Showing posts with label Death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Death. Show all posts

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Father, Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit" sermon

What Was Jesus Doing the Three Days He Was Dead?

Luke 23:46:

Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” When He had said this, He breathed His last.

“Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit.” We usually think, “Oh, that’s a nice sentiment. He’s trusting God to take His spirit to Heaven when He dies,” and when a normal person says that or prays that – “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” – that’s exactly what they mean.

But that is not what Jesus meant when He prayed this prayer. Jesus was quoting one of the psalms, written by his ancestor, King David. King David was the warrior-king. He was the one who slung a stone and killed the ten-foot-tall Goliath. He’s the one who conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel. David was always at war, and here’s one of the prayers that He prayed to God:

Psalm 31:

In You, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness.2 Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. 3 Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. 4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. 5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.”

When David prayed, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit,” he wasn’t praying to be taken to Heaven when he died. He was praying for God’s protection because he knew that only God could save him from his enemies. Now, Jesus is echoing His ancestor because He knows that only God can save Him from the greatest enemy of all – Death!

Death had claimed every single person who ever lived, except for three – Enoch, who God took into Heaven; Elijah, who was taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire; and Moses, who was resurrected and taken to Heaven as soon as he died. No one else had ever gone to Heaven.

If you said, “Heaven,” to a Jewish person in the Old Testament, they would have said, “Oh, yes, that’s the sky, space, the place where God and the angels live, and those other three saints that got to go there.”

If you said, “Hell,” they’d say, “That’s an interesting new word you’ve got there.”

Because, you see, for the Jewish people of the Old Testament, death was the end. They knew that Enoch and Elijah and Moses had gone to Heaven, but they never imagined that their spirits would ever go to Heaven, or to Hell. That’s because their spirits didn’t go to Heaven or Hell. Their spirits went to death. Their spirits stayed inside their bodies, in the grave, in a kind of sleeping hibernation state.

Psalm 6:5:

No one remembers You when he is dead. Who praises You from the grave?

Isaiah 38:18-19:

For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness.  19 The living, the living—they praise You...”

The people were dead and, for all intents and purposes, their spirits were dead too. Their spirits couldn’t leave, they weren’t aware of anything, they were just there, sleeping, waiting.

Waiting for what? Waiting for Christ. Waiting for their Maker to come wake them up!

All humanity was trapped in death. That was the punishment for sin. But then the Creator, the Judge Himself, became a person, put on human flesh in the form of Jesus the Christ, and died, taking our punishment for us.

1 Peter 3:18-20:

"For Christ died for sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through Whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison...”

The King, the Creator of Life, descended into death. He woke those souls up, He preached to them, and because it is impossible for God, the Source of Life itself, to remain dead, He rose.

With Him, rose the spirits of all those He had awakened. He had taken the punishment of death for them. They didn’t have to serve out their punishment anymore. When we die, our punishment has already been taken, so our spirits don’t have to stay dead either. They go to the place we’ve decided for them to go, either to Heaven or to Hell.

When Jesus died, He faced humanity’s greatest enemy, death, and He completely broke it forever. It has no hold on our spirits. When Christ returns, He will also raise our bodies. That’s the miracle of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus defeating the power of death is the miracle of Easter.

When your body dies, your spirit doesn’t. It returns to God. When Christ comes again, He will bring your spirit back from Heaven with Him, He will raise your body new and healthy from the ground, from the ashes, from decay, and He will reunite your body and spirit, making you a whole person once again, who will live forever and ever with Him.

Easter is what broke death. Easter, Jesus’ resurrection, was the first step toward our resurrection when Christ returns. Amen?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What is the New Heavens and the New Earth?

When Jesus comes back, raises and judges the dead, and destroys this world, where will we go then? Back to Heaven?

2 Peter 3:10-13 – But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new Heaven and a new Earth, the home of righteousness.

We will not go back to Heaven but will be given a new Heaven and a new Earth, our new home. It will be a renewal (a restoration of creation), when God will make the world how it is supposed to be.

Acts 3:21 – He must remain in Heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets.

Revelation 21:1-7, 22-26; 22:1-5 – Then I saw a new Heaven and a new Earth, for the first Heaven and the first Earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her Husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He Who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then He said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' He said to me: 'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be My son. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life…

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His Name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Isaiah 11:6-9 – The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."

