The Heart of Isaiah (55:1-7)


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Isaiah 55:1-7 ESV

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.


We have been journeying through the Old Testament prophets for a few months now. We are not reading everything they wrote. We just want to get a glimpse of what drove them – what they were passionate about. That’s why I call this series “The heart of the Prophets.” Another way of saying it is we want to know what made the prophets tick. That expression comes from clockwork – the intricate machinery that is found when you open the back of a clock or watch. It’s the hidden substance that explains the outward style. It’s the reason for the function.


Isaiah’s lifetime overlapped two of our historical periods. He lived to see Israel fall to Assyria, and knew that Judah’s time was coming as well. The period of time that Isaiah saw was even broader than that. He not only predicted the Babylonian captivity of Judah, but he predicted the return from the captivity as well. Lots of people who have studied the book of Isaiah insist that there is no way that one man could have known all that. It has been popular to divide Isaiah into two or three parts, imagining that it really has more than one author. I don’t think that was the case. I think that God – knowing that his people were going to have to wait a long time for relief from their captivity – provided them with glimpses into their future to help them persevere.


Isaiah’s audience was varied as well. He spoke against both the northern and southern kingdoms. After Israel fell, he continued to plead with Judah, but knew that they too would be defeated by Babylon. He also spoke out against the nations in power, because he knew God was only allowing them to conquer as his instruments of punishment. Isaiah’s ultimate audience was the world. His prophecies are the most quoted in the New Testament. What made Isaiah tick was the same thing that makes God tick. He was always warning the disobedient to repent, and encouraging God’s people with messages of comfort about coming blessings in the future.


There is a problem that recurs throughout the prophets and is especially seen here in Isaiah 55. That problem is that God is the answer to all our needs, but we fail to pursue him. Isaiah put it this way: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). This is the problem of the limited time offer. If we had an eternity to decide whether or not God’s way may be the right way, then we could afford to waste a few decades on our own selfish pursuits. But we do not have an eternity, or a few decades. What makes God tick and what made Isaiah tick is that there is a clock ticking. When that clock reaches midnight, time is up. When time is up, Cinderella, you will not turn into a pumpkin. You will be permanently destroyed!


Isaiah appeals to his people and God appeals to his planet. They are both saying the same thing. You have been doing things your own way and it has left you hungry and thirsty. You have spent all of your money but you have still not found the satisfaction you are longing for. What you need to to is forsake your way, and your thoughts. Come to the LORD and he will forgive. Come to the LORD in repentance and he will provide you with food that satisfies and water that quenches your thirst. Jesus spoke once of the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The people said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The only way to Christ is on our knees.



Isaiah calls on the people to remember what God did for the Shepherd king: David. God made a covenant with David and turned him into three things:


1)David was a witness. His life was a testimony of what God can do through a man who follows him from the heart.

2)David was a leader. People chose to follow him because they saw God at work in his life.

3)David was a commander. His words were important – so much so that people wrote them down and obeyed them.

Do you know someone like that? God is calling you and me to be like that.



Isaiah calls on the people to imagine themselves as being kings, like David. Notice verse 5 again: “Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.” Who is the”you” of verse 5? It is the “everyone who thirsts” of verse 1. In other words, each of us has the potential to be a David in God’s kingdom. The only thing God asks of us is that we forsake our own ways and come to him.

I’m sure that in Isaiah’s time the people often said “It sure would be great if we had a king like David again.” Isaiah is telling them that God could do for them what he did for David.



Evangelist D.L. Moody was once speaking with a British evangelist named Henry Varley. Varley said “The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.” Those words burned in Moody’s heart. Moody said “I will try my utmost to be that man.” By God’s grace, Moody became such a man. I want to invite you to join me in seeking to be that kind of person as well. You have been hungering and thirsting your entire life. Give your body what it is truly thirsting for.

LORD, I present my life to you today, and so do all those following me in this prayer. We choose to forsake our ways and our thoughts, and follow you. In Jesus name. Amen.

ACST 31. Christ: The Logos

Jes birth PC-20

Christ is the center of any theology which derives from the Bible, because he is the chief character in God’s story from Genesis to Revelation. The Old Testament is his story concealed; the New Testament is his story revealed. He stands as the central person in all history. He is our way to God and God’s way or reconciling himself to us. He is the truth, and knowing him will set us free. He is the life, because he made the way for humanity to live again.

