Traditional teaching about death

In the Old Testament when a  patriarch died it is recorded that he was buried and slept with his fathers.

The Greeks had a very developed idea of what happens to the soul after death and their philosophers developed the idea of the soul’s immortality.Their abode of the dead was called Hades and there were good and bad parts of it; blissful or tormented.The place of the dead in Hebrew was Sheol and this was translated as Hades in the Greek scriptures and Hell or the grave in English.

However, we should not adopt the Greek ideas about Hades. The Bible clearly states that the soul that sins will die and in 1 Tim 5 we read that only the supreme God possesses immortality(non dying), which means therefore that the soul is not immortal. We may put on immortality but it is not something we are born with. The Romans were fascinated with Greek culture and philosophy and so the Christian church gradually adopted much of it in the first centuries, encouraged by the “wise and educated” who wanted the church to shine and be accepted, forsaking what the Old Testament taught for the more sophisticated Greek learning. In Acts 17 the Bereans were praised for searching the scriptures to verify Paul’s message, that is they searched the Old Testament.

Throughout the Psalms we read of the finality of death but in Daniel 12:2 we read of those who sleep in the dust of the earth awakening, some to life and some to everlasting shame. None of them would have been in heaven for Jesus says in John 3 that no one has ascended into heaven except himself who had come down from heaven.

Going to heaven when you die is the Greek idea of the Elysian Fields for those who had found favour. The bad guys went to Tartarus to be punished.

We are exhorted to lay up treasure in heaven and we say, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, when the kingdom of heaven comes among us – we are to lay up treasure in heaven but there is no promise that says we will live there.

The hope of many is that when they die they will go to heaven but the hope of the New Testament is the resurrection, when the ones ‘sleeping’ in Christ will arise to meet Jesus at his return. This is known as the first resurrection. The second resurrection is to be a thousand years later when the rest of the dead will arise to be judged according to what they did in this life – so no babies being tortured in hell because they were not baptised or any such wicked teaching.

 The traditional idea of going straight to heaven leaves little to be desired from a future resurrection.

 At the end of the Book of Daniel he is told what will happen to him.”But go thou thy way till the end: for thou shall rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.” Dan 12

The souls of the martyrs under the altar in Rev 6 are told they should rest a bit longer.

Paul says, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” Phil.3

Jesus sometimes equates death with sleep. When he spoke of Lazarus he said he was sleeping and it says too that he meant he was dead. John 11

In Mark 5 he told the mourners in the house of Jairus that the girl was not dead but asleep.

Paul speaks of those believers who are asleep, that they will not be preceded by those who are still alive at the coming of Christ. 1 Thess 4

But Paul says that if he is to die then he will be absent from the body and present with the Lord. How can that be if he says the dead in Christ are asleep? We experience this every night – we fall asleep and awake hours later. Time has passed in an instant.

But what sort of sleep is it? Samuel complained to Saul that he had been disquieted when the medium called him up. 1 Sam 28

Jesus said that when Moses was at the burning bush, God revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not however the God of the dead but of the living.

If we sleep, then is dreaming unreasonable? Will our final sleep be pleasant or will we have a bad night?

For the rich man  in Luke 16 who saw Lazarus in comfort in Abraham’s bosom it was a very bad night. Those who believe in eternal punishment straight after death for unbelievers and heaven for believers point to this story as proof. The details in this story hardly fit in with the usual ideas of heaven and hell. But it could be the rich man’s dream.

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