On the New Earth:

  • We will see God face to face (Revelation 21:3; 22:4).
  • There will be no pain, or sadness, or death (Revelation 21:4).
  • There will be no sin (Revelation 21:27).
  • All creatures will live in perfect harmony with one another (Isaiah 11:6-9).
  • We will be allowed to eat from the tree of life again (taken away in Genesis 3) and so, we will live forever (Revelation 22:1-5).

Though not specifically stated, I believe that we can also infer that life on the new Earth will be what God intended life on this Earth to be like. Adam and Eve worked the Garden of Eden. So, I believe that humans on the New Earth will be able to work at things that they enjoy. We won’t simply worship God all the time but will live as God intended Adam and Eve to live – working, being creative, enjoying each other’s company, engaging in hobbies, and yes, basking in the presence of God.

What is Heaven Like?

Revelation 4-5  After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”

 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, 
to receive glory and honor and power, 
for you created all things, 
and by your will they were created 
and have their being.”

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll 
and to open its seals, 
because you were slain, 
and with your blood you purchased for God 
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 
 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, 
and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, 
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength 
and honor and glory and praise!”

 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb 
be praise and honor and glory and power, 
for ever and ever!”

 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

So, what is Heaven like?

The scene is one of worship. God is, indeed, worthy to be worshiped like this.

But there is much more to life than worship. God created us to do more and to live a balanced life. That’s why Heaven, and this worshipful scene, will not last forever. There will be a New Heaven and a New Earth for us to live new lives. Heaven is not eternal.

Why Does God Send People to Hell?

Matthew 18:12-14 – "What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in Heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

Ezekiel 18:23, 31-32 – “‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Sovereign LORD. ‘Repent and live!’”

God does not want to send people to Hell, but He does give them free will. If someone will not turn to Him and accept His forgiveness, then they’ve basically said that they don’t want to be with God in Heaven. Since God will not force them to go to Heaven, there is only one alternative for them. They have to go somewhere when they die. That place is Hell. If they have rejected Heaven, then they have chosen Hell by default.

If we accept the temporary nature of Hell, we can say that God allows people to go to Hell to “learn their lesson.”

What is Hell Like?

Hell is described most frequently as something like:

1. A fiery furnace.

Matthew 13:41-42 –The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

2. Or a lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15 – If anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Luke 16:19-31 – There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, 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.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Matthew 25:46 – "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

From these verses, we learn that:

  • Hell is a fiery furnace or a lake of fire. People are in agony and physical pain in Hell. They long for someone to give them a drink because of the heat.
  • They are weeping and grinding their teeth.
  • Hell is punishment.

Why do We Fear Death?

It’s easy to see why we fear death. Very simply, death is not natural. It was never supposed to happen. It is not “just a part of life.” God did not create humans to die, and deep inside, we still know that. Adam and Eve only died because they sinned. The part of us that is still like God knows that we were meant to live forever and that death is an unnatural aberration in our existence. Thankfully, we also know that through God’s grace, death is not the end.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What are Ghosts?