John described him as the Logos – the Word. He said “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”[1] John was referring to Jesus, because he said “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[2] With those few words John explained that the person who became Jesus of Nazareth pre-existed his birth at Bethlehem, and became God incarnate (in human flesh) at his birth.[3]

The Old Testament Witness

Jesus once spoke to his disciples about “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.”[4] One would expect there to be a witness to Christ’s pre-existence in those Old Testament books. Notice, for example, Psalm 2:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

This psalm speaks of the LORD, the God who created the nations. It also speaks of another, whom the LORD calls “my Son.” The LORD speaks to the Son and chooses somehow to beget him on a certain day. The LORD does not create him as a person; he brings him into existence as a human. The One to whom the LORD is speaking is already in existence as a divine being. He is the Son — the “anointed” who is to become King of Zion. The LORD warns the kings of the nations to kiss the Son, lest he be angry and they suffer his coming wrath.

When the Old Testament predicts the birth of this Son, it reveals his pre-existence at the same time. Micah encourages the little town of Bethlehem by saying “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”[5]

Isaiah says “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[6] Here again, there is the Lord (divine person #1) and the son (divine person #2) whom his earthly mother will call Immanuel (God with us). Later Isaiah reveals the titles of this divine son. He predicts “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”[7] The son will have all the attributes of his Father, including that of Mighty God (omnipotence) and Everlasting Father (infinity). For a mere created being to accept those titles would be blasphemy. But if the Immanuel who is to come is the same eternal being spoken of in Psalm 2, then it is not blasphemous to give him these divine titles.

Malachi predicts that the Israelites will see “the Lord whom they seek,” and that he will be preceded by a messenger who will “prepare the way before me … says the LORD of hosts.”[8] That means that the Lord that the Israelites seek is the same as “the LORD of hosts.” It is not merely a human Messiah, but an incarnation of the living LORD himself who will appear.

John The Baptist’s Witness

John the Baptist was this messenger to whom Malachi was referring. Centuries later, John was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. A few months later, Elizabeth’s relative, Mary, also had a son. We know this because Mary was pregnant with Jesus, and visited Elizabeth, but was still able to travel back to Nazareth just before John was born.[9] Travelling forward in time about thirty years, we find that John has become a great prophet, and people come from all over Israel to here him speak of the Lord who is coming.

Among the many things John says about this one who is to come, two things stand out: he says that the coming one ranks before him, because he was before him.[10] The one who is to come ranks before John because John is merely the messenger, but the one who is to come is the Lord. John said “he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.”[11] But that does not explain why John said that this coming Lord “was before me.” John was born first. He was the oldest. John knew that Jesus “was” before him, because Jesus pre-existed his birth.

John the Evangelist’s Witness

The author of John’s Gospel also bears witness that Christ pre-existed his birth. He said “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”[12] Before his birth, he was “at the Father’s side.”[13] Then, the Father sent him into the world.[14] While upon this planet, Jesus knew “that he had come from God and was going back to God.”[15]

In one of his epistles, this same author would explain how God’s love had devised the plan to send his Son to earth, to bring reconciliation to those who accept his sacrifice on the cross. He said “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[16] The cross was not a mistake. It was the reason that Christ entered time itself.

The vision John sees of Christ on Patmos fills in the picture even more of who Christ is. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end”[17] He was the child that the woman gave birth to, whom the dragon sought to devour, but who was caught up to God and his throne.[18] But he is also the living one, who died, and is alive forevermore.[19]

Paul’s Witness

The apostle Paul refers to Christ in his pre-existent state when he said that although he was rich (in heaven) he became poor for our sake (by coming to earth).[20] Paul encourages believers to “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”[21]

Paul also refers to the incarnation when he says “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[22] He speaks of Christ’s role in creation by saying “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”[23] Paul essentially agrees with every point that John had made of Jesus being both the Son of God who was born or Mary, and God, the Son who created all things.

The Author of Hebrews’ Witness

The author of Hebrews speaks of Christ as God’s “Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”[24] He expresses again that Christ was involved in creation before he came to this world to bring about redemption. Of particular importance is this author’s exegesis of Psalm 2.

