SURVIVING PHYSICAL DEATH
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SURVIVING PHYSICAL DEATH
Is death the complete cessation of existence? Or does the human consciousness survive physical death? What does the Bible really have to say about it? If we listen to the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, the World Wide Church of Herbert W. Armstrong, some agnostics (and all atheists), we would have to go along with the idea that when a person dies, every part of that person is totally and completely dead.
And not just, physically dead. We are talking about the absolute cessation of existence as a human being with no consciousness or awareness of any kind remaining. No soul that "goes" anywhere, no spirit "crossing over," or "flying away," or being "with" anyone, or anyplace. And the only difference between a dead dog and a dead man is the size of the hole it takes to bury them.
This is a doctrine that teaches that Abraham is dead. Moses is dead. In fact, everyone who ever died is still dead and any statement to the contrary is just symbolic. I strongly disagree with all of that and I am going to express that disagreement just as aggressively as possible.
I have developed this little discourse for the sole purpose of presenting the orthodox view as the correct Biblical perspective on the subject of death. It is not my intention to disrespect or "put down" anyone else's belief system, because there are many different positions and opinions on the issue – and I understand that and I respect that. But I am not going to apologize for teaching the orthodox position as the correct one.
So before launching into this usually uncomfortable, and sometimes controversial subject matter, let me offer some background information that will hopefully lessen the discomfort and minimize the controversy.
Generally speaking, many people (maybe even most people), believe in some form of life after death. I am not talking about the resurrection of the dead. I am referring to the belief that there is a non-physical part of us that forms our consciousness and self awareness and is the seat of our personalities and our true identities. There are some folks who refer to this as the soul and some call it the spirit, and others think of it simply as our “essence.”
Note: The soul and the spirit are not the same, but they are connected – much like saying “as the mind is to the body, so the soul is to the spirit.” This might be an excellent topic for another discourse – for another time.
This non-physical part of us is the source of all of our thoughts, our feeling, our dreams and our ideas – and it does survive physical death – continuing to exist in another realm, or another plane of existence.
Some people refer to this other world as heaven and hell, others call it the spirit world, and some think of it simply as another dimension. There are many different variations of this same concept found in just about every human culture on the planet – and it dates back to the earliest traces of man's existence – not just to the era of Greek mythology as some would erroneously have us believe.
The point of course, is that this is a very widely held belief that cuts across many societies and cultures. This does not necessarily make it a correct belief – I am not trying to prove anything with numbers – but I will say that with so many people having this concept in their consciousness, we are obviously dealing with a subject that is (at least) worthy of consideration.
Some of the people who believe that death is the end of everything (the cessation of existence) are actually some of the most religious people in the world. But religious or not, they all share a fervent disbelief in the concept of the human soul surviving physical death. I shall hereafter refer to this belief as soul sleeping.
Some of these religious folks do claim to believe in the existence of the human soul, but not in the way that most people think. Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Christadelphians (and the like) do not believe that human beings have a soul. They believe that every human being is a soul.
They will point out that in Genesis, God made Adam's body out of the elements of the ground and then He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a "living soul." They will often (proudly) add to the citation by telling us, "…it says that man became a living soul – it doesn't say he received one!"
They believe that when a person dies, the "breath of life" (which to them simply means the impersonal and unconscious energy that animates us) leaves the body and the soul simply dis-incorporates and ceases to exist. They think that the words for "spirit" should always be translated as "breath." We will see just what a ridiculous result that would create a little bit further on.
In summary, they believe that the lifeless body is now nothing but dead meat rotting in the grave – thus the term, soul sleeping.
Let me go on record here by acknowledging the fact that there are many places throughout the Bible where individual people – and groups of people – are referred to as souls. I am not going to spend a great deal of time with this argument because I believe that all these places in Scripture where people are referred to as souls are simply metaphors, or figures of speech, and I think that fact is evident from the context.
When the Scriptures refer to people as souls, it is an obvious figure of speech, much like a rancher telling us how many cows he owns by saying that he has 500 head of cattle out in the north pasture. Most of us (unless we are severely mentally challenged), will understand that the rancher is using a figure of speech and we will not form a mental picture of a pile of bloody, severed cow-heads stacked up out in a field somewhere.