Are they really the spirits of once-living people come back to say good-bye or to tend to unfinished business?
There are only two places where the Bible talks about ghosts. The first is 1 Samuel 28:3-20:
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.  The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, "Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her."
"There is one in Endor," they said.  So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. "Consult a spirit for me," he said, "and bring up for me the one I name."  
But the woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?"
Saul swore to her by the LORD, "As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this."
Then the woman asked, "Whom shall I bring up for you?"
"Bring up Samuel," he said.
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!" 
The king said to her, "Don't be afraid. What do you see?"
The woman said, "I see a spirit coming up out of the ground."
"What does he look like?" he asked.
"An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"
"I am in great distress," Saul said. "The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do."
Samuel said, "Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done what he predicted through me. The LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out His fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines."
Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel's words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and night.”
Is this really the spirit of Samuel coming back from the dead, or is it a trick of the medium? In this case, we have to assume that it really was Samuel being summoned because we are given no indication that the event was inauthentic in any way. The key here is that Samuel had to be summoned. He wasn’t wandering the earth or haunting his old residence.
So where was Samuel being summoned from? He surely wasn’t in Hell and he wasn’t in Heaven yet. Samuel was being summoned from Sheol, or death, the place where all Old Testament persons had to wait until Christ died for them (more discussion on Sheol in the next chapter). And Samuel is only summoned for a brief period of time. He is still bound in death after this and unable to communicate or to leave death without being summoned again.
The second mention of ghosts in the Bible is found in Luke 16:19-31.
“Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, 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.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
In this parable, Jesus is clearly portraying Lazarus and Abraham as being in Heaven and the rich man as being in a fiery Hell. Thus, Jesus is projecting the story forward to the time when He has already died and freed Abraham and all other Old Testament persons from Sheol. The story takes place in the time when people’s spirits do not remain in death, but are “carried” directly to Heaven or Hell. And when the rich man begs for Lazarus to return (as a ghost) and to speak to his family, his request is denied. Not because it is impossible, but because it is impractical. The sending of people back from the dead is simply not done in Heaven. It is ineffective in persuading people to repent.
So Samuel was able to be summoned because he was in Sheol at the time. Presumably, anyone could be summoned when they were in Sheol. But could Samuel be summoned after Christ died and Samuel was moved to Heaven? Could Abraham or Lazarus be summoned? I think not. People who are in Heaven or Hell, as in the parable, will not leave those places again until the time of Christ’s second coming and the final resurrection.
So what about ghosts that we see today? If people are carried directly to Heaven or Hell now and they do not return to appear as ghosts to us, what are the ‘ghosts’ that people experience?
I believe that the ghosts we see today are not people at all, but demons disguising themselves as our loved ones and the random dead. The reason they do this is to cast doubt on the reality of Heaven and Hell. If the demons can make us believe that people become ghosts and wander the earth for a time, then it takes away some of the urgency of our eternal fate. It makes it seem like Heaven and Hell aren’t so immediate. We don’t have to worry about it quite as much. We can finish what we were doing on earth first. We can avenge our murderer. We can say good-bye to our families first.
Whereas these are all nice and comforting thoughts, they aren’t the reality. We don’t have any more time after we die. We can’t change our minds or repent or do things differently. We only have one life to do what needs to be done and we only get one life to make our decision for eternity. When we die, that’s it. Time’s up and Heaven and Hell are all that’s left. So we better live like we understand that. Demons appearing as ghosts only seek to distract us from this fact. Any ghost that we see today is a false apparition.

Why Do We Die?

We can blame disease, old age, accidents, and even foul play, but the most fundamental answer is sin.

At the beginning of humanity’s creation, we read, The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Genesis 2:15-17). Unfortunately, the man did eventually eat from the fruit of that forbidden tree, and God quickly passed sentence, just as He said He would. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19).

Death is a punishment for sin. God never intended for the man to die. God would much rather have had the man continue to obey Him. The man would have lived forever if He had not disobeyed. But the choice was left open, and the outcome of that choice was either going to be reward or punishment.

 Does sin only affect humans, or did it affect other parts of nature as well?

Sadly, sin affects everything. Man was the pinnacle of creation, and when man sinned, everything suffered because of it. Genesis 3:17-18 reads, To Adam [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”

The ground itself is cursed. When God created the earth and made it to produce vegetation, only helpful plants grew. Now, thorns and thistles are introduced to make the man’s work more difficult.

In Genesis 1:29-30, God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Humans and every kind of animal were originally supposed to eat only those helpful plants. After the man sinned, however, the animal kingdom was cursed with the desire to hunt and with predators hunting them. God never intended for conscious beings to eat one another. The violence of the ‘food chain’ is a result of sin.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:18-22).

I think Paul sums it up quite well. The creation is in bondage to decay, groaning for God to restore it to its intended, natural, peaceful state.

Of course, that still leaves the question of why we die. Adam and Eve were the ones who sinned, right? They ate the fruit, not us. So why do we die? Does Adam’s sin really have anything to do with my death?

Romans 5:12 says that it does. Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…

Adam’s sin causes our death because he is our biological ancestor. In Genesis 1:26-27, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

In the beginning, humans were made to be like God. Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. But that image was marred when man sinned. God is perfect and so, when Adam and Eve sinned, they lost part of what it means to be like God. They became unlike God in a very fundamental way, and this unlikeness to God was passed on biologically to Adam and Eve’s children.