So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.[25]

Melchizedek was a shadowy character in the book of Genesis who appears out of nowhere and Abraham gives him a tenth of everything he owns. The psalms predict that the Messiah will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.[26] The author of Hebrews brings these two predictions together. He asserts that God’s Messiah would be a Son of God who would have “days of his flesh.” During those days he would suffer, and become “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”

Jesus’ Witness

Jesus himself also testified to his pre-existence as the Son of God. His favorite title for himself was “Son of Man.”[27] It is assumed that mostly this title refers to Christ’s true humanity, but the title can also be translated “Son among men” which fits into the whole emphasis in the Bible on the Messiah as God among us. Jesus accepted the title “Son of God” as well.[28] Those who testified to his gospel often used this term for him.[29] He is never said to have become the Son of God. It had been his title before he came, and continues to be his title now.

One day when Jesus was arguing with the Jewish leaders who were opposing his message, he let slip the fact that he was alive back in the days of Abraham. He told them that “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” [30] That was enough for them. They were convinced he was crazy. They said “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”[31] If Jesus did not pre-exist his human birth, they would be right.

Jesus ended the argument by saying “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”[32] This opened a whole new can of worms for the Jews. The title “I am” was a special one for them, because it had been used by God to refer to himself when he revealed himself to Moses. Moses had asked what name he should use when offering God’s deliverance to the Israelites in Egypt. God said “ ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’”[33] By using this title, Jesus was claiming to have been the God of the exodus.

Jesus actually used that term “I AM” (Greek ego eimi) several times in his discourses in which he described himself.



Each of these statements identified Jesus as the LORD of the Old Testament, and thus implied that he was more than he seemed; that he pre-existed his birth.

There was another time when Jesus let it slip that he has been around a while. It was during his high priestly prayer for his disciples and the church that would come from their testimony. He prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”[34] Later he prayed “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”[35] Twice he referred to being with God before the world was created. John would remember those words, and describe his savior as the Word who was with God, and who was God.

The pre-existence of Christ as the eternal Logos is not an easy doctrine to grasp logically. Many have sought after some doctrinal compromise that would allow Christ to be less than what these scripture imply. Some have done so out of the mistaken notion that to call Christ equal with the Father is blasphemy. The scriptures must be the standard to judge all theological premises. The scriptures affirm that Christ is equal with the Father in deity.

However, that is only half of the story. The scriptures affirm as well that Christ was (and is) fully human. Both of those realities must be held in balance if Christ’s identity is to be understood.


[1] John 1:1-2.

[2] John 1:14.

[3] Technically, it was at Christ’s conception in the uterus of Mary that he became flesh.

[4] Luke 24:44.

[5] Micah 5:2.

[6] Isaiah 7:14.

[7] Isaiah 9:6.

[8] Malachi 3:1.

[9] Luke 1:56-57.

[10] John 1:15, 30.

[11] Matthew 3:11.

[12] John 1:1-2.

[13] John 1:18.

[14] John 3:16,34; 4:34, 5:23,30,37,38; 6:29,38,39,44,57; 7:16,18,28,29,33; 8:16,18,26,29,42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:44,45,49; 13:20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5; 17:3,8,18,21,23,25; 20:21.

[15] John 13:3.

[16] 1 John 4:9-10.

[17] Rev. 1:8,17; 2:8; 21:6; 22:13.

[18] Rev. 12:2,4,5,13.

[19] Rev. 1:18.

[20] 2 Cor. 8:9.

[21] Philippians 2:5-8.

[22] Galatians 4:4-5.

[23] Colossians 1:15-17.

[24] Hebrews 1:2.

[25] Hebrews 5:5-10.

[26] Psalm 110:4.

[27] Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:37, 41; 16:13, 27f; 17:9, 12, 22; 19:28; 20:18, 28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; 26:2, 24, 45, 64; Mark 2:10, 28; 8:31, 38; 9:9, 12, 31; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 41, 62; Luke 5:24; 6:5, 22; 7:34; 9:22, 26, 44, 58; 11:30; 12:8, 10, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8, 31; 19:10; 21:27, 36; 22:22, 48, 69; 24:7; John 1:51; 3:13f; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28; 9:35; 12:23, 34; 13:31.

[28] Matt. 4:3, 6; 8:29; 14:33; 26:63; 27:40, 43, 54; Mark 1:1; 3:11; 15:39; Luke 1:35; 3:38; 4:3, 9, 41; 22:70; John 1:34, 49; 3:18; 5:25; 10:36; 11:4, 27; 19:7; 20:31.

