May 15 - 21
Condition in Death
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Eccles. 9:5, 6; John 11:11-14; 1 Thess. 4:13-18.
MEMORY TEXT: "For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5, NKJV).
KEY QUESTIONS: What exactly does the Bible teach about what happens to people when they die? Why is the correct belief regarding this subject so important?
PROBLEMS WITH POPULAR BELIEFS. Almost all Christians believe that immediately upon death the "soul" goes either to heaven, purgatory, or a place called hell. While thinking that loved ones are in heaven is very comforting, thinking that loved ones are in hell is not' Therefore, many people are tempted to think their loved one is in heaven anyway. After all, everyone has something good about him.
Another problem with thinking that the "soul" goes someplace specific after death is that those who are supposedly in heaven can see everything that is happening to the friends and family members they left behind. Are the people in heaven really happy watching their loved ones suffer without being able to do anything about it?
In the light of these problems, the biblical teaching that death is a sleep can be comforting, despite the fact that losing someone to death can be just as painful regardless of what one believes. There is always the joy of looking forward to the coming of Jesus and the resurrection. This belief is based on the promise of God in Scripture and filled with the hope that only Christ can give.
In April 1848, James White and others met at Rocky Hill, Connecticut, in the United States to encourage each other in the faith, to hammer out further details of last-day prophecies, and to correct any errors in their religious beliefs. Over the next few months, they met several times. By September of that year, they had agreed upon eight points that would later become part of the Seventh-day Adventists' belief system. (These eight doctrines were in addition to the fundamental doctrines that make up the Christian faith such as the virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.)
The eight biblical doctrines they agreed on that would identify them as Seventh-day Adventist Christians were: (1) the imminent, personal, premillennial second advent; (2) the twofold ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, the cleansing of which began in 1844; (3) the seventh-day Sabbath; (4) the spirit of prophecy as given to Ellen White; (5) the three angels' messages; (6) conditional immortality and death as a dreamless sleep; (7) the timing of the seven last plagues; and (8) the final, complete extinction of the wicked after the millennium.R.W. Schwarz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1979), pp. 68, 69.
Why should a doctrine such as the state of the dead be one of the pillars of the Adventist faith? Matt. 28:19, 20; Acts 20:27-30; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
All scriptural teaching is important, especially on such subjects as Creation, sin, salvation, and restoration. Included in these is the nature of men and women, how God created them, for what purpose, what happened to change their nature, how He saves them, what happens when they die, and what are the prospects of their future. Together with their related topics (for example: salvation would include the incarnation, sinless life, death, and resurrection of Christ) are the core teachings of the Christian faith. As we near the end of time, the doctrine of the state of men and women in death becomes extremely important.
Through two great errors, the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, Satan will succeed in bringing people under his deceptions. The belief in the immortality of the soul lays the foundation for spiritualism and Sunday sacredness and shifts the center of authority from Scripture to tradition (see The Great Controversy, p. 588).
Match the following phrases to the correct text:
|1. Ps. 146:4||A. Those sleeping in the dust shall awake.|
|2. Eccles. 9:5, 6||B. He is not dead, he's sleeping.|
|3. Dan. 12:2||C. The day we die our thoughts perish.|
|4. John 11:11-14||D. We shall not all steep but be changed.|
|5. 1 Cor. 15:51-55||E. The dead know nothing.|
Show how Jesus' experience confirms the biblical evidence that the dead rest in the grave until the resurrection. John 19:38-42; 20:11-23.
There is no doubt that Jesus died (John 19:31-42). During the Sabbath, He rested in Joseph's tomb. His work done, He now slept the peaceful sleep of death. He did not go to Paradise the day He died that was simply the day a promise was given to the thief who accepted Him (Luke 23:43), for when He spoke to Mary on Sunday morning. He said that He had not yet ascended to His Father (John 20:17).
Explain how the resurrection of Lazarus confirms the biblical evidence that the dead sleep. John 11:1-44.
Martha did not believe her brother was in heaven, for she stated that she did not expect to see him until the resurrection in the last day. Jesus told her that He is the resurrection and the life. Then He raised Lazarus from the dead. Nowhere in Scripture is there a recorded conversation between Jesus and Lazarus, between Lazarus and his sisters about where he had been or what he had seen, nor with the disciples or anyone in the crowd who had seen him raised (John 11:17). This is a strong argument from silence that the dead go nowhere and know nothing.
