I wish I could travel back in time. I’d like to go back to the time of the Greek philosopher, Socrates. I would pretend to be one of Socrates’ disciples, standing around in his jail cell. According to Plato, Socrates had a discussion about death just before he swallowed the hemlock. He told them that his death would solve his problems. He taught that death was a good thing, it separated the soul from the body, and set it free from its corruptible prison.
I would like to be there, because I would say “Sorry, Socrates!, You really don’t know anything about death.” The Bible consistently teaches that death is an enemy to be feared, not than a solution to our present problems. God’s warning to the residents in Eden was “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, because in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” If death were a good thing, bringing release from the prison of their body, that warning would not make sense.
The Bible associates death with darkness, not freedom and light. It is pictured as a place void of all awareness, a place where the souls and bodies lie and await the next event – a resurrection and its accompanying judgment. The dead are described as unconscious of what is going on around them. This is not freedom.
The term “sleep” is the single most used description of death in the Bible. It is used in the Old Testament and in the New. It is used of believers and unbelievers. It is used of people before the atonement and afterward. Now, sleep is a good thing, but only if you wake up later. The biblical hope is not death itself, but rescue from it. Jesus is the one who has the keys to set people free, and the prison that we are incarcerated in is not our physical body, but death and Hades.
Believers will be set free only when Jesus returns. Until then, we are still suffering the consequences of our ancestors’ sin – we die and return to the dust. But Jesus can raise us to life again. That is the blessed hope: “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” who comes to rescue us from death.
Teaching that death sets people free instead fails to reflect the Bible in three crucial areas. It is inconsistent with what the Bible says about death, it contradicts the Bible’s description of the intermediate state, and it detracts from the importance the Bible places on the resurrection. So, when people start to sound like Socrates when they describe death, we should explain to them that they are getting it wrong, too.
If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.
Listen to the audio file on Afterlife.