Category Archives: article

what the dead really know

gift of lifegift of life #12

what the dead really know

 

 

 

In his Exposition of the Bible, John Gill gives us a long list of things that people know after they are dead. He says that when people die, their knowledge “is greatly increased.” He says that…

  • · once believers die, they know as much as God knows about them,
  • · they know about God’s perfections, purposes, covenant, grace and love,
  • · they know about Christ’s person, offices and glory; they see him as he is,
  • · they know about the gospel, angels, other dead saints that they talk with,
  • · they know about the glories and happiness of their heavenly state,
  • · they in fact know more than they ever did while living
  • · once the wicked die, they know that God exists and is judging them,
  • · they know that their suffering souls are immortal,
  • · they know that there is a future state, filled with unending torment for them.

But you can take that long list of things that Gill says people that are dead know, and throw it in the trash. All it takes is one scripture to refute all that silly speculation. Wise Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 9:5 that “the living know that they will die: but the dead do not know anything.” He teaches that death deprives all human beings of everything in life. He is not saying that death only appears to rob us of conscious existence. In fact, if death ushers all human into a new state of conscious existence and awareness, the author of Ecclesiastes has lost his argument all together. Solomon had argued that it is best for the godly not to focus on any hopes of an afterlife in the intermediate state, but to make the best of life now. He was not addressing the question of whether there would ever be life after the grave. Instead, he was arguing that one’s objective should be making the best of life now. That explains why he later instructs his readers not to “let the excitement of youth cause them to forget their Creator” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). If one is caught up in the hopes and dreams of the future, one is liable to forget that his or her present relationship with God is what really matters.

In Ecclesiastes 9:5, Solomon uses a description of what happens at death to show that dying should not be a person’s goal. It is not the solution to humanity’s problem, God is. Death ends the pursuit. death ends the race. Solomon compares two groups: those who are presently alive and those who are presently dead. He does not distinguish between different groups within these groups. All people who are presently alive have hope, but all those presently dead do not. If (as Gill supposes) the actual awareness of the dead increases, then Solomon’s argument is a wash. Solomon’s argument demands that his readers take into account the present state of the dead, and requires that they understand that the dead are presently aware of nothing. So, don’t trust in death to solve your problems. Trust in God before you die, because he can raise you from the dead.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

listen to this article at Afterlife.

sorry, Socrates!

10404313_10152719826176949_4738064153211655456_ngift of life #11

sorry, Socrates!

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 jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. 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.

how to live like a conditionalist

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There are some problems inherent in asking about how we should live out the things we believe.

First, we are not all going to come to the same conclusions about how our theology should be worked out practically. The fact that we affirm – more or less – the same theological truths does not mean that we will come to the same conclusions as to how those truths should be applied. After hearing today’s speech, you will probably find yourself saying “Why didn’t he mention such and such?” or “Why didn’t he conclude this way?” I am very much interested in hearing that feedback. I don’t claim to have a monopoly on ideas about this subject, and I am definitely still in learning mode. Just consider my words today as a springboard for the discussion. We could use a number of articles on the Afterlife website on this issue, and I welcome you to contribute — particularly if you disagree with any of my conclusions.

Secondly, how any of us live out our faith involves our personal calling and giftedness. That will mean that even though you and I might agree theologically, we are going to be compelled by the Holy Spirit to live out our faith in different ways. We might even – in our most critical moments – think of each other as being inconsistent. The traditionalists have the same problem. Some of them think of this world as a gift from God, and do their best to preserve it and protect it from harm. Others of them see the planet as a tool, only useful for meeting temporary needs, and destined to be done away with in favour of a cosmic, heavenly home. So, these traditionalists look at their brothers who are trying to protect the planet , its rivers, its wildlife, and its forests – as idiots who are wasting their time on the wrapper instead of enjoying the candy bar. I think it is more consistent with conditionalism to take care of the planet because my theology says that God created this planet as a good thing – and something he intends to restore to something even better than its original perfection. I think it quite compatible with conditionalism to work alongside my traditionalist friends – and alongside atheists and people of other faiths to protect our planet as well. Some of that reasoning is theological. But some of it has to do with my own walk and my own personal experiences. I have enjoyed some of the most pristine and beautiful of the sites this planet has to offer the senses. I have also seen first-hand how ugly this world can get when left in the hands of those who don’t care about it, whether their reasons are theological, political or commercial. So, my heart beats for the protection of this whole planet, and I see that passion as consistent with my theology, because I see them both as a gift from God. But I am aware that those are two aspects of myself, and I don’t fault anyone else for not agreeing with me, because you are not me.