It is also a fact that a common term which expresses the soul as something we possess is used through out the Bible. In both Testaments we will find the term, "my soul" used by kings, prophets and apostles. As a matter of fact God even uses it when referring to His own soul. For example, when He speaks of the Messiah saying, “…Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth…(Isaiah 42:1).
Biblical fact: God has a soul. Human beings have souls. Logical conclusion: Arguments to the contrary are simply not valid.
Some of the other arguments these folks will throw at us will employ the use of other Biblical metaphors such as found in Psalm 146:4 where it tells us that when a man dies, his thoughts perish. Using that verse as a proof-text for the cessation of consciousness and personality at death is yet another pathetic example of trying to make a doctrine out of a figure of speech.
If someone says something dreadful, or undesirable, it is a common colloquial response to say, "oh, perish the thought," and no one is going to be so naïve as to think we are wishing that person to become brain dead!
But more important than citing a figure of speech (familiar to us all), is the meaning of the Hebrew word from which perish is translated in Psalm 146:4. That word is abad and it means (literally) to be lost!
Fact is, the word perish does not always mean death, and it NEVER means or implies annihilation, or a state of non-existence. Let's take a look at a few other places in Scripture where abad is translated as perish, and see for ourselves that it simply cannot be used as a proof text for such a totally unscriptural teaching as soul sleeping:
In Psalm 9:6 it speaks of memorials that perish. Ecclesiastes 5:14 speaks of riches (or wealth) that perish. Over in Jeremiah 4:9 it speaks of the heart of a king that shall perish. Jeremiah 7:28 speaks of truth that will perish, and in the 48th chapter Jeremiah it tells us of a valley that shall perish.
There are a number of Hebrew words that are translated as perish. As stated earlier, the word abad means to be lost. But the word abar means to be passed over. The word naphal means to fall. And the Hebrew word para means to be naked! We must obviously be very careful when translating this word!
All of those words can be translated as perish because the word perish does NOT always mean death. As a matter of fact, most of the time it simply means to be ruined, or rendered unfit for an intended use. The only Hebrew word (translated as perish) that actually means death, is the word gava which means literally to expire.
I will have more to say about this interesting word perish a little bit later.
Another equally pathetic attempt to proof text the false doctrine of soul sleeping is found in Ecclesiastes 9:5 where it tells us that the living know that they will die, but the dead know not anything.
One can almost feel sorry for the poor deceived fool who will cite this verse of Scripture and say, "…See! That proves that dead people are not conscious!" Let's take that argument to every verse of Scripture where that same figure of speech is used. In 1 Samuel 20:39 when David was hiding from King Saul, David had arranged a meeting with Jonathan – his closest friend and the son of King Saul.
In order to keep Jonathan's servant from hearing their conversation, Jonathan shot some arrows into the ground some distance away, and sent the lad to gather the arrows. The Scripture says that the lad, "knew not anything."
Of course any reasonable person will know (from the context) that the lad was not annihilated, unconscious nor brain dead – nor in a state of non-existence – but the soul sleepers don't seem to have much regard for context.
Another example is found in II Samuel, when Absalom went out of Jerusalem with 200 men who, according to Scripture, "knew not anything." Do the soul sleepers picture these 200 guys riding along unconscious, or non-existing, annihilated or brain dead?
I get the very strong impression that human nature hasn't really changed too much in the 6,000 some-odd years of Bible history. But for some reason it seems evident that the people back then (not having much in the way of technology), at least had the good common sense not to fabricate doctrines out of a figures of speech!
I want to make just a few more remarks and observations on the subject of human beings having a non-physical soul that survives physical death. First of all, the disciples believed it.
In Luke 24:37 when the disciples saw the risen Christ for the first time, the Bible says that they were terrified! Why? Because they supposed that they were seeing a spirit! The spirit of Jesus! No use trying to weasel out of this one. The disciples knew that Jesus was dead. Believing they were seeing His spirit (his ghost) is the only reasonable and logical explanation for their fear. Now, why would they think that?
The word “ghost” by the way, is just an old English word that has long since been replaced by the word “spirit.”
The soul sleepers will continue to insist that the Greek, (pneuma) must always be translated as “breath,” but that is not only faulty scholarship, it just plain dishonest! This is a word that has more than one meaning, and to get an accurate translation we must allow the context in which it is used be the determining factor.
