph was treated harshly, he recognised that “God intended it for good” because it was used to save many lives, including the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 50:20). Also Hezekiah recognised that the anguish he went through during his serious illness “was good for me” (Isa. 38:17NLT) as it enabled him to praise God when his health was restored (Isa. 38:18-20).

The explanation

How can good come out of disasters such as the recent earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes that resulted in so much suffering and tragedy? We need to realize that “the good” Romans 8:28 is addressed to believers. God permits suffering and uses it for our good, for the blessing of others, and for His glory. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). Also, when Peter addressed the end times, which are characterized by disasters, he advised us to keep praying, help the needy, and use our gifts to serve others (1 Pt. 4:7-11). Disasters provide opportunities for us to bring comfort and relief to those in need, and pray for them. Disasters provide opportunities for us to develop our divine nature by becoming more Christ-like (Eph.4:22-24).

But what about death? Death is the worst thing that can happen to unbelievers; but it ushers believers into God’s presence, which is the best thing that can happen to us! Paul said “to die is gain” because it means going to be with Christ (Phil. 1:21).

But it can be difficult to balance the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Paul said that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Here we see that the blessings that are promised to believers are spiritual, not physical. Although disasters, suffering and tragedy may destroy our physical possessions, they don’t take away our spiritual blessings. God gives us what we need, not what we want. After all, Jesus died to save our spirits and souls, not our bodies. Of course, at the resurrection He gives us new bodies. We know God loves us, not because of how our lives go, but because of Christ’s death at Calvary.

So, Romans 8:28 says that God uses “all things” for our spiritual growth. When we apply this principle to disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes we begin to realize that even they can be used to help us become more Christ-like.

Written, April 2011

Also see: Where is God when disaster strikes?


Heaven and Hell: What is hell like?

The Bible teaches that our ultimate destiny is either heaven or hell. In the previous article in this series, we saw that heaven is God’s home and the home of all who trust in Him. It’s a place of great beauty where they will be no sin and we will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord Jesus. This article looks at what the Bible says about hell.

The Greek word “Gehenna” (Strongs #1067) meant “the Valley of Hinnom”, which was near Jerusalem. This place was known for its burning fires (Is. 30:33); it was where children were sacrificed by fire to the heathen gods of Baal and Molech (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6; 32:35). After the practice of child sacrifice was outlawed by King Josiah (2 Ki. 23:10), it was the city waste dump (Jer. 19:2) and anything deemed unclean (including the bodies of executed criminals) was incinerated and a fire was constantly burning there. It also became their cemetery when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem (Jer. 7:32-33; 19:6-13). By the time of Jesus Christ, the deep, constantly-burning Valley of Gehenna, was thought of as the place “down there” where the wicked would eventually be cast into the flames for destruction. So in Scripture, the word “Gehenna” became a metaphor and synonym for hell, the place of eternal punishment.

God’s final judgement

The book of Revelation was the last to be written in the Bible and the one that says the most about the future. After the church has been raptured to heaven, Revelation describes a period of great judgement on earth called the tribulation, which is followed by Jesus returning to establish His kingdom on earth for 1,000 years, and then Satan will lead a final rebellion against God, which will be judged by fire from heaven.

Then we read, And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:10NIV). The fate of the trinity of evil (Satan, the beast, and the false prophet) is called the “lake of burning sulphur” where they will be tormented forever. So, hell is a place of eternal torment.

The next scene is a court with the accused before the judge, who is on a throne. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from His presence, and there was no place for them (Rev. 20:11). Here we see Jesus Christ on a great white throne about to judge mankind. This is after the end of the world as we know it (2 Pt. 3:10). Jesus is the judge because “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). It’s a great throne because of the issues involved and white because of His perfection holiness and purity. God’s greatest attribute is His holiness – the word is repeated “holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

Then John saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done (Rev. 20:12-13). Here we see two kinds of records: the book of life and records of people’s lives. The book of life lists all those who have received Christ as their personal Saviour and who will inherit eternal life. They are raised to life in what the Bible calls the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5). Jesus told His followers not to rejoice in what they had done, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20). The most important thing in life is: “Is my name written in the book of life?”.

Others will be raised in the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5) and judged according to what they had done in life (Rom. 2:6). It is all preserved in God’s great library, like the YouTube website. Books are used as symbols here; we would probably use videos. Just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15), so there will be degrees of punishment in hell (Mt. 11:22; Lk. 12:47-48). The depth of suffering in hell is conditional on the opportunities rejected and the sins indulged.

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The judgement is to be thrown into the lake of fire, which is also called “the second death”. As death involves the separation of the body from the spirit and soul, and Hades is where the spirit and soul are after death, hell involves the body, spirit and soul.

So hell is the judgement for sinners who refuse or ignore God’s free gift of eternal life. The Bible is full of references of the punishment of the wicked (Rom. 2:5-12; Gal. 6:7-8; Heb. 10:29-31; Rev. 20:11-15). In fact it has more references to hell than it does to heaven.

