A few weeks ago I got a call from an attorney I used to work for. She told me a former co-worker and dear friend had passed away from cancer. I have lost a few friends now to cancer. In her case she had beat one form of cancer years earlier only to be struck down by another form of this horrible disease a few years later. I attended her memorial service this past Sunday.
This event instantly had me wondering about her eternity. I’m uncertain of hers and that makes me uncomforted. I know she believed in God. I know she believed in prayer. What I never did get clearly from her is her faith in Jesus Christ. I recollect that she believed in Jesus but we never got to discuss what that meant to her. In my years in ministry I’ve heard a few different interpretations of what faith in Jesus means. But when the day is done, I’m at a loss as to whether I’ll see my friend in heaven. But if the memorial service was any indication, I’m not placing any bets any time soon.
So from those thoughts I began to think about death in general and wanted to refresh my memory of what God has to say on the subject. The following may not be something you will ever hear at a funeral or “celebration of life” service but I think it is important nonetheless.
Three kinds of Death
I guess the most obvious kind of death is physical death. Let’s face it, unless you are part of the future Rapture of Christ, your body will die. Many of us have witnessed people die or at least seen a dead body. And then someone will say the ironic phrase, “That’s life!” or “death is a part of life.”
Death, however, was not the original plan of God. Death is an abnormal part of life and only came about due to Adam’s transgression.
Gen 2:15-17 – The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden – except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
“Death is consistently presented in the Bible as a thing which is abnormal, a judgment upon man because of sin. In all faithfulness the warning was given to Adam that, as a result of his disobedience, ‘you are sure to die.’ As created, Adam was free from death. In the face of this warning, he disobeyed God and the impending penalty fell.” (Systematic Theology, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dallas Seminary Press, 1948, II, p. 153)
In short, physical death is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. (James 2:26) Everyone is born with a body, soul and spirit. An individual’s body and soul are alive at conception but his/her spirit is not. That is the effect of Adam’s sin on mankind. Therefore we are all born into sin and born with a sin nature.
Romans 3:9a-18, 23 – We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
A person’s spirit becomes alive upon salvation.
(Romans 3:24 – and [we] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.)
For Adam, his spirit became alive by the breath of God himself.
(Genesis 2:7 – the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.)
In addition to physical death Adam also experienced spiritual death. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul and spirit from God.
In the sphere of spiritual death, Adam did eat of the forbidden tree’s fruit and immediately died spiritually. He died physically a few hundred years later but he did die and all mankind thereafter has been dying physically and spiritually; for the penalty for Adam’s sin is death for all mankind.
Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.
There is redemption from this death through the shedding of blood. For Adam, God shed the blood of an animal and, with its skin, made a covering for Adam and Eve. (Gen. 3:21) Jesus, the Son of God, shed his own blood to cover our sin. Upon our faith in Jesus, the work of Christ on the cross is imputed to us and our spirits are brought to life. But until a person puts his faith in Christ, he/she remains spiritually dead.
This is important to note. The work on the cross has very little to do with making us better people. My friend who passed away once said that she didn’t believe in organized religion and didn’t like to attend church because everyone in the building was a hypocrite. True enough to some extent. But isn’t that a good place for hypocrites to be? But she was missing the point of Christianity.
Jesus died on the cross not to make bad people good but to make dead people live!
How tragic is the confusion that Satan has deluded the world claiming that we must be perfect people before God will love us. The devil loves to point out our faults to the rest of the world convincing them that our faith is empty or false. But I’ve never met a perfect person because being perfect has nothing to do with being a Christian. We are called to live the Spirit-filled life as a member of God’s family in the power of the Holy Spirit, not in our own power. But because of our sin nature, we will fail, yet we still belong to Christ.
Yet the unbeliever is spiritually dead, or, dead in his/her sins. Moreover, if an individual dies in this condition, without Christ, he/she will face what the Bible calls the second death.