A third problem inherent in asking about how we live out the things we believe is that there is a danger of sometimes losing our faith and being left with only its application. The New Testament Gospels reveal how the Jewish Pharisees were guilty of this. They had emphasized personal works and the obedience to their society’s rules so much that their rules eventually became what they believed. After a century or so of teaching people to do things, or not to do things, the reasons for the commands were lost, and there was nothing left but the commands. Each generation of Christians faces this challenge. Not too long ago, evangelical Christianity was focused and fixated on obeying that portion of the scriptures that related to helping the poor and bringing justice to the suffering. This message became known as the social gospel. It was a good message, and a biblical message. But we allowed it to become our only message. As such, we became guilty of the same heresy that destroyed the Pharisees.

So, how do we honestly live out our conditionalist faith in the midst of these kinds of challenges? Let’s start by looking at some scriptures.

2 Peter 3:1-4 NLT

1 This is my second letter to you, dear friends, and in both of them I have tried to stimulate your wholesome thinking and refresh your memory. 2 I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Savior commanded through your apostles. 3 Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. 4 They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

Peter wrote to the churches to whom he had sent his second letter, that his purpose was to stimulate their wholesome thinking and refresh their memory. Implied in those remarks is the possibility that good, decent, biblically grounded Christians can sometimes get off target. Over time, it is possible for our minds to get focused on something different than the things we should be thinking about. It is possible to know the truth, to have experienced it, to affirm it, but still – in some ways – to forget it. Peter did not want that to happen to his churches. So, he wrote them for the purpose of giving them a kind of road map to their thinking and acting.

In a sense, that is what the entire Bible is for. Peter would agree with that because he goes on to tell them to remember what the holy prophets in the Old Testament taught, and what Jesus taught through his apostles. The apostle Paul had told the Ephesian Christians that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus himself serving as our corner stone. He used the metaphor of a temple to describe the church. Partly, his reason for doing that was the same reason Peter mentions the apostles and prophets here. We, the church, cannot reinvent ourselves. Our identity is bound up not just in who we are, or who we can be. Our identity is linked to the purpose of our creator.

A second reason Peter gave for his letter was to remind the churches of something that he had taught them when he personally planted those churches. He had apparently taught this as one of the principle lessons wherever he went. The lesson was that at some point these churches were going to be invaded by scoffers, critics, who doubt the foundational truth of the literal second coming.

2 Peter 3:5-8

5 They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of his command, and he brought the earth out from the water and surrounded it with water. 6 Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. 7 And by the same word, the present heavens and earth have been stored up for fire. They are being kept for the day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed. 8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.

He goes on to say that these scoffers are those who are guilty of the very kind of thing that I have been talking about. I don’t think Peter is talking about secular humanists or atheistic philosophers. Peter describes how these critics deliberately forget the biblical truths of creation and the flood. It is as if they had been built on the foundation of biblical truth, but at some point decided to slide off of that foundation.

The scoffers reason like this: It has been a long time since we have been taught that Jesus is literally coming again. He has not come again. Therefore, he is not coming again.

Peter’s response to the scoffers is very systematic.

· First, he reminds his readers that a long time ago, God said something, and “poof” – the world was created. In the beginning God created the sky and the land. God – who lives in infinity, created a time which we call the beginning, and he filled that time with meaning by inserting the present universe in it.