People who believe in the immortality of the soul and life immediately after death offer Luke 16:19-21 as proof. Is this what the parable really teaches? Several principles of biblical interpretation are especially helpful here: (1) The place, circumstance, and persons to whom the parable is spoken are keys to its meaning. (2) Because a parable usually illustrates one particular truth, no doctrine should be based on the parable. (3) A parable reflects truth. It is not truth itself. Details of a parable are important only as they help us understand the truth reflected in it. (4) Knowledge of Jewish customs and ways of thinking gives us a clearer understanding of the parable's meaning. (5) The parable should be interpreted "in terms of the truth it is designed to teach, as set forth in literal language in the immediate context and elsewhere in Scripture."SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 204.
With these principles in mind, let us now take a closer look at the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. First, many people in Jesus' audience had come to believe in the conscious state of existence between death and the resurrection. This belief was not grounded in the Old Testament but surfaced in Jewish writings after the Babylonian exile and, by the time of Jesus, had become part of Jewish traditional teaching. (See SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 83 1.)
Second, this parable is the last in a series of five (Luke 15 and 16). Because Jesus told these stories in response to the Pharisees' complaint that He ate with sinners (15:2), each of them condemns the pride and hypocrisy so prevalent among these religious leaders by informing them that His kingdom "was more than form or ceremony; it was a fellowship with God and man."Questions on Doctrines, p. 549.
In particular, the rich man felt assured of his place because he was a son of Abraham. Moreover, he probably believed that his wealth proved his "good" standing before God. Indeed, there is nothing in the parable to suggest he was a "bad" person. Why did he not even let Lazarus beg at his gate? How like the Pharisees he was. He and they both believed that who they were merited favor with God. The everlasting kingdom belonged to such as Lazarus. The rich man, though claiming to be a son of Abraham, was forever lost to God's kingdom.
Now list some of the points in the story that do not harmonize with the rest of Scripture concerning its teaching on the state of the dead. Note especially Luke 16:22, 23, 24, and 26.
|How would you personally answer a friend who used Luke 16:19-31 to prove the immortality of the soul and immediate life after death?|
Explain the difference between a "natural" body and a "spiritual" body. 1 Corinthians 15:35-52, John 20:24-29, Acts 1:9-11, and Philippians 3:21 might help you.
"Paul is simply affirming that man's present body is unfit for entrance into the kingdom of God. That resurrected bodies will have flesh and blood may reasonably be deduced from the fact that our new bodies will be fashioned like unto the glorious resurrection body of Christ (Phil. 3:20, 21), which consisted of 'flesh and bones' (Luke 24:39 ... ). It is further reasonable to conclude that the bodies of the resurrected saints will not differ too greatly from the kind of body that Adam possessed when he was first created (Gen. 2:7). If man had not sinned, he doubtless would have retained that body forever."SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 812.
Now read 2 Corinthians 5:8. What expressions in verses 4 and 5 clarify what Paul meant when he said he would rather be absent from the body and present with the Lord?
"In verses 3, 4 Paul describes death as a state of being 'naked,' or ,unclothed.' He hopes, if at all possible, to avoid this intermediate state, and ardently desires to be 'clothed' with his 'house ... from heaven.' In other words, he hopes to be translated without seeing death. . . . Elsewhere (see on 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:15-17; 2 Tim. 4:6-8; etc.) Paul makes it certain that men are not 'clothed' with immortality individually at death, but simultaneously at the resurrection of the just."SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 863.
Another problem verse is Revelation 6:9. Here we must remember that Revelation is a composite of literal and symbolic expressions such as the existence of real angels, a real Jesus, and a real new earth, on the one hand, and angels riding horses across the earth on the other. In light of such texts as Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, there can be no talking "souls" in heaven, much less "souls" crying for vengeance. This is obviously symbolic language used to convey a message to future martyrs that justice and vindication would ultimately come. (See SDA Bible Commentary vol.7,pp.777, 778.)
|What does the correct interpretation of such difficult biblical texts teach us about biblical interpretation in general?|
Rephrase the logic Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 15:12-18 to prove the certainty of the resurrection.
The resurrection of Christ is the basis of our faith. If Christ had not been innocent and free from sin, He would not have risen from the grave. But Christ did rise from the dead. Therefore our faith is not in vain but built on the certainty of a living Christ. As the angels said to the women at the tomb, "Why do you seek the living among the dead" He is not here, but is risen!" (Luke 24:5, 6). And because He lives, we shall live also (Rom. 8:11).
Explain how Paul's sequence of resurrection/translation in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 fits into the doctrine of the state of the dead.
The word prevent as used in some translations means "to come before" or "to precede." Paul is saying that the living saints will not meet their Lord before those who are asleep in Christ. But all those who believe in Christ will meet Him together. This verifies what we have studied elsewhere about the state of those who have died "in Christ." They are asleep, awaiting the coming of their Lord. (See SDA Bible Commentary , vol. 7, p. 248.)