The second death is the final and permanent form of spiritual death. “The second death, being the unavoidable eternal character of spiritual death, is experienced by all who do not come by faith in Christ under the regenerating power of God (Rev. 20:12-15).” (Chafer, Ibid.) This death is eternal – the unending separation of soul and spirit from God.
Rev. 20:11-15 – Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Obviously you don’t want to experience the second death.
Rev. 20:6 – Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
What is disconcerting about God’s final judgment of the lost is how the world rushes to defend its lack of faith in God by claiming that by good works a person can get to heaven. The theory is that as long as a person hasn’t done anything too severely evil in his/her life, he/she will make it through the judgment seat of God without too much trouble.
The whole story of Charles Dickens’ book, A Tale of Two Cities, is based on this theory. He takes John 15:13 (“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”), sets the scene during the French Revolution, and produces a wonderful fictitious tale of sacrifice by Sydney Carton, an alcoholic lawyer, who dies by guillotine in place of Charles Darnay, the nephew of a wicked aristocrat. Why? Because Sydney is in love with Charles’ wife, Lucy, and he is hoping that God will look favorably on his sacrifice so he can avoid hell, which until then, was his intended destination. The last line of the book sums up his intent.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
This story may be fictitious but many people are facing the second death because they placed their eternal security upon such fiction.
So what happens after death?
We could spend weeks on this subject and I’m sure you’ve heard many sermons covering this topic. I will be brief and to the point and limit my comments just to the dispensation we live in today.
Unsaved: Those who reject Christ in this life will never get another chance to accept Him. My understanding is that at death, the body of the unsaved dies and deteriorates. His soul and spirit live on and goes to a place called “Hades.” His spirit remains dead. As stated above, the soul and spirit are separated from not only the body but also from God. Forever. Yes, there is a future judgment but for all practical purposes, the unsaved were born into this world separated from God, though not from His love, and will remain separated from God forever.
Hades: A place of sorrow and torment. Scripture describes Hades as the temporary quarters for the unsaved dead until the Great White Throne Judgment. At such time it will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. Jesus describes Hades in Luke 16:19-31. Before His ascension into Heaven, Hades was separated into two parts, one for the lost, and one for the saved called Paradise. During the Church age it only contains the lost.
Saved: At death, the believer is separated from the body and his/her soul and spirit are united with Christ, in heaven, forever (2 Cor. 5:8). It is believed by many that this may be the “third heaven” Paul describes in 2 Cor. 12:2. Paul also calls this heaven “Paradise” (2 Cor. 12:4), thus using these terms interchangeably. The teaching is therefore that Paradise was taken from Hades into heaven when Jesus ascended there (Eph. 4:8). Also, as Stephen was being martyred, he describes seeing Jesus at the right hand of God in heaven (Acts 7:55). So we can surmise that Stephen, at his death, was revealing his next stop on life’s journey for the Christian.
Children: Many believe that there is an age of accountability, that is, a child who dies before he/she reaches a certain age to discern the truth of the gospel is exempt from the penalty of the second death. For example, my wife had a miscarriage a number of years ago. We have a hope that we will see that child in heaven when we arrive there.
I hope you take away from this article a greater reliance on your destiny with Christ and a determination to witness to your lost friends and family for the hope that rest within you.
Currently on disability, Brian has been a pastor since graduating from San Diego Christian College in 1986 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies. In 1994, Brian earned a graduate level paralegal degree from the University of San Diego. Since 1984, he has been very active in the AWANA clubs serving as a commander, pastor and missionary advisory board member. Brian has worked on pastoral staffs of churches in Colorado and southern California. In 1997 he began a church in his home which currently meets in its own building located in Desert Hot Springs, California. A major hobby of Brian’s is cycling which includes two bike trips through Europe and a Canada to Mexico ride. Brian has been married to Beth, who he met in college, for over 26 years and they currently live in the Palm Springs area. They have two grown children.