· Secondly, this same God who created this planet with a word, decided to judge and destroy it with water. He warned the ancient ones that he would do it, but he did not do it immediately. He waited a long time before destroying the world, and rescued eight people in the midst of the destruction.

· Thirdly, this same God who had promised to destroy the world with a flood – later promised to destroy this rescued world with fire. There would be a second day of judgment. God is consistent with himself, so we should expect this second judgment to happen. But we also have every right to expect it to happen only after a long period of time. That is how God worked in creation. That’s how he worked in the flood. That is how we should expect the judgment promised to accompany the second coming to occur as well.

2 Peter 3:9-12

9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. 11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, 12 looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames.

So, Peter gives his readers a lesson in apologetics. He tells them that the scoffers will misread the long period between the warning and the occurrence of the second coming judgment. The scoffers will interpret that to mean that God is too slow for his word to matter. But Peter reminds his readers that God’s long wait time is a measure of his grace. He is patient for the sake of this planet he created. He does not want anyone to be destroyed. But he is also a God of justice. He has planned a day of judgment. It will happen. But it will happen unexpectedly. It will come like a thief, who waits patiently until the household is still, asleep in their beds up in the upper chambers of the house. Then, he violently breaks in and takes what he wants. God is not a thief. But the coming of Jesus Christ can be described that way because it will be preceded by a long period of quiet, patient waiting.

What is God waiting for? He is giving us an opportunity to spread the gospel of life only in Christ. Every day he waits is another day for us to get this message out to a world on the brink of destruction! God’s chosen means of the coming destruction will be fire – the lake of fire, which the book of Revelation calls the second death. Peter says that on that day, God will set the sky on fire, and all the elements of this world will melt away in those flames. The only thing that will remain – again, according to John’s Revelation – are those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb – those whose names are found in his book of life.

Then Peter asks that all important question – a question we ourselves are taking up at this year’s conference. Since this is going to happen, how should we live now? Peter answers the question by suggesting that those who anticipate God to act again in judgment and redemption will live holy, godly lives, looking forward to that day, and hurrying it along.

2 Peter 3:13-15

13 But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness. 14 And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. 15 And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him–

And our reasons for living like this are not merely negative ones. We should live with a holy and righteous fear of sin and a hatred of evil, injustice, and all things wrong with this world and inside us. But we long for God’s coming day of judgment precisely because this evil world as it is now is only temporary. Peter says that we who remember what God did in the past can look beyond that final judgment and look forward to what follows it: a new sky and a new land: a new world filled with God’s righteousness.

So, Christian believers have the opportunity to get a head start on eternity. We do this, not by dying and going to heaven, but by living with heaven’s peace, purity, and blamelessness inside us now. So, even now, before the judgment day comes, there are two forces at work, which are preparing this planet for its next regeneration.

· One of those forces is the witness of those who are currently waiting for the return of the world’s rightful king. As we live like believers, our peaceful, pure and blameless lives show this world that it does not matter as much as the next world. Every effort that we can make to demonstrate the difference between us and those who do not have that hope is important. We cannot be like everybody else, because everybody else is going to burn up in hell. They think that we are chicken little. But we must continue to proclaim those words of warning to this generation that largely chooses to ignore us. We must be different, or else this world will never believe that the sky is going to fall.

· The other force Peter mentions here is the force of God’s patient love. He said that Paul had mentioned this in a letter to the same group of churches. What did Paul say to them? He might have said something like his testimony to Timothy, that God had mercy on him (Paul) so that Christ Jesus could use him as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others could realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:6). Or, he might have told them something like he had told the Romans that even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who were made for destruction. He demonstrates his patience in order to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory (Romans 9:22-23). And these are only two options. In the Pauline corpus, the Greek verb μακροθυμεω is found twice, and the noun μακροθυμια is found ten times. Paul’s theology reflected the awareness that God is a patient God, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifesting himself in the lives of Christ’s followers is patience.

2 Peter 3:16-18

16 speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction. 17 I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. 18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.