In Luke 24:37 is anyone really so mentally disadvantaged as to believe that the disciples were terrified because they thought they were seeing a breath? Can you not see how utterly stupid that is? Isn’t it rather self-evident that the folks in the Bible days believed that death was all about the soul departing from the physical body?
I think it is obvious from the context that Jesus believed it.
In the following verses (38 and 39) He comforts them: "Hey! What are you scared of? It's me! I mean, it's really me! Touch me! Handle me! And see for yourselves! For a spirit hath not flesh and bone as ye see me have!" (This is of course, an emphatic paraphrase – it does read slightly different in the KJV.)
And by the way, does anyone (over the age of three) seriously believe that Jesus would have thought it necessary to tell the disciples that a breath does not have flesh and bones?
Earlier on He told this story about these two guys who died, and even though their bodies were buried, one of them went to a place of torment, and the other one was carried by the angels into a place of comfort. Both of them were dead, and yet they were conscious of themselves and their surroundings, and able to converse!
Yeah, I know. All the people who belong to the soul sleepers club will tell you, "oh, that's just a parable and everything in it is all symbolic!" And they ALL will commence to tell you what all those symbols mean. The only problem is every single one of their explanations are made up! And I say that because there is absolutely NOTHING in any other part of the entire Bible that directly corresponds to any part of that story of The Rich Man and Lazarus.
Actually, that is not the only problem with the soul sleeper's explanations. Since the soul sleepers insist that conscious life after death is a false teaching, the really big problem (and it is their problem), is the question, "Why would Jesus knowingly use a false teaching to illustrate a spiritual truth?" I once heard one of their teachers say, "…Hmmm! Yeah, that is a tough one!" Yes, it sure is – for them.
Okay, as previously stated, the disciples believed it. Jesus believed it. And I did forget to mention that the apostle Paul believed it?
He's the guy who said that for Christians, to be absent from the body is to be home with the Lord. Paul even had a personal experience to confirm what he had already been taught by revelation! He is the one who said:
"I knew a man in Christ about 14 years ago, whether in the body I cannot tell, or out of the body I cannot tell, but God knows." Would Paul allude to a false teaching (being out of his body and yet consciously aware of everything he was experiencing)?
Now, my personal knowledge of Scripture pretty much settles it for me. I do not need a bunch of commentaries and study notes from anyone else, and I am not really concerned too much as to what the early church “fathers” believed.
But some of these soul sleepers can be really persistent and even aggressive and obnoxious at times. And they will sometimes blindly insist that these are all just visions, prophecies and symbolisms. So what I would like to do now is share some Scripture verses that are not parables, not prophecies, and not visions and symbolisms.
I am not going to read all these verses. I am only going to cite them and tell you about them, trusting you to read them, and mark them in your Bibles. Study them often, and learn them, because these following verses are a discourse (or a chain) of Scripture, that will provide you with the answers you will need should your faith on this subject ever be challenged. So, here is the first link in the chain:
1 Kings 17:17-22.
The son of the poor widow who had provided Elijah with food and shelter during the famine had died. Again, this is not a parable and not symbolic. This is an actual narrative of what actually and literally happened!
Elijah took the dead child to his room. He laid him on his bed, and prayed. In this prayer he said, "Lord, let this child's soul come into him again." God understood and answered Elijah's prayer because the Bible says that the child's soul DID come into him again, and he revived! Okay, here is the next link in the chain:
Jesus said (and I consider Him the ultimate authority on everything): "Fear not those who can kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul."
Folks, your body can be killed, but the soul goes on because the soul cannot be killed! Jesus said it. Don't you think we should believe Him? Don't you trust Him? It is unfortunate that there are some folks who are so much in love with their "dead meat" theology, they will even continue to argue in the face of what the Scripture is so clearly teaching.
I once had a roomful of Jehovah's Witnesses in my home telling me, "…Oh, but read what follows! Jesus said that we are to fear him who IS able to kill the soul and body in Geheenah!" Did you see that? Did you see how they smuggled the word "kill" into that verse? It isn't there! Let's look again at what it DOES say:
I am going to quote just that portion of the 28th verse: "…but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
I printed the word destroy in italics so that you can clearly see that the word "kill" does not appear in that part of the verse. But when I read that verse aloud, they almost cried out in unison: "But Chuck, it means the same thing!" Actually it does not mean the same thing at all. They are not even close to being the same thing.