Genesis 5:1-3 says, When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, He called them man. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

Notice that Seth is not made in God’s likeness and image. Instead, he is made in Adam’s likeness and image. Seth is like his father. He is born rebellious toward God, just as his father had become. This propensity toward sin—this unlikeness to God—that we have all inherited from our fathers all the way from Adam to now is what we call the sinful nature. Because Adam became unlike God, that unlikeness has been passed down to each of us, causing our natures to be radically different from what God intended for us.

Interestingly, the sinful nature can apparently only be passed down to us by our fathers. We know this because Jesus had a natural mother (Mary) but not a natural father. Mary was miraculously impregnated and so, because Jesus did not have a human father, He did not inherit the sinful nature.

We die, then, because we are born with a desire to sin, a desire to be unlike God in that particular manner, and we all act on that desire. As Romans says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and, the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).

What is Death?

Genesis 2:7 – the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being

Humankind was created physically from the dust of the ground and spiritually from the breath of God. We are the union of body and spirit.

Matthew 10:28-31 – Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 – and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

James 2:26 – As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

These verses teach us that physical death is the separation of the spirit from the body. The body returns to the ground from which it was made, and the spirit returns to God. The death of the body, therefore, is not the death of the spirit. People can kill the body, as Jesus says, but only God has power over the soul.

God, however, remains sovereign over our physical deaths, even if He does not cause them directly. He knows when and how we will die and, in His wisdom, He allows it to occur. He wills it in the sense that He does not prevent it.

What is Sheol?

We often say that Jesus has defeated death. But what does that mean?

Let’s start with the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11:1-44. Jesus travels to Bethany and is immediately accosted by Martha, the sister of the dead man. “Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever You ask” (John 11:21).

You can almost hear the accusatory tone in Martha’s voice. “You should have been here! If You had been here, Lazarus, my brother. wouldn’t have died!” But then, she softens a bit, still hoping that Jesus will come through for her. “You can still do it, Lord. Won’t You do it? Please?”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Does Jesus mean now or does He mean at the final resurrection? Martha takes it as the latter.

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

But Jesus meant the former. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’"

Well, the question is, do we believe this? The first part is easy enough for us to believe as Christians. Jesus says that whoever believes in Him will live, even though that person has died. And we think immediately of Jesus’ second coming, when He will come down from Heaven and raise everyone who has died back to life. The Christian Church has always believed that Jesus will do this. We call it the Final Resurrection.

But what about this second part? Jesus says, “and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” Do we believe this? That’s a little bit harder to believe, isn’t it? I mean, how many of you have ever known someone who believed in Jesus, but then, they died? We’ve all known Christians, true Christians, who have died, haven’t we? So, how can Jesus say that if someone believes in Him, they will never die?

Well, to answer that question, we need to go back in time and find out what the word death meant to a Jewish person living in the time that Jesus said this.

To start, I wonder if you can think of a place in the Old Testament where it talks about someone dying and going to Heaven.

There is Enoch, who went to Heaven, and Elijah, who was carried up to Heaven in the chariot of fire, but they didn’t die, right? They were taken to Heaven without dying, so they’re kind of an exception to the rule.

The fact is that there is nowhere in the Old Testament where it talks about someone dying and going to Heaven. Neither is there any place where the Old Testament talks about someone dying and going to Hell. In fact, there’s not a place in the Old Testament where God even says that people can go to Heaven or Hell when they die. Why is that?

The reason is that for the Jewish people of the Old Testament, and for some Jewish people today, Heaven and Hell was not a concept that entered their minds. The people in the Old Testament never even dreamed that there was a Heaven or a Hell to go to. They knew God lived in Heaven, of course, but that was where God and the angels lived, not people, and certainly not regular people like you and me.

For the Jewish people of the Old Testament, death was the end. Their spirits didn’t go to Heaven or Hell.

As David writes in Psalm 6:5, No one remembers You [God] when he is dead. Who praises You from the grave? You see, David isn’t imagining singing in any Heavenly choir when he dies. He knows that he will never again praise God once he has passed on.