Then, Peter does an interesting thing. He actually exegetes Paul here. He explains that some of the people who go around spouting Pauline theology have misunderstood him. I think Peter is referring to those who might be tempted to over-emphasize what Paul taught about God’s sovereignty in election. If a person believes that salvation is nothing more than working out the reality that some people are going to be saved by grace, and others are going to be lost, that person is likely going to rest in his own eternal security. Instead, Peter urges his readers to grow in grace and knowledge of Christ, so that they do not lose their own secure footing. In other words’ God’s grace should make us into people like God: holy, pure, and patient.

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For some of us, conditionalism is all about rooting out and exposing Plato’s heretical doctrine of humanity. They see the doctrine of the innate immortality of the human soul as a false doctrine that has done terrible damage to the truth, a result of scripture twisting, and a way that Satan has found to keep people from focusing on Christ, and keep them focusing on themselves. I agree with all that, but to me fighting Plato’s innate immortality doctrine is not the essence of conditionalism

For others of us, conditionalism is all about rethinking hell. It challenges the assumption that God’s ultimate goal for most of the human beings he created is to torture them perpetually, with no hope of relief, and no true end to sin or sinners. I challenge the same teachings, but to me fighting the perpetual hell heresy is not the essence of conditionalism either.

No, I am a conditionalist because I believe in God.

— I believe in the God who promised that his Son would come again and destroy the lost and fully redeem the saved (4). Traditionalism teaches that even Christ’s second coming will not result in the destruction of evil. Their god is too small to do that. Ours is not. The God who promised to cleanse the universe of evil once and for all – He is the God I believe in.

— I believe in the God whose love is patient, and does not want anyone to be lost (9).

— But I believe this same God is just, so he has appointed a day of fiery destruction for all those who reject his Son (12).

For me, conditionalism is at its heart a defence of who God is. He is not a God who is helpless to destroy sinners and cleanse his universe.

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I am also a conditionalist because I dare to take the word of God seriously, even if that makes me a heretic in the eyes of some others.

In every generation “truth” is often determined by the powerful majority that is willing to accept it. Anything that does not conform to that “truth” decided by the powerful becomes suspect, and those who dare to adhere to a different view of reality are branded and ostracized, or worse. This generation is no different. Aside from certain settings (like this one) there will be a price to pay for siding with conditionalism. I can tell you stories from my own experience, or that of my students – even my children – who have had to pay that price. Such has always been the case for those who dare proclaim an unappreciated truth.

We will be branded unbiblical. Well, there is a kind of biblical which is the wrong kind. Traditionalism has an arsenal of proof texts, taken out of context, misapplied, or – in some cases – mistranslated which appear to teach that all human souls must live forever apart from grace. Proponents of traditionalism love to pile those texts, one on the other, until they form some kind of wall of defence. But that wall can be scaled. The truth is on our side. It really is.

We provide for the church of Jesus Christ a valuable asset. We are a voice of dissent, speaking out against an unjust system of thought. In the end, our words of dissent will vindicate God. He is being charged with impotence, with wanting to put an end to sin, but not being able. He is not guilty of that charge, any more than he is guilty of planning to torture people forever for his own enjoyment.

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It also makes sense for conditionalists to be pro-life. We should stand up for the cause of protecting the innocent unborn from dying as a result of someone else’s choice.

— We see all human life as a gift from God. We do not deem this present life as some kind of rehearsal for a more important life in heaven. God created human beings to breathe the earth’s air, and fill the earth’s land, and have dominion over the earth’s fields, skies and seas. No one should be deprived of that life.

— We also see every human life as having the potential to be an immortal one. No, we are not immortal now, but the gospel promises that we can be. To accept God’s gospel of grace, you have to hear it. To hear it, you have to live. Abortionists claim to be pro-choice, but they are not. No one should be deprived of that right to choose eternal life.