Although Paul is speaking of the richness of the Christian life when he says "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him," it is also true that we cannot imagine what God has in mind for us once we are home.
"There we shall know even as also we are known. There the love and sympathies that God has planted in the soul will find truest and sweetest exercise. The pure communion with holy beings, the harmonious social life with the blessed angels and with the faithful ones of all ages, the sacred fellowship that binds together 'the whole family in heaven and earth,'all are among the experiences of the hereafter.
"There will be music there, and song, such music and song as, save in the visions of God, no mortal ear has heard or mind conceived....
"All the treasures of the universe will be open to the study of God's children. With unutterable delight we shall enter into the joy and the wisdom of unfallen beings."Education, pp. 306, 307.
|Explain how daily habits of prayer, Bible study , etc. can be especially helpful to you in preventing feelings of melancholy and depression that often beset you in times of discouragement. What precious promises from the Holy Scriptures do you especially draw strength from during the dark periods of life?|
FURTHER STUDY: For additional texts regarding the study of the human condition in death and the rewards Christ promises to the faithful at the resurrection, see any or all of the following texts: Job 7:21; 14:14, 15; 17:13, 16; 19:25-27; 20:11; 21:26; Ps. 6:5; 17:15; 22:29; 30:9; 88:10; 104:29; 115:17; Eccles. 3:20; 9:10; Isa. 38:18, 19; 40:10; Matt. 16:27; 22:28-30; Luke 20:37; John 5:29; 6:39, 40; Acts 2:29; 1 Cor. 15:17, 18; Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; 2 Tim. 4:7, 8; Heb. 11:39, 40; 1 Pet. 3:21; Rev. 22:12.
Read The Great Controversy, "The First Great Deception," pp.531-550.
In his two-volume set entitled The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, published by the Review and Herald Publishing Association, volume 11, 1965, volume 1, 1966, Le Roy Froom documents in over two thousand pages the belief of numerous Christian scholars and pastors throughout history who rejected the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. A condensed list appears in Questions on Doctrines, published by the Review and Herald in 1957, pages 567-609. Martin Luther, for example, said that in the sleep of death, as in normal physical sleep, there is complete unconsciousness of the condition of death or of the passage of time. Death is a deep, sound, sweet sleep. And the dead will remain asleep until the time of the Resurrection when once more body and soul will come together (pp. 571, 572).
SUMMARY: The Bible teaches that death is a sleep until the Resurrection. This faith has always been a hedge against spiritualism and so-called appearances of dead loved ones and is so today. But the day of resurrection is coming when all who are asleep in Christ will live and those who are alive will be changed and forever they will be with the Lord.
Ruth Wetzel is a widow living in northern Germany. For years she cared for foster children. Most of the children came to her when they were quite young, but one day a social worker told Ruth about a teenage boy named Heinz who needed a home. He was having difficulties in school and in the foster home where he had been staying. The social worker asked Ruth to take him.
Ruth was not sure. A teenager could be difficult to work with, and she had other children in her home. Ruth told the social worker that she was an Adventist, and was away at church each Saturday from 8:00 to 2:00. German schools operated on Saturday mornings, and Ruth was sure the authorities would not want Heinz to miss classes.
The social worker asked Ruth to think about it. A few days later the social worker returned with permission for Ruth to take any child in her care out of school on Saturdays to attend church with her. Ruth knew God wanted her to take this boy.
Heinz lived with Ruth for two years. He attended church with her, but never really showed an interest in religion. When he was 15 he left her home to attend a technical school to study carpentry. Writing was difficult for him, and he seldom wrote to her, but he visited her once or twice a year. She was always glad to see him, and prayed for him every day. She knew he was a troubled, lonely boy.
One day Heinz came to visit Ruth and asked her where the Adventist church in his city was. Surprised, Ruth gave him the address.
Some time later a group of Pathfinders stayed with Ruth while they toured the area. Heinz was visiting her at the time, and the Pathfinders invited Ruth and Heinz to join them on Sabbath. The group's pastor held a baptism that day and asked if anyone would like to prepare for baptism. Heinz stood up! Ruth contacted a pastor from the area where Heinz lived and asked him to visit Heinz. He did, and Heinz was eventually baptized.
Ruth remembers that she almost did not take this troubled teen into her home. But she is so glad that God allowed her to care for him and pray for him and love him for God.
Ruth Wetzel (left) lives in northern Germany. Charlotte Ishkanian is editor of Mission.
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