We will now look at what else the Bible tells us about hell. As we are looking at eternity which we haven’t experienced, the Bible uses metaphors to express what it is like. A metaphor is figurative language which says that one thing is like another thing in certain ways.

Characteristics of hell

Eternal

In at least 9 verses, hell is described as being “eternal” or “everlasting” or “for ever” or “for ever and ever”, which means that it is endless (Mt. 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk. 3:29; 2 Th. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; Jude 7, Rev. 14:11; 20:10). After all we are looking at eternity. For example, it is referred to as “eternal judgement” (Heb. 6:2). This is the only characteristic of hell that is like heaven; they are both eternal.

Made for Satan and demons

God made hell for Satan and his angels (demons), but unfortunately many people have chosen to go there as well: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). In contrast, heaven is the home of God and His angels and all true Christians. The sin that sends people to hell is the refusal to submit to Jesus Christ: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (Jn. 3:36).

Like a fire

In at least 18 verses, hell is described as involving “fire” or “being burned” or a “blazing furnace” or a “lake of fire” or a “fiery lake of burning sulphur” (Mt. 3:12; 5:22; 13:30,40,42,50; 18:8, 9; 25:41; Mk. 9:44,48; Lk.3:17; Jude 7; Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14,15; 21:8). The fire symbolises God’s judgement: the process of judgement is likened to the action of fire. Fire is said to test the believer’s work or service at the Judgement Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). In heaven the judgement is for rewards, while in hell it is an eternal reminder of one’s sin.

Like a second death

In at least 3 verses hell is described as being a “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Death involves separation and a change of state. In hell people are separated from God and all that is good. This is the opposite of heaven, where instead of eternal death there will be eternal life with God and all that is good.

Like destruction

In at least 6 verses hell is described as being “destroyed” or suffering “destruction” or to “destroy both body and soul” or to “perish” (Mt. 7:13; 10:28; Jn. 3:16; Phil. 3:19; 1 Th. 1:9; Heb. 10:39). “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:9-10). It means separation from the Lord, never to see the glory of His power, and “everlasting destruction”, which means loss of well-being, or ruin as far as the purpose of existence is concerned (Lk. 5:37), not the end of existence. Although some people believe that unbelievers cease to exist before God sets up the new heaven and the new earth, the Bible calls hell “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46).

Torment

In at least 2 verses hell is described as involving “torment” or being “tormented” (Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example the rich man was in torment and agony when he was in Hades, which is a precursor to hell (Lk. 16:23). This is the result of being eternally reminded of one’s sin, and contrasted by the joy of heaven.

There is no relief

In at least 5 verses the suffering in hell is described as being “unquenchable” or the “fire never goes out” or it continues “day and night” or there is “no rest day or night” or “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mt. 3:12;  Mk. 9:44, 48; Lk.3:17; Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example, Abraham told the rich man in Hades “between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Lk. 16:26). Like water in a lake, there is no way out or means of escape. There is no relief. This means that the torment is continual, whereas there is always joy in heaven .

Weeping and gnashing of teeth

In at least 6 verses hell is described as involving “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Here we have weeping and strong emotions where one’s teeth are clenched and grinding together (either due to anger or pain). This is opposite to heaven, where there will be no more sorrow or crying or pain.

Like darkness

In at least 4 verses hell is described as involving “darkness” or “blackest darkness” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 2 Pt. 2:17; Jude 13). This means it is away from God who is the source of light. This is opposite to heaven, where people are with God.

Like being outside

In at least 4 verses hell is described as being “outside” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Rev. 22:15). This means it is outside heaven and away from God, which is the opposite of heaven.

What will people be doing?

From the above we can see that people in hell will be being reminded of their sins, separated from God and all that is good, which will lead to being continually tormented, without relief, crying, and angry. This is opposite to those in heaven who will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord.

How soon?

Before the eternal state begins, Jesus promised to return for His people at the rapture and then to return in power and glory to judge the sinful world and usher in His millennial reign over the earth. Although believers look forward to this time, we don’t know when it will occur, but it could be soon. Although John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet, our eternal destiny is set the moment we die, which could be very soon. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.

Lessons for us

The Bible has given us a glimpse into what hell is like. In the Bible, future events are always foretold in order to bring about changes in our present actions. What does this mean to us today?

First, don’t use the word “hell” as a swear word. It’s a place of eternal suffering, not a word to use when you are frustrated. The Bible warns about using “unwholesome talk” (Eph. 4:29).

Second, let’s fear God, because hell is a real place. Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Lk 12:4-5).

Third, you don’t want to be there. The only way to avoid hell is to have your name written in the book of life. There are two possible destinies. If your name is written in the book of life, you enter into eternal life. If you refuse God’s offer, then your ultimate fate is the lake of fire.

The Bible says, that God loved the people of the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven (Jn. 3:16). Also, the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). That’s why we should reach out to people with the gospel message. Like Paul and Apollos, we can plant and water the seed of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can make it grow (1 Cor. 3:6).

Written, July 2010

See the other article in this series:
What is heaven like?


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