— But the term “pro-life” is often used to protect the lives of some who are far from innocent. I can remember being at a state legislature building in Florida, where I grew up. Some protestors were picketing the building because lawmakers were planning to reinstitute the death penalty for multiple murderers. The protestors waved flags and were shouting “Thou shalt not kill.” They were quoting one of the ten commandments, and doing it out of context. I know this, because the same God who commanded us not to kill each other, commanded properly instituted governments to execute murderers. So, as a conditionalist, I consider myself pro-life, but that does not mean I agree with everything someone else says because they also use the term.

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We are quite possibly seeing the last generation or two of the Christendom that we were all born into. Churches and denominations are dying. While faith in Christ lives on, it is quite clear that the church, ministry and theological systems that once held sway in many cultures is on its way out. It is tempting to be nothing but pessimistic about this. But perhaps we conditionalists are not looking at the picture clearly. I think this is our chance to remake Christianity into what it was meant to be.

For too long, the gospel message that most people has heard has been mixed with fairy tales and half-truths. The gospel message the world has heard is not radical enough. It is not counter-culture enough. As long as Christianity continues to present a gospel with a picture of a mythological afterlife for both the saved and the lost, we will continue to reach only those who are satisfied with that story. The vast majority of those in today’s culture who have rejected popular Christianity have done so because they cannot accept those kinds of lies.

We are failing them because we are not showing them that the Bible contains truth that counters both the old myths and the new ones. Yes, turning to Christ means a radical change, and yes, it means rejecting much about our modern worldview. But if we simply cut and paste the worldview of the middle ages, with its images of demons in red pyjamas and forked tails tormenting the souls of the un-dead forever, we have immediately branded our gospel as irrelevant to the world we are trying to reach. Likewise, if we cut and paste the other picture from the middle ages – of a heaven far beyond the blue where disembodied souls of the saved escape at death – we are painting another picture of unreality. We are at once denying the reality of death and contradicting the message of the gospel. Because Jesus did not offer a disembodied place in the clouds as his solution for death. He offered an empty tomb. He offered a resurrection. And as long as we keep telling this world that God wants them in heaven, we are separating ourselves from the biblical message we claim to preach.

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The biblical message is that death is not a release, but a prison. The good news is that our Saviour is coming, and he has the keys to that prison. The biblical message is not that death is our friend, but that death is the enemy. The good news is that destroying death is on God’s list of things to do. Granted, it is the last item on his list, but God always accomplishes the things on his “to do” list. The biblical message is not that death is a blessing, or a graduation or a promotion. It is a curse, a consequence of the fall, a direct result of the sin of our ancestors in the garden of Eden. We did not cause this curse. We inherited it. It is present in our DNA. Each of us comes complete with our own self-destruct code. The sequence has started, and there is nothing anyone can say to abort it. The countdown begins with our first breath, and – so far – it always ends the same. Death is a reality, and we are not doing anyone any favours by denying that reality.

What I am suggesting is nothing short of a new Christianity based on the real gospel: the gospel of life only in Christ. I suggest we strip ourselves of the trappings of the old mythological cosmology. There is an even older story. It is the story of a promised new creation. Now, living like a conditionalist means living as if we are going to inherit that new creation. I invite you all to help me do some thinking about what that kind of life entails.

death is not the answer

gift of life

gift of life #7

 

death is not the answer

 

 

The Old Testament saints looked for a resurrection because they did not believe that death was the answer to their problems.

• Job said “If (the dead person’s) sons are honoured, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it” (Job 14:21 NET).

• Solomon said “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV).

• He said “For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything. They no longer have a reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 LEB).

• David said “For the dead do not remember you. Who can praise you from the grave?” (Psalm 6:5 NLT).

• Another psalmist said “The dead cannot sing praises to the LORD, for they have gone into the silence of the grave” (Psalm 115:17 NLT).

• Heman the Ezrahite asked “Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise you? … Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love? Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction? Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds? Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness?” (Psalm 88:10-12 NLT).

• Another psalmist described death by saying “His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4 NASB).

• Isaiah said “For Sheol cannot thank you; Death cannot praise you. Those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness” (Isaiah 38:18 HCSB).

So, for these Old Testament believers, death may not have been the end of all existence, but it was not the eternal life that they wanted. They trusted God for hope after death, but they did not find that hope in death itself.