I do not have the Greek alphabet on this keyboard so I am going to attempt to spell some of these Greek words phonetically.
I will cite the words using the same cases and tenses as they appear in the text, then you can then check them out in a good concordance, or if your pastor is knowledgeable in New Testament Greek you can verify it that way. I wanted to cite the root words also, but I'm afraid I just don't have the patience to look those up too.
In the first part of verse 28 Jesus said, "…fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul…"
Note how the word kill is used twice. The first time is from the Greek word, apo-k'tenn-on-ton, and it means literally "killing." The Greek text is saying, "…do not fear the ones killing the body…"
The second time is from the Greek word, apo-k'tenn-eye, and it means "to kill." The Greek text is saying, "…but the soul not being able to kill…"
But when Jesus tells us who we should fear, he tells us it is because He is the one who is able to destroy (not kill) both the soul and the body in hell (Geheenah).
The word destroy is from the Greek word, apo-leh-sigh, and it means to ruin. Or to render something unfit for its intended use. It does not mean the same thing as kill, and it most certainly does not mean anything close to annihilation, or causing something to cease to exist, or to become unconscious.
You can look up the meaning in a good Lexicon, and if you'd care to take a look at Matthew 9:17 you can read the following:
"Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved."
I printed the word perish in italics because it is translated from the same Greek word used in Matthew 10:28.
That Greek word (same root word as apo-leh-sigh) means to ruin. Or to render something unfit for its intended use. It obviously does not mean kill. These "containers" are simply ruined and no longer fit to be used as wine bottles (or wineskins), because they have been split and broken.
Jesus is clearly not describing these containers as "dying," or being "killed." He is not describing them as if they were to become annihilated, unconscious or not existing.
Here is the next link in the chain:
II Peter 1:14 and following:
Here the apostle Peter is talking about his own impending death when he refers to his body as his "tabernacle."
The word tabernacle is translated from a Greek word that means tent. Peter was expressing the idea that he was expecting to "put off" his tabernacle shortly. He was expecting to vacate his tent. And folks, please don't think he was worried about being evicted from his apartment!
Peter was clearly and obviously talking about his death because he goes on to say how he wants us to have these things in our remembrance after his decease! The next link:
Here the apostle Paul speaks of death as a departure, as if to leave one place and go to another, departing on a journey – or as Paul said, "…to depart and to be with Christ…" You should read this and be able to elaborate on it as much as you possibly can.
The next link:
II Corinthians 5:6-8.
Here Paul speaks of death (for a Christian) as being absent from the body, and home with the Lord.
And that dear friends is what the people living in the Bible times believed. That is what the apostles of Christ believed and taught. And that is what Jesus believed and taught. That man has a non-corporeal soul that cannot be killed, and that survives physical death – even for those who die unsaved.
As a matter of fact, when ever Jesus wished to describe what life after death is going to be like for those who die in their sins, He never (not even once) quoted from Ecclesiastes. He never (not even once) pointed to a casket, a cemetery, or a sepulcher – or some guy taking a nap!
He referred to the Valley of Hinnom – also called Geheenah! This was a place where they burned trash and garbage, and the bodies of dead animals and vagrants. Some historians tell us that the fires of Geheenah were kept smoldering all the time.
Jesus used this horrible place to describe what eternity will be like for the lost. He described ever-lasting consciousness. Ever-lasting pain and suffering. He described weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
These can be terribly frightening things to think about. Most people don't want to think about them, but it seems like the older we get, the more we do think about them. No wonder so many people are afraid of death.
The very idea of even the possibility of eternal torment, forever separated from God and our loved ones, is a very horrible thing to even imagine. But according to the Bible, that is the ultimate and final destiny for all those who die in their sins.
But the Bible paints a much different picture for those who have put their trust in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to the clear and obvious meaning of Scripture, death for the Christian is really nothing to fear and nothing to dread.
For them, death is a period of transition.
For them, death means nothing more than stepping out of an old worn out tent.
And departing on a journey . . . Home . . . To be with the Lord.
C.L. (Chuck) Troupe
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