Similarly, King Hezekiah in Isaiah 38:10-11, 18-19, writes, In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death and be robbed of the rest of my years? I said, “I will not again see the LORD, the LORD, in the land of the living; no longer will I look on mankind, or be with those who now dwell in this world.” For the grave cannot praise You, death cannot sing Your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. The living, the living—they praise You...

The words that have been translated in these verses as “death,” “grave,” and “pit” all come from the Hebrew word, Sheol.

So, we see that the people of the Old Testament had no hope of seeing or being with God when they died. They served God for this life – God rewarded them in this life – and then, they died. That was all they knew.

And they knew why they died. They knew that God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. They ate anyway and died as a consequence. Everyone after them dies because we are all their descendants and we all have Adam and Eve’s sinful nature deep down inside of us. We’ve all done things that God has told us not to do, just like they did.

But yet, we know that there is something beyond death, don’t we? That’s the difference between us and the people of the Old Testament. They died because of sin and thought that was the end. We die because of sin but know that it is not the end. So, what has changed for us? Why do we have this hope of Heaven when they did not?

Romans 5:12, 15-17 reads,  Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned….the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Adam sinned and died as a punishment. We sin and die as a punishment. The difference is that Adam and everyone else in the Old Testament were living before Christ came, and we are living after Christ came. Because Jesus had not yet come in the Old Testament, Adam had to stay dead. That included his spirit. Jesus had not yet died to forgive Adam for his sin, so Adam’s spirit had to stay with his body in the grave. It couldn’t be rewarded by going on to Heaven. It had to stay where it was. But for us, we have been forgiven. Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment for our sins on Himself. So, when we die, our punishment, our penalty, has already been taken care of. We can’t stay dead because Jesus has already died for us.

It’s kind of like baseball. In the game of baseball, you can’t have two runners on the same base. Either one has to move forward, or the other has to go back. They can’t occupy the same base. It’s the same way with us and Jesus. Jesus has already occupied our place in death, so when we get there, death makes our spirits move on. We can’t stay there. We have to either go to Heaven or to Hell, based on the decision we have made.

So, our souls are free to move past death and go on to Heaven. That’s how Jesus can say that we will never really die. Even though our bodies die, we’re not really dead. Our spirits live on through death and don’t have to stay in death like the spirits of the people of the Old Testament did.

That’s us. But now we have to go back and ask: Well, what happened to the people of the Old Testament who died before Jesus came? Do their spirits ever get to move on past death like ours do? Does Adam ever get to live again?

And the answer to that question is yes. In fact, their spirits have already moved on. Matthew 27:52-53 saysThe tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

Everyone who lived before Christ were stuck in death. Once He died and was resurrected, they were free to move past death. Jesus had come to occupy their place and they had to move on. You see, Jesus’ death wasn’t just for us. He wasn’t defeating death just for us. He was dying for Adam and for Cain and Abel and for Noah and for everyone who had died before He came.

1 Peter 3:18-20a says, For Christ died for sins once for all, the Righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

Jesus went and preached to the people who were dead, all those people who had died in the Flood. His Spirit spoke to their spirits and told them the good news, told them the message of why He had come, and gave them the opportunity to place their trust in Him for salvation. Jesus preached to the dead so that their spirits could live again.

Jesus told His disciples that He was going to wake Lazarus up, as if Lazarus were only sleeping, even though Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. But for Jesus, death is only a sleep, isn’t it? He did wake Lazarus up, bringing him back from death, and He did the same thing for the rest of the people who had died by going to them in His Spirit, in their own death, and waking them up with the power of His word and preaching to them.

This idea of the Old Testament people being stuck in death for a time and not being able to go to Heaven as soon as they died may have been another concept that gave rise to the doctrines of Purgatory and Limbo.

But the point is that now everyone is able to escape death. Jesus has defeated death so that it no longer has any power. We don’t have to stay dead. Our loved ones don’t have to stay dead. Adam and the rest of the people of the Old Testament don’t have to stay dead. Our spirits can live on, and one day, when Jesus returns, He will even bring our bodies back to life, and we will never die again.

Sheol was temporary. That place of death was emptied when Christ took our place. Now, we bypass it on our way to Heaven or Hell.