But a lot of Christians have rejected that outlook. They choose the doctrine of human nature that was borrowed from teachers of Greek philosophy. That doctrine taught that death really is the answer to our problems – that we don’t really need a resurrection because some part of us will continue to think and praise God in the intermediate state. Popular theology seems content with a combination of the resurrection to eternal life that the Bible teaches, and the continued conscious life that Plato taught.

The modern world laughs at the idea that death is a release to a better life, and rightfully so, because there is no evidence for that belief. But there is evidence for a resurrection. His name is Jesus. He is the answer. Death is not.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

what little boys are made of

gift of lifegift of life #6

what little boys are made of

The nursery rhyme asks “What are little boys made of?”  — and answers “Snips & snails & puppy dogs tails and such are little boys made of.” Little girls fare slightly better.  They are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.”  No one believes that these statements reflect the actual chemical makeup of boys and girls.  But anyone who watches these little darlings play can understand what the original author was getting at.

The Bible gives us a much more scientifically accurate description of what little boys and girls are made of – and their parents too.  In Genesis 2:7, Moses, describing the creation of Adam, says that God formed him “from the dust of the ground” or “of dust from the ground.” Our bodies are composed of the same elements found elsewhere in nature.  In 1 Cor. 15:47, Paul tells us that our ancestor Adam was “a man of dust” and we share his nature.”

But what about the soul? Well, the Bible’s actual use of the word shows that it does not refer to a separate spiritual element. “When Moses first used the Hebrew term nephesh, he was referring to animals. In Gen. 1:20, Moses records “And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living souls, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” The phrase in Hebrew is nephesh chayah (souls of life). It is obvious from the context that Moses refers to fish and sea mammals, and birds, not people. This first use  of nephesh highlights a contrast with the Greek philosopher Plato’s teaching that only human beings have souls.” Then, just a few verses later, that same Moses, describing the creation of Adam, says “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7)” He uses that exact same phrase nephesh chayah that he had used to describe the final product of the creation of animals. Just like the animals, human beings are made of the elements of nature, and given life from God. So, our souls are us, when we are alive. Our souls are bodies with breath in them.

The New Testament tells us something about our soul that does not fit the popular idea either. In Matthew 6:25, Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Lot’s of Christians know that verse. What lots of Christians do not know is that the word for “life” in that verse is psuché, the New Testament Greek word that corresponds to the Old Testament Hebrew nephesh. So, Jesus is saying that bodies wear clothing (which seems logical) but he also says that souls eat and drink. Now, that does not fit our theology, so Bible translators are quick to rescue us from the embarrassment of having to recheck our theology, and simply translate the word psuché as life. But there is no reason to hold to two contradictory terms for translating the same word here. The soul is the life of a living breathing creature. If that is the only possible meaning in Matthew 6, it makes sense to interpret it that way elsewhere as well.

And the Bible does not teach that anyone’s soul is immortal. In fact, it implies that souls can die. For example, the psalms contain many pleas for deliverance, and 119:175 is one of them. It says “Let my soul live, that it may praise you…” The word nephesh has cognates in at least two other ancient near eastern languages that mean “throat.” That at least suggests that a soul may simply be the word for the body with breath in it. As such, it makes sense that animals have souls as well. They are living creatures, bodies with breath in them.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com. Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

listen to the audio file at Afterlife.

communion meditation on Psalm 28:5

10003922_10152668831491949_3110639243135913332_n“Because they do not regard the works of the LORD Nor the deeds of His hands…” (Psalm 28:5 NASB).

Embedded in this psalm, in verse 5, is a phrase I would like to draw your attention to. David is complaining about his enemies, and he says that they do not regard the Lord’s works. They do not understand the Lord’s actions. That is what struck me when I was reading this psalm a few days ago. I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind when I read those words about the Lord’s works was something totally outside of the context of Psalm 28. I thought about peek tramping: hiking to the top of a mountain, and looking out on the landscape, and seeing something terrific and unimaginable, and just knowing “This is what the LORD did.” It’s sort of like art appreciation, only the artist is God, and not humans. I know why we have to take classes in art appreciation, because there is so much art that I don’t automatically appreciate. But I always appreciate God’s amazing landscapes in nature.