[29] Acts 9:20; Rom. 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:19; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:13; Heb. 4:14; 6:6; 7:3; 10:29; 1 John 3:8; 4:15; 5:5, 10, 12f, 20; Rev. 2:18.

[30] John 8:56.

[31] John 8:57.

[32] John 8:58.

[33] Exodus 3:14.

[34] John 17:5.

[35] John 17:24.

Good Habits


1 Corinthians 10:23-33 ESV   “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience- 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”


Some time ago I began a study on the continuous active imperative commands given by the apostle Paul in his epistles. Those are the commands in which Paul encourages the churches to keep on doing something. One such command is found in 1 Cor. 10:31, where Paul tells the Corinthians to “keep on doing everything” that they do for the purpose of glorifying God.

He is encouraging good habits. In Corinth, some of the people in the churches had been developing bad habits. They were making choices that did not bring glory to God. Instead, the bad habits were reflecting poorly on the churches, and bringing shame to God.


The most effective way to get rid of a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. Paul dealt with some of the bad habits that the Corinthians had developed by suggesting some good ones to take their place.

The first good habit he suggests is to focus your free time on helping others (23). Some of the Corinthians were always celebrating the freedom that they have in Christ. They would constantly quote the slogan “all things are lawful” because believers are no longer bound by the Old Testament law.

But Paul pointed out to them that their freedom is given so that they can concentrate on others, not themselves. If I am bound by law, I am always seeking ways to obey the law so I can be saved. If I am free, I have the opportunity to focus that freedom on meeting the needs of others.


The second good habit he suggests is to do things that build others up, or edify them (23). The Corinthians prided themselves on their Spiritual gifts. Paul wanted the Corinthians to use those gifts to build up the church instead of tearing it down. Earlier in his letter, he referred to himself as a skilled master builder who laid the foundation for the churches in Corinth, and that foundation was Christ (3:10-11). He told the Ephesian believers that they “are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).

Now he uses the same idea when he tells the Corinthian Christians to keep building each other up. God wants us to be his temple – to be a place where people can go to meet God and reconcile with him. Each of us is a brick in the edifice. We need each other.


The third good habit he suggests is to show love to your neighbour. He says “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbour” (24 ). The second greatest commandment in the law is to love your neighbour as yourself. This is getting back to the foundations. A few months ago, I shared from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Like the Samaritan did, we need to intentionally plan to show love to those around us – especially those in need.

We usually have no problem finding time to seek our own good, so Paul encourages us here to intentionally find time to seek the good of those around us. This begins in the prayer closet, but must not be allowed to stay there. Otherwise, we are just like the priest and Levite in the parable.


The fourth good habit he suggests is to demonstrate thankfulness. He talks about partaking of food with thankfulness in verse 30. Some of the Corinthians were having problems eating certain foods because they were afraid the foods might have been dedicated to a pagan god. Paul encouraged them to eat whatever is set before them without worrying about it. The only time they should abstain is when someone at the table points out that the food has been dedicated to another god.

Paul’s principle is that we are free to eat anything we want, as long as doing so does not lead someone else to participate in idolatry. So, as long as it does not violate habits 1, 2, and 3, Christians are free to visit any item on the buffet. One of the reasons to be thankful is that God does not hold us to any arbitrary dietary taboos.


The fifth good habit he suggests is to lead people to Christ. Listen to verse 33 in the NLT: “I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved.” Paul had many principles which guided his ministry among the Gentiles. Strategic principles were higher on Paul’s list than personal preferences. One of those strategic principles is that everything should be done with evangelism in mind.

Filipinos love basketball. OBC often used basketball games as a means to win people to Christ. A good question for all of us to ask is “What is it that I love to do, and can I use that to lead people to Christ?


Today’s text encourages us to “keep on doing everything to the glory of God.” I have to admit that before I even begin to obey this command, I am going to need to step back and evaluate what I am doing with my life. Probably lots of the things I do are habitual – and they are more me centered than God centered. I want to invite you to do the same kind of life evaluation. Get somewhere alone today and write a list of the things you do on a regular basis. Be specific. If you watch TV, list each program. If you go to a coffee shop, list it. Then think about how you can use that to help, edify, or love your neighbor, to demonstrate thankfulness to God, or to lead people to Christ. I’m not encouraging you to stop doing anything. I just want you to join me in asking “is what I am doing bringing glory to God?”


LORD, we want to ask you to help us to examine ourselves this week. Help us to take a good look at the things we regularly do. Help us to make sure that we are bringing you glory by loving others, building them up, and helping to meet their needs. Help us to do everything with thankfulness because of the freedom that we have in Christ. Help us to order our lives in such a way that leading people to you is just part of normal living for us.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Excursus: Sheol: The Old Testament Consensus


{view this article in Afterlife website}



There were 400 silent years – a gap between the closing of the Old Testament prophets and the writing of the New Testament. During this time the doctrine of the intermediate state (that state between death and the resurrection) underwent a sort of evolution. Jews became immersed in pagan communities which held to the doctrine made popular by Greek philosophy: the immortality of the soul.

The Judaism that emerged from this period was not consistent on the issue of the intermediate state. Some Jews adapted the Greek concept almost whole cloth. They conceded that all human souls are immortal, and understood “that the souls of the righteous proceeded immediately to heaven at their deaths, there to await the resurrection of their bodies, while the souls of the wicked remained in Sheol.”[1] For them, Sheol became a place entirely associated with the punishment of the wicked, although their own scriptures insist that Sheol contains the righteous as well.[2]

Other Jews were not willing to concede that Sheol was exclusively for the wicked. Instead, they imagined “that there was a spatial separation in the underworld between the godly and the ungodly.”[3] These retained the Old Testament idea that all souls go to Sheol at death, adding only the Greek concept that these souls are immortal, and conscious of being in Sheol – or as the Greeks called it — Hades.

By the New Testament era, a third view (or a variation of the second) apparently became popular among the Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. Jesus must have accommodated one of their own stories when he told the Pharisees about the rich man and Lazarus.[4] In that story, the rich man dies and ends up in Hades, while Lazarus is carried bodily to a place called Abraham’s Bosom. The irony was not lost on the Pharisees, who would have expected just the opposite. For them, riches were a sign of the LORD’s blessing, while poverty was viewed as a curse. Jesus used the story to warn the Pharisees that their godless greed was disobedience to the very laws they were trusting in for their salvation.

By using that story, Jesus was by no means condoning its theology. After all, he was not declaring doctrine to his disciples. He was speaking to a group who stood in opposition to his teachings. If Jesus were teaching his disciples about the intermediate state, his words would have conformed to the Old Testament consensus.

The best place to look for answers about the intermediate state is in the Old Testament. God’s people struggled with this question for millennia before Plato was born. One has every right to expect God’s word to provide answers, and for those answers to be consistent. The vast majority of biblical references to the intermediate state are in the Old Testament.[5] By the time the Old Testament was completed, a theological consensus was clearly revealed. This Old Testament consensus reveals that Sheol is a much different place than that imagined by syncretistic 2nd Temple Judaism.

Sheol is Down There

When Jacob was told that his son Joseph had been killed by some wild animal, he was distraught. He imagined that Joseph was dead, down underneath the earth somewhere. Jacob was so upset that he thought he would die of grief. He tells his children who are trying to comfort him “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning”[6] This first reference to Sheol in the Bible reveals that the intermediate state is not a mystery that no one knows about. Jacob apparently knew that all people go there at death.

Jacob also knew that in some way Sheol is down there. The rest of the Old Testament has a number of references to Sheol that utilize the verb root that Jacob used: yarad – to go down or descend.[7] Other verb roots used with Sheol portray the same idea: nachat – to go down[8], and shafel – to be or become low.[9] Both people from within the covenant community and those without went in the same direction at death.

Some have suggested that these are all references to being buried in the grave, and that Sheol is merely a reference to what happens to the body. Thus Sheol would be taken as a synonym for Qever – the grave or tomb. But Jacob could not have been referring to a literal grave, since Joseph’s body was not found to bury.

Also, Sheol is normally associated with death in poetic parallels, not the grave. Of all the references to Sheol in the Old Testament, none directly parallel with Qever. However, the term Sheol is often paralleled with synonyms for the grave, like Bor, the pit,[10] and Abaddon, destruction.[11] This leads to the conclusion that the term Sheol has something in common with the grave, but cannot be equated with the actual grave itself. Although Sheol is often described as if it were a location, its Old Testament use leads to the conclusion that it more specifically refers to the human state after death. The location for the dead (at least those who are buried) is the grave. Their condition is Sheol.

This was the conclusion of Eric Lewis, whose examination of the 65 references to Sheol in the Old Testament led him to the conclusion that the term specified “not the place of interment, nor a presumed locality of departed spirits, but the condition of death, the death-state.”[12] Lewis suggested that a synonym for Sheol emphasizing this connotation is Gravedom. But how does one reconcile the idea that Sheol is a state with all these references to a direction (down there)?

Sheol is of Extreme Depth

Sheol is to down as heaven is to up. It is not simply six feet under. Moses spoke of the fire of God’s anger burning to the depths of Sheol.[13] Zophar said that God’s limit is higher than heaven and deeper than Sheol.[14] David described the LORD’s deliverance as being from the depths of Sheol.[15] When describing God’s omnipresence he said “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”[16] The LORD complained through Isaiah that Israel prostituted herself by sending envoys to all far-off lands, even sending them down to Sheol.[17]

His words through Amos describe the extent to which God was determined to go to bring punishment upon his own disobedient people:

If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down. If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search them out and take them; and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them. And if they go into captivity before their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good.[18]

Here again, Sheol is contrasted with heaven – not because it is a place of suffering and heaven a place of pleasure. Heaven is listed because it is a high place – like the top of Mt. Carmel. Sheol is mentioned because it is a low place, like the bottom of the sea.

Perhaps the ancient Hebrews imagined Sheol an extremely deep place because of the mystery surrounding it. Perhaps it was thought so because people went there and did not come back. Perhaps it was regarded so because it was a mystery – hidden to everyone except God himself.[19] Regardless, when the Old Testament saints spoke of Sheol it was obviously not synonymous with heaven. It was the exact opposite. Yet this is the place that all souls entered at death.

Sheol is Silent

Another stark contrast the Old Testament presents when comparing Sheol to heaven is the activity they describe to each place. Heaven and earth are places where God is praised continually.[20] But when the soul reaches Sheol that praise stops abruptly. David prays for God to “let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol.”[21] The deaths of his enemies would not only silence them upon earth, it would silence them in the underworld as well. Sheol is a place where the once mighty now lie still.[22] It is the land of silence, where the dead go down to silence.[23]

Hezekiah prays that God would rescue him from his sickness because “Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness.”[24] What he was saying was that if he died, his praises would stop. Sheol was a place of silence for both the believer and the unbeliever. For that reason, it makes sense for King Hezekiah to plead with God to rescue him from death. His death would not glorify God. His rescue would — and did.

David had a similar experience when he was in threat of death, and he prayed for God to deliver him “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?”[25] His plea is so like that of Hezekiah that they mark a certain approach to the whole concept of Sheol. To these two people of God, there was no afterlife. There was merely silence and stillness – a waiting on God to perhaps rescue by resurrection. To neither of these Old Testament saints would a residence in Sheol be considered a goal to attain. For both of them it was an inevitable consequence of their own mortality – to be avoided at all costs.

David’s son Solomon had an insatiable curiosity, and set his mind to study everything that could be studied. He wrote thousands of proverbs encapsulating his wisdom, and composed over one thousand songs.[26] His “wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.”[27] Yet when he described Sheol, he merely warned his readers to do whatever they wanted to do before death, because “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”[28] His studied assessment of Sheol agreed with the Old Testament consensus. He saw it as a place where the thoughts are silenced.

Sheol is Dark

Other characteristics of Sheol found in the Old Testament consensus do not match modern views of the afterlife. Job described a person in Sheol as spreading out his bed in darkness.[29] He described Sheol as “the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.”[30] David describes those “long dead” as “sitting in darkness.”[31] Jeremiah described “the dead of long ago” as dwelling in darkness now.[32] If Sheol is a place, then darkness might only imply a lack of visual awareness in that place. If Sheol is a state, then these references to darkness would imply a lack of cognitive awareness in that state.

Sheol is Sleep

David prayed to the LORD, “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”[33] He anticipated that his death would find him in Sheol and doing what all others in Sheol are doing: not praising, not singing, not playing golden harps. He defined existence in Sheol as sleeping the sleep of death. The exact phrase “slept with his fathers” is found 36 times in the Old Testament.[34] It was a common expression used to describe the fact that someone had died.

Daniel described existence in Sheol as sleeping in the dust of the earth.[35] It was a condition which required an awakening – a resurrection. This sleep was never the hope of Old Testament saints. The resurrection and restoration to life was the hope. Sleep was simply a way of describing the state of death itself. Jesus used the same terminology to describe the death-state of Jairus’ daughter.[36] He said of Lazarus (in Sheol) that he had “fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him”.[37]

Conditionalists prefer to use the term sleep to describe the intermediate state for several reasons, among them: 1) it is used by the scripture itself; 2) it emphasizes the need for resurrection; 3) it places the hope of humanity not in the death-state itself, but in the LORD who will raise (awaken) the dead.

Sheol is Universal

The thing most stressed in the Old Testament concerning Sheol is that it is synonymous with death itself. In the New Testament, this is seen by the terms death and Hades appearing next to each other.[38] All those who die (the event) experience Hades (the state). In the Old Testament, this fact is seen in numerous passages where death and Sheol are placed in parallel. David, for example says “the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.”[39] He also says “in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?”[40]

Other psalmists reflect the same association between death as an event, and Sheol as the state it initiates. The sons of Korah say of the foolish “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd”[41] Ethan the Ezrahite proclaims “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”[42]

Hannah prayed “The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.”[43] The theology of her prayer is impeccable. To die is to be brought down to Sheol, where all the other dead are. To be rescued from that condition is to be brought back to life, and that is something that only the LORD can do.


Sheol, then, is a silent, dark state or condition in which everyone exists at death, and can only live again by a resurrection from the LORD. It is always contrasted with heaven, and never equated with it. It is not the hope of the saints; rescue from it is the hope of the saints. That is the Old Testament consensus.

[1] Richard N. Longenecker, “Grave, Sheol, Pit, Hades, Gehenna, Abaddon, Hell” in Donald E. Gowan, ed. The Westminster Theological Wordbook of the Bible. (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2003), 189.

[2] Hezekiah, for example, lamented that at the age of 39 he must walk through the gates of Sheol, being deprived of the rest of his years (Isaiah 38:10). And David spoke of his hope that God would rescue him from death by saying confidently that God would not abandon him to Sheol (Psalm 16:10). Both of these men of God understood entering Sheol as synonymous with dying.

[3] Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994), 99.

[4] Luke 16:19-31.

[5] References to Sheol in the Old Testament outnumber those of Hades in the New Testament over 6 to 1. Also, most of the New Testament references merely use the term Hades without explaining it.

[6] Genesis 37:35.

[7] Genesis 42:38; 44:29, 31; Num. 16:30, 33; 1 Sam. 2:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 17:16; Psalm 55:15; Prov. 1:12; 5:5; 7:27; Isaiah 14:11, 15; Ezekiel 31:15, 16, 17; 32:21, 27.

[8] Job 21:13

[9] Isaiah 57:9.

[10] Psalm 30:3; Prov. 1:12; Isaiah 14:15; 38:18; Ezekiel 31:16.

[11] Job 26:6; Prov. 15:11; 27:20.

[12] Eric Lewis, Christ, The First Fruits (Boston: Warren Press, 1949), 48.

[13] Deuteronomy 32:22.

[14] Job. 11:8.

[15] Psalm 86:13.

[16] Psalm 139:8.

[17] Isaiah 57:9.

[18] Amos 9:2-4.

[19] Job 26:6; Prov. 15:11.

[20] Psalm 69:34; 113:3; 145:3-7; 148:2.

[21] Psalm 31:17.

[22] Ezekiel 32:21, 27.

[23] Psalm 94:17; 115:17.

[24] Isaiah 38:18.

[25] Psalm 6:5.

[26] 1 Kings 4:32.

[27] 1 Kings 4:30.

[28] Ecclesiastes 9:10.

[29] Job 17:13.

[30] Job 10:21-22.

[31] Psalm 143:3.

[32] Lamentations 3:6.

[33] Psalm 13:3.

[34] 1 Kings 2:10; 11:21, 43; 14:20, 31; 15:8, 24; 16:6, 28; 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24; 10:35; 13:9, 13; 14:16, 22, 29; 15:7, 22, 38; 16:20; 20:21; 21:18; 24:6; 2 Chr. 9:31; 12:16; 14:1; 16:13; 21:1; 26:2, 23; 27:9; 28:27; 32:33; 33:20.

[35] Daniel 12:2.

[36] Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52.

[37] John 11:11.

[38] Rev. 1:8; 6:8; 20:13-14.

[39] 2 Samuel 22:6.

[40] Psalm 6:5.

[41] Psalm 49:14.

[42] Psalm 89:48.

[43] 1 Samuel 2:6.