Many of the interpreters of this passage in Psalm 28 think of it in those terms. But others are a bit closer to David’s idea when they interpret it not in terms of creation but in terms of providence. When you think about David, you think about the work that God did in preserving him, in rescuing him from his enemies. David, after all, is the one who fought the big, hairy, scary dude, Goliath. God’s work was preserving David and bringing him victory over his enemies. David was not always a skinny kid with rocks, he grew up a warrior, and fought battles, and God’s work was preserving him in those battles.

I want to invite you to regard another of the LORD’s works this morning. We do that on a regular basis here at Takanini Community Church. We come together regularly and think about the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ when we partake of the elements of what we call the communion meal, or the Lord’s Supper. Most of the world does not regard this. They don’t think about the fact that this is the Lord’s work. These symbols remind us of what the Lord did for us.

God has a long standing history of reminding his people of himself, and what he did for them. We think about the Passover, and how every year the people of Israel have a dinner and think about it. For us, nearly every week we get together and use this time to think about what the Lord did for us, and that is truly what it is. By virtue of our coming together and eating a bit of bread and drinking grape juice, we are not accomplishing anything. We are not carrying on any sacrifice, and there’s nothing magical happening on our end here. The emblems that we are taking do not become anything magical. But as we regard what God did for us, we are making a statement of faith.

 

Jefferson Vann
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Takanini Community Church
Auckland, New Zealand

not a better place

gift of lifegift of life #5

not a better place

I overheard two men talking the other day, and caught the last bit of a conversation they were having. I do not really know what they were talking about, but based on what I heard, I can hazard a guess. They concluded their talk with “she’s in a better place.” My guess is that they were talking about a loved one who is now dead. Perhaps they were consoling themselves with thoughts that their loved one was no longer suffering and in Jesus’ protection until his return. But I wonder if those men knew what they were talking about. Does the Bible describe death – even the death of a believer – as “a better place”?

When Jesus faced the death of his friend Lazarus, he wept. He knew that death was not a better place for Lazarus. He did not console Lazarus’ sister Martha with the notion that her brother was not really dead. Instead, he told her that “your brother will rise again.” He had told his disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him”. If Lazarus had gone to a better place, it would have been cruelty to bring him back.

We really need eternal life because we are all going to die, and death is not a friend.  The Bible calls death three things for all human beings, no exception:

  1. An enemy: Paul says “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”  (1 Corinthians 15:26).
  2. A prison: Jesus says that death is locked, but that he has the keys (Revelation 1:18).
  3. A curse. Moses said that life is a blessing, but death is a curse (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Death is the absence of life and breath and consciousness.  It is not a good thing, and not a better place.

“The world needs honest Christians. It needs people who do not hide behind fairy tales, and deny the existence of death.  It needs people who will tell them that death is real, but that Jesus is real too.  The world needs hope that extends beyond the cemetery.  Believers can offer that hope, but we have to do so with integrity. It is wrong to say that death is a friend when the Bible calls it an enemy.  It is wrong to imply that the blessed hope is a better place at death.  Titus 2:13 says we are now “waiting for our blessed hope,” and that blessed hope is “ the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  It is the second coming, not death, which is the focal point of the New Testament promises. 

So, let’s be biblically honest and mature.  Let’s stop telling people that death is a release, or a homecoming, or a graduation, or any such thing.  Death is death, and it is not a better place.  We Christians are looking forward to being in a better place, but that place is coming down from the sky when our king returns.  The gospel only offers one blessed hope, and we owe it to the world to get that message right.

If you have any questions about this teaching, you can ask me at jeffersonvann@yahoo.com.  Join me for this entire series as we search the scriptures to learn about the gift of life.

 

(listen to the audio file